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Derrida: Profanations

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Derrida: Profanations

Patrick O’Connor

Derrida: Profanations Patrick O’Connor

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© Patrick O’Connor, 2010

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HB: 978-1-4411-8170-1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data O’Connor, Patrick. Derrida–profanations/Patrick O’Connor. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN: 978-1-4411-8170-1 1. Derrida, Jacques. 2. Deconstruction. I. Title.

B2430.D484O26 2010



Typeset by Newgen Imaging Systems Pvt Ltd, Chennai, India Printed and bound in Great Britain by the MPG Books Group

In Memory of Marie O’Connor 1954–2008

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Chapter 1 There Is No World without End (Salut): Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane


Chapter 2

Exit Ghost: Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time


Chapter 3

Deconstruction is Profanation


Chapter 4 Absolute Profanation: The Deconstruction of Christianity


Chapter 5 There May Be No Community Whatsoever: Towards the Destruction of Morality and Community in Deconstruction


Chapter 6 Equality without Measure: The Deconstructive Democracy of Worlds










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This book is very much the product of two institutions, the National University of Ireland, Galway, and Manchester Metropolitan University. At Galway my gratitude is due, above all, to Dr Felix O’Murchadha, who

oversaw earlier versions of this book in his role as my PhD supervisor, and who has since that time done me innumerable services beyond the role of

a supervisor. For this it is impossible to give him enough thanks. Also at

Galway I would like to thank Prof. Markus Wörner who also commented on earlier versions of this text, as well as Miles Kennedy and Ed O’Toole for their philosophical support and friendship. At Manchester Metropolitan University I would like to express my indebtedness to Prof. Joanna Hodge for her advice and encouragement on all aspects of this book. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my good friend Dr Keith Crome; a gentleman and a scholar without peer. Also I would like to express my thanks to my good friends in the Hegel reading group: Ulli Haase, Mark Sinclair and Dominic Kelly for all their encouragement, advice and sup- port; and for above all teaching me that philosophy is about what it means to be human. I would like to express gratitude to Séan Daffy for his personal and intellectual friendship. Others who have helped, commented and given advice in many different ways, in no particular order, include:

Marcella O’Connor, Denis O’Connor, John Rowe, Daniel Bradley, Rosin Lally, Mike Leane, Chris Eagle, Martin Hägglund, Rachel Coventry, Eddie Campbell, Emily Falconer, Vickie Cooper, Sean Loewen, the O’Leidhin brothers, Pierre-Yves Fioraso, Jackie Murphy, Frances McMahon, Mike

Donnelly, Jen Smith and Erin Flynn. I would like to reserve a special thanks for Séan Reidy for looking after me on my Chicago excursions. Above all,

I would especially like to thank my dear, my darling one, Ruth the Red,

my closest friend and proofer-in-chief, who has made me a better man in countless ways which I can only begin to imagine. I would like to thank Dr Ulrich Haase for his permission to reprint parts of Chapter 1, which appeared in the Journal of the British Society for



Phenomenology as ‘There Is No World without End: Derrida’s Phenomeno- logy of the Extra-mundane’, 39: 3, 2008. I would also like to thank Linda Kay Sadler for permission to print material for Chapter 3, an earlier version of which appeared as ‘Derrida’s Worldly Responsibility: An Opening between Faith and the Sacred’, in the Southern Journal of Philosophy, 45: 2, 2007.


The purpose of this study is to present a theorization of Jacques Derrida’s work which unambiguously casts Derrida as a philosopher who is at once

essentially egalitarian, atheistic and profane. I will argue that from his earliest phenomenological writings on consciousness to his later ethical and political inflections, Derrida pursues a logic of this-world. 1 A central consequence of this claim will allow us to express the idiosyncratic way in which decon- struction philosophically thinks the significance of human life. The place of deconstruction in philosophy is a contentious one. Deconstruction since its inception has been cast as a challenge to certain forms of traditional philosophy. In 1980 at the opening of a thesis defence

Derrida stated: ‘My interest

how is it that philosophy finds itself inscribed, rather than inscribing itself,

within a space which it seeks but is unable to control

the structure of this space? I do not know; nor do I know whether there can even be what may be called knowledge of such a space.’ 2 Derrida’s self-evaluation here signifies a positive role for philosophy, even while it delimits a certain self-understanding of philosophy. Thus, what philosophy ‘traditionally’ concerns itself with, which is to in general terms, human being, ethics, politics, religion and aesthetics, come under the purview of deconstructive analysis. What deconstruction can and cannot say about these issues will form the axis of my investigation. It is thus important to appraise deconstruction philosophically. The significance of reading Derrida in this vein will allow me to establish what precisely deconstruction says about existence and ‘human’ being, considered in relation to, and as a radicalization of, traditional philosophical themes. To support my claims I will argue that Derrida develops, in systematic manner, a ‘phenomenology’ which challenges, disrupts and radically decen- tres phenomenological ‘homeworlds’. This will require a detailed analysis of the relationship between deconstruction and phenomenology, especially deconstruction’s radicalization of the phenomenological concept of ‘world’.

continued to relate to the same question:

How is one to name


Derrida: Profanations

In pursuing this argument I will elaborate the manner in which themes such as temporality, finitude and space present a picture of ‘human life’ from the ground up. I assert that deconstruction sustains alterity and worldliness in an irreducible tension.

A radical consequence of this reading is that the central premise of

deconstruction becomes the fact that nothing is sacred. This assertion follows a simple logic. If deconstruction sustains an irreducible complicity between alterity and world, it follows that no world can remain impervious to alteration, alterity and difference. If the sacred is defined by its inviolabi- lity, within and outside the mundane world, then the possibility of a sacred ‘world’ is delimited from its inception, since all worlds are subject to alterity. Deconstruction, if it is to be taken in its most consistent expression, demonstrates that there is no divine place or space, nor can there be the vestiges of divinity when it comes to understanding what it means to be human, human relations to the world and, therefore, the world itself. Underlying this argument is the elaboration of the claim that Derrida is not a religious thinker. Rather than arguing that religion, sacrality or idolatry cannot be engaged with, I claim that the fundamental assumptions of the drive for sacralization are wholly undermined by deconstruction. Therefore, while the phenomenon of religion certainly occurs deconstruc- tively, it cannot be fully understood from the perspective of its own internal

consistency. 3 In short, deconstruction means that the self-present assurance of religion is both existentially and interminably in question. The origin of this perspective derives from the insight that if all things come to an end and are open to alteration, then nothing may be held as sacred or pure. The existence of purity, whether on a conceptual or onto- logical level, always exceeds its own bounds. Philosophically, the defining operation of this process is an attempt to come to terms fully with an irre- ducible mortality which precludes not only absolute sacrality and other- ness, but sacrality of any form, human, existential and divine. This applies to the mundane realm of the world as well as the spiritual. It is not just God that is removed from divine otherness, but all entities in themselves. The logic of deconstruction entails that whatever is, is open to dissolution irrespective of whether it is a pebble or a religious phenomenon. Thus, what may be considered as separate and sacrosanct is subverted through profanation. What I coin as ‘profanation’ destabilizes any mundane and

worldly loyalty or attachment. If there exists any self-perpetuation of idola- try, it is always a product of prior profanation.

In elaborating this reading I will undertake a rebuttal of certain philo-

sophical trends that characterize Derrida as a theological thinker. If one



surveys recent literature, a common way of characterizing Derrida is one which follows a supposed theological turn. The importance of rebutting this trend lies in situating Derrida’s deconstruction in wholly human and, therefore, worldly terms. It is possible to provide a vista on the current literary debate in dialogue with Arthur Bradley’s survey of the ‘theological’ Derrida. Bradley even points out to how it is sometimes difficult to discern the same Derrida among divergent commentators. Bradley notes how it is unsurprising that the theological and ethical Derrida, advocated by theological Derrideans such as John Caputo and Hent de Vries, is often emphasized at the expense of the historical and material Derrida, which Bradley identifies in thinkers such as Richard Beardsworth and Bernard Steigler. 4 Bradley is primarily concerned with articulating how Derrida’s more theological writings devolve into forms of ahistoricism not visible in earlier genealogical works. The question of theology in terms of early and later deconstruction is something I will attend to in the course of my analysis. However, Bradley’s point is well taken: vigilance must be main- tained when it comes to demarcating deconstruction as an ahistorical pro- cess working at all times and places rather than contained within specific historical moments. If there is an ‘ahistorical’ Derrida this would in many ways explain some of the philosophical underpinnings of the theological turn. If deconstruction transcends history, and even historicity, it would therefore be easier to identify in deconstruction the philosophical tropes which remain immune from a finite world view. What is commendable about Bradley’s observations is that he expresses the desire for a materialist turn in deconstruction, evident in such philosophers as Beardsworth, Steigler and Leonard Lawlor. In terms of secondary literature, this text is situated in close proximity to Lawlor’s contention in Derrida and Husserl: The Basic Problem of Phenomenology (2002) that Derrida’s work is post-phenomenological, in that Derrida extends phenomenology to reflect a more radically relational experience to the world. The goal of this book is to designate how this extension is enacted through what I call the logic of profanation. This is developed out of what Lawlor defines as ‘mortalism’ in The Implications of Immanence (2006). 5 The trajectory of beginning with Derrida’s writing on phenome- nology is not new, as evident in the work of Lawlor, Hägglund, Joanna Hodge, Christina Howliss, Joshua Kates and Paolo Maratti: I will also proceed along this path. What Lawlor especially brings to this debate is what he sees as the central conceptual necessity for thinking deconstruction. This is what he coins as ‘originary finitude’. This signifies that the ‘original’ relation of all identities


Derrida: Profanations

for deconstruction is always a question of finitization. If all identities are never as such derived from a prior identity which precedes all others, they must then be equivocal to a form of mortalism; since they are subject to demise. This insight is further radicalized in the only other work that offers a stringently profane reading of Derrida’s work: Martin Hägglund’s excellent Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (2008). Hägglund specifically focuses his analysis on atheism, desire and mortality in Derrida’s work. Hägglund’s key insight is focused on the idea that for deconstruction nothing can be in itself. All identities for Hägglund are dissimulated by

time and space. This radically atheistic perspective offers insights that I will return to in my own argument opening the possibility of reading decon- struction as a form of profanation. This is founded on Hägglund’s elabora- tion of the Hegelian notion of ‘infinite finitude’ in deconstruction. Like Lawlor, Hägglund develops the question of deconstruction and finitude. Hägglund develops this line of thought further in the context of religion. If all religions are founded on immunity and unscathedness, then in order to advance this immunity requires the conceptualization of absolute or immortal life. It thus follows that deconstruction, which takes as central the necessity of temporal and spatial alteration, cannot endorse the possibility of such immunities. This is because alteration implies finitude and, thus, mortalism rather than immortalism. Thus deconstruction is always a form of radical atheism, since the possibilities of totalization, absolute immunity and self-sufficiency are ruled out from their inception since they always undergo transformation and cannot existentially give immortal life.

I argue that combining these insights provide the ground for a funda-

mental change of terrain in our understanding of Derrida. The insights of Gasché, Lawlor and Hägglund allow an atheistic and profane reading

of Derrida. Consolidating this orientation, I affirm herein a strictly ‘left- Derridean’ re-appraisal of Derrida’s work. In analogy with the way the Young Hegelians contested ‘conservative’ appropriations of Hegel, this work endeavours to present an orientation of Derrida’s work which deviates from interpretations of Derrida which cast him as primarily an ethical and religious philosopher (including among others Caputo, Simon Critchley, Hent de Vries, Richard Kearny, Mark Dooley and Slavoj Žižek).

I am not attempting to think with, beyond, through or after Derrida,

but instead wish to stake out a consistent theoretical position which inevi- tably follows from the logic of deconstruction. To achieve this end I intend to engage with large sections of the corpus of Derrida’s thought in an effort to illustrate and extract the most consistent and reliable way of



understanding it. This will allow the establishment of a position which will provide departure and direction essential to both the production of thought and the staking out of the territory on which one can even begin to think deconstructively. This work is essentially and primarily interested in Derrida as a philo- sopher. While Derrida has been hugely influential outside the field of philosophy, it is with the fundamental questions of philosophy – what it means to be human, what the nature of change and transformation are, what the nature of the universe is, the truth of the world, how one can think of time and eternity and what place religion plays in life – that I will be con- cerned. I argue that it is Derrida’s response to such questions which provide deconstruction’s primary exegetical and interpretative force. In philoso- phical terms, that these questions have never been wholly taken up is under- standable given that they are usually cast within the domain of metaphysics, which in its most systematic form, as I will show throughout this work, Derrida wholly contests. It is facile to think that Derrida’s work does not provide an answer to these questions, that he rules out the possibility of their asking, or that deconstruction cannot provide its own idiosyncratic response. Over the course of six chapters, this work aims to present a radi- cal, concise and dynamic account of Derrida’s philosophical thought qua deconstruction. I will thus consolidate the shift that Hägglund has attempted to institute in his theorization of radical atheism. My argument takes the following form. Chapter 1, ‘There Is No World without End (Salut): Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane’ adopts the strategy of placing Derrida’s work in the context of his develop- ment of Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology. The purpose of this chapter is to present a consistent representation of Derrida and his meditations on time and space. This will also allow me to position my argument in relation to the most important critical literature, both sympathetic and critical, on Derrida, and stake out the position I perceive as most consistent. In so doing I will respond to Dan Zahavi, Lillian Alweiss, Rudolph Gaschè and Hägglund. The trajectory of the study begins by arguing distinctively how Derrida develops phenomenological themes into his later so called ethical and political writings. The purpose of this chapter will be to give explication to the role of genesis, difference, finitude and temporality as central to our understanding of deconstruction. Gasché and Hägglund have respectively developed in the light of Hegel’s reading of infinity the concept of ‘infinite finitude’. This is pivotal for any understanding of deconstruction. In his engagements with Husserl’s


Derrida: Profanations

phenomenology, Derrida asserts that presence is always transgressed. The Hegelian tradition then comes to the fore, most succinctly through Hägglund’s account. Hägglund argues that spacing, temporality and iden- tity always remain discrete to themselves. If for Derrida the logic of con- tamination is inescapable, it follows that nothing, cognitively or materially, can exist purely in and of itself. This is crucial, because it means that if deconstruction is to come down to one single expression, it is that ‘nothing can be in itself’. All things are open to an alterity or otherness, and, thus, their own finitization and end. Since finitization and passing are central for deconstruction, time must also be essential. Anything that comes to be also passes. Transformative finitude, or temporal alterity as Hägglund calls it, illustrates that all things necessarily pass, which is precisely how, at the same time, anyone thing can relate to another. Without transformation, nothing could begin or happen at all. What Derrida calls ‘presence’ is another name for concepts which transcend the transformations of time and space or which remain ‘immune’ to their actuality. Presence for Derrida is opposed to what he calls ‘espacement’ or différance. For Derrida, time is never derived from presence or from that which is impervious to transformation and change. Time is essential and for this reason nothing can be thought or can exist without the passing of time. This analysis will lead onto the argument in Chapter 2, ‘Exit Ghost:

Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time’. Here, I proceed to develop the consequences of the rationale of ‘infinite finitude’ for deconstruction. The central feature of this chapter is that for deconstruction the passing of the world is always necessary. This allows the assertion that in all his writings, Derrida sustains alterity and worldliness in irreducible tension. The advantage of such a reading serves to demonstrate how a minimal pre- sentation of world, the presentation of things, happenings and appear- ances, persist, while at the same time it is always subject to transformation. If anything can define deconstruction it is the ‘persistence’ of disintegra- tion. I will trace how Derrida’s response to Husserl focuses around repeated tensions and developments of the phenomenological concept of world and how this concern continues into the latest of Derrida’s writings. I argue that the loss of world is a structural necessity for all things. Decisively, I propose that this is not defined as an other-worldliness but a perpetual coming to pass of this-world. Therefore, the constitution of any meaning must be the product of a finite historicity. For Derrida, the coming-to-be of a world is only ever the survival of a world that can fully be in itself. Derrida’s ‘phenomenology’ is thus a phenomenology of the extra-mundane. Therefore the presentation of any it is marked by the irretrievable loss of



the world. The consequence of this is that all worlds come to an end. There can thus be no assertion of an alpha and an omega from which all happen- ings are derived. Nothing exists eternally or is exempt from deconstructive ‘worlding’. This chapter also takes the time to show how later Derridean concepts such as mourning, touch and spectrality take their compass specifically from this orientation. Thus, the fundamental consequence of

the logic I set forth in this chapter is that all worlds are marked by a material passing and persistence. Chapter 3, ‘Deconstruction is Profanation’, further develops the relation of alterity and world by showing how the logical conclusion of Derrida’s phenomenological analysis leads inexorably to what I call the logic of profa- nation. Since all things come to an end, any exceptional status which any one thing holds is open to its own transgression. The sacred and the pro- fane, I propose, are not impenetrable and unscathed. This is because both regions are already under profanation. The distinction between profana- tion and profane is important here. This is because it serves to rule out the principle that the profane may only be demarcatable from the sacred. The binary opposition sacred/profane is a false one. For deconstruction, nei- ther the sacred nor the profane can exist without end and transgression. Derrida, I thus hold, continues to remain the most irreverent of thinkers. Chapter 3 is comprised of two distinct strategies. Continuing the logic of alterity and world I intend to actively force the difference between Levinas and Heidegger. Derrida remains closer to Heidegger than Levinas. In prac- tice, the essentiality of finitude cannot be overcome for Derrida and remains his most profound proximity to Heidegger. This requires a clear demar- cation between Levinas’ project and Derrida’s while discerning Derrida’s debt to, and deviation from, Heidegger. Derrida, I argue, operates through

a different concept of alterity one that resists both Levinas and Heidegger’s

respective constructions of the sacred. This allows me to negotiate the simi- larities and differences between both Heidegger and Levinas, especially with regard to the relation of ‘things’ and ‘persons’. Both philosophers resort to a form of metaphysical presence in their desire to save and make the other and Being immune from being scathed – Heidegger in terms of things and Levinas in terms of the holiness of the other. On the other hand, Derrida more radically develops a distinct concept of alterity, deconstruc- tion as profanation that challenges what I hold is the sacralizing and excep- tional reverence both philosophers bestow upon specific regions that they perceive as immune from profanation. I will also discuss Giorgio Agamben,

a major theorist of profanation, whom I investigate in order to discern

whether he complements the deconstructive notion of profanation or not.


Derrida: Profanations

The consequences of this study are extensive, extending into religious, ethical and political horizons. If all things come to an end and are open to alteration, it follows that nothing may be held as sacred or pure. Chapter 4, ‘Absolute Profanation: The Deconstruction of Charity’ continues this logic, examining the extent to which Derrida engages with a deconstruction of Christianity. The extent to which one can say deconstruction is Christian will give relief to the extent that a concept of profanation is possible. This is the key chapter of the book. Its motivations are both exegetical and theoretical. I intend to apply my reading of deconstruction as profanation to the case of Christianity. The consistency of this reading will endorse and support the viability of reading deconstruction atheologically. The example of Christianity is extremely relevant here. This is because it offers one of the most sophisticated accounts of the ways in which sacralization is transgressive in itself. The radicalism of Christianity is that it is not restricted to particular worlds. Indeed, it constructs itself out of the transgression of worlds, as evidenced in the analysis of the story of the Good Samaritan I undertake in this chapter. However, this transgression is founded on a desire to make immune and self-present all other worlds. What this logic of ‘immunisation’ achieves is a fixing of identities as sacred and non-perishable. This is anathema to the logic of profanation. Profanation testifies that there is nothing sacred to begin with, whereas Christianity is wholly restricted to a logic of sacralization, which endeavours to sacralize all possible identities within the world. Therefore, that which is totemic, pagan and scattered in the midst of the world may become wholly integrated, unified and immune from opposition and contestation through the world-transcending unity of Christianity. The decisive moment of this, I argue, is the death and resurrection of Christ, which remains wholly inconsistent with an unfailing deconstructive analysis. This is because what underlines Christ’s sacrifice is its intermingling of anything which is both sacred and profane, of life and of death, in the world and beyond the world, of time and of the eternal. All identities are subject to a deeper level of sacralisation. In Christianity all that is profane is metaphorically speaking immunized: all things are made sacred. This testifies to the resilience of Christianity as well as to its delocalising drive. This drive is formulated through charity which functions through the transgression of all particular homeworlds. For my part, I argue that deconstruction wholly contests the sacred and sacrificial core at the heart of Christianity. If deconstruction is to happen, it requires the incessant perish- ing and passing of time and space. Concomitantly, nothing can remain sacred and inviolable. Therefore the Christ figure is deconstructed to



the core and every deconstruction is a deconstruction of Christianity. This allows us a delineation of how profanation will go some way towards explain- ing the secular and political remit of religious concepts. Deconstruction I contend challenges the existential security of political theology and the ways in which theological concepts buttress political, social, economics and cultural discourses which locate in God, either analogically, imaginatively or comparatively, the uncontested authority of sovereign power. Chapter 5, ‘There Maybe No Community Whatsoever: Towards the Destruction of Morality and Community in Deconstruction,’ in the light of the preceding analysis, assesses the prospect of whether deconstruction affirms ethical and political principles. Firstly, I will expand on the findings of previous chapters by further distancing Derrida from Levinasian conceptions of ethics, and contesting characterisations of Derrida’s work within this trajectory by Critchley and Slavoj Žižek. If deconstruction is profanation, then the sacrosanct foundation of ethical principles, their coming to be in terms of the social substance of society, and the ethical grounding of a political community are by necessity violable and are under a process of incessant termination and coming-to-be. Derrida challenges the possibility of the self-sufficient stature of core boundary ideas of the ‘ethical decision,’ ‘home,’ ‘community,’ ‘foreign’ and ‘stranger’ by redefining the limits of their identity and sovereignty. While deconstruction does not advocate an ethics per se, this does not mean ethics does not exist within it, nor that humans are exempt from prescription making; some of which within certain spheres may be more valuable or useful than others. However, the essential point is that whatever ethical decisions are made are always temporally discrete. Specific ‘oughts’ assert how things should be the case and thus from their inception are inseparable from what one could call ‘ecstatic utopianism’. What should be the case or what is perceived ought to be the case always requires a distance from what is. This distance by definition must be at odds with how the world is and thus always remains contested from within. What ought to be is never immune from the vicissitudes and vagaries of life in the world. I argue that deconstruction never affirms the ethics we desire. Instead, it shows that the common plight of all ethical hierarchies is their own common dissolution. The consequence of this position is that efforts to valorise deconstruction for offering versions of community and political ideologies are wholly untenable from their initiation. Deconstruction never begins with ethics. Its ethical remit instead always asks the question of how ethics takes place, what it means and how ethical principles are essen- tially destructible and re-constructible. Deconstruction is, philosophically,


Derrida: Profanations

a form of thought which rigorously demands that whatever ethical orienta-

tion we inhabit is both irreducibly and existentially problematic. Decon-

struction is both the essential questionability of prescriptive solutions, and

a problematization of how formulations of such solutions generate their

own reification and mystification. This is where deconstruction is at its most philosophical: as Heidegger well knew, what it means to be is always

a question in itself. This will lead on to the final chapter, ‘Equality without Measure: The Deconstructive Democracy of Worlds’. Here I extend the argument towards questions of the stature of the political. This chapter is important for two reasons. First, it allows me to theorize how deconstruction, if it is to be thought consistently, must always be radically ‘egalitarian’. This it must be underscored is not the endorsement of a deconstructive ethics or politics. Deconstruction is egalitarian insofar as all identities, including ethical and political principles, are equally subject to transgression. Second, this will allow us to respond to some challenges to Derrida’s philosophy which sees the deconstructive thought of ethics and politics as reducible to a managerial and administered form of liberal democracy and a respect for otherness, as advocated by Žižek. Indeed, this chapter begins by showing how Derrida’s thought of deconstruction is utterly anathema to Francis Fukuyama’s notion of the end of ideology. This is an erroneous assertion. The idea of a respect for otherness or indeed of respect itself, implies the separation and sacrality of the other, which becomes unscathed and preserved and unquestioned within its own particular identity. This is linked to the common misperception of Derrida as a thinker who rallies to preserve cultural difference. The currently typical characteriza- tion of Derrida as a philosopher of difference, or an advocate of an ethics of difference, is facile, untenable and erroneous. It unreservedly disavows the function of difference that Derrida has in mind. The crux of this chapter focuses on the idea that if we are to think deconstruction then we must think of it as an alterity exempt from hierarchical difference. The experience of difference is the great leveller and does not at all designate where identities ought to be respected and deferred to in their idiosyncrasy. The whole point of deconstruction is that no identity is exceptional. Thus, the analysis aims to re-establish the unreservedly transgressive and contestatory nature of deconstruction. This approach remedies what a diminishment, in some quarters, of the critical implications which Derrida’s deconstruction holds for thought. The insight and radicality of Derrida’s thought has been somewhat lost over the course of the past 20 to 30 years. Through approximately the publication of Simon Critchley’s pioneering



and radical The Ethics of Deconstruction in 1992, and his influential announce- ment of the importance of Levinas’ ethics for deconstruction, and on to the rise of the religious turn in Derrida studies, one can plot Derrida’s work as being increasingly cast in a messianic light. While Critchley’s work was certainly bold and decisive, helping to generate an upsurge of interest in Derrida as an ethical philosopher – with its proposed Levinasian dimension– it also inspired a flurry of activity which sought to expand this connection. It was as if the Levinasian orientation of deconstruction pro- vided a tonic for the years of characterization of Derrida’s work as nihilistic, relativist and unethical. While much may have been gained in the course of these analyses, especially the diminishment of the earlier almost forgotten incessant characterizations of Derrida’s work as nihilistic and relativistic, it is however time to reappraise the extent to which this direction may have diminished the essentially transgressive nature of Derrida’s thought. This, as I argue herein, signifies far-reaching ethical and political conse- quences for our understanding of deconstruction. If nothing sustains itself as set apart, exclusive or sacrosanct, then nothing may sustain the imple- mentation of its own hierarchy. Pursuing the logic of profanation, I argue that Derrida fully annuls the possibility of fully actualizing such hierarchical structures. On an ethical and political plane this means that deconstructive logic follows an indiscriminately equalizing operation. Therefore, to come to understand what deconstruction can say about the ethical and political, one must always think horizontally rather than vertically; one can only begin thinking deconstruction philosophically by virtue of levelling and barring hierarchical possibility from its inception. The logic of profanation thus holds a radical egalitarian impetus, a specific type of radical equality which is egalitarian in its relentless undermining of all hierarchy, and indeed, political theology. Therefore, the key insight that deconstruction offers for what it means to be is that human being is always the product of contingent survival along with all other things. Hence the worst state of affairs is never eternal, and all other eventuation and possibilities which beset the human condition never last. Deconstruction, as a radically philo- sophical origin of thought, originates from the worldly, egalitarian and wholly profane. All philosophy must begin and return from these coordinates. This provides the most emancipatory expression of deconstruction. If deconstruction offers emancipatory insight it is that it ‘redeems’ us from infinite bliss as well as infinite torment.

Chapter 1

There Is No World without End (Salut): Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane

Chaque Fois Unique, la fin du Monde. 1 It is these words which characterized some of Derrida’s later writings. This chapter explores the central operation of deconstruction. If discrete timing and spacing are central functions of deconstruction, then how, precisely, can this give relief to an overall sense of life? My argument begins with Derrida’s earliest work and moves on to discuss the role of finitude and worlds in relation to the deconstruction. It is my contention that from the premises of Derrida’s deconstruction it is possible to develop a logic of worlds. Throughout his career Derrida intensively engaged with certain aspects of Husserl’s phenomenology, from The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy, to parts of Rogues: Two Essays on Reason (2003). This chapter will attempt to outline how deconstruction responds to some of the most traditional questions of philosophy: What does it mean to be human? What is an object? What is the structure of life and reality? The answer to these questions derives from a tragic sense of life, one where worlds are contingent and not wholly reducible to other worlds. A common trope of Greek culture was to counterpoint mortal and immortal life, fate in the face of divine necessity; then, Derrida’s central insights, by contrast, remain wholly grounded in the baseless vagaries of life and death, and the life of things in opposition to gods or immortal life. This is not to suggest that Derrida describes a kernel of the human, but rather that, if one is to think deconstruction philosophically, one must think it fully at the intersection of the vagaries of worldly and mortal things. To achieve this end, the chapter will consist in three sections. I will look at Derrida’s analysis of Husserlian temporality in order to demonstrate the central operation of Derrida’s notion of time, and show the necessity of temporal alteration for the existence of any world. Derrida I suggest can be situated between the question of the worldly and the temporal. In this way

Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane


he deepens the Husserlian notion of world. Focusing on the question of finitude will allow me to gauge how deconstruction responds to the ques- tions of mortality and contingency. The second section will examine more closely the links between finitude and temporality in relation to the fini- tude of worlds and their alterity in deconstruction. This will allow me to call deconstruction a phenomenology of the ‘extra-mundane’. Deconstruction always speaks of the conditions of world and also the degrees to which worlds are surpassed and exceeded. The concept of world and the necessary suspension of what Husserl saw as the mundane world is, I contend, a central gesture of Derrida’s deconstruction. Indeed it is perhaps the loss of world more than anything that permeates Derrida’s thought from beginning to end. These traits pro- vide a key interpretative juncture by which to understand the continuity of Derrida’s oeuvre. There can only be relation between worlds. There is no absolute world, nor are there wholly specific worlds. If we ask ourselves how one conceives of a deconstructive concept of world, the thesis which responds to the question requires the interpretation of the concept of ‘world’ in the widest possible sense. ‘World’ should not be taken simply in the sense of the globe; it is not only the world of phenomena which pre- sents itself to us; it does not designate a separation between a sensible and an other world. The term environment is more useful way of reading ‘world’ here. Worlds, for deconstruction, entail a relationship between a horizon of presentation and its dissipation. Again, this must be thought in the broadest possible sense. If every world contains a horizon then it is demarcated; if it is demar- cated, this implies perspective. If it has a perspective it must also have a relation that is demarcated from another world. The analysis of worlds for deconstruction reveals the unlimited scope and structure of all objects and identities. Everything from cells, to rocks, to quarks are all worlds in their own right, with their own unique perspective, relations and environ- ment. Deconstruction thus names the condition for the being of all things. What it shows is that all worlds are governed by principles of finitude (com- ing to an end) and infinitude (coming to life). This is an open vector, revealing that all identities are both passive and active. All objects and identities may only be by virtue of the demarcations which separate them and the potential unifications that bind them to all other objects. Worlds always surpass themselves. It is their active relationality that creates reality. This is, as such, inexhaustible. While all worlds may not relate to each other, innumerable worlds must if any events are to take place. All worlds describe the totality of relational identities, their beginning, and their


Derrida: Profanations

coming to an end. Deconstruction, putting it somewhat controversially, names the conditions of reality itself. What is, is the presentation of finite and relational of worlds without end. Every world that is presented presup- poses perspectives, directionality and relationality with other worlds. Every happening of a world presupposes a return to a different world which in turn implies relationality with another world. The presentation of a world is conditioned on a return to other contingent worlds. For this reason there is no one world. There is no absolute relation which could make the presentation of worlds other-worldly.

* * *

Phenomenology, as Husserl conceived it, was more than anything world-orientated. Examining Husserl’s phenomenology gives an insight to the intensity with which Derrida’s deconstruction of the world is orien- tated towards worldliness rather than other-worldliness. If Derrida has a concern with alterity and temporality, one must question whether this is relevant to phenomenology at all, especially given Husserl’s explication of the phenomenological ‘principle of all principles’ in Ideas 1. This stated that the certainty of self-evident cognition is required for the possibility of any meaning. 2 As Dermot Moran points out, Derrida’s ‘path beyond philosophy is essentially a route through phenomenology’. 3 Why then does phenomenology remain important for Derrida? It is because this route, as Moran observes it, began conventionally with Derrida as a Husserlian scholar commenting on Husserl’s Logical Investigations and Origins of Geometry. Here, Derrida sought to expose what he saw as the metaphysical presuppositions that Husserlian phenomenology intended to avoid. At the heart of this critique is not a complete disavowal of phenomenology, but rather, according to Moran: ‘he wants to liberate phenomenology from the very metaphysical standpoint it claims to have overcome, seeking to get behind phenomenology’s addiction to the intuition of presence.’ 4 So while Derrida is on the one hand predominantly influenced by the anti-metaphysical presuppositionless thrust of Husserl’s work, with its stress on philosophy as a rigorous descriptive science, on the other, he seeks to unveil the metaphysical presuppositions that Husserl’s own work belies. Husserl’s supposed conceptual shortcomings lead Derrida famously to characterize phenomenology as ‘metaphysics of presence’. To grasp Derrida’s critique of Husserl, it is first necessary and fair to explicate the specific elements of Husserl’s phenomenological project with which Derrida takes issue. Though Derrida deals with many issues in

Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane


Husserl’s work, these for the most part derive from his meditations on Husserl’s temporality. In its most basic formulation, Husserlian pheno- menology attempts to present the unmediated and essential features of consciousness, discovered through reflection on the experience of phe- nomena. The basic argument underlying Derrida’s engagement with phe- nomenology and temporality is founded upon the insight that principles which ground phenomenological introspection are divided by temporality and cannot exist without some minimal form of mediation. 5 To provide a rational account of our perception of the world depends on coming to understand our relation to the temporal order of the world. We exist in time, but if time is to be experienced, for Husserl, it must be understood as a form of presence. There must be some way of connecting present experiences to previous experience. If we only experience a series of impressions, there would be no connection between them. Without some connection between past and future events we would not be able to demarcate our own experience from that which previously happened or that which is imminent, and thus, we could not build up any conception of our relation to the world. Husserl’s own work was a modification of more traditional conceptions of temporality, such as those of John Locke and William James, who both saw temporal consciousness in the form of an extended duration of the present. This involved a complicated relation of succession and simultaneity, as well as memory and imagination. However, Husserl saw a central problem with some of the more traditional concep- tions of temporality. For Husserl, their descriptions fell foul of the tradi- tional paradoxes which beset the conception of time. This perspective is best brought to light through Husserl’s critique of Franz Brentano’s conception of temporality. Brentano argued that dura- tion and succession are the products of an original amalgamation or asso- ciation of perceptual representations. 6 This entails that each conscious

act of current perceived sensation includes, via memory, a re-presentation of past sensations that are by necessity no longer present. Similarly, through anticipation, we maintain a readiness for future sensations. Husserl stresses that Brentano’s account is flawed. It fails to differentiate between an intuition within the original association and an act of memory that provides us with a recollection of a distant past. Effectively re-presentation (Vergegen- wärtigung) of an intuition would, in Brentano’s account, have to be a repre- sentation of a representation. As Husserl puts it: ‘According to Brentano’s

the act of representation as such does not permit differ-

theory, namely

entiation, that, apart from their primary content, there is no difference between ideas as such, there is nothing left to consider but that the primary


Derrida: Profanations

content of perceptions are joined phantasms and more phantasms, qualita- tively alike and differing’ 7 This state of affairs precludes the availability of any criterion to suggest how we could perceptually or critically discriminate between present consciousness, a past perceptual act represented in the present or more significantly past acts themselves. It thus follows that

it would be impossible to discriminate between a perceived object, on

Brentano’s analysis, and a past one. Thus, one would not be able to distin- guish between acts that happened 20 years ago and acts that occurred only moments ago. Husserl’s response was to conceive of perception as structured in a manner which automatically retains the past conscious act without actually fully re-associating with a past content. This requires a qualitative ‘phasing’

structure which facilitates the sense of the ‘pastness’ of conscious acts. This,

it must be stressed, is not an original association in the form of a recollected

act of memory. Rather than conceiving of an amalgamation of two separate acts by a memorial affiliation, Husserl asserts that within each conscious act there is both a protentional and a retentional structure (50–1). Husserl’s chosen metaphor is of a comet with the ‘now’ point as the core and the tail representing the constitution of past impressions which gradually fade away (52). Thus, conscious acts are themselves structured in such a way that

there is a constitutive retention of past contents rather than a re-association with a past content. This is also the case as regards expectation, whereby

a conscious act protends towards the future. The advantage of Husserl’s

formulation over Brentano’s is that retention and protention present to consciousness at a primary level rather than in terms of memory. Retention and protention are experiential, structuring the order of retained experi- ence. They thereby specifically do the work of constituting the about- to-come and the just-elapsed. It is in this way that Husserl can conceive of the immediacy of phenomenological introspection, of a given phe- nomenological experience, without having to rely on memory, which does not necessarily make a distinction between the immediate and the remote past. In order to remove all psychologistic presuppositions, Husserl develops his analysis by formulating the concept of intentionality. For Husserl, the term ‘intentionality’ designates the sense that ‘all consciousness is con- sciousness of something’. Intentionality is a universal medium of conscious- ness that holds beyond the ability to shift between mental acts. 8 Intentionality

becomes the sense-bestowing activity of all conscious presentations. 9 Husserl introduced a new terminology to describe this. He drew on the ancient Greek terms noesis (act of thinking) and noema (what is thought) to

Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane


describe intentional consciousness. The noema is not the object itself; it is the real part of the presented content in consciousness (reell). Since no manifestation can fully appear to us, then the nomea implies the unity that consciousness’ intends on the appearance of an object. Intentionality is irreducibly directed towards connecting one’s given thought to the object one intends. This is a central function of Husserl avoiding the paradoxes of internal time-consciousness. It becomes a particular facet of Husserlian phenomenology that intentionality, along with the protentional–retentional order of internal time-consciousness, allows consciousness to maintain an intentional meaning of objects of the past and their pastness, in relation to current and forthcoming experience. Noematic meaning provides a sense- bestowing core (Kern), which anchors the appearance of the object through different intentional acts in the face of the genesis of different temporal and phenomenal horizons. Derrida criticizes the Husserlian notion of temporality in his earliest writings on the philosopher, particularly The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy and Voice and Phenomena (1967). Derrida’s critique of Husserl concludes that any perception of a ‘now’ (Augenblick), or a moment of presence, is always other to this supposed moment and is therefore structured by an essential division or non-presence. In Voice and Phenomena, Derrida tries to show how this differentiation is effected through conscious- ness in the sphere of transcendental phenomena, historicity and the function of signs:

phenomenology seems to us tormented from within, by its own descriptions of the movement of temporalization and of the consti- tution of inter-subjectivity. At the heart of what ties together these two decisive moments of description we recognize an irreducible non- presence as having a constituting value, and with it a non-life, a non- presence or non-self belonging of the living present, an irreducible non-primordiality. 10

What is interesting about this formulation is that in contesting the notion of presence, Derrida argues that the conceived unity of presence does not exist tout court. If non-presence and non-life (death) are to constitute anything, they must be transformative of identities a priori. There must be a ‘non-self-belonging’ of the lived present. This means that any identity that is, is essentially because it is of something else. I will go on to argue that Derrida does not restrict this analysis merely to that which happens in consciousness. That which is lived is only because it relates to an alterity,


Derrida: Profanations

which is to say, its absence or death, because all identities are shot through with temporality, both infinitely and infinitesimally. It is important to ask whether Husserl’s understanding of temporality conforms to Derrida’s understanding of Husserlian conceptions of time. Lillian Alweiss articulates an astute critique of Derrida’s reading of Husserl. The benefit of looking to Alweiss is that she brings to light the sophistica- tion of Husserl’s concept of temporality. Alweiss asserts, in opposition to Derrida, that Husserl does in fact admit a moment of non-presence within the realm of protention and retention. 11 To be retentional the process must incorporate retrieval, and for Alweiss, this would mean that there is an important difference between the act of retaining and that which is retained. Retention thus operates as a supplementation, whereby each retention entails a further retention, which in turn entails a further reten- tion and so on, creating a variable level of ‘pastness’. Husserl, for Alweiss, expresses a degree of non-presence and non-perception, which is not based on a moment of absolute loss. As Alweiss claims:

The incompleteness is not disjunctive but assimilative

a temporal object is therefore presented in its presence. Though incom- plete it should not be understood in terms of occlusion or obstruction, for occlusion is only possible in a three-dimensional, i.e. transcendent world. In immanent experience we are faced with an incompleteness which does not occlude the co-appearance of that which appears in its failure to appear which in turn is fully present. 12

The change in

Alweiss suggests that Husserl’s work should not be thought in terms of the Derridean notion of a longing for presence, but as temporal prolonging. This is because what Husserl calls the primal impression is not wholly an original impression; nor is it a replication of a moment which is no longer; nor is it a pointing to the loss of the actual present. Rather, the primal impression describes a pointing that has no object in itself, that is no content in the original impressional sense, yet is at the same time actually existing, that is to say present here and now (65). Alweiss’ point is that retention cannot refer to an experienced object because such an object, in itself, is not wholly present to consciousness. Alweiss suggests that the protentional–retentional order presents to consciousness a ‘weakened’ or diminished sense of the experienced object. However, it must be questioned whether this is wholly the case. It would seem that Alweiss’ focus on prolonging separates temporality into a region of absolute time, immanent to itself and exempt from the genesis of

Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane


impressional experience. Alweiss unwittingly, albeit in a more sophisticated form, repeats the problems which Derrida lays out: the centrality of an absolute temporality. There are for Alweiss two levels of temporal objecti- vity: one is the empirical flux of impressions; the other is immanent intentional time which bestows a unified and prolonged sense on flux of external impressions. For Husserl, it is absolutely essential that these levels remain correlated, otherwise one could not suggest that a particular impression is instituted, and awaits the animating force of intentional ideality. This proximity allows Husserl to claim we can know the difference between different impressions and a real object, otherwise there could be a relation between a particular impression and any object at all. 13 This strategy implies, as Alweiss notes, two forms of temporality; that of the retention and that of the retained. There must be some minimal connec- tion between temporal presentations on Husserl’s terms. If not, no experi- ence of the varying intensities of different temporal phases would be possible. However, if there is a connection, it implies the specificity of each temporal impression. If time operates on an impressional sense, as

a flow of perceived events in the world, then how can such impressions

have an exceptional relation to a prior region of time? If it is affected by impressions, this surely implies that absolute time cannot on its own bestow

sense, or else temporal flow would be insignificant. If each impression of primal temporality, or even retained content, has its own specific moment of immanent time, this only serves to create intracta-

ble complexities. It would mean that each impression is constituted by a specific instance of intentional time. This reverts to a reductio ad absurdum, since every primal impression would require its own specific retention and protention in relation to that which has past and to that which comes. If every impression requires a particular retention, primal impression and protention, then in principle, this means that the protentional–retentional order is present to each moment of immanent and intentional time to which this happens. While the paradoxes of time are certainly complex, put in its most basic form the problem is exactly what presence and temporality are. If presence is unified then it cannot admit of temporal succession or impressions and acts. If time is succession then it cannot be unified and durable. The problem presents the old philosophical conundrum of how to reconcile succession and simultaneity. In the strictest sense, they are irreconcilable. Husserl sets up a dichotomy between a conscious flow which

is present and perpetually grasped, and which unifies the impressional flux

of experience (retention), and the impressional flow of experience itself (retained). Therefore, he offers the ascription of a non-temporal presence


Derrida: Profanations

as the central deus ex machina in consciousness. In the simplest terms, any- thing that is temporally extended cannot be a punctual now, since it must be a not-now, and thus, cannot wholly be present by definition. Time implies a relation to a different times, as well as a different spaces to be time in the first place. Zahavi repeats a similar criticism of Derrida. This explicates the opera- tion of time in deconstruction; particularly the ways in which the temporal- ity of human consciousness is used as a model for explaining how identities correlate to other identities. Zahavi suggests that Husserl’s notion of temporality is principally founded on a form of alterity, one which Derrida disregards by charging Husserl with a hypostatization of the primal impres- sion. Zahavi beautifully expresses this point, by arguing why difference is precisely necessary, to any sense of self-awareness. This circumvents Derrida, who suggests that the question of difference was always under- mined by Husserl’s emphasis on the present moment consisting of a recup- eration of an absent past and imminent moments of temporal impressions. For Zahavi, the primal impression is always founded on a ‘temporal density’. Retentional modifications are not subsequent addendums, but an integrated part of the primal impression. As Zahavi strikingly puts it, for Husserl ‘presence is differentiation’. 14 In a refreshing vision of the Derrida–Husserl debate, Zahavi sees in Husserl the very insights Derrida takes as central to his thought: the priority of differentiation. This is especially so when it comes to understanding the impossibility of the simple and sufficient self-identity of the present. Hence Zahavi suggests:

The primal impression will always be gone before it can be fixed by consciousness. To be punctual and to be experienceable are exclusive

determinations. Thus, every self-aware experience contains retention,

that is, the irreducible alterity of the past

presence must be conceived as an originary difference or interlacing between now and not now, due to the intimate relation between primal impression and retention.(84)

To be more precise, self

Zahavi is quite correct to suggest that Derrida is heavily influenced by Husserl, given that Husserl realized more than anyone that temporal experience is essentially differentiating. However, Husserl stepped back from the full radicality of his insight by positing an absolute flow in consciousness to arrest the flow of impressional experience. The crucial question remains, does Derrida commit the same errors Husserl accused Brentano of, where one could not demarcate between past events and

Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane


events just past or imminent? What it is critical to realize here is that Derrida qualifies his point by claiming that retention and representation as secondary memory are not as disjunctive and disjointed as Husserl allows. I have previously argued that, for Derrida, there must be both contact and coalescence between what is presented and its trace. Leonard Lawlor states this plainly when he says that there is no radical discontinuity, and thus no absolute demarcation between past and future. For Lawlor, Derrida argues that there is a continuity between retention and secondary memory, such that it is impossible to claim that there is a radical discontinuity between retention and re-presentation. 15 This is significant because in this reading, all temporal events are not wholly distinct from other events. 16 Any event must take time to occur, whether it is of the recent or distant past. There cannot therefore be a full separation of primary memory and secondary memory. Since there can be no absolute difference between the past and the now, there cannot be any absolute now point. This further implies that the experience of temporal passing requires some form of span between a just now and events to come. This span is the minimal condition of events being able to happen. The elapsing of time requires a form of space or span in order to relate to anything at all. This is also why Husserl’s absolute demarcation of primal temporality and secondary recollection is not wholly adequate for thinking temporality. Furthermore, since there is no radical separation or radical union, the essential temporal relation is one which is constituted out of persistence and disintegration. The concept of temporal- ity, as Derrida formulates it, is applicable not only to consciousness but to events and entities in general, since consciousness does not wholly govern what is past and what is to come. I will go on to demonstrate that Derrida, in a Nietzschean sense, corresponds to a form of active forgetting. All events are entwined and inscribed with events of worlds which are both elapsing and arising. Therefore, both time and space are irreducibly entwined.

* * *

Central to the analysis of the temporal contingency of all identities is Derrida’s radicalization of classical phenomenological notions such as primal temporality, ‘natural attitude’, the ‘reduction’, ‘intentionality’ and the ‘noematic–noetic’ correlation. Of all of Husserl’s concepts, the one that has central importance to Derrida’s thinking is the concept of the epoché. Derrida categorically states that it is ‘true that for me Husserl’s work, and precisely the notion of epoché, has been and still is a major indispensable gesture. In everything I try to say and write the epoché is implied. I would say


Derrida: Profanations

that I constantly try to practice that whenever I am speaking or writing.’ 17 The centrality of the epoché places Derrida at the very centre of Husserl’s analysis. However, it still remains to wonder whether such an affiliation with the epoché leads Derrida to the same conclusions, and if so what the relationship is between the reduction that Husserl had in mind and the sense of epoché that Derrida invokes. After all, when Derrida talks of the integral nature of the epoché, he is most certainly presenting a precursor to the later concept of différance as a radical epoché or suspension. Pheno- menologically, in the natural attitude, the world is precisely that which is not thematized; and is that which is taken for granted. The epoché for Husserl is that which suspends this tacit belief or world-acceptance. If Derrida, as I argue, radicalizes these phenomenological concepts, begin- ning with the epoché, then it necessarily follows that any conception of world in deconstruction must take its condition in relation to a suspension of the mundane. The ‘extra’ of this chapter’s titular ‘extra-mundane’ signifies a sense of both the additional and the subtractive. Essential to deconstruction is the double necessity of that which suspends the world, loses it, lessens it and leaves it behind; and at the same stroke adds to it and affects it. The extra- mundane thus becomes shorthand for the way these concepts play out at numerous instances of Derrida’s career, and is, I argue, a central and decisive element of his thought from beginning to end. Derrida’s work is motivated by an irreducible tension between worldliness and alterity. Indeed the ‘extra-mundane’ specifically designates this chiasmatic relation. A good place to begin to understand this chiasm can be identified in Derrida’s resistance to what he sees as Husserl’s illegitimate use of the Idea in the Kantian sense. 18 For Derrida:

the idea in the Kantian sense designates the infinite overflowing of a hori- zon which, by reason of an absolute and essential necessity which itself is absolutely principled and irreducible, never can become an object itself, or be completed, equalled, by the intuition of an object because it is the unobjectifiable wellspring of every object in general. This impossibility of adequation is so radical that neither the originality nor the apodicticity of evident truths are necessarily adequations. 19

Derrida asserts that Husserl’s use of the Idea in the Kantian sense prohibits the possibility of the generative or temporal becoming of any object. Traditionally, the Kantian Idea is a postulate of reason which aims beyond finite experience. Since the presentation of appearances is only relative to

Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane


a finite perceiver, the ability to transcend this perspective is founded on the postulation of an infinite idea. By prescribing to an infinite idea we will be able to approximate to the unified determination of an object. If phenomenology is conceived of an infinite task or as a discipline of perpetual beginnings, then what makes it possible receives its impetus from

a non-evidence beyond the living present as such. For Derrida, this entails that Husserl must posit a trans-temporal metaphysical universal. Husserl thus works between a constituted arché and a telos that is postulated to retrieve the ideal formation. As Derrida states,

This Idea of the infinite determinability of the same X – moreover, as well, that of the world in general – ‘designat[es] through its essential nature a type of evidence that is its own’. But this evidence of the Idea as regulative possibility is absolutely exceptional in phenomenology: it has no proper content, or rather it is not evidence of the Idea’s content. It is evidence only insofar as it is finite, i.e., here, formal, since the content of the infinite Idea is absent and is denied to every intuition. 20

Derrida criticized Husserl for asserting that this horizon was inextricably tied to the flux of experience without describing exactly how this was so. Nonetheless, Derrida does subscribe to an inevitably incomplete profile of the phenomena, which always points beyond itself to that which it is not and is only indicated by anticipation. It is not so much that phenomena point to an assimilative structure of the object, but rather that the in-built structures of phenomena entail a structure of anticipation. This structure is also the very condition of possibility of phenomenological appearance which is as such an impossibility as it is infinitely pointing beyond some- thing other than the presentation of its immediate givenness, which is non- existent, and non-determinable. In this way the horizon also subscribes to the Idea in the Kantian sense, whereby the object is intended as if it were given. The issue is, first, the admission of non-phenomenological content, in order to ground the progression of phenomenological experience; and second, the admission that such an object expresses a desire for a content that is its own, removed from the alterations made by other objects. If the

Idea in the Kantian sense is to be conceived of as an infinite postulate or as

a regulative idea then its sense cannot be given. If we are to use the infinite,

we are to use precisely that which is not of the world, or that which is wholly immanent to itself and which transcends all things of the world. 21 For

Derrida this means that we can only have evidence of the form of infinity


Derrida: Profanations

and not its substantial presentation. 22 What is left, for Derrida, is a finite presentation that indefinitely moves towards other finitudes. To flesh out the notion of what finitude means for Derrida it is instructive to examine his important critique of Levinas in order to understand how he develops deconstruction to notions of the infinite and the finite. Accord- ing to Derrida, Levinas holds the erroneous assumption that Husserl gives a reductive account of the other and alterity. In Section 3 of ‘Violence and Metaphysics’ Derrida stresses that Husserl successfully illustrated that the concept of horizon provided space for the anticipation of the incomplete- ness of the other. Moreover, as Derrida suggests, ‘Husserl’s most central affirmation concerns the irreducibly mediate nature of intentionality aiming at the other as other. It is evident, by an essential, absolute and

can never be given to me in an original way and in person, but only through analogi-

cal appresentation.’ 23 For Derrida, ‘The intuition of the infinite in the guise

can be grasped because the manner

of its appearance is finite and changeable. It always entails directedness beyond the object to that which is as such not yet constituted.’ 24 The presen- tation of the other can only be given through analogical appresentation. While for Levinas Husserl perpetrated a form of violence against the other, for Derrida this is perhaps one of Husserl’s greatest insights. Media- tion, and therefore violence, is irreducible. Both must entail contact and transgression of limits. This is key: violence is originary and essential for the possibility of any identity to be. There is always contamination, activity, transgression and penetration. This is possible because of the irreducible incompleteness that characterizes all objects, which are infinitely open to the possibility of variation and otherness. All phenomena contain a general

structure of alterity; every ‘horizon’ always presupposes the possibility of transcendence. As Derrida puts it, ‘Bodies, transcendent and natural things, are others in general for my consciousness. They are outside, and their transcendence is the sign of an already irreducible alterity. Levinas does not think so; Husserl does, and thinks that “other” already means something when things are in question. Which is to take seriously the reality of the external world.’ (155) It is worth noting at this point that for Derrida, the distinction between the alterity of others as transcendent things and the alterity of Others as alter-egos is not an exclusive one. Directing beyond the immediate given- ness of phenomena indicates the experience of a more general and radical alterity; as one which is not localized to phenomenological introspection. For Derrida, ‘without the first alterity, the alterity of bodies (and the Other

of horizonal sketches and profiles

definitive self-evidence that the other as transcendental other

Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane


is also a body), from the beginning, the second alterity could never emerge.

The system of these two alterities, the one inscribed in the other, must be thought together: the alterity of Others, therefore, by a double power of indefiniteness. The stranger is infinitely other because by his essence no enrichment of his profile can give the subjective face of his lived experience from his perspective’ (155). This for Derrida is the participation in a general transcendental alterity whereby the ‘I’, with the ‘I’ understood in the widest sense, as the transcendental opening to the world, is simultaneously in participation in the other ‘I’s and bodies as other origins of worlds. The world is always more than one. Derrida’s central question for Husserlian philosophy is always a question of finite mediation at the heart of the supposedly immediate or unmediated. By imagining the key methodology of phenomenology, this operation is clearly at play at every step for Derrida. The key component of Husserlian phenomenology is to work back, through the reduction, to the self-evidential (Evidenz) givenness of phenomena. Once this is achieved, Husserl could demonstrate a sphere no longer subject to further reduction. Once ‘pheno- menological self-explication’ occurs, it automatically implies the objects and facts of transcendental subjectivity in: ‘their place in the corresponding universe of pure (or eidetic) possibilities.’ 25 By avoiding empirical and

psychologistic inferences, the phenomenological attitude involves itself with the performance and systematic functioning of conscious structures as revelatory of an unmediated experience of world. Husserl, I have shown,

worked this out through the noematic–noetic correlate. Husserl asserts that

a pure sensational or experiential content (noema) is inaugurated as the

correlate of an originary intentional act of consciousness: the noema is what


given to consciousness, that is, a singular appearance, while the noetic act


an act of consciousness: judging, remembering and so on. The noetic and

the noematic are not, however, distinct entities; they are two sides of the same coin, and correlate to each other. There is as such no duality, as there can be no noema until there is a noetic act. If Derrida is correct that there is a finite mediation at the heart of the supposedly immediate or unmediated then noetic–noematic correlation reveals this precisely. To a degree there remains a problem in this schema as this means that there is an immediate acceptance of an alterity or other- ness within the noematic structure. This occurs as a result of the occasion of genesis. In the flux of experience, an inevitable alterity arises through the temporal constitution of primordial impressions. Thus, if impressional differentiation is to be affective (as it surely must be), then it must appear as already constituted within noematic consciousness. Following Husserl’s


Derrida: Profanations

own argumentation it must also refer to the noetic in its very constitution. Here we can see why the epoché is of crucial value to Derrida, because consciousness is irreducibly marked by the appearance of temporal phenomena within the flux of experience. This reveals that the suspension of world is something that cannot be left behind. It could be argued that Husserl intended this, but the crucial difference for Derrida is that the epoché or the suspension of the natural attitude can no longer define itself as strictly aimed towards the end of the reduction, because the time and being of the transcendent world is already implied in the reduction. As Derrida claims, ‘[T]he being of the transcendent world and of what is constituted in general will be “suspended” without being suppressed’. 26 Therefore, we can see that any reduction from the natural attitude that Husserl institutes already indicates a material tran- scendence of sorts, a transcendence that holds in suspension worlds that are in incessant reduction. The over-riding concern of Derrida’s The Problem of Genesis is the ‘always already’ impingement of worldly difference within noematic constitution itself. This occurs within a particular, finite place in the flux of external experience. Whatever is intended is so specifically aimed towards a particular part of the flux of experience. This implies the acceptance of an alterity or otherness within the noematic structure. Follow- ing Husserl’s own argument, it must also refer to the noetic in its very consti- tution. The Problem of Genesis is the first place where we see this logic asserted, manifest in the inevitable coinciding of that which is constituting (noetic) coming from the hyletic region and that which is constituted (noematic). This does not meet necessary requirements for the reduction to a stratum of unmediated intuition. Instead this indicates that what is in play is a region of worldly and temporal differentiation and alteration that is essential for any existential happening. Every world that is given intrinsically implies some alteration and thus delimits the possibility of the presentation of one unmediated world. What I call the ‘automatic epoché’ continues to take place, constantly suspending a posited, ideal and transcendent world. 27 This shows us that the generation of noematic objects, if they are to happen, must require different coordinates. What Derrida calls a ‘suspension without suppression’ of the assumptions of the natural attitude, further entails that Husserl’s own recovery of transcendental subjectivity implies that noematic objects are shot through with the different temporal and material events of the world. Since the impressional object necessarily occurs within a particular and finite place within the flux of external experience, therefore, when Husserl asserts a desire to reduce back to an unmediated sphere of consciousness, it always begins in a particular worldly

Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane


time and space. Phenomenology does not take place in a vacuum. Hence, we can see that any reduction from the natural attitude that Husserl insti- tutes already entails the necessity of temporal and material transcendence, which cannot be wholly suspended or jettisoned. This transcendence operates prior to the reflective determination of whether phenomena are either phenomenal or real. They are phantas- matic. 28 In a phenomenological sense, what makes the lifeworld possible is spectrality. If it is to be intentional in the sense that all consciousness is consciousness of something, it must be comprised of the material of that which given and not given, as well as that which is unseen as well as seen, the inapparent and absent must be present in the apparent. In this way, intentionality must be the intentional but non-real [non-réele] component of phenomenological lived experience. 29 What attracts Derrida to the noema is precisely its radical and transformative capacity. It has the ability to index the world in consciousness without doing so in any specific sense or aimed towards any origin of a world. It thus implies a generic condition of worlds. The noema is always consciousness of something, with the emphasis here on the ‘of’. This consciousness of can be consciousness of anything and thus does not remain structured by particular acts of consciousness, even if it is still correlated to them. 30 The noema is thus included without being an element of what occurs in consciousness, and this non-real component can thus neither be strictly in consciousness nor of the world. Derrida unambiguously argues this case in Spectres of Marx:

this intentional but non-real inclusion of the noematic correlate is neither ‘in’ the world nor in consciousness. But it is precisely the condition of any experience, any objectivity, any phenomenality, namely, of any noematic– noetic correlation, whether originary or modified. It is no longer regional. Without the non-real inclusion of this intentional component (therefore inclusive and noninclusive inclusion: the noeme is included without being a part), one could not speak of any manifestation, of any phenomenality

Is not such an ‘irreality’ [irréelite], its independence both


in relation to the world and in relation to the real stuff of egological subjectivity, the very place of apparition, the essential, general, non- regional possibility of the spectre? Is it not also what inscribes the possibi- lity of the other and of mourning right into the phenomenality of the phenomenon? 31

Because the noema is transcendent, it is hence transcendent to particular manifestations and their object. Husserl’s genius lay in thinking through


Derrida: Profanations

the generative formlessness of a concept which transcended worlds and always implied a sense of the extra-mundane in relation to the mundane. The world is thus to use one of Derrida’s later formulations auto-immune. The immune structure of one world can never sustain the purity of its own self-manifestation, it always implies a relation to others. This is why, for Derrida, phenomenological intentionality includes the possibility of its own absence and death. Since for Husserl all worlds necessarily appeared, and did so irrelative to their own internal consistency, then all possible regional behaviour would take place within a particular horizon or home world. This would mean for Husserl that the appearance of world defines the proportion of human life. As such, in the strictest Husserlian terms, there can be only one world. Now, for Derrida, in the same manner that he emphasizes finitude, it is the active loss of world that becomes con- stitutive of the phenomenological lifeworld, which for Derrida means that the concept of lifeworld is permeated with loss and with the departed. 32 Consequently, when the epoché is instantiated, and the reduction is effected back to the realm of pure phenomena, it must by necessity already imply a sense, even if unintentional, of the object whose existence it suspends. But what are the consequences of this? Ultimately, what is of a world constitutes experience in general; however, at the same stroke the epoché intimates a departure from the world. The world is thus left behind through the enactment of the reduction. In Derrida’s later works, this becomes the structure of delay and deferral that he attributes to différance. Since every enactment of an epoché entails a space from whence it is sus- pended, and since every attempt to rearticulate the world is a failed attempt to return to the time of the original world, then it follows that both time and space are essential conditions for generating experience. For Derrida, the epoché moves a step further back; rather than being something that is performed in the first person, the idea of an automatic epoché that occurs regardless of manifest intentionality becomes possible. This logic is also evident in Derrida’s introduction to Husserl’s Origins of Geometry. In many senses this text provides a snapshot of some of Derrida’s career-long concerns. The fulcrum of the text is organized around the question of the historicity of ideal geometrical formations. The crucial question raised is whether ideal formations, such as geometrical entities, require of contingent and worldly events for their perpetuation. Husserl, Derrida suggests, separates factual objects and ideal essentialized objects. 33 Ideal objects are comprehended through their sense-content in their origi- nal meaning, not their sensible perception localized in empirical space.

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Ideal objects are thus universally realizable and purely objective. They are transmittable across various socio-cultural levels without deviation or anomaly. 34 Derrida, asks how, on strictly phenomenological grounds, how is an ideal meaning-intentional either transmitted both communally or histori- cally. 35 What is significant here is that for Derrida this rationale of trans- historical entities exhibits Husserl’s predilection for founding conscious activity on trans-temporal objects. Writing allows the re-conceptualization of sense. For ‘ideality’ to be transmittable it is dependent on writing to re-constitute itself across tradition, and is even necessary to exceed solip- sism. By definition, if writing is meaningful outside of its origin, this implies that it must exact a separation from its inaugural origin; and strictly speak- ing, it must therefore contest the possibility of whole origins to begin with. In terms of the ‘mundane’ or ‘worldly’, it is writing that allows an under- standing of the world, and the site and place of the world entwined with an inevitable changing and loss of the world. The point is that one cannot in effect think without having traces of different worlds and the manner in which they impinge on each other. Derrida suggests of writing and marks that they imply their dependence on each other, not on their derivation from one ideal formation:

But if the text does not announce its own pure dependence on a writer or reader in general (i.e. if it is not haunted by a virtual intentionality), and if there is no purely juridical possibility of it being intelligible for a transcendental subject in general, then there is no more in the vacuity of its soul than a chaotic literalness of its transcendental function. The silence of prehistoric arcana and buried civilizations, the entombment of lost intentions and guarded secrets, and the intelligibility of the lapi- dary inscriptions disclose the transcendental sense of death as what unites these things to the absolute privilege of intentionality in the very instance of its essential juridical failure [en ce qui l’unit a l’absolu du droit intentionnel dans l’instance même de son échec]. 36

The spiritual essence of universally valid sense is subject to historicity. Derrida describes this epistemic thrust thus:

In a science like geometry, whose potentiality for growth is extraordinary, it is impossible for every geometer, at every instant and every time he resumes his task after necessary interruptions, to perform a total and immediate re-activation of the ‘immense chain of foundings back to the


Derrida: Profanations

original premises’

paralyse the internal history of geometry just as surely would the radical

Total re-activation, even if that were possible, would

impossibility of all reactivation. (105)

Derrida is not wholly concerned with constructing a new theory of the subject, he is interested in what notions the subject indicate about the struc- ture of life in general. This establishes a theoretical matrix that is not con- fined strictly to rationalism, empiricism or transcendentalism, but instead, orientated towards a specific experience of worlds as contingent. For the purpose of this chapter’s argument, it is clear that the world we here refer to is a world which is always this-worldly. The presentation of worlds is conditioned on and acts upon other finitudes. Every world is this-worldly rather than other-worldly, as long as it subsists in relation to another this-worldly orientation. There can only be world where there are other worlds. In terms of transcendental philosophy, Derrida’s is thus distinct from Kant. Kant attempted to apprehend the irresolvable antimony of the finite and the infinite by showing that the nominal could not be directly experienced, it could only be grasped as a postulate of that which transcendental experience allows to appear to a finite consciousness. For Derrida, through Heidegger, the transcendental ‘condition of possibility’ of consciousness is the transcendental horizon’s own dissolution. Thus, transcendental subjectivity’s conditions of possibility are its conditions of impossibility. What constitutes the human for Derrida is the very impossibi- lity consciousness holds to have pure detached and intuitive access to real- ity. This does not mean that Derrida denies the existence of an independent reality or of a reality dependent on consciousness. The point is that an opposition between independent reality and the mind is false. What consti- tutes the human is its shared dependence on all objects. While it is a com- mon strategy to ally Derrida with a deconstruction of the subject and the human, what constitutes the human now is its share in the impossibility of any object being pure and univocal. If an object exists, then whatever form it might take must be sundered in order to be what it is. Objects are finitized. For this reason they are never absolute, infinite or prior to temporalizing and spatializing existents. It is possible to characterize this operation through Derrida’s radicaliza- tion of Husserl’s notion of horizon. Within Husserlian phenomenology the horizon was a necessary condition of experience; the phenomeno- logical horizon indicates what is not given. The consequence of this, for Derrida, is a ‘thickening’ of the phenomenological horizon. The structure of worlds requires world’s irreducible termination. It is where limits become

Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane


limited. While initially the phenomenological horizon demarcated the limits of what a phenomenon was in Derrida’s eyes, the notion of limit is

developed. Limits are necessary for thought irrespective of what identity

is at play.

This chapter is concerned with Derrida’s fidelity to the epoché. It is now possible to see why the suspension of the world is essential. However, Derrida does not quite end up in the same place as Husserl. Husserl constructed the epoché in an attempt to return to the things themselves and define how an unmediated experience of the world could be thought.

Derrida’s suspension of the world is something that is always enacted; it is

a threshold experience that is the norm rather than the exception. One’s

world, its horizons, limits and ends are the active condition of any experi- ence. In a sense, for Derrida the dissipation of the mundane is the only possible condition of any event. This is the deconstructive sense of the world that Derrida would touch upon many years later when speaking of Paul Celan’s expression ‘Die Welt ist fort, ich muß dich tragen’ (The world is

gone, I must carry you). 37 The importance of this refrain, within the lineage of Derrida’s work, recognizes the centrality of the radicalization of phe- nomenology he prompted in the 1960s. The suspension of the mundane is

a necessary erasure that offers an opening towards a thought of the becom-

ing possible of all things. This is also why the schematization of the spectral later becomes so important for Derrida. The not-world or the spectral is in effect a world without world that is not necessarily other-worldly per se. This notion of a radical epoché will later define what Derrida calls the spectral. It is thus no longer even accurate to say lifeworld, as it is no longer a ques- tion of what is only alive, but the very end of the life of worlds. The question

of lifeworld, or even homeworld, is now always also a question of death and haunting. The question of world, the loss of world and the end of world

is at one and the same time a question both of beginning and ending, of

birth and death. With the loss of every world a new life comes into being. With the end of every lifeworld we experience the beginning of a new world. It can no longer be only a lifeworld, but is now a question of death in life, of life-death, and this is precisely what Derrida means by the spectral. Spectrality is another word for différance, or within an earlier register the becoming-space of time and the becoming-time of space. Invariably, for Derrida, the world is structured by the movement and spacing (espacement) of difference. Différance is the difference that generates difference. It is what multiplies horizons and limits, demarcating the impossibility of any- thing being sufficient unto itself; hence the movement of spacing and the spacing that takes time to occur. Space and time are inextricably linked for


Derrida: Profanations

Derrida, which entails that the time of the world is always the time of another different world too. Since loss is both necessary and constitutive, the one thing that may now be taken for granted in the phenomenological sense is that structure of worlds always is always lost and departed. Spectrality permeates the banal and ordinary region of the mundane and, by necessity, delocalizes and subverts any regional attachment. Worlds, ego, objecthood and alterity coalesce and divide in Derrida. The human and the non-human contami- nate each other in the radical finitization of their own unique ends and beginnings:

For each time, and each time singularly, each time irreplaceably, each time infinitely, death is nothing less than an end of the world. Not only one end among others, the end of some one or something in the world, the end of a life or of a living being. Death puts to an end neither someone in the world nor to one world among others. Death marks each time the end of the unique world, the end of the totality of what is or can be presented as the origin of the world for any unique living being, be it human or not. 38

The question of the non-human brings to fuller fruition the sense of the finitization of the world and the limits of the phenomenological ego. In a fascinating article J. H. Miller quotes Derrida as saying that there is no world, for the world defines the totality of all beings (tout le monde); instead, there are only islands. 39 Indeed, on an ethical and political level the drive towards eternal assertion is on deconstructive terms the key symptom of nihilism. More specifically, what is even more striking in this quote is that Derrida unambiguously equates the desire for a world with the sickness of the world, and, in more decisive ontological terms as Miller suggests a being in sickness of the world. The construction of a world define attempts to impose passage, translation on the infinite space and time of difference. That there are only islands, for Miller, is Derrida’s way of defining the solitude and singularity of ‘my world’. Between my world and all the other worlds there is an incommensurable gap that cannot be circumscribed. The notion of an ‘island’ is an intriguing way of thinking the singularity of my world, and is certainly consonant with both the logic of deconstruction and the Husserlian lineage that I have traced. The only residue that is left after Husserl’s transcendental reduction is the solitude that is palpable with the disappearance of the world. What is valuable in Miller’s account is that being made into an island captures the way in which the difference of worlds is absolute. However,

Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane


it is necessary to remain cautious of Miller’s attempt to assert fully that Derrida attempts to operate with a ‘windowless monadology’. This would mean that our world or worlds remain self-sufficient and bounded. This would undermine the necessary contaminative force of deconstruction, as it would keep worlds separate and infinitely other which Miller recognizes. The crossing of worlds is precisely what brings worlds and singular worlds to an end. Indeed, this is what makes singularity possibly in the first place, and this is exactly why the difference of worlds is absolute. Whatever finiti- zation comes to be is singular and irreplaceable. However, this does not rule out the contamination of different limits and horizons. The event of worlds coming to be is unique. It would therefore seem more accurate to say that the loss of world is the contamination of respective worlds which allows singularity to take place. It is because of contamination and not in spite of it that the singular coalescence of whatever worlds is singular and exceptional. This is why Derrida, following Freud to an extent, describes this end of the world as a point of originary mourning where at the end of worlds, the world that has ended must carry the other’s world. 40 Since all worlds qua existents are comprised of existence and the passing of exis- tence, the worlds that exist are always related to traces behind that which constitutes them. This must be thought horizontally rather than vertically. Worlds come and go. Where there is a world there are anterior and imminent worlds. Because of this there is no absolute world. This trajectory of thought is brought to its full fruition in Derrida’s more recent text On Touching-Jean Luc Nancy. The thesis of this chapter relates to some of this enormous text’s most important points. First, the whole book effects a deconstruction of the centrality of the oracular motif that philoso- phy has enjoyed through the ages. Through the five ‘tangents’ of the hand or the five senses, Derrida patiently traces the effect of an activity of a mul- tiplicity of sensible qualities on sensation. As he rehearsed in the concept of ‘spectre’, touch is defined by an irreducible gap, a mark of limit with death at its core. There must be non-contact at the heart of contact. For Derrida, there can no longer be phenomenology nor ontology in their strict sense, as both the phenomenological lifeworld and Being can only ever be comprised of the contact and passing of an infinite number of finitudes and their limitless potential for affectivity. This allows Derrida to suggest that touch has as its object, potentially not only all of the senses but all sensible qualities. Touch operates in the same manner as the noema, and continues the deconstructive logic of what Derrida calls in his essay ‘Genesis and Structure’ the ‘anarchy of the noema’. Here hetero-affection impinges, creating sense formation through a multiple surplussing of what constitutes sensation over sense. Touch is the absolute relation which


Derrida: Profanations

prohibits any absolute separation of an identity. Because of touch all identi- ties are potentially in relation because they must touch some others. There is no pure auto-affection; all auto-affection becomes hetero-affection. In evidence here is a development of the old Aristotelian description of matter. For Aristotle, ‘matter’ was indeterminate and as such separable from the accidental and the contingent. Matter was indeterminate until it received a form. 41 Derrida points out in the opening pages of On Touching, that the aporia of touch extends Aristotle’s insight. 42 This is necessary to make all senses possible, rendering both the tangible and the intangible objects of touch. 43 For any object to be, it must touch and be touched. For example, we could not have a sense of sight if our eyes did not touch our head and body. We could not have a sense of hearing if our ears did not touch or be touched by our head and the sound that travels through the air. Likewise, an event between a pebble and the sea could not happen with touch taking place. Rather than a spiritual or immaterial soul, there is a radicalized sense of spectral materiality, which touches, transgresses, tinkers and toys with all the specific senses. Touch implies lightness and an almost imperceptible flimsiness at the heart of all experience; the givenness of all things is marked by fleetingness and evanescence. The question of world within the long trajectory of Derrida’s thought crystallizes around the idea of touch as the most deconstructive of gestures. Touch remains as a matter of survival (sur-vivance) of the world, even if the presentation of a world remains by necessity singular and not derived from an absolute sense of the world (47). The deconstructive logic of touch demonstrates how ‘touch’ touches on all things. 44 It assumes the errancy of indeterminate matter of which Aristotle spoke of. If all worlds imply touching and being touched, this further implies the irreducible inevitability of contact. Contact implies a material and proximate relation. If so then one cannot but touch the untouchable. It is necessary to think of the transparency of things, and to imagine the manner in which all worlds and limits collapse into themselves. All objects give support, holding and carrying the burden of all other things. To touch implies a holding and a carrying, and this carrying becomes a necessary burden of non-contact at the heart of contact. For to carry is none other than to take an object to another time and place, where it may live or die. As Derrida constantly repeated towards the end of his career: ‘Die Welt ist fort, ich muß dich tragen’ (The world is gone, I must carry you). Hence, the importance placed on touch is immense for Derrida, as with- out it no being can survive or surpass its own existence. Touch is therefore also a question of necessity. Every touch brings something to an end as it

Derrida’s Phenomenology of the Extra-mundane


carries and gets carried elsewhere and anywhere. Touch thus brings things to life. In discussing Maine de Biran Derrida palpably feels the essential role that touch plays vis-à-vis the world and life; for Derrida ‘no living being in the world can survive for an instant without touching, which is to say without being touched. Not necessarily by some other living being but by something = x. We can live without seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling (“sensing,” in the visual, auditory, gustatory, and olfactory senses), but we cannot survive without touching’ (140). There must always be some contact between identities with touch corresponding to the trace of all relations and thus corresponding to the espacement or the becoming-time of space and the becoming-space of time of all identities. Touch cannot wholly be unto itself. It always implies contact and relation. It is impossible to conceive of touch as wholly unified and indivisible. There is nothing that cannot be touched. This is why Derrida’s work On Touching holds such an important place within his oeuvre. If Derrida’s work is about anything, it is about necessity of hetero-affection. One cannot have affection without some form of touch and contact. If every thing was governed by auto- affection then all objects would be only a matter of self-touch. There could be no contact with other identities. Touch thus corresponds to the chiasm of life and death and remains Derrida’s most materialist expression. Since touch cannot be auto-affection, it also requires timing, space and relation. This means that the possibility of touch is essential to the tracing of any relations and essential for experience to happen in general. Thus, for Derrida, the trace is a material survival. It is always a trace of other touches. Everything is touchable and there is no inviolable region of touch immune from its reach. There can be no ‘touch me not’. The most common negative interpretations of this suggests that Derrida at best redirects us back to the natural attitude; but this is to miss his point. What Derrida indicates towards rather entails a ‘reduction of the reduction’, which means that in deconstruction the phenomenological reduction is not limited, static and reducible to one point of presence but always reduces differentially, signifying beyond its own orbit. Deconstruc- tion is and is not born of phenomenology. As we have shown, the epoché, the index of epistemological nullity itself, and the reduction are crucial and necessary requirements for an understanding of the evolution of decon- struction. What Derrida disputes is not the opening of a description of a certain type of transcendental experience, but rather the phenomeno- logical categorization of this insight to begin with. It is also relevant to note that Derrida in Rogues directly linked the concept of world to the idea of salut. 45 Salut as is well known in French indicates at once welcoming


Derrida: Profanations

and departure, addressing and leave-taking. Every contact implies beginning and ending. The further consequence of this is that the essential finitiza- tion that deconstruction nominates as relevant to all objects rules out the existential possibility of other-worldliness. There can be nothing that is untouchable and thus sacred and immune from contact. As I have already asserted, there is no ‘touch me not’; that is, there is no sense of absolute touch. All things are this-worldly. Nothing is inviolable. As Hegel suggests, a ‘union of god with the world renders God completely finite, and degrades Him to the bare finite and adventi- tious congeries of existence’. 46 The point here is that if God is subject to finitization, then God or sacrality can have no absolute position without relation. If a relation occurs then, it is as touchable as anything else, it is thus not sacrosanct or invulnerable to different relations. The proximity between Hegelian idealism and deconstruction can be seen here; the fate of humans is also the fate of all other objects that can be. All objects are mortal. We come to know about objects and identities because we are constituted as they are: weak, mortal and limited. It could be argued that such a notion supports the absurdities that an orange is green or that I am a chair. What it does imply is that any sense of ‘self’, in the widest possible sense, is because of others. One does not have precedent. There is no dissymmetry between the same and the other. Entities are knowable only because they are equally delimitable from others, because they are consti- tuted by demarcations and their own finitude from their inception. It is in this way that it is possible to demarcate one object from another. The next part of the argument of this book will begin implementing an understand- ing of how the impossibility of absolute touch profanes notions of sacrality. Since there is no absolute touch, there can be thus no absolute sacrality; all things exist only as a return to the further presentation of the world. For now, by highlighting that which is touched and traced by a common mortality and effervescent this-worldliness, Derrida defines all experience as delicate, weak, precarious – and always of this world.

Chapter 2

Exit Ghost: Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time

To extend the analysis of the deconstruction of worlds it is necessary to elaborate further the relation between temporality and finitude. This will achieve two goals. First, it will provide a more rigid sense of how worlds are founded and ultimately perish, and second, it will lay the ground for the understanding of deconstruction as wholly irreverent and profane. This will involve a close reading of Derrida’s appropriation of Hegel’s idea of ‘spurious infinity’. This reading will be based on the interpretations of both Rudolph Gasché and Martin Hägglund, interpretations which ought to be the ground zero for any discussion of Derrida on these or other matters. This will allow a demonstration of the fact that Derrida is always concerned with delineating a ‘tragic’ sense of life, albeit always on the side of human life, without the gods so to speak. Hägglund suggests that if ‘to be alive is to be mortal, it follows that to not be mortal – to be immortal – is to be dead’. 1 This underlines the ‘gratuitous’ and ‘baseless tragedy’ at the core of all life. Life, for Derrida, is always subject to negation and affirmation. Caution should be maintained here. To be precise, what deconstruction signifies is the deconstruction of all entities. This does not favour human beings over all others, nor is it a claim which asserts there is an essential core of human being over all others. What deconstruction does show, I claim, is that humans and all other beings are created from a common genesis. Thus those traits which might be attributed to humans as living beings, such as mortality, ageing, passing, and causation, are also attributable to all other beings. This is what allows humans to know, demarcate and differentiate themselves from objects in the world. The final section of this chapter will pursue the consequences of this, and look at Derrida on the playwright Antoin Artaud. It is here that Derrida argues most forcefully that life, if it is possible at all, must be considered within a remit of originary violability. This is why the question of theatricality and drama is relevant. In the final analysis, to think deconstruction philosophically, one must think of life in


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terms of a detheologized stage or space, rather than engaging in an exer- cise where one thinks of life as in any way theological. Deconstruction,

I argue, is wholly opposed to the possibility of a grandiose dramatization

of existence, but instead offers the most material understanding of what life is in all its vicissitudes.

* * *

A valuable place to begin to further the analysis of finitude and world herein

is the point which Hegel defined: the world as an ‘aggregate of finitudes’. 2

This means that the sum total of the world is a collection of limits and things which come to an end. For Hegel, however, this was an inadequate position due to finitude’s inherent limitations. This was overcome through the inherently infinite and self-subsistent whole of the Hegelian system. Thus the only conceivable way to grasp the necessary and intrinsic mortality of the finite is to grasp the system in its becoming, and realize that there is no foundation for finite things, as they always meet their own limit. For Hegel, the limit of finitude is the infinite. This is the very condition of his whole system and that which transcends all particularities. Hegel, when speaking of the nature of the eternity of the world in The Philosophy of Nature, opposes the nature of eternity to that of creation. Eternity is devoid of creation. 3 This shows that the finitude of a world is of a different category to eternity. If a world is to happen then it must be created. Eternity which can- not be before or after time thus cannot be before the creation of worlds or their perishing. Eternity is, as Hegel suggests the absolute present, a Now without before and after. This is an indispensable strategy for Hegel to adopt, for if the world has a beginning in time, then it immediately rules out the possibility of any eternity being intrinsic to worlds or their various presentations. Since worlds are created, and being created, whenever there

is a presentation of them, there may thus be no eternity immanent to them

or to any aspect of a world which comes to be. The concept of world in this light is only pejorative. It may only be understood as: ‘the empty thought of time as such, or the world as such, it flounders about in empty ideas, i.e. merely abstract thoughts’ (214). A world that is perpetually negating itself would be the price for not realizing the manifestation of the invariant and unchanging truth that is befitting Hegel’s notion of timeless comprehen- sion. If one is to think worlds as finite then only a divided and insufficient concept of the meaning of life is on offer:

In our ordinary way of thinking, the world is only an aggregate of finite existences, but when it is grasped as a universal, as a totality, the question

Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time


of a beginning at once disappears. Where to make the beginnings there- fore remains undetermined; a beginning is to be made, but is only a relative one. We pass beyond it, but not to infinity, but only to another beginning which, of course, is also only a conditioned one, in short, it is only the nature of the relative which is expressed, because we are in the sphere of finitude. (213)

Thus, for Hegel, the world and its parts are only an ‘aggregate of finite existences’, as such the summation of the presentations of our normal understanding. In this guise we thus have only life’s self-distributions and phenomenal manifestations which are relative, incomplete and essentially limited. Underlying this fractured reality however is the unity of the Concept. The truth of the world transcends whatever finite manifestations construct it. Thus, we can only ever understand the truth of the world, when we leave behind the singularity of the world and its alternate variations. This is the non-finite truth that resides in all particular aspects of the world, immune to the power time has over the ‘manifoldness’ of the finite. Therefore, to say that there is an aggregate of finitudes only points to the singular and contingent nature of such assemblages and their potential relation to the tracing out of other finitudes. Conversely, for Hegel the world is always there without transmutation. This however would be to sug- gest that what is truly of the world is resistant to change. Hegel of course does not rule out that change happens in the world, but if it does, it always holds as the immanent and eternal foundation of all different things. Any creation is also a creation of the eternal. This is a key paradox of the operation of the dialectic. Inversely, to think of the world as having a begin- ning among others suggests that time is irreducible to such presentation and is therefore to think, in Hegelian terms, a negativity that cannot be brought to reconciliation with the eternity that is immanent or which cannot be sublated. Thus, to say that world is an aggregate of finitudes, as opposed to the sum total of manifestations, is only to draw attention to essential negativity at the heart of any singular presentation of the world. Thus the presentation of world is only ever the finitization of the finite. In terms of our understanding, when grasped in its totality, the question of a beginning at once disappears and surpasses whatever finite manifesta- tions are at hand. However, this only raises the possibility of a localization of the totality; that is as the total limitation of all the finitudes of the world, since we know that the world is not eternal. To think of a totality of the world, even in the crudest sense as some kind of globe, let alone in its specific parts, is to presuppose an outside which undermines the infinity of its nature tout court. Hegel is aware of this problem. The rigour of Hegel’s


Derrida: Profanations

analysis here is exemplary; negotiating the manner in which the ‘finite is preceded by an Other, and in its tracing out the context of the finite, its antecedents must be sought, e.g., in the history of the earth or of man. There is no end to such an inquiry, even though we reach an end of each finite thing’ (214). Thus, to understand the world and the sphere of activity and material that constitutes it is to proceed out of the material of the finite, with the finite remaining irreducibly temporal. By any account, to understand the place of the world and its constitution for meaning in general, it is necessary to come to terms with its irrevocable trans- formative presentation. As Hegel posits, such a world, if finite, has an independent existence but it is never self-sufficient since its immediacy is also limited (214). In a curious way, we see that such a definition remains inadequate for Derrida. For Derrida, the world cannot be thought, either ‘phenomeno- logically’ or ‘dialectically’, as aggregation. To define the world as an aggre- gation of finitudes is problematic given that the formal structure of a finitude requires that it comes to an end. If a finitude by definition comes to an end then we must say that the structure of the world is constituted out of more than just a finitude which exists in and of itself. It must relate to that which lays beyond a finitude’s coordinates in the world, which is to say, to other finitudes. What makes up the structure of the world must thus be designated as a relation between finitudes, without particular finitudes sustaining themselves or delimiting their own finitization. The alterity of the world is re-finitized, and is always worldly and never other-worldly. This is an important point to grasp. This assertion is prefig- ured by Heidegger’s meditations on finitude in Being and Time. Heidegger and his influence on deconstruction are important; especially the manner in which he saw the ‘finitude’ of the human as an essential element in the very constitution of the subject. In short, the human subject as Dasein is constituted by the finitude of its place in the world; Dasein indicates not how the subject is constituted out of trans-temporal entities, but rather, how its meaning is always on the way to itself, generated out of its subjection to its own particular historicity. In other words, for Heidegger, the human is constituted by its particular being-in-the world and the manner in which the human is cast into a world that is open and contingent. The human has no control of the world, as it is given; this is what humans concern them- selves with. There can be no detached subjectivity without being caught up in the historicity of one’s own being-in-the-world. This moulds and directs the human, exposed to a world that undermines any attempts to circumscribe it within a historical totality.

Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time


Human being is hence irrevocably marked by finitude and always on the way towards itself. That which comes to an end is that which is finite. It follows then that the finitude of one’s place in the world, or one’s limited- ness, is constantly exposed to the contingency of the world in whatever manner it presents itself. The contingency and openness of the world determine the way in which one is passively affected by the world. Humans’ very exposure to the world qua world, or Dasein, is the very materialization of the world of meaning, or of the ‘worldliness’ of the human. What is important to remember here is that this limitation in no way limits the manner in which meaning comes to be, but is the precise condition of the emergence of meaning and the formation of the world. In conclusion, this is exactly why death, limitation and finitude, for Heidegger, are pheno- mena of life. 4 For Derrida, all finitudes must reach their own end and this very end is the opening towards all other finitudes. In his later essay A Taste for the Secret, ‘there has to be a limit, and the opening is a limit’. 5 This is none other than the exposure of different levels of finitude, or worlds, to each other. Because the experience of finitude is limiting, whatever is finite must contain its own end. That which brings to an end is also that which brings any categorization of finitude to an end. There cannot be any categorization of finitude per se, but only the experience of different finite coordinates in time and space.

* * *

To understand the architecture of deconstruction’s ‘mortal’ structure, it is important to understand how Derrida conceives the crucial functioning of ‘infinity’ and the ‘finite’. Gasché provides one of the most complete expressions of this operation under the auspices of what he terms the ‘struc- tural infinity’ of deconstruction. Structural infinity is distinguished from positive and spurious infinity in Hegel – even if the structural infinity retains some structural resemblances to the ‘spurious infinite’. True infinity in Hegelian terms is absolutely without limit. Infinity is by definition without end. It cannot admit of an outside and cannot be transcended. If this is so, all that is infinite is wholly immanent and intimate to itself and must thus, in itself, transcend all particularities, barring the possibility of a beyond. 6 This reveals the difference between the finite and the infinite. The finite is that which is particular and which comes to an end. Gasché sees Hegel’s efforts to negotiate this difference, in the Science of Logic, as essential for understanding deconstruction. For Hegel, in order to assert the truth of infinity, one must name a higher form of becoming,


Derrida: Profanations

which transcends finite existences. This is why, conversely, the ‘bad infinite’ only names an indefinite abstraction that cannot be recoverable. If philo- sophy is ground itself, it cannot admit of such a prospect, since it only allows the prospect of nothing being fully determined. Hegel attempts to reconcile finitude, as the demarcation of particular things, and infinity in order to represent a truer form of becoming. For Hegel, human under- standing mistakes bad infinity as the form of the endless perpetuity of particular objects and horizons. Thus, to represent the totality of Hegel’s system, one must realize how it is infinite, absolutely immanent and wholly exclusive of exteriority. The reason human intellect is unphilosophical is precisely because it assumes the infinity of particular finitudes. The intel- lect becomes restricted because it takes particular moments as if they were perpetuated, thus failing to provide the grounds for any concept, and thus remaining ignorant to the whole and self-closing movement that actuates all determinations. True infinity provides the grounds to under- stand the unity of the finite and infinite. The true philosophical destination of thought is never in opposition or separation to anything by definition, because it cannot admit of any antagonism. Antagonism would not be immanent to the infinite. Any antagonism, opposition or separation can only be within the completed whole of the true infinite, untouched by further determinations, contradictions and limitations. This provides the ultimate foundation of Hegelian dialectics: the infinite holds the capacity to embrace both the same and its other, since it is deprived of the power of limiting and restriction. Thus, it is a truth of all things in particular. This is why what is known as the Hegelian Concept (Begriff) transgresses understanding towards absolute reason. One can think absolute reason as that which is true dialectically, because to think the true infinite is to think wholly that which is without opposition and contestation at once. Any antagonism cannot be outside the system but is recuperated within it. Any difference must be in and immanent to the system, and is therefore seen in relief to the truth of the system. To grasp the dialectical unity of thesis and antithesis, of position and negation, is to comprehend that any resolution of these oppositions can only be achieved in relation to itself. Oppositions and negations cannot be in themselves since they remain localized to finite coordinates and cannot be transcended. Nothing can happen since there would be no movement if this was the case. To be true, finite particularities must be thought in the movement of the Concept. If particular finite identities are to be transcended then they cannot remain wholly in themselves. If they do not have an end, they are without end, and thus subsist in infinity. This allows thought to realize the

Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time


place of all things in an absolute system. This is what is commonly known as the Hegelian aufhebung. To comprehend the Absolute Concept is to comprehend as immanent to all structures of the finite and perishable, an inherent rationality and unity of the concept of philosophy. The self- subsistent alterity of the infinite continually links meaning up to itself. Within this understanding one can admit of no concept of what life is without realizing the absolute immanence of infinity. Gasché describes this operation thus:

Because the true infinite is characterized by a unity of opposites that is in opposition to opposition itself, it is a concept that pre-eminently realizes this concept. It is an infinity that sets its own limits. For itself and from within itself. Since it does not need limits from outside itself to become united, outward limitation is immaterial to it. It is that which transcends all finite things towards their all embracing ground, a ground which receives full determination only by what it contains. (131)

True infinity, because it is all-encompassing, includes itself and its other within itself. As Gasché continues: ‘by being in opposition to all opposition, it is a fully determined whole which because it includes itself, no longer has an outside. It is therefore, identical with reason as pure thought’ (131). Contrary to true infinity, bad infinity is precisely that which is of opposition. If something is in total opposition, it implies that which is in opposition to; it cannot wholly be in itself. The ‘bad infinite’ progresses through the abstract and random construction of different oppositions and antago- nisms. Instead of seeing the true infinite as immanent to all forms of fini- tude, the bad infinite is, as Gasché holds, a finitized infinite. It is, as such, the infinity of finitudes without reconciliation to the immanent system. This is in contrast to the true infinite, which operates as an infinite self- relation to itself, not dependent on any other relation; spurious infinity, that is to say, brings infinitude to an end. The infinite cannot admit of the finite and thus remains entwined with opposition and thus alterity. True infinity is exempt from this alterity because it remains wholly immanent to itself and can admit of no other. Bad infinity always admits of an ‘other’. This is because it is in principle indefinite and always posits an opposition to another finitude, bringing finitude back to its outside, and hence, as Gasché suggests, making ‘infinite finitude’. 7 If infinity is determined it can no longer be infinity. Thus, while spurious infinity presents us with a notion of the infinite, it is always transcended and mitigated indefinitely in contradistinction to the true


Derrida: Profanations

immanent infinity: that which reconciles its oppositions. The bad infinite for Gasché ‘appears only as the other of the finite, and hence as finite itself. As a consequence a new limit must be posited but with the same result of a subsequent return to the finite. And so on endlessly. Unresolved contradiction.’ 8 Since the bad infinite is as such only in relation to different finitudes, it cannot liberate itself from the finite as such. This is because, as Hegel articulates, it is only an infinite which is determined, and thus cannot be wholly infinite since it is determined or brought to an end. This is the endless, indeed infinite determination of the finite. Gasché summarizes it thus: ‘The limit of the finite becomes transcended’ by the spurious infinite in an abstract manner only. It remains incomplete because it is not itself transcended (135). Infinite finitude is thus always a finite alterity. Because finitude is always limited by another alterity it implies an infinite temporal- ity: endless transformation and limitation. This is the axiomatic centre of deconstruction: the irreducible and unquestionable ubiquity of finitude. In this light, one of the great feats Gasché achieves for our understanding of Derrida is his placing of Derrida’s thought in the context of the Hegelian notion of ‘infinite fini- tude’. This leads to what he calls the necessity of structural infinity, which rigorously delimits the possibility of an immanent totality. Conversely, every structure is necessarily infinitely delimited. Gasché does, however, assert the express caveat that Derrida, unlike Hegel, does not limit the operation of the bad infinite to the limitations of the understanding or the intellect. This means that bad infinity, and its incessant temporal alteration, is not just restricted to the limitations of consciousness, which is to say specificity of empirical impressions, particular phenomena or cognitive limitation; on the contrary, ‘structural infinity’ ultimately prohibits totalization as such. 9 Bad infinity is relevant to all identities, and is constitutive of the possibility of all entities, irrespective of their identity, or their location in time and space. The operation of deconstruction is the irreducible process of delimitation without end. The key thing to remember here, for deconstruction, is that neither the infinite nor the finite can wholly be in and of themselves. Absolute infinity is wholly immanent and thus does not admit of any alterity or difference. Finitude, by definition, cannot be in and of itself since it must come to an end to begin with. The question then remains as to how we negotiate, in deconstructive terms, the separation of the concepts of the infinite and finite. To come to terms with this separation is wholly to understand the most consistent functioning of deconstruction. In Speech and Phenomena,

Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time


Derrida states that the ‘the infinite différance is itself finite’. 10 Since tem- porality plays such an important role for Derrida, we can begin to see how deconstruction specifically relates to the question of finitude. As we saw from the preceding analysis of Hegel’s Science of Logic this suggests that the finite is linked to negation. It is a ‘ceasing-to-be in the form of a relation to an other which begins outside it’. 11 This is the key moment where Hägglund spells out the consequences for the interrelation of temporality, finitude and infinity. That something can cease to be pre- supposes alteration; alteration in turn implies change, which in turn implies its coming to an end and passing. If temporal alteration exists, this in turn means that intrinsic to any identity is a relation to that which it is not. Furthermore, if it ceases to be in itself, then by definition it must be consti- tuted out of that which it is not; thus it cannot necessarily be in itself. This argument means that if we are to admit of a notion of finitude at all, then we must always admit of temporality. As Hegel suggests in The Philosophy of Nature: ‘time belongs only to the sphere of finitude’. 12 Hegel, in arguing against this possibility, repeats the most metaphysical of gestures of pre- sence. Philosophy must unequivocally think with and give expression to infinite and timeless comprehension. This is the achievement of the dialec- tic and its crowning in Absolute Concept; that is, the comprehension of timeless truth. The Concept in Hegel is a positive infinity which completely in itself transcends and sublates spatial limitation and temporal alteration. This means that coming to comprehend the Absolute Concept means coming to realize that which is without time. Therefore, there may be no before or after in eternity since it is exempt from succession. Eternity is the ‘absolute present’ (212). The absolute present is infinite, eternal, immobile and not transcended or limited by anything else. Time brings about succession, succession brings about change, and change rules out the possibility of the eternal and must therefore be distinguished from it. This is a time that goes on forever and which cannot be present. It is what Hegel calls ‘infinite time’: ‘It is not this time but another time, and again another time, and so on, if thought cannot resolve the finite into the eternal. Thus matter is infinitely divisible; that is, its nature is such that what is posited as a Whole, as a One, is completely self-external and within itself a many’ (213). This expression, remarkably, presents us with the originary structure of différance. The bad infinite divides presence, mitigating the possibility of absolute presence. Thus, Derrida takes up the challenge of thinking the radicality of the bad infinite. If, as for Hegel, the ‘bad infinite’ requires time to relate finitude to finitude, no reconciliation with the eternal can be possible. Time runs on


Derrida: Profanations

endlessly and always makes absolute presence incomplete. This is the crux of Hägglund’s position; he develops radical atheism, deepening Gasché’s insights into deconstruction’s lineage in the Hegelian bad infinite. Hägglund categorizes Derrida’s Hegelian lineage thus:

Derrida points out that the false infinity as such is ‘time.’ This is the key to his argument. The relentless displacement of negative infinity answers to the movement of temporalization, which is the spacing of différance. Accordingly, Derrida defines différance as an infinite finitude. The thinking of infinite finitude rigorously refutes the idea of totality by accounting for finitude not as a mere empirical or cognitive limitation, but as constitutive of life in general. Totality is not an unreachable idea but self-refuting as such, since everything is subjected to temporal altera- tion that prevents it from ever being in itself. Alterity is thus irreducible because of the negative infinity of finitude, which undermines any possi- ble totality from the outset. 13

The consequence of Hägglund’s theorization of Derrida is that there must always be relation to that which is outside. Since no finite entity can be absolute by definition, therefore temporal alteration is a necessity if one is to explain how one finitude can be transcended and can relate to another. In short, this is the common necessity for all things happening. This bears out three important consequences: one, it allows us to think finite alterity; two, it allows us to think the finitization of the finite (since all finitudes are infinitely transcended); and three, if one wishes to refute deconstruction, to do so one must either stay on the side of untrammeled Hegelianism, or admit of something that is not constructed out of total immanence. Here we can see the almost absolute proximity between deconstruction and Hegelianism. As Derrida suggests, if one is to think dialectics outside of Hegelianism, one must argue that dialectics is the ‘indefinite movement of finitude, of the unity of life and death’. 14 The unity of life and death denies the absolute presence of either and suggests that for every finitude that begins or has life, part of its own self-relation necessarily requires it to co-exist with some form of its own death. This elucidates what we mean by the finitization of the finite, which is to say, the radical and endless birth and death of all concepts, identities and things. But how precisely is the bad infinite manifest in différance? To answer this, it is necessary to have to have a clearer definition of the concept of Derrida’s notion of trace. The trace is a trace of other finitudes and cannot be equated with a notion of presence as absolute. Derrida says as much in

Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time


his essay ‘From a Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve’: ‘The trace can only be a trace only if its presence is irremediably eluded in it, from its initial promise, and only if it constitutes itself as the possibly of absolute erasure. An unerasable trace is not a trace.’ 15 What does this imply? First, the concept of the trace makes concepts of perpetual duration impossible. Second, if the trace takes place, it requires that a space exists between different temporal intersections, since for a trace to be trace it cannot be wholly itself invulnerable from other spaces. A space, to be a space, necessarily requires that it is in relief to other spaces. Furthermore, for this space to take place it must require time to give relief to the distance to other spaces. This is the most consistent way of thinking the operation of différance or the becoming-time of space and the becoming-space of time. Commenting on Hegel, Derrida explains:

At each stage of the negation, each time that the Aufhebung produced

the truth of the previous determination

tion at work in space or as [comme] space, the spatial negation of space, time is the truth of space. To the extent that it is, that is, to the extent that it becomes and is produced, that it manifests itself in itself essence, that it spaces itself, in itself relating to itself, that is, in negating itself, space is time. It temporalizes itself, it relates to itself and mediates itself as [comme] time. Time is spacing. 16

time was requisite. The nega-

What does it mean to say that time is spacing? Space cannot be thought of as itself residing in a limited fashion at one point or between points. This means that space in effect transcends space or its finite coordinates. Therefore, space is not limitable in itself. If space is to be space, it must transgress specific limitations, which in turn means that space cannot be at rest, as it would then only ever remain a space. To think space, one must paradoxically realize that for space to be space, it must negate itself as space; it must take relief from what it is qua space from another space. It thus follows that the essential spatial relation is space’s own mediation of itself through spatial succession. Hägglund provides the clearest descrip- tion of this operation. Space temporalizes itself. He argues that for any meaning to happen or occur, time and space cannot be disassociated, hence time is spacing or ‘espacement’:

Given that the now can appear only by disappearing, it must be inscribed as a trace in order to be at all. This is the becoming-space of time. The trace is necessarily spatial, since spatiality is characterized by the ability to


Derrida: Profanations

remain in spite of temporal succession. Spatiality is thus the condition for synthesis, since it enables a tracing of relations between past and future. However, spatiality can never be in itself; it can never be pure simultane- ity. Simultaneity is unthinkable without a temporalization that relates one

If the spatialization of time makes the

spatial juncture to

synthesis possible, the temporalization of space makes it impossible for the synthesis to be grounded in an indivisible presence. 17

For Hägglund, this spells out that the existence of an indivisible presence as eternal is ruled out tout court. What makes any synthesis possible is the persistence of its spacing, while what makes an indivisible presence impos- sible is the timing of any synthesis (18). This is significant because it allows us to see how worlds exist, constructed out of both persistence and disinte- gration. The consequence of Hägglund’s argument is any eternal thought must, by definition, exempt itself from the possibility of succession. The notion of immobile eternity concomitantly rules out the possibility of life itself, since if life is to happen, then happening implies succession. We can now see the full consequences of the operation of deconstruction. Deconstruction rules out the existence of a totality of indivisible presence, and its sufficient conditions: absolute union, eternity, succession, omni- temporality and omniscience. On the contrary, life is constituted out of the endless process of finitization whether human or non-human. This insight provides the origin of one of Derrida’s most famous concepts, différance. 18 In Speech and Phenomena, all intuition depends on what is non-present to itself. Derrida labels this the trace, which implies that intuition cannot found itself on its own self-presence; difference and division are always intrinsic to its own founding. This operation delimits the question of origin from the offset. The trace is a trace of relations between identities. 19 Derrida coined the neologism différance to name this movement. Thus, the experience of every event is necessarily founded upon a temporal experience of delay (time) and deferral (space). Hence, difference itself is necessarily constitutive of any possible experience and event. Différance radicalizes the classical question of ontology, indicating that nothing can be such that all it is is itself; whatever is is divisible, and thoroughly dependent on something other. The reality of any identity is dependent on different times and spaces, remaining irreducibly heterogeneous and minimally unified. The claim is that the origin is subject to différance and moreover that nothing is originary in the first place. If there was a foundational beginning privileged over all others, this would presuppose an ahistorical

Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time


moment, which would ground all subsequent events and occurrences. Any possible meaning or identity requires temporal and spatial displacement, since to think the possibility of time and space to begin with implies differ- ent times and spaces. If something is to happen then it implies a difference from which it is succeeding. This is what Derrida calls ‘arche-writing’. 20 In Speech and Phenomenon there is a demonstration of a localized example of a privileging of presence in relation to the question of language and consciousness. The core of Derrida’s critique rests on Husserl’s distinction, in Logical Investigations, between thought and language. This presents a hierarchy between the expressive sign (Ausdruck) and the indicative sign (Anzeidien). 21 In phenomenological terms, the expressive sign is properly meaningful because it carries an intentional force; an intention which is defined by virtue of its proximity to itself (vouloir-dire). For Derrida, Husserl, despite his best intentions, elaborates this so as to provide grounds for the empirical world, but instead presents a phonocentric priority. The French word ‘je m’entendu’ 22 (meaning I understand/I hear) is a concept Derrida uses to express the ‘absolute proximity’ of how one’s utterances are tied to one’s interior comprehension; voice is self-present to itself and grounds the possibility of meaning. For Derrida:

All speech or rather everything in speech which does not restore the immediate presence of the signified content, is in-expressive. Pure expres- sion will be pure active intention (spirit, psyche, life, will) of an act of meaning (bedeuten), that animates a speech whose content (Bedeutung) is present. It is present not in nature, since only indication takes place in nature and across space, but in consciousness, thus is it present to an inner ‘intuition’ or perception. 23

This is symptomatic of what Derrida calls auto-affection. Auto-affection is affection only by itself. This is to say it is without relation; it is not effectively opened to differentiation and hence to temporal and spatial events of the world. ‘Interiority’ is thus considered in terms of being uninterrupted thought functioning in a pure stratum. Phonocentrism is what Derrida defines as voice. Interiority, however, is constantly open to the interruption of a mediating alterity. By showing that auto-affection always already implies an exterior relation, Derrida implies hetero-affection. Hetero-affection implies that entities, to be entities are dependent on being affected by others. Without hetero-affection, one could not distinguish oneself from a television set. Finitude as a category completely collapses into itself; it is not terminal in any specific sense. The possibility of any identity, object or


Derrida: Profanations

happening is governed by the thought that there is never the finitude; there are only various effects of finitude, or finitudes in themselves, that mutually and continually undermine one another. One cannot logically invoke fini- tude as a category with an end, for the very reason that if something is to be finite its limits must be limited and limiting. Finitudes cannot therefore express themselves categorically but only as effects of other finitudes. Only finitude by necessity can become the other of finitude. The result of this is that the relation between finitudes can have no specific end but only that which radically open; the relation between finitudes is always one of dissolu- tion and re-affirmation. This is what I will name ‘whatever-finitudes’. The ‘whatever’ of whatever-finitudes designates the action of finitization, which is neither a transcendental signified nor teleological purpose. To grasp the radical finitization that is in operation in Derrida, one must come to terms with the notion that all limits or finitudes are open to any number of other finitudes, whether specifically known or not. This is why the term ‘whatever’ is apt, for it expresses the general openness and potential affectivity of all things in themselves. It is, as Lawlor notes, the ‘ultra-transcendental concept of life’. 24 This relates to the way différance functions to imply the finitization of the finite or what Lawlor calls ‘refini- tion’ (5). Deconstruction indicates that the constitution of worlds, in particular presentations, is not invulnerable to its own transformation. Worlds in deconstructive terms are unfolding horizonal alterities. Every horizon in phenomenological terms demarcates each phenomenon, but in deconstructive terms we witness instead a singular coalescence of coming and departing horizons. Lawlor’s ‘refinition’ implies whatever horizon comes to be, so it is accordingly structured with its own contingency in view. The temporal structure of inscription implies the becoming-time of space and the becoming-space of time. The spacing of time relates to what Lawlor calls the ‘demand for survival’ of the trace (232); that is, its per- sistence. As Lawlor succinctly puts it, the sense of the trace is to survive beyond the present; it demands a medium or mediation which in turn means that the trace must retain minimal presence or a minimal structure of representation. It must be ‘immanent, must be made mundane, must be made close once more, and must be made the same as me; it must be made live again’ (232). The upshot of Lawlor’s account is that it opens the possibility of seeing the necessity of the mundane being comprised as a virtual structure. All worlds follow the logic of différance. Deconstruction thus implies spacing, and as Hägglund holds, a central feature of space is its stubborn refusal to yield to the succession of time. However, such a refusal is not

Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time


total, since spacing allows singular and worldly horizons to come to be. This is because the trace facilitates reiteration of itself across temporal junctures. This allows the presentation of a virtual structure of representa- tion at different times and places. Without such a minimal presentation of worldly horizons, then there would be no impressions to trace and develop. There would be no unfolding of finite horizons and alternating worlds and thus no existence in general. The spacing of time creates a resistant yet contingent and mobile sense of mundane worlds across temporal junctures. The chiasmatic entwinement of time and space means that there must be an essential contingency to the aggregate of finitudes which comprises the presentation of worlds. This is the becoming-time of space which denotes the impossibility of resting in particular worldly assemblages or gatherings. Lawlor summarizes this conceptual figuration by delimiting the Derridean concept of ‘end’ from the thought of absolute end. For Lawlor, the ‘end in which life is absolved from death or death from life must not happen’ (206) Any world involves self-division, which implies that a space is instituted in the interiority of whatever world is temporally taking place. This space

implies distance from itself. This distance, to be distance, implies span, and, thus, time and self-division. Therefore, the interrelation of both space and time reveals itself. If this were not the case then nothing, as such, could happen, because there would be no possibility of change or movement. Change and movement thus also implies space; all things would rest in a prior presence which would ground all differences trans-temporally. Thus presence and self-affectation are barred from closing in on themselves. Archi-writing or existence in general can only be such by virtue of spanning from past to future without the present being allowed to become only itself.

A unitary occurrence such as this would imply a necessary hypostatization

of temporalization, which would annul the happening of experience in

general. Happenings and occurrences are never flawless and must admit

of an inherent fractionalization. This is why both time and space in decon-

struction always imply thinking the relation of world, alterity and finitude;

a finitude that is as much a beginning as a coming to an end. By necessity,

absolute life and absolute death cannot happen (207). This necessity would be devoid of happening, and thus of the inception and termination of any identity. We find evidence of this in a striking passage from Positions:

There is not a transgression if one understands by that a pure and

simple landing into a beyond of metaphysics

transgression we are consorting to a code to which metaphysics is tied irreducibly, such that every transgressive gesture re-encloses us precisely

even in aggression and


Derrida: Profanations

by giving us a hold on the closure of metaphysics – within this closure transgression implies that the limit is always at work. 25

This shows the active operation of finitude: the limit is always at work. To have a limit implies that something is finite and demarcatable. In the classical phenomenological sense, the limit or horizon demarcates one phenomenon from another. However, to suggest that it is at work implies a further finitization at play; a limit of the limit, or bringing an end to the end, so to speak. How can this be possible? How can the end have an end? For Derrida, the closure of the metaphysics of presence, of the possibility of something being only itself, implies a ‘moving limit that restores each transgression and transgresses each restoration. Like the Verendung of completed (vollendeten) metaphysics, the duration of closure is without the end, in-finite, inde-fin-ite, that which is caught in the de-limited closure can continue in-definitely’ (80). To say that a closure cannot have an end means that it cannot be closed in on itself and must be susceptible to alteration and to other beginnings. Acknowledging the activity of the limit, delimits the possibility of a self-affectation which cannot admit of any experience, since it only relates to itself. Différance or the becoming-time of space and the becoming-space of time entails, as Hägglund states that nothing can be in itself. 26 The con- sequence of this logic is that existence or life is the process itself of coming to an end, and the surpassing and negation of ends through other ends. Existence is finitization, transgression, violation. To admit self-division, and to admit of distance and difference, is to imply that self-affection is delim- ited by that which is different to or outside it. This is why self-affection is only ever hetero-affectation. This prohibits the possibility of pure self- presence since there is always a difference which makes identity differ and defer from itself, and which is why, for Derrida, nothing can be only itself. The life of any identity or entity is subject to its own death or finitization. 27 That an identity is always transgressed is an absolute requirement for Derrida; it is absolutely essential for the occurrence of life thereby prohibit- ing the possibility of an unmediated presence from the very beginning. In a deconstructive sense, every end is a beginning. Derrida utilizes the full semantic range of the term ‘apocalypse’ to denote the ‘end’ as both an end and inception. The end is reconceived as exactly that which makes revealing possible. For Derrida, adopting an ‘apocalyptic tone’ presupposes the end of all ends. This is an eschatological disposition that prophesies the closure, or the end. It requires a rationale implicitly teleological and necessitated towards its own assumed end. 28 Thus, if one notion can apply

Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time


to all Derrida’s work, it is that there is no ultimate end. Instead, the end is indefinite. 29 Nothing can be wholly and inviolably immanent to itself without being subject to the movement of espacement. The ultimate end is inherently transgressed and subject to an originary violation; that which is is always put to death from the beginning. Thus, it is possible to say that life, and the life of worlds, is always produced on a type of dramatic violence.

* * *

We can see the contiguity between the Hegelian lineage of deconstruction and Derrida’s critique of Husserl’s notion of presence. All worlds are inex- haustible insofar as their relations always come to an end; and they are exhaustible insofar as they happen they come into and pass out of being. As we saw, for Derrida there can be no auto-affection in and of itself. Auto- affection is an indivisible self-presence wherein the only relation is self- relation. All relations that can be, exist because of hetero-affection. This multiple affection by others is, to borrow Hegel’s phrase completely “self- external” and within itself “a many.” There could be no more exact defini- tion of hetero-affection. If something is self-external and within itself a many, therefore it is not itself but a movement which implies the trace or inscription of others, of other others and so forth. As Derrida says of arche-writing in Of Grammatology: ‘Arche-writing as spacing cannot occur as such within the phenomenological experience of presence. It marks the dead time within the presence of living present, within the general form of all presence. The dead time is at work.’ 30 The ‘dead time’ that Derrida refers to is the time of the trace in the living present. It is the trace of that which is not alive. Dead time is time without life, and also a time that delimits the possibility of absolute life and absolute death; thus constituting the genesis of any world, for Derrida, necessarily contains spacing and timing. Whatever is traced, is traced as an inscription of a different time; spaced between the present and its past; as Derrida calls it, the becoming-space of time. That the trace cannot be fulfilled, since the possibility of an absolute presence is prohibited, implies the coming of another time and space: the becoming-time of space. A good example of what Derrida understands by the impossibility of time and space not-being purely themselves and open to mutual contamination is evident in his dialogue with Bernard Steigler. Here, Derrida describes how efforts to close off time from the past and future undermine the pos- sibility of events and happenings in general. Closing time and space, as Derrida understands, requires the desire to repeat particular identities.


Derrida: Profanations

For instance, anticipation: to anticipate the future is to engage in a deaden- ing of time; it is as such to mourn for death, to desire that it is not equivocal with a happening. It is to kill the ‘dead time’ or the death which constitutes us (á mortir la mort). To anticipate, is to assume that the present will be to some degree as it is now; what happens now will do so again. Here, there is here nothing more to happen; and as such a life without exit. To ‘amortize’ death is to jettison the trace in a desire to hypostasize a continuous now or presence. Conversely, this analysis is also relevant to the question of the past. The future and past are always complicated and never an absolute experience, and are thus absolutely singular and novel. For Derrida, without such a novel singularity there could be no memory of the past: ‘Inheritance institutes our own singularity on the basis of an other who precedes us and whose past remains irreducible.’ 31 There is always an absolutely singular and non-derived originary inscription of a singular future anterior. The coming to be of any horizon of life requires this complicated genesis. If something is singular then experience is radi- cally temporal and not asingular or derived from that which transcends the temporal and spatial. This is the consequence of arche-writing, the condition of the inscription of all experience for Derrida, and not just a particular form of empirical experience. It is at the juncture of memory that one philosophically recognizes the original happenings and events in the world. As Derrida suggests, arche-writing is the contestation of the pos- sibility of presence and its erroneous history in metaphysics. For Derrida, arche-writing traces ‘the opening of the first exteriority in general, the enig- matic relationship of the living to its other and of an inside to an outside:

spacing.’ He continues: ‘The outside, “spatial” and “objective” exteriority which we believe we know as the most familiar thing in the world, as famil- iarity itself, would not appear without the grammé, without arche-writing or difference as temporalization, which is to say without the nonpresence of the other inscribed within the sense of present, without the relationship with death as the concrete structure of the living present.’ 32 Derrida’s statements on the playwright Antoin Artaud provide us with crucial evidence of the consequences of this operation. In one of his earlier and critically undervalued essays, Derrida compares Artaud’s delineation of what he calls the Theatre of Cruelty to his own understanding of questions of death, affirmation and finitude. The idea of a Theatre of Cruelty was Artaud’s response to what he saw as the limitations of standard representa- tional theatre. What is interesting for Derrida about Artaud’s reading is that it challenges the possibility of the absolute creation of the stage, which is to say, the irreducibly theological nature of the stage. If the stage constituted absolute creation, it would be indistinct from life itself.

Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time


Why then is the stage theological? For Artaud, the theological stage presents a microcosm of absolute creation. The stage is theological since a large part of its traditions and conventions necessarily rely on a model of creation. An author-creator, removed from the action, watching over its eventuation; ‘regulating, dispensing, deregulating’, guiding ‘actors’ who represent characters whose actions are representative of the will of the cre- ator. Derrida describes actors somewhat nonchalantly, when commentating on Artaud, as interpretative slaves faithfully executing the providential designs of a master. Complete proximity with the creator model therefore rests on the actual invisibility and removal of the creator from proceedings onstage. The stage presents a spectacle, that must, in order to achieve its full success be life. This is the greatest irony of the creator model of theatre, since it must present itself, as if it created nothing and nothing has been created. 33 There is thus a pure invisibility intrinsic to traditional theatrical representation. As a result, the theological stage comports and orchestrates life as spectacle; a festive political theology, enforcing the absolute recep- tion of a ‘passive, seated public, a public of spectators, of consumers’ with life meted out from a removed origin (313–14). Artaud, for his part, rails against this model, desiring to expel to ‘God’ from the stage. For Artaud, one must release the ‘author-God from its creative and founding freedom’. The founding freedom of the author- creator would thus be ultimate and unmediated, in the role of a God-like entity who creates absolutely and freely without mitigation. Artaud in this vein came very close to reaching a similar understanding of the relation between temporality and finitude as Derrida. Indeed, Derrida sees in Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty a very important challenge to presence. As Derrida points out, Artaud wanted to overturn the concept of rèpètition (repetition/rehearsal) in theatre. Repetition only serves representation, separating presence from the force of life. Derrida cites how for Artaud repetition, and its many names, ‘God, Being, Dialectics’, only ever serve to habitualize the drive for the eternal, where death goes on indefinitely (313–14). Repetition is the fulcrum of the creator. As soon as there is repetition, God and absolute creation is there, because the present holds on to itself and reserves itself. In Artaud, it is possible to see a radicalization of the Nietzschean proposition that God is dead. Now God is death, or more accurately, absolute death. The representational pivot of the theological stage mirrors the desire to endorse a theological eternity. The great insight of Artaud, for Derrida, is that he names God as absolute death. Eternity is that which can allow of no life, birth or beginning. God is only the infinite repetition of a death that goes on perpetually and thus remains equivalent to the death of drama (310).


Derrida: Profanations

‘God is the eternity whose death goes on indefinitely, whose death, as differ- ence and repetition, as difference and repetition within life, has never ceased to menace life. It is not the living God, but the Death God that we should fear. God is Death.’ Derrida goes on to quote Artaud on this matter: ‘For even the infinite is dead/infinite is the name of a dead man/ who is not dead’ (310). Thus, for Derrida, Artaud recognizes that the absolute cannot be a being. There cannot be a being in principle without nullifying the possibility of happening as such. Derrida again quotes Artaud to this effect: ‘The absolute is not a being and will never be one, for there can be no being without a crime committed against myself, that is to say, without taking from a being who wanted one day to be a God when this is not possible, God being able to manifest himself only all at once, given that he manifests himself an infinite number of times during all the times of eternity as the infinity of times and eternity, which creates perpetuity’ (310). Derrida’s reading of Artaud provides a fitting summary of the themes I have dealt with in the course of this essay tying together matters of meaning, temporality, finitude and Being. God and being are that which remains whole and intact, atemporal and unaffected by what Hegel calls the ‘infinite time’ of a differing and deferred being. In the Theatre of Cruelty repetition is another name for absolute being. In other words eternal being, being that is wholly itself, repeats across time and space. As Derrida puts it: ‘Being provides the form in which the infinite diversity of the forms and forces of life and death can indefinitely merge and be repeated in the word’ (310). When Derrida says ‘word’ he is undoubtedly referring to the question of absolute logos or absolute beginning. There can be no meaning of life which resides in an absolute sign. If there was we would only have an ideality of meaning which would refer to nothing except itself, each time. If a sign repeats itself without division, then it can leave no trace and thus is strictly not a sign. For Derrida: ‘In this context the signifying referral therefore must be ideal – and ideality is but the assured power of repetition – in order to refer to the same thing each time. This is why Being is the key word of eternal repetition, the victory of God and death over life’ (310). Logocentrism, the absolute proximity of meaning to itself only thus ever indicates the absolute death of meaning. By now it should be clear that Derrida’s work should be considered as constituting a formidable, if not chronic challenge to the concept of such a victory. Derrida, throughout his career, remained ruthlessly consistent in contest- ing this victory. This is amply evident when he turns to Artaud who, he claims, falls back into the very metaphysics of presence which he attempts to undermine. 34 Artaud does not articulate how theatre resists being wholly

Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time


in and of itself and thus still bear fidelity to certain notions of incontest- ability. This repetition on Artaud’s part is never more visible than when he appears to sacralize theatre in the very effort to assert its life over God. Derrida lists as a consequence of Artaud’s theatre the desire to jettison all non-sacred theatre. Thus does Artaud affirm the sacrality of life – thereby reestablishing the divinity of life itself (307). This indicates that the chal- lenge that Derrida’s deconstruction poses to thought is thinking the a priori impossibility of sacrality. There is no sacred space that can be excused from violation and ‘drama’. This is why there is no one origin of the world. The theatrical analogy serves to show how for deconstruction, not only is there no sacred world, but neither may there be the divinity of an eternal or absolute life resident within any form of identity. The world is always generated through different origins and is never derived from one point in time and space. In a sense this is the origin of drama. Without difference there can be no drama; there can be no originary violence at the core of life. If the Greek origin of the tragic is the killing of the absolute father, the primary ‘phallus’, or the absolute source of life, then for Derrida this killing is always already at hand, repeated indefinitely and never attributed an exceptional form (314). Strictly speaking, the binary opposition of God’s and mortals is no longer plausible, since deconstruction pertains to what happens to all existents. There is no sacred or divine origin of the world that can set any drama into action or towards denouement without already being the trace of previous and imminent drama. That the murder of God is repeated indefinitely entails that there is as such no cosmological or ontological hierarchy, no absolute sacrality from which the world can surpass its own destiny of becoming, in order to assert a deathless reign. Hence the suggestion at the outset of this chapter that deconstruction, rather than offering a grandiose dramatization of existence from begin- ning to end, instead offers a presentation of its exact opposite. It presents the minutiae of drama write large in existence. Every instance presupposes drama and violence since violation is an originary condition of all existents. There are no first or last things. For Derrida, the trace symbolizes best that from which nothing can redeem itself, namely the essential materiality of ‘ash’. Symbolically, for Derrida, all experience is the experience of becoming ash or incineration. Derrida evokes ash to signify how all worlds – the experience of all worlds – is symbolically a form of transience. 35 Ash denotes the impossibility of presence; of being as presence subsisting in itself, without transformation or novelization: ‘This remainder seems to remain of what was, and was presently; it seems to nourish itself or quench its thirst at the spring of being-present, but it emerges from being,


Derrida: Profanations

it exhausts, in advance, the being from which it seems to draw. The remain- ing of the remainder-ash, almost nothing-is not being-that remains, if, at least, one understands by that being-that subsists.’ 36 For worlds to be, there must thus always be a trace of ‘materiality’, which It never defines a return to one origin. Everything that is always returns to ash. In essence, for Derrida, being is ruination. The wholly philosophical resonance of Derrida’s thought is in relation to the most philosophical of all questions. If we recall Hamlet’s well-known soliloquy which begins ‘to be or not to be’, we can begin to discover what is at stake in the tragic logic of being as ruination. What Shakespeare’s Hamlet affirms, his ultimate action, should not be read as the apogee of cathartic purgation, juvenile self- aggrandizement, decisionism or indecision in the face of tragic design; but rather, the experience of the question, the question of being, the question of being which contains its own irreducible end. Shakespeare recognized that this question can never be far removed from the ‘quintessence of dust’. 37 Here, we find the thought of a radical deconstructive singularity, poetically brought to light through Shakespeare’s metaphysical doublet of Being and Dust in the face of ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. 38 This presents the core philosophical thought of deconstruction: that there is no invulnerable remainder from which all other things are derived. This is the realization of the true force of the contingency of worlds. Hamlet’s tragic decision recognizes the magnitude of what makes his decision possi- ble: the essential fragility of being. The trace signifies the material-actuality of life, of that which cannot be escaped but also assigns an irreducible questionability and contingency to human life and existence. As Derrida mentions in Cinders, there can be no phoenix which may redeem itself and remain exempt from the process of becoming-ash. 39 Philosophically, what this represents is a sharp distinction between the vertical and horizontal, between that which is spirited away and that which remains and never raises beyond the mundane, but which always falls to earth: ‘What a difference between cinder and smoke: the latter apparently gets lost; and better still, without perceptible remainder, for it rises, it takes to the air, it is spirited away, sublimated. This signifies how all identities; all experience is symbolically a form of ash. The cinder-falls, tires, lets go, more material since it fritters away its word: it is very divisible.’ 40 Derrida thus evokes ash as a form of weakness or fatigue. Since ‘smoke’ is without ‘perceptible remainder’ it is therefore without trace. It is not of something else and always attempts to elude materialization. The vertical expression of smoke defines that which escapes becoming-ash, that which remains

Derrida, Hegel and the Theatre of Time


resistant to becoming a remainder of something else. The spectral con- demns existence to its inherent materialization, which is to say symbolically, a return to ash. Thus the central insight of deconstruction is that ‘this mortal coil’ is constituted out of the essential becoming-dust of all shades of life. 41

Chapter 3

Deconstruction is Profanation

Within my analysis of Artaud and Derrida, I established that one of the key profanations Derrida institutes is the possibility of the absolute repre- sentation of the world. 1 The next logical step is to test the theory sacred of this profanation by applying it to different forms of existence. While the notion of the sacred can be grandiose, it can also, as I will demonstrate, be in the midst of things. It is usually understood as that which makes the things of the world real. It can be both of the world and not of the world. As Mircea Eliade famously describes homo religious ‘believes that there is an absolute reality, the sacred, which transcends this world, thereby sanctifying it and making it real’. 2 The enduring appeal of Eliade’s account rests on its ability to square the sacrality of absolute reality in parallel with its manifestation in the mundane world. This goes right to core of manifestation. Eliade suggests that ‘Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifests itself, as something wholly different to the profane’ (11). The act of manifestation, which Eliade calls hierophany, is set apart from yet operative within the profane world. Indeed, the profane can only have a reality because of the sacred. The problem with Eliade’s account is that it allows a colonization by the sacred of things in the world. It is ironic that the desire to keep the sacred separate, immune and set apart must return to the measure of the world to succeed. For the purposes of this study, the implication of this is that it is necessary to test the sacred from the ground up. If the sacred is inevitably a contested space then it is something that is not set apart. To suggest, as Eliade does, that the sacred manifests itself as the opposite condition of profane life and entities amounts to a reification which obscures the genesis of a ‘sacred’ space. The sacred is always already entangled with the social, the political, consumerist, the ethical and the economic: in short within the vagaries of different worlds. To obscure its worldly conditions is to obscure the labour, effort and force that go into its construction. The point is that nothing is sacred, or absolutely homogeneous to itself. That which is sacred is so only because

Deconstruction is Profanation


it is not in itself, or more to the point, because it is dependent on others. Derrida’s deconstruction shows why this is the case and, furthermore, it shows why a logic of sacralization – which Eliade provides a prime example of with his absolute demarcation of the sacred – is a questionable ontological categorization of the world. If deconstruction is profanation, then it is ultimately a deconstruction of presence, of the possibility of the intimate, immanent and immutable; therefore it is impossible to equate it with any form of sacrality, or with that which sets something apart and above the mundane presentation of the world. That which is sacred subscribes to the notion of the ‘immune’. Immune from penetration and contamination, the sacred reveals itself as both of this world and not of this world; part of this world yet removed and unscathed, whole and complete. This is why it tests the very limits of phe- nomenology. In Derrida’s ‘Faith and Knowledge’ we see a glimpse of the rationale implied by deconstruction. Derrida associates the respect for the ethical stature of life with a valorization of an impenetrable ethical core. The ethical life of religion is absolute. If the sacred exists, it exists by afford- ing exceptional dignity to life. For Derrida, ‘The price of human life, which is to say of anthropo-theological life, the price of what ought to remain safe (heilig, sacred, safe and sound, unscathed, immune), as the absolute price, this price is priceless’. 3 The notions of absolute life, of life without death, are equivalent to a foundation of absolute sacrality and immunity. In contrast, for Derrida, all identities are auto-immune. The auto-immune is another name for the originary contestation of any identity. If he is right, the sacred – the process of sacralization, the accord of ethical value with sacred life (anthropo- theological life) – may only ever be figurative, fictional and impossible. Correlatively, there can be no assertion of an absolute ethical dignity. The sacred can have, as it were, no auto-respect. It therefore cannot be wholly intact or unscathed since no identity is wholly of itself. In line with Derrida’s contestations of the possibility of immunity and the sacred, and in line with my analysis of alterity and worldliness in decon- struction, I will proceed to define the way in which deconstruction is always and unavoidably profanation. This will buttress my overall analysis of what Derrida’s essentially profane world view is, first by demonstrating how the essential alterity of world is wholly this-worldly and never resorts to a vertical expression of sacrality, and second, by explicitly demonstrating how decon- struction essentially denotes irreducible profanation. A further achieve- ment of this chapter will be to force the difference between Derrida, Levinas and Heidegger, with due attention to the respective influences on each.


Derrida: Profanations

I will account for how alterity as Derrida understands it must be understood apart from Levinas’ and Heidegger’s consideration of these issues, in

particular as they relate to questions of faith, sacrality and holiness. The key characterization that I will challenge is the restriction in both Heidegger and Levinas of the concept of alterity. In certain respects, Heidegger’s and Levinas’ thought exhibits traits of metaphysical immunity. Derrida, I claim, holds the resources to think a more radical theorization of questions of ‘sacrality’, while Heidegger and Levinas subscribe to forms of ‘immunity’. As I have shown, for Derrida, alterity is inherent to the spatial and tempo- ral understanding of deconstruction. Alterity, whether it is a result of the spacing or timing of difference, is not restricted to any particular identity. In the context of this chapter, the point that needs to be maintained is that alterity cannot be restricted. Now, this is not something that Levinas or Heidegger might find problematic, but for the purposes of this chapter, I will show that both tend to minimize the function of alterity, to the personal other and to things-of-the-world. Giorgio Agamben’s notion of profanation will also be important to the argument, as this remains a major rival expression to the logic of profanation which deconstruction expresses.

I will assess the extent to which Agamben complements our deconstructive understanding of profanation.

* * *

Derrida’s remarks in his essay ‘Faith and Knowledge’ on faith and the sacred

can provide a point of departure. In a key observation Derrida suggests that the two sources of religion are ‘faith’ and the ‘sacred’. The sacred is distinct from faith because it is inviolable, restrained and set apart. Faith, by con- trast, is an act of investment or testimony to an inaccessible ‘other’ that is essentially inviolable. The basic point is that these two distinct sources of religion are founded on a common immune structure. Both affirm the existence of some inviolate entity. However, there are some questions remaining which require caution.

A thorough negotiation of the respective differences between Heidegger,

Levinas and Derrida needs to be engaged with. A patient demarcation is necessary of the differences between Heidegger’s influences on Derrida and the evident tensions with Levinasian view of Heidegger, especially given Levinas’ notorious abhorrence of Heideggerean ontology. For this

argument, Derrida achieves a broader conceptualization of alterity than

is seen in the works of both Levinas and Heidegger. It is for this reason

that Levinas’ conception of alterity remains overly anthropocentric and a

Deconstruction is Profanation


reading of alterity in Heidegger remains too fixated on the sacrality of things. In this sense, a secret solidarity between Levinas and Heidegger is in evidence. This is manifested in a desire to assert forms of immune sacraliza- tion. Levinas presents the idea of an alterity or an ethics of the other which is primordially good, commanded through the epiphanic moment of the face. This reverts to an overly minimized conception of alterity which always remains localized and preferential at the expense of all others. Concomi- tantly, there are some moments of Heidegger’s conceptions of the sacred, in terms of the piety of thought, the gathering of the fourfold and the desacralization of things which still resort to the affirmation of a prior sacrality, rather than to the more radical thought of profanation. Before moving forward it is worth making one qualification. Is it possible that the use of terms such as ‘sacred’ and ‘faith’ constitutes an arbitrary tacking-on of a quasi-theological discourse for no good reason? 4 A standard definition of the sacred would suggest that it is connected to the divine, or understood as an object of holiness. This connection, however, is also something that sets it apart or makes it special or removed from, in phenomenological terms, the ordinary and everyday natural attitude. The utilization of the sacred as religion qua religion also shows the possibility of thinking structures of non-appearance that affectively permeate experience in general. This is a strictly phenomenological point, and deconstruction tests the very limits of this possibility. With this in mind it is possible to operate through a suspension of particular theological commitments, to assert the otherness and activity of what is beyond the mundane givenness of phenomena. If it is possible to show that what is beyond the immediate presentation of entities is irreducibly irreligious, it will be possible to show how decon- struction is developed from a phenomenologically profane operation. Emile Durkheim adopted a methodological principle pertinent to this argument. He states that what the activity of religion signifies is real, even if not in the way religion may conceive itself. 5 Phenomenology, which con- cerns itself with the appearance of the real, can legitimately concern itself with the appearance of the sacred without making religious commitments in a determinate sense. In Durkheim’s view, the sacred is not necessarily synonymous with an other-worldly divinity. It is not simply the case that other-worldly gods and spirits or otherworldliness may be sacred, but also the most mundane of particular things like stones, trees, streams and pebbles. 6 Specifically then, if human existence is determined, as it is for Durkheim, as a bifurcation of the sacred and the profane, then the sacred functions as both structurally separate and perceptually mundane within


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the world. A sacred relic, site or object always has a surplus value which is removed from the ordinary world. Such a process is analogical to the shift in classical phenomenology from the natural to the phenomenological attitude, wherein that which is not apparent can be indicated in the appar- ent. The sacred works similarly, indicating a surplus existence in excess of the concrete givenness of the object. Deconstruction, as will be evident by the end of this chapter, holds the resources to think past the simple givenness of objects tout court whether sacred or otherwise. What is at stake in this discussion of the sacred, in the sense of ‘removal’, recalls the phenomenological thought of the ‘limit’ between phenomenal manifestation and that which surpasses it. The limit, or horizon, in phenomenological terms, always points beyond the visible givenness of an object of appearance. It is the condition of the appearance of the non-apparent. This means that what is given to consciousness is essentially ‘profane’, but the aspect of the object which is not immediately immanent, that is, that which is hidden, can be accounted for, not just in terms of what is given, but in terms of what remains to a degree other than its immediate givenness. Phenomenal manifestation always allows the possibility of asserting a sacred other, other than the presentation of the profanity of what is immediately given to consciousness. While the phenom- enological limit is not necessarily theological, it does invoke the question of otherness within the apparent. The question that remains is the extent what other than phenomenal manifestation may be considered to be sacred or profane. Deconstruction, as I will develop here, shows that the otherness of whatever world is presented is also profane. This is a question that tests the very limits of phenomenology; a testing that is pertinent to Levinas, Heidegger and Derrida. For Heidegger, we see the conceptualization of the withdrawal of the sacred; for Levinas the ethical ‘other’, for Derrida the various conceptualizations of différance. Deconstruction reflects a perpetual move between what is given and what is not given, between the same and the other; or, in another way, between what is phenomenologically given and the necessary finitization of this limit, as deconstruction implies of any limit. Now a crucial question to ask is whether one may compress the positions of Levinas and Heidegger so easily. Superficially, it is widely held that Derrida draws on both philosophers. Therefore, is his position consistent, especially given the antipathy between Heidegger and Levinas? A useful way to characterize the contrast between Levinas and Heidegger is in light of their attitudes to alterity. This is especially palpable in relation to their attitudes to the alterity things display. Heidegger’s attitude towards

Deconstruction is Profanation


things lacks a fundamental characteristic of Levinas’ description of alterity:

that is, the irreducible transcendence of the wholly other. Levinas himself contends, especially in contrast to Heidegger, that there is a certain neutral- ity to these modes of revealability, and considers such modes to be a ‘pagan totality’ where the human is lost to the neutrality of a faceless indetermi- nation of Being. In ‘Faith and Knowledge’, Derrida isolates the divergence between Heidegger and Levinas in terms of ‘revealability’ and ‘revelation’ respec- tively. As Derrida intimates, it is ‘faith’ in the other which characterizes Levinas. Conversely, when Heidegger discusses ‘revealability’, he accords, for Derrida, pre-eminence to the ‘sacred’, the discourse of ‘being sacred’, the ‘divinity of the divine’, and the Holy (das Heilige). This is mainly config- ured in terms of its revealability; in terms of its phenomenal manifestation or ‘showing’. It is this point which we need to address, if it is possible to say that Derrida negotiates a mediation between these two thinkers. Neither Levinas nor Heidegger individually accommodates a mode of thinking that thematizes both things and persons simultaneously. To talk of the rela- tionship between Levinas and Heidegger and to suggest that Derrida’s position offers a radicalization between their two philosophies, it is neces- sary to begin at the point where Levinas and Heidegger are at their most distant. The most obvious locus of discord between Levinas and Heidegger begins at the point where Heidegger speaks of the distinction between revealability and revelation (Offenbarkeit and Offenbarung). 7 Here Heidegger effectively differentiates between philosophy and theology, circumscribing the difference between the ontological and the ontic. Theology would, for Heidegger, be considered a positive science, dealing with issues of faith, God and revelation. Heidegger gives ontological priority to structures of the revealability of Being. Revelation always already depends on appear- ance, in order for it to appear in the first place. Levinas, on the other hand, emphasizes the appearance of the other as a unique break with the imma- nence of the world, and thus with any trace of the being of the mundane. His ethics are an ethics of transcendence. This primarily relies on the relation to personhood, particularly as manifested in the human face. 8 The face is that which transcends all appearance, striking and epiphanic in its constitution. While Heidegger thematizes the ontological priority of things and the manner in which they open up the world, Levinas focuses on the otherness and uniqueness of the singular other as manifested in the human face. For Levinas, Heidegger’s focus on being in and things in the world may be considered purely in terms of sensual or iconographic enjoyment (135–6).


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Derrida attempts to recast this dichotomy. There is evidence of such a maneuver in ‘Faith and Knowledge’, during the discussion of the differ- ence between revealability and revelation:

In its most abstract form, then, the aporia within which we are struggling would perhaps be the following; is revealability (Offenbarkeit) more origi- nary than revelation (Offenbarung), and hence independent of all reli- gion? Independent in the structures of experience and in the analytics relating to them? Is this not the place in which ‘reflecting faith’ at least originates, if not this faith itself? Or rather inversely, would the event of revelation have consisted in revealing revealability itself, and the origin of light, the originary light, the very invisibility of visibility? 9

The aporia Derrida works through, at this point at least, suggests that there is a ‘chiasmatic’ relation between revelation and revealability – hence the Merleau-Ponty aside to the visible and invisible. Revelation for Derrida is inextricably intertwined with revealability. This suggests that the very thing which makes a revelation is caught up in the economy of givenness and its other. Thus, on this level at least, we can think in Derrida’s deconstruction the manner in which there is an exposition of Levinasian and Heideggerean themes to each other. But how exactly can we think this exposure; where can we isolate alterity in Heidegger or the possibility of thinking of things in Levinas? Where precisely in typical Derridean fashion may we conceive an affirmation of a prior differential alterity? This type of revelation must always be mediated and finitized and is thus always tied to the phenomenal. Neither region exists purely in and of itself but remains compromised by the actuality of other identities. This also means that neither region is exceptionally sacred and inviolable. The ‘revelation’ that Derrida has in mind is singular and surprising in the sense that there is always a trans- formative and novel element to it. It is the happening of all things, for Derrida, but is also wholly a mediated one that can never be absolute. Derrida does not restrict alterity to things or to persons. Nothing is exempt from the finitization of any entitity. Indeed, this is precisely a point of diffraction between Derrida, Levinas and Heidegger. In order to understand this difference it is important to first understand the place religion and the sacred might hold for Heidegger’s thought. Heidegger places the question of faith under the rubric of a regional dis- course belonging to theology. He sharply demarcates faith and philosophy. The philosophical question par excellence – why is there something rather than nothing – for Heidegger, is always prior to the presupposition of

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theology as a positive science of faith. 10 The acceptance of faith presupposes an answer to the question on which philosophy is founded, and does not allow it to be thought of as the originary question of Being. This figure of the question, of course, operates in a very specific way for Heidegger. The question points to a radical re-thinking of the task of philosophy, whereby the task becomes not so much to find the ultimate truth of being, but rather how beings come to be, in light of the question of Being. In relation to theology the question is already answered and presumed. For Heidegger, the person of faith presupposes the thought of Being. 11 If this is the case, is it right? It is possible to think of faith as differently, contemplated in a specific way, faith could be thought of as compromising a similar structure to the question of Being, where the modality of faith ‘becomes’ in the face of a thought beyond the order of the given. The most positive faith can and must be exposed to un-faith. 12 Would it seem perti- nent for Heidegger to think faith in the limited sense of a positive science? Heidegger himself developed this question in later work and made signi- ficant inroads into the prospect of thinking and developing the place of religiosity in answer to the question of general experience. In work such as ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ and Contributions to Philosophy, Heidegger offers an assessment of the Holy that circumscribes the question of Being. This rethinking of the Holy allows Heidegger to suspend theological ques- tions and rethink the question of religiosity. This re-thinking revolves around such notions as the fourfold, the thinker as poet, the divine and holiness. The Holy thus remains a significant question in this light moving thought beyond its possible construal as a positive science. In this light, Being comes to fruition having been generated by the withdrawal of sacral- ity and the manifestation of the ‘piety’ of thinking. The Heideggerean pro- ject of overcoming the forgetfulness of Being is directed towards explaining how Being is constituted in the absence of or withdrawal of the gods. The most immediate manifestation of Being, if thought apart from an onto- theological positing, reveals an originary experiencing of the question of the absence of the Holy. This absence is felt; it is essentially the experience of the withdrawal of the gods from human existence. This withdrawal is the experience of absence, or more accurately the experience of ‘absensing’. This indicates a primordial indication of humanity’s propensity to over- come nihilism. Such a manoeuvre however implies the residual trace of religious tropes. However, this tendency in Heidegger is never absolute. While Levinas thought that Heidegger’s ontology was devoid of alterity, this is not neces- sarily the case. Indeed, Heidegger despite the religious terminology he uses,


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provides a key insight into the instantiation of desacralization. This is because alterity is always a possibility ontologically. The ‘thing’ is always finitized, and thus open to alterity. Heidegger stresses that at the locus of the appearance of being there remains a holding together, an ecstatic holding, that simultaneously remains open to what is beyond its immediate presentation. If we turn to the later Heidegger, in particular his essay ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’, we can glimpse how a reading of alterity is consonant with Heidegger’s thought. In this essay Heidegger considers ‘things’ in a wider context of involvement, as he does in Being and Time. 13 Heidegger expresses the ‘thing’ as the eventuation of things in their reveal- ability. The phrase that Heidegger used to express this is the ‘thinging of the thing’, which signifies the thing becoming an event of Being, self- eventuating itself within the horizon of involvement with other things. 14 In another register we can recall the eventuation of the thing occurring in the ‘gathering’ of the fourfold (das Gevert) of earth, sky, divinities and mortals. 15 This is understood as the ‘primal oneness’ of the four regions (149). The term ‘primal oneness’ is hardly redolent of Derridean différance, at least ostensibly, but nonetheless it is not considered in terms of a homogeneous unity, which is what Levinas took issue with. Indeed, Levinas’ reading remains quite superficial here. For Heidegger, alterity is always at play in the thing, which consists of the four regions belonging together, accompa- nied by a simultaneous unfolding of differences as the fourfold arises and appears. This is where it becomes possible to postulate thinking of otherness within the Heideggerean articulation of ‘things’, by using the language of alterity where the thing is by virtue of its otherness. The thing is as it unfolds, not in terms of immediate presence, but rather through intending beyond itself towards the fourfold. The thing thus finds its con- dition in a non-exhaustible multiplicity exterior to its immediate givenness. This is essentially Silvia Benso’s point; she strongly argues for the idea that alterity is possible in Heidegger’s ontology, which she characterizes in very Levinasian terms as a signifying which is not exhaustible in signification. The eventuation of a thing means that the thing is not gathered in immediate presence but rather is directed beyond itself towards the four- fold, which indicates ‘multiplicity in oneness, oneness in multiplicity there is always something other to the thing than what its appearance imme- diately reveals; something which transcends its immediate signification’. 16 This points at least to a very Derridean possibility, whereby the thing is not simply a moment of presence, or merely a pagan homogeneity, but exists in relation to that which always conditions itself. It is able to be only because it is in relation. The thing is always torn asunder by that which it in itself

Deconstruction is Profanation


is not. As Heidegger explicitly claims. For Heidegger: ‘Things are always

open to becoming other than themselves, and always resistant to fixation,

determination, definition, and therefore precisely because of the lack of

a hardcore at their centre; vulnerable to appropriation, exploitation,

desacralization.’ 17 Here we can see the great service Heidegger performed to philosophy. All things can never be in themselves but remain fundamentally open to

the logic of alterity and desacralization. There is a primordial violence at the core of all things. However, some caution should be retained in relation

to Heidegger. To suggest that something is desacralized implies that it must

be a privation of a sacrality that already exists. Heidegger slips into a mode whereby desacralization is only ever a corruption of a prior sacrality, repeat- ing the concept of privation. Because privation always implies a lack of, it

contains a link to that which is lost through a privation of a prior existence.

If thing can be desacralized this implies a prior wholeness. Since decon-

struction undermines the possibility of wholeness or absolute immanence


begin with, it makes sense to discriminate between the concept of absence


Derrida and Heidegger. Heidegger reaffirms a metaphysical concept of

privation, whereas for Derrida, such a state is impossible to begin with. This

is why it can be claimed that Heidegger clings to forms of metaphysical

immunity. Even when Heidegger subscribes to a notion of the fourfold,


Benso points out, despite his radicality, he still limits the appearance


a unity that is potentially alterable through only four regions and not

more or less. However, the important consequence that we can draw from this is that the thing can expresses itself in its alterity since it appears always to be pointing to its ‘elsewhere’. Latent in the constellation of things is the com- ing of the other impossible thing, removing it from the gathering of the

fourfold. However, despite Heidegger’s insight into the alterity of the thing, it would be problematic to suggest that Derrida takes this on board unques- tioningly since Heidegger does keep the fourfold gathered within just four categories. While Heidegger resorts in part to forms of metaphysical immunity, he does suggest that essential to the experience of any object

is the possibility of desacralization. As will become apparent, Derrida

radicalizes sacralization to a much broader remit.

* * *

If Heidegger can be seen as the thinker of things and their lost sacrality,

Levinas is the thinker of faith in the wholly other. Indeed this could be said

to be the commonality of these two philosophers. Both endorse elements


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of a residual metaphysics. This is noticeable where Levinas, in a curious way, remains in accord with Heidegger on the issue of faith up to a point. He proposes that any attempt to think beyond being and beings is not necessarily part of the discourse of faith as a positive science. As he says, ‘In fact, while remaining outside of reason, or while wanting to be there, faith and opinion speak the language of being. Nothing is less opposed to onto- logy than the opinion of faith.’ 18 In Totality and Infinity he also stresses that ‘monotheistic faith, itself implies metaphysical atheism’. 19 Atheism and theological faith participate in a common separation from the absolute exteriority of the other. What Levinas is trying to exact is a conceptualiza- tion of how transcendence may show itself beyond being. To have proper faith is to have faith in what transcends things in the world. Levinas’ think- ing of the other remains neither ontological nor faith-based but in itself becomes a challenge to the formal opposition between the God of the Bible and the ‘god of the philosophers’. 20 Levinas thus attempts to immunize his thinking from being reduced to the ‘thingness’ of being. We can here begin to see how Levinas resorts to a form of holiness that is exceptional, remain- ing vertical to things in the midst of the world. In this way Levinas asserts a hierarchy that is closed to finitization, and in effect exhibits all the charac- teristics of metaphysical presence-invariant, beyond the finitude of the world, sacrosanct and inviolable. It should however be noted that Levinas’ project distances itself radically both from faith and the language of onto-theological conceptions of religion. There is a movement beyond the immediate givenness of appear- ance; the conclusions that Levinas draws are much different to those of Heidegger. The method that Levinas employs to refer to the beyond of immanence relies on different emphases. Levinas conceives of the beyond as the wholly other, but chooses to focus on the term holy (saint) or holi- ness, i.e. the holiness of the other as opposed to the sacred (sacré). Levinas remains sceptical of what he sees as the pagan pre-eminence that Heidegger attributes to things. Such an articulation remains detached from the ethical relation that comes through the exteriority of the other. 21 Only a faith in the holiness of the other can bring about a questioning of the same, not the essential piety of the things themselves. However, in Levinas there also seems to be a desire for an affirmation of a more originary faith. This is evident where Levinas emphasizes philosophical necessity of the appeal to absolute exteriority, particularly in his critique of Husserl’s prioritization of the ego. Levinas inverses the process whereby the ego becomes a modification of infinite alterity. Infinite alterity and absolute exteriority by definition

Deconstruction is Profanation


always escape intentional modification. Thus, the phenomenological gaze does not maintain or affirm itself on the ultimate plenitude of the object of appearance, but finds its raison d’être in that which it can never attain or subordinate (28). The faith that Levinas espouses is thus one that points beyond the givenness of the things of the world and their phenomenolo- gical presentation, yet it is also one that does not remain fully presented within ontic or phenomenological givenness. In order for faith to be faith, it must carry its own suspension and affirm an order completely exterior to being. Hence, the tension arises between Heidegger and Levinas in terms of the respective development of alterity in their work. The crux of the issue depends on the relation of faith to the world, or the manner in which what faith affirms is removed from one’s immediate phenomenological horizon or may be considered as given in the coming to be of that horizon. A question that must be asked is whether Levinas’ specific faith affirma- tion is justified in such a restriction; if his faith is at all thinkable without any horizontal impact. Derrida questions such a restriction in ‘Violence and Metaphysics’, arguing that Levinas’ reading of Husserl misses the implicit alterity of the other as person in Husserl’s treatment of the alter-ego. For Derrida, the alterity of the Other is dependent on the alterity of the other as a thing. The upshot of this is that if the conceptualization of alterity can be thought to be extendable beyond persons, it must by definition always be already moving beyond the person towards the realm of general ‘onto- logy’. It is not possible to have a sense of the alter-ego without having a sense of its ‘thingness’. Moreover, the appearance of a person must take its form from that which participates in all appearances, namely their phenomenal manifestation. As Derrida articulates:

The alterity of the transcendent thing, although already irreducible, is such only by means of the indefinite incompleteness of my original per- ceptions. Thus it is incomparable to the alterity of Others, which is also irreducible, and adds to the dimension of incompleteness (the body of the Other in space, the history of our relations, etc.) a more profound dimension of nonoriginality – the radical impossibility of going around to see things from the other side. But without the first alterity, the second alterity could never emerge. The system of these two alterities, the one inscribed in the other, must be thought together: the alterity of Others, therefore, by a double power of indefiniteness. 22

Thus, for Derrida the ethical presentation of the other which Levinas conceptualizes must always go through a certain violent base on its way to


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trace a general alterity of appearance. Derrida offers an affirmation of the coming to be of being and transcendence at one and the same time; where both the poles of immanence and transcendence contaminate each other with due attention to the singularity of ‘others’ within both orders. Thus, Derrida deviates from the symptoms of metaphysical presence that are evi- dent in Levinas and Heidegger. For Heidegger, in terms of the resilience of the sacrality of thought, and for Levinas, in terms of faith in the invulner- ability of the transcendence of the other. For Derrida, on the other hand, neither region can wholly sustain itself without compromise, and hence, cannot sustain its desire to transgress the vicissitudes of temporality and spacing. With reference to Levinas, it is possible to see additional substantiation of this trend with reference to the exceptional role that the human face holds over and above other relations. If all appearance is experiential, and relies on a general experience of appearing, then the face must be confined to this logic. Consequently it must be affected by that which remains outside of it. Its appearance is therefore not exceptional. By extension, it necessar- ily follows that to move beyond the face is immediately to enter the realm of ontology, in the midst of things, which is the inevitable conclusion of Derrida’s assertion that without the alterity of the transcendent thing, the alterity of the Other would not be possible. A mediation must occur that contaminates what Levinas calls vertical otherness with a ‘horizontal’ other- ness. Alterity in Derrida does not affirm the verticality of a sacred other. For the other to be other, there must still be an analogical relation, as Derrida states contra Levinas; otherwise, the ego would have no means by which we could recognize it as other. As Lawlor indicates,

The necessary reference to analogical appresentation, far from signifying an analogical and assimilatory reduction of the other to the same, confirms and respects separation, the unsurpassable necessity of (non- objective) mediation. If I did not approach the other by way of analogical appresentation, if I attained to the other immediately and originally, silently, in communion with the other’s own experience, the other would cease to exist. 23

This is precisely the moment that Richard Kearney describes as the point where the ‘dimension of alterity is now seen as a trace of the irreducible other as well as an undecidable surplus of Sein over Seiendes’. 24 For Derrida, Levinasian alterity must be mediated by the necessity or a relational media- tion, and must also participate in the being of the other. 25 Like Heidegger,

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for Derrida, the being of the object is also torn asunder. No thing can be only itself. This critique makes Derrida’s work a unique departure from both Levinas and, to a lesser degree, Heidegger. Derrida does not limit himself to alterity or ontology and moves beyond both these registers. He commits himself to what could be termed, provisionally and crudely, ‘ontological- alterity’. This term is useful to communicate Derrida’s unambiguous desire to think beyond the purity of simple alterity and ontology. This is specifi- cally why the later Derrida insists on the ‘hauntological’ structure of experi- ence in general. 26 The rationale of hauntology, or of spectrality, characterizes the indiscriminate contamination of all appearance. It defines the finitiza- tion, death and coming to be of all things. This radicalizes Levinasian alterity, as well as problematizing Levinas’ ethics, which wholly transgress the notion of ontology. The spectral is that which is neither present nor absent, nor living nor dead. It unequivocally nominates the absolute neces- sity of contamination and the impossibility of purity whether in terms of faith or sacrality. The locus of this chapter’s investigation, then, lies at the point where it is not so much the ethical relation to persons in Levinasian terms that is missed, but the possibility of an even more radical alterity that suffuses existence in general. It is here that it is possible to envisage the trans- gression of Levinasian alterity and Heideggerean ontology as the locus of deconstruction. Lawlor articulates Derrida’s unique orientation best in his interpretation of Derrida’s famous and evocative statement in The Gift of Death, 27 Tout autre est tout autre’. Lawlor identifies three modalities at play here. 28 These modalities depend precisely on the copula ‘est’ or ‘is’ which, it can be said, reveals a simultaneous tri-partite schema of ontology, alterity and singular existents. First, the statement ‘Tout autre est tout autre’ can be read tautologically in the sense that every other is every other, meaning that there is no difference between anything. This evokes an ontological ele- ment wherein every ‘is’ is as such the same. As Lawlor states, the ‘formula becomes an expression of absolute immanence; there is no “beyond being” everything is the same’ (222). Another interpretation is: ‘wholly other is wholly other’; here there is an expression of absolute exteriority; the beyond being is, in a Levinasian sense, wholly otherwise than being. The third option of reading this statement is that each and every other is wholly other or every bit other. This third reading denotes the singular existential per- meation of both orders. For entities to be they must singularly persist, and be the same, while also chaining and being other. Geoffrey Bennington provides a further apt description of this operation, claiming that ‘the


Derrida: Profanations

principle whereby the very (irreplaceable) singularity of the other (the principle of its difference) is thinkable only in the context of that singular- ity’s potential equalisation with every other singularity (the principle of its indifference)’. 29 This tripartite convergence is what allows Derrida to assert that decon- struction is a ‘Leibnizianism without God’. 30 The best way to understand this is to think of a monadological experience of the other which presents the experience of a necessary relation of alterity and alterities, without a univocal transcendental point of reference. In contrast to Leibniz, decon- structive monads are not pure and must undergo the process of being affected by other identities. For experience to be possible it must contain a dimension of alterity and ontology. Any moment of experience requires an inevitable perspectival alterity where phenomenal manifestations are crossed and mediated but prohibited from totalization from their incep- tion. Within what is given, or between one monad and the next, the world as it appears exists always in relation. Because every monadological point has a perspective – here we can speak of all things of the world, from stones to streams to animals to persons – and because tout autre est tout autre there is, for Derrida, a perspectival crossing of identities in a world that always remains discrete to itself. This means that all things of the world are not beings simply in themselves, but only in relation to all others, irrespective of what is human and what is non-human. 31 This is the principle by which anything is. Anything can be only insofar as it can be affected by any other thing. To fortify this argument, and compound Derrida’s further resistance to immune forms of identities, I will examine the points at which both alterity and worldliness are affirmed and redeployed in Derrida within the different concept of infinity as forwarded by Gasché and developed by Hägglund. As I noted in Chapter 2, Derrida subscribes to a notion of infinite finitude. Levinas, on the other hand, subscribes to a notion of an infinite which cannot be surpassed or subjected to limitation. As we saw when discussing Hegel the infinite is immanent to itself. It cannot be harmed or destroyed. It is that which is without end. It holds the ability to surpass the mortality of all singular things. These two notions could not be further removed, since for Derrida any notion of the infinite must be infinitely finitized; for Levinas the infinite designates an absolute sacrality which is invulnerable to limitation. For Levinas, the other is always safe and sound, unscathed in its upright stature. Thus, he posits an absolute sacrality, an inviolable infinite immanence that admits of no finitude or limitation. Put simply, only a God can save Levinas in his desire to define an

Deconstruction is Profanation


ethics which commands respect and attention by breaking with the imma- nence of the world. Only the trace of a sacred holiness, a faith in a sacred other, exhibits the resilience of infinity which surpasses the contingencies of the alterity that deconstruction implies for things. Further examples of Levinas’ sacralizations can found in his idiosyncratic deployment of the Cartesian notion of infinity. The Cartesian infinite, for Levinas, is not a proof of God’s existence but is instead considered as a moment which breaks up the cogito. Here we can discern certain moments of localization and grounding in Levinas. 32 According to Levinas, ‘The idea of God as infinite signifies God as the “un-encompassable.” It is thus an idea signifying with a significance prior to presence, to all presence, prior to every original consciousness, and so an-archic, accessible only in its trace’ (64). Characteristically, Levinas does not make the comparison between God as manifestation and a God with essential attributes; he proposes a non-theological divinity where the face of the other does not reveal God but invokes a God that forever withdraws from the face before me to a point of radical absence. In this way, Levinas makes God the incomparable site of responsibility. It is as if the other reveals the very holiness of God and infinite life itself. The face participates in this. Thus, the nature of respon- sibility that Levinas argues for is commanded, cannot but be commanded, and finds it source in the most metaphysical of all concepts: a grounding of the exceptional relation with God. God is unencompassable and thus can not admit of any demarcation or delimitation and is, hence, sacred and unchallengeable. The question that remains is whether it is legitimate to think such a rupture in immanence, or whether such transcendence of the world is possible. The question of world is forsaken in Levinas as he privileges or sacralizes the centrality of certain religious discourses for human relations. As Levinas reminds us: ‘Everything that cannot be reduced to the human relation represents not the superior form but the more primitive form of religion.’ 33 This lends credence to Levinas’ desire for un-worldliness, and demonstrates his desire to localize, specifically within the moment of the face the possibi- lity of responsibility. The ‘spiritual optics’ which we see in the face of the other is essentially that which is non-apparent and that which cannot be reduced to a material world with things appearing in it. In such a reduction, the sacred would become pagan. 34 Such un-worldliness would seem to be too much of a price to pay for Derrida. This is a central theme of ‘Violence and Metaphysics’; it is impos- sible to have a notion of alterity without having a relation to presence in itself. The point that Derrida stresses is that it is not possible to think of


Derrida: Profanations

alterity without thinking of phenomena, ontology; and alterity. This is borne out in Derrida’s questioning of God as absence in Levinas. It may be conjectured at this early stage of his work, that Derrida, rather than localizing the trace of the other as signifying a unique relation to God, instead stresses the unexceptional non-lieu of the other. In contrast, Levinas very specifically names the foundation of alterity in ‘the Name of God, in comparison to all thematization, become effacement, and is not this effacement the very commandment that obligates me to the other man?’ 35 Levinas cannot identify the determinate absence of God without the exclu- sion of other names. In contrast, Derrida would consider what Levinas terms non-synonymous substitutions, as something that can be localized. Consequently, the relation to alterity must effect a more differentiated, and hence enlarged concept of infinity. A relation to alterity is only possible only by virtue of the endless substitutions of the finite and the infinite, of the inner and the outer, and where every single other brings to an end all others. For Derrida, in contrast to Levinas, a ‘thought’ or idea of a ‘God’ which comes to mind, only in itself must, by the rationale Derrida lays out, explic- itly necessitate a thought of being; and since it is substantial and experien- tial, it signifies in itself that which transcends the givenness of itself as a particular phenomena. 36 It thus contains within itself an active reference to the space that differentiates between phenomena and what transcends phenomena, namely being, which in turn indicates that which makes their appearance possible in the first place (188). Thus even the idea of God must by virtue of own transcendence effectively contradict its own presence. This logic is never more evident than in Derrida’s extended analysis of Levinas in his long essay ‘A Word of Welcome’, wherein he brings to the fore some inherent Levinasian contradictions. A good example is the Levinasian notion of the ‘third’, which is the plurality of others outside the primordial ethical relation. For Levinas, the third is that which makes it possible for ethics to open to politics; the third brings about a further subversive experience of the phenomenological ego, which makes it res- ponsive to more than one other. 37 Derrida carefully questions Levinas’ perceived hierarchy. The political region raises the question of why the ethical should hold a higher constitutive place. The question of universal- ization is also broached by this discussion. The possibility and force of universalization is inexorable especially as the Other, interrupted by the third, is that which is other than ‘the neighbour, but also another neigh- bour, and also a neighbour of the other’ (157). The question of universal- ization looms large as this reveals the moment where all others are at least

Deconstruction is Profanation


to be considered or discriminated against, and if this is the case then uni- versalism occurs over and above any specifc situation. But for Derrida, the juridico-political region of universalization is not a simple supplement to the original ethical relation that comes later. Politics, no more than any other relation, is constitutive of the ethical relation. For Levinas, to stratify ethics and politics is to miss the originary contami- nation that opens up the others, which is exactly the type of logic that Derrida questions as form of sacralization. What is even more interesting is that Derrida in ‘A Word of Welcome’ premises his argument on the onto- logical role of appearance, unambiguously continuing the argumentation that was evident in ‘Violence and Metaphysics’. For Levinas, the ‘third’ mediates the face-to-face encounter, haunting it so to speak. This should however be considered within a different remit than Derrida’s hauntology. The emergence of the ‘third’ as an other is indeed necessary, but it also designates a prior contamination, a ‘perjury’ that dis- rupts the honesty and nudity of the epiphanic face-to-face encounter and thus for Levinas of the preeminence of the ethical relation. 38 This prior contamination or interruption signifies the bringing to a halt of the primary and secondary binary Levinas puts in place. It thus effects a broadened understanding of the remit of alterity in deconstruction, one which pre- cludes the possibility of any stratification of ethics, politics or any other relation. Derrida argues that it is necessary to insist on this distinction and we must always remind ourselves that ‘even if the experience of the third, the origin of justice and the question is deferred as the interruption of the face to face it is not an intrusion that comes second’ (110). Moreover, ‘the experience of the third is ineluctable from the very first moment, and ineluctable in the face, it also belongs to it; as self-interruption it belongs to the face and can be produced only through it’ (110). This ‘belonging’ signifies a prior participation, thus signifying a region in which the ‘face’ must participate in order to appear. For the face to be other, it must appear; if this is the case, it must go through some form of constitutional mediation or transgression. There is nothing specific about the face that allows it to be experienced without appearance, which opens the primordial ethical relation to the realm of appearances in general. The consequence of this point is that the conceptualization of the other must negotiate a prior difference and fluctuation. It cannot be epiphanic in the strict sense of being a sudden manifestation of the essence of that which appears. As Derrida describes, what is of real value in Levinas’ insights into alterity is the possible extension of them, whereby, ‘the unicity of the face were, in its absolute and irrecusable singularity, plural a priori’ (110).


Derrida: Profanations

Therefore, the subjection of the subject, which infinite alterity commands of the ethical relation is problematized. The ethical subject must be radi- cally reconsidered as constituted, not only through subjection, but as a trans- gression of the minimal world it inhabits, as well as the necessary transgression of this subsistence by the other others which give it its proportion. As I have shown, there can be no pure or absolute alterity, and thus no infinite distance on which to ground any form of absolute and unequivocal sacrality. However, it is also necessary to remember that there can be no pure ontology. Derrida suggests in relation to subjectivity that the ‘host’ or ‘hostage’, as other or as ‘pure alterity’ or ‘pure otherness’, must be stripped of all ‘ontological predicates’ (111). This neatly depicts the radicality of Derrida’s thought: there is an irreducible conjoined chiasm between ontological ‘security’ and radical ‘insecurity’. For Derrida:

the other is not reducible to its actual predicates, to what one might define or thematize about it, anymore than the ‘I’ is. It is naked, bared of every property and this nudity is also its infinitely exposed vulnerability:

its skin. The absence of determinable properties, of concrete predicates of empirical visibility, is no doubt what gives the other a spectral aura, especially if the subjectification of the hôte also lets itself be announced as the visitation of a face, of a visage. (111)

It is necessary to ask precisely what Derrida means by ‘spectral aura’, which is to ask what in the Levinasian notion of visage could be considered to be spectral, constituting the ‘aura’ of the spectre. As Derrida qualifies: ‘It would have, according to a profound necessity, at least the face of a figure of a spirit or of a phantom’ [my emphasis] (111). This means that any singular thing which is other cannot be so by its own subsistence; it must always also be of other others. It cannot be utterly other and stripped of experi- ence. This is even more evident in the passages of Adieu in which Derrida characterizes this experience as ‘immediate’. What can this mean? If the experience of the other is to remain ‘immediate’ it must by definition be of the present. It must be of a now that is without waiting (111). More specifi- cally, it must be pure, proximate and intimate, as it comes now without pause or interruption. Thus, if the Levinasian face is a break with the imma- nence of the world, it cannot be halted. It must happen without pause, without deferral and without delay. This is why Derrida rigorously chal- lenges Levinas’ affirmation of the immediate and the exceptional. As Derrida suggests: ‘he [Levinas] clearly specified “welcomed” especially in an “immediate”, urgent way, without waiting as if “real” qualities, attributes,

Deconstruction is Profanation


or properties (everything that makes a living person into something other than a phantom) slowed down mediatized or compromised the purity of this welcome’ (111). For Derrida, there can be ‘no hospitality without the chance of spectrality’ (112). The point that Derrida makes here is that ‘real’ presented attributes taken as solely given in themselves neutralize otherness. But, while the other is not strictly reduced to ‘ontological predicates’ it is also not reduced to ‘pure alterity’. In no uncertain terms, Derrida declares that ‘spectrality’ is not ‘nothing’. It must always hold a trace of something. 39

* * *

The opening this chapter considers beyond ‘faith’ and the ‘sacred’ must essentially be thought of as an absolute profanity, a radical hubris and finitude that, as Derrida rhetorically proposes, is as ‘spectral as it is spiritual’ (112). Deconstruction must thus be considered only as radical profanation. What it is most important to realize is that this does not affirm, in the strictest phenomenological senses, the profane nature of what is given to consciousness. This is the point at which phenomenology leaves the door open to sacralize what lies beyond the manifested profile of that which is given in consciousness. This explains religious readings of phenomenology. Phenomenology finds it difficult to classify that which is immediately beyond consciousness. While classical phenomenology sees what is given to consciousness as profane, this still allows the possibility that what is not given in immediate manifestation is not profane. Deconstruction provides

a decisive answer to this question. Since deconstruction operates on a pro-

cess of ‘infinite finitization’, the other of what is given immediately to consciousness can only ever be profane. It cannot escape the violation and puncturing of all identities that deconstruction implies. The bifurcation of sacred and profane presents a false dichotomy. This is because both of these identities cannot subsist unto themselves and are always undergoing

a process of profanation. What is existentially sacred and whole yet for

some reason within the mundane world is not possible. Deconstruction makes all things unholy. This recalls the way that Heidegger conceived of desacralization. Desacral- ization nominates a process which is the experience of a withdrawal or lessening of a prior sacralization. This logic serves to reassert a binary of the sacred and the profane. Deconstruction indicates no such binary; what is given as profane never refers back to a prior sacralization, but only to other profane regions. The temptation remains to suggest that deconstruction is


Derrida: Profanations

only a contamination of the sacred by the profane and thus admits of a mixture of both regions, thereby preserving elements of either. This cannot be the case. To claim deconstruction is simply profane would only re-affirm

a specific concept in separation from an other which it is associated with.

For deconstruction, the structure of life is not reducible to such binaries, and hence, to an absolute separation of life and death. By utilizing the term profanation it is possible to undermine the tempta- tion to make of deconstruction a simple composite of the sacred and the profane. To advocate such would keep the binary in play and miss the point that all identities are open to countless contaminations and transgressions. To separate the notion of the profane from profanation mitigates against the danger of characterizing profanation merely reactively to the sacred. Deconstruction entails that this is never an issue, since what profanation profanes is only ever another profanity; thus, the profane is liberated from any possible sacralization. Since all identities require relation and same- ness, they are therefore markable and subject to transgression. If any entity relates, this event is only because it is not sacred and immune to transgres- sion. Therefore, the radical conclusion to draw from this is that all things are essentially profane, or under the process of profanation, without excep- tion. Deconstruction is profanation. Here we can discern a profanity more profane than even the profane itself. Due to the contaminative force of

deconstruction, what is given is always in itself profaned; there is necessarily

a transgression that contravenes what is given, all previous finite trans-

gressions and so on, thereby ruling out the possibility of sacrality for all existence. This is where the strongest difference can be forced between Derrida, Levinas and Heidegger: what is profane is always profaned by a more irreducible profanity. If what is given cannot be pure and sufficient unto itself, then it must undergo the experience of its own termination, thereby undermining the possibility of any infinite or absolutely sacred stature, nor any of the values of ethical dignity which might be associated with it. This moves Derrida from Levinas and Heidegger and the possibility of any theological commitment or affirmation; sacrality, precisely for the strong reason that any structure contains the necessary possibility of its own dis- solution, must thus be annulled of any inviolable and separate existential claims it may have. All things are profaned. This is the best way to under- stand ‘tout autre est tout autre’. Even things are now open to their otherness. It is not only God that is removed from divine otherness, but all things in themselves. This is because what is set apart and held to be sacred may

Deconstruction is Profanation


only be defined by virtue of the force of profanation. This is ultimately why Derrida is the most irreverent of thinkers. This is also one level on which Derrida and Giorgio Agamben seem to be in agreement, since Agamben offers a major theorization of profanation. For Agamben, the ‘profane’ is that which consists of taking something holy or wholly otherwise and making it of the world. 40 In Agamben’s Profanations

essay, the idea of profanation asserts that if religion is that which separates, then it follows that sacrality – that which must be set apart and inviolable – must also be wholly separate. Profanation renders neutral to that which is separated. It makes that which separates disinterested. Profanation renders the separation neutral that which is separated, returning it to common usage: ‘The thing that is returned to common use of men is pure, profane and free of sacred names’. 41 That which is common is a generic experience of concrete human existence. However, it is founded on that which no human can attain: perfection. It is whole, invulnerable and exempt from human life, even from concrete mortality itself. As Agamben suggests, ‘Against the empty, continuous, quantified, infinite time of vulgar histori- cism must be set the full, broken, indivisible and perfect time of concrete human experience.’ 42 However, this could be viewed as another sacraliza- tion. In this light, Agamben desires the separation of separation and dif- ferentiation. It is as if Agamben needs one more violent or revolutionary baptism, one which puts an end to all violence. To be fair, Agamben does wish to revitalize the idea of the profane in order to mitigate against this possibility. He thus rests on separating the sacred and profane dichotomy in order to assert a human messianism, which is neither sacred nor profane, but a relation which profanes the profane. Human redemption is inextrica- bly tied to profanation. As Agamben unequivocally suggests in The Coming Community, ‘Redemption is not an event in which what was profane becomes sacred and what was lost becomes found again’, rather, ‘Redemption is, on the contrary, the irreparable loss of the lost, the definitive profanity of the profane.’ 43 This redemption rests on a special relationship to temporality, which transcends both profane time (chronos) and sacred, and eternal time (aeon) and rests on the mingling of both. It is the passage of chronological time into eternal time. As Agamben states in The Time that Remains, ‘[T]here is, first of all, profane time-to which Paul usually refers to as chronos – which

Here time contracts and the time of the now – lasts until

the parousia, the full presence of the messiah, which coincides with the

goes from creation to the messianic event

begins to end: but this contracted time


Derrida: Profanations

day of wrath and the end of time (which remains undetermined though imminent). Here time explodes, or rather implodes, here in the other aeon (eternity)’. 44 This temporal disjuncture corresponds to what Agamben calls the ‘loss of the lost’. It is that part of us that is whole. This is why Agamben does not correspond precisely to Derrida. It is as if he demands the return of a part of us that has not been subject to time, one that presents an aufhebung of the eternal and temporal, preserving that space in us that transcends demarcation. In a sense Agamben, on this point at least, is no different to Eliade. He too operates on a bifurcation of the sacred and profane and allows for their mingling.

* * *

In summation, for Derrida it is not possible to dispense easily with at least some concept of worldliness. Any concept of alterity must involve an inter- play between alterity and world. For Derrida, ‘My world is the opening in which all experience occurs, including, as the experience par excellence, that which is transcendence towards the other as such.’ 45 All experience occurs within the world by virtue of that which transcends it. The thought of this singularity is precisely where the differences between Derrida, Levinas and Heidegger come to a head. Here we can again see the relevance of Derrida’s constant refrain upon Paul Celan’s expression, ‘Die Welt ist fort, ich muß dich tragen’ (The world is gone, I must carry you). 46 More exactly, Derrida faces a more originary thought of world as an ontology that takes its condition from the world of the extra-mundane, and therefore from that which could be described as the not-world or from the spectral: a world without world that is not necessarily other-worldly. This is explicitly why Derrida asks of Heidegger why the becoming of the world cannot come from another place. That the animal or the stone is without world or lesser in world is something that remains problematic for Derrida. The world is neither here nor there but must keep coming here and there in all different manner of shapes, guises and figures. This figurality ultimately permeates the banal and ordinary region of the mundane and must delocalize and subvert any thought of a gathering or earthly attachment (158). Alterity and ontology, from the human to the non-human, combines here in an extension of the phenomenological ego to its reconfiguration as a bearer of the other, or as a bearer of all other ‘yous’, in an experience of bearing the impossibility of all possible worlds in their ultimate general

Deconstruction is Profanation


contamination which is to say life and death as their own unique end and beginning.

For each time, and each time singularly, each time irreplaceably, each

time infinitely, death is nothing less than an end of the world. Not only one end among others, the end of some one or something in the world, the end of a life or of a living being. Death puts to an end neither to someone in the world nor to one world among others. Death marks

the end of the unique world, the end of the totality of what

each time

is or can be presented as the origin of the world for any unique living being, be it human or not. (140)

Alterity and world are always entwined. To return to Derrida’s essay ‘Faith and Knowledge’, it is possible to see how this plays out in relation to the immunity of faith and sacrality. 47 Here, as we previously mentioned, Derrida claims that the source of religion is a dichotomy between faith and the sacred, or what he assigns in respect to Heidegger as ‘a sacredness with-

out belief’, or in Levinas’ case as a ‘faith in a holiness without sacredness, in

a desacralizing truth, even making a certain disenchantment the condition

of authentic holiness’ (99). In Derrida’s analysis, ‘faith’ and the ‘sacred’ testify to an immune form of ‘otherness’. Both faith and sacredness only ever affirm the prior relevance of an un-encompassable otherness that surpasses relations with all things. Both of these concepts demand faith in

a wholly other and thus remain wholly immune. The consequences of this

reading show that it is not strictly an other-worldly claim, nor can it provide justification for any analysis or existential assertion of divinity. Instead, it designates the essential vulnerability and fragility of this world as it comes to be it becomes otherwise, in whatever way that may be. In conclusion, deconstruction allows us the thought of a pervasive and transgressive alter-

ity qua profanity as a central characteristic of our worldly situation. Derrida offers a radical departure from Levinas’ and Heidegger’s thinking of ‘sacred’ and ‘faith’ and an even deeper radicalization of Agamben’s notion of profanation. For Derrida, these philosophers, despite their own radical- ity, cling to and testify for immune forms of metaphysical presence. In contrast, Derrida defines alterity as a point of diffusion where all things are ‘sacred’ and ‘holy’ only through their irreducible profanation.

Chapter 4

Absolute Profanation:

The Deconstruction of Christianity

It is essential to my understanding of Derrida’s deconstruction that deconstruction cannot be considered in the light of charity. The point of focusing on deconstruction through the lens of Christian charity performs two functions in the furtherance of my argument. It further delimits the possibility of categorizing deconstruction between an ontology of the same and the other; since charity founds itself on a dissymmetry between insides and outsides, it therefore provides an application of the logic of profana- tion. Moreover, deconstruction undermines the possibility of thinking an equivalence between grace and existence. Showing that existence, as deconstruction conceives it, is not primarily charitable will allow me to press the point that if any existence comes to be, it does so only by virtue of profanation. While charity has latterly come to be associated with good works, this was not always the case. The Pauline notion of agape, which I will deal with more fully below, is commonly associated with unlimitedness, or the unlimited and unconditional giving of God’s love. The instantiation of good works allows humans to respond to this originary gift. In an effort to match the giving of divine unconditionality, humans engage in good works in order to overcome the essential finitude of their existence. The instantiation of charity allows humans to overcome limitations, impurities, flaws and fail- ings in an effort to supplement existence with perfect acts and ideas. The important point for my argument is that this reveals an ontological claim which underpins charity. The reason charity in a moral sense is exemplary is because it is founded on God’s example. In order for existence and those who exist to have an enabling and progressive power – for anything to happen at all – it is purely because God must let this state of existence be. Showing the ways in which deconstruction destabilizes the correspondence between God’s infinite love and humans’ finite attempt to enact this love will allow me to bring more sharply into focus the fact that existence is not

The Deconstruction of Christianity


founded on a free divine giving. If grace is the giving of God’s unjustified favour then deconstruction, or as I call it absolute profanation, undermines this possibility, since God’s unjustified favour will always be unbounded. While it is possible to argue that existence is as essentially corrupt for Christianity as it is for deconstruction – after all, a central facet of Christian theology is that this life is wretched and needs to be overcome, with the promise of security in the next life – the point I assert in this chapter is that this sharp binary does not resolve the essential negativity of identities which are subject to alteration. This issue is focused on the question of union. Charitable giving results in a sacred union with God. Therefore, acts of charity in a Christian sense are founded on overcoming the essential profanity of existence. It would be easy to exact a deconstructive ethics of charity, which would give voice to the margins, the disadvantaged and the needy. However, deconstruction is much more radical than this and does not simply limit itself to the margins, the marginal and the particular. To suggest that decon- struction offers the best chance of liberating the oppressed and poor would be mistaken. To liberate the poor, one cannot ignore what they have to be liberated from. Failing to do this, incorrectly construes deconstruction as only involving particular identities. Deconstruction does affect narratives of liberation and emancipatory projects, as it affects any structure; but it holds a wider remit than particular accounts of deliverance. To pursue my argument I will look herein at different conceptions of charity, such as Ivan Illich’s radical assessment of Christianity, Klaus Held’s phenomenological description and Thomas Aquinas’ canonical interpretation. All of these philosophers hold charity to be a radically transcendent force. All their interpretations, despite their differences, give definition to how charity is both essential and radical in Christian thought. Charity in Christianity is by and large seen as a radical act, one that unbounds particular identities. For many, a Christian consideration of charity is more demanding than simply giving away residual income. Like God, charity provides generously and freely. In effect, what people have is always already ‘stolen’ from God. Therefore, the act of charity restores God’s gift, which does not exclusively belong to whom it is given. It is as such exoneration of guilt at the fact that we share existence with perishable identities. Since charity is an essential component of Christianity, it must thus always remain synonymous with its premises. If there is no charity, therefore, there is no Christianity. Other religions, of course, have charitable structures; this begs the immediate question of deconstruction’s affiliation with other


Derrida: Profanations

religions, but for the purposes of this chapter, the metaphysics of Christian charity must be contested. This is important because such an undertaking undermines the supposed radicality of Christian concepts. Therefore, if deconstruction does not equate with charity, then it does not equate with Christianity. Since deconstruction is based on the contestation of the possibility of any ontological sequence, all deconstructions contest the sacrality of Christianity, especially with regard to the metaphysics of Christian theology – from the charity of pecuniary donation, to the metaphysical donation of the Christ figure, to the guarantee of eternal redemption. To compound this argument I will briefly discuss Derrida’s deconstructive notion of friendship in order to assess how it corresponds to the Christian injunction to ‘love thy neighbour’. Furthermore, by showing how friendship for Derrida is always entwined with enmity, I will be able to demonstrate how Derrida precludes friendship with the Gods, and most specifically the absolute exemplar of the God-man. Therefore, every deconstruction is essentially a deconstruction of charity, and a fortiori a deconstruction of Christianity.

* * *

I will begin to explore how Derrida understands charity by looking at Given Time. Here, position within the social edifice is of no particular pertinence to the occurrence of deconstruction. In the closing pages of Given Time, Derrida explicitly tackles the structure of charity and alms-giving. To be completely clear here before progressing Derrida does not argue for or against the moral stature of charity or alms-giving. Charity is as decon- structible as anything else. Derrida firmly equates the nature of ‘charity’ with a logic that mirrors that of the sacrifice. After discussing the place of the beggar within the social edifice, the beggar’s marginal status, his exteriority to the production of wealth, and his parasitical relation to surplus wealth; Derrida proceeds to argue that while the figure of the beggar disrupts the economic order of the same, the structure of the recep- tion and donation of alms always re-inscribes begging within a sacrificial structure. 1 Sacrifice, Derrida suggests, is ‘always distinguishable from a pure gift’. 2 The point is that since the sacrifice always proposes an offering that is dependent on the destruction of that with which it exchanges, it does so in order to assert a surplus value, or an ‘amortization’ which aims towards protection and security in order to earn favour with the Gods. For Derrida, as soon as alms are given, they aim to accrue benefit and una- nimity, thereby ruling out the possibility of chance and the threat, which

The Deconstruction of Christianity


necessarily follows from the indeterminate structure of any identity which deconstruction entails. Charity, as Derrida reads it in Given Time, entails reinforcing existing social hierarchies, since the possibility of chance and threat, and indeed of social mobility, is amortized through suspending the possibility of further economic opportunities and crises which are essential to all experience.

For Derrida: ‘alms fulfil a regulated and regulating function; it is no longer

a gratuitous or gracious gift, so to speak, which is what a pure gift must be. It is neither gracious nor gratuitous’ (137). What is of most interest here is the challenge to Marcel Mauss’ conception of the gift which ensues.

Derrida argues that Mauss considers the gift of alms to be part of a sacrifi- cial structure, which is easily calculable and measurable. Alms function under the auspices of a binding and interrelated operation of religion and moral obligation (137). Thus, alms-giving is specific, targeted and decid- able. For Derrida, the outcome of Mauss’ logic is a blurring of the demarca- tion between the poor and the god’s; abolishing the weakness and frailty that the poor represent in the face of God’s perfection. What does this mean? The equivalence of God and the poor is no accident. Derrida argues that the measurability of the alms-giving sacrifice is included as a component of charity, in order that believers can acquit themselves with regard the gods. The achievement of the sacrifice of alms

is an effort to stave off the possibility that both the poor and the gods have

the power to disrupt the smooth continuance of the social system. Charity subscribes to the logic of the sacred: it is done to do away with the poor, but only in order that they be removed, or to annul the possibility of their return should they demand more. Thus charity, by not giving enough, delimits the possibility of the destabilization of any existing social security. As Derrida suggests, in relation to Mauss, the point is that generosity is enacted in order to attain the good graces of both the gods and the poor in order to make peace with them (139). Alms-giving necessarily entails a delimitation of the possibility of the poor haunting you. It offers a chance to be at peace with the poor and at peace with the Gods. Charity by defini- tion dialectically depends on the ever-present construction of a state of repose and security. There is further evidence of the separation between deconstruction and the speculative force of charity in Given Time where Derrida recalls Baudelaire’s story ‘Counterfeit Money’. This tale effectively places two ‘moneyed’ friends in a situation where alms given to a poor beggar are counterfeit. One of the friends believes that the counterfeit coin could be viewed as just as generous as a real coin, since it could potentially generate


Derrida: Profanations

untold amounts of wealth for the beggar, whereas the narrator deplores the sham of the action. Derrida’s reading of Baudelaire’s story challenges the speculative logic of the narrator, as well as the protagonists of the story, since the potentiality of speculation as regards the friend, the coin and the beggar succumbs to an oppositional logic of fake and authentic money (158). Derrida argues that Baudelaire’s story demonstrates an aneconomic relation that conditions all kinds of economies and monetary construc- tions. The alms-giving in the story is not approved or castigated by Derrida, nor are they offered in order to be returned. Baudelaire’s story unleashes what Derrida calls, following Hegel, the ‘bad infinite’. This characterizes both authentic and counterfeit money, and thus simultaneously is that which is monetary and what is not. The essential point to realize here is that Derrida is engaging in a decon- struction of the relation between the authentic and the counterfeit (158). The ideas of authenticity and inauthenticity are founded on the notion that there is an original which belongs to an order that is sacred and inviolable. The inauthentic is a copy which is only a pale imitation of the true. Here there is striking evidence apparent of the complicity between the theolo- gical and monetary realms. For Derrida, on the other hand, there is no original exempt from subjection to further demarcations and delimitations. The gift of ‘Counterfeit Money’ is a gift precisely because it is not charitable in the strictest of senses. This is because nothing of value is in fact given. Giving the counterfeit coin brings into relief the impossible nature of the gift, because a gift is always complicated and impure. There is thus no essen- tial demarcation that is possible to make between an authentic coin and fake one. While there may be an empirical difference between authentic and fake, the lived difference is equal since the counterfeit could poten- tially generate as much wealth as the genuine coin. For Derrida, every original must in fact be a derivation; every thing is because of the ‘bad infinite’ of contamination. In Baudelaire’s story itself, the narrator sees that the counterfeit has as much chance of putting the beggar in jail as it does of making him a millionaire. This insight stems from the fact that the narrator’s friend sets in motion the narrator’s realization of the essential impurity of all gifts. Baudelaire’s text enacts deconstructive logic. It presents, as Derrida shows, the bad infinite of possibility, the infinite without recuperation, which affects counterfeit money as much as it affects authentic money. In terms of charity, the counterfeit donation unmasks the true nature of alms-giving and the dependence of all forms of monetary exchange, real or otherwise, on the process of deconstruction. For Derrida, what the friend

The Deconstruction of Christianity


gives is as equally fallible as the beggar’s potential speculation, which under- mines the prophetic force of speculation itself. As Derrida argues:

We are still saying perhaps. For the secret remains guarded as to what Baudelaire, the narrator, or the friend meant to say or to do, assuming that they themselves knew; we cannot be sure of this even in the case of the friend who is the one who, we suppose, alone or better than anyone, seems to know if he gave and why-true or counterfeit money. Yet, beside the fact that he may himself have been mistaken in a thousand different ways, he places himself or rather he must stand in any case in a position of non-knowing with regard to the beggar’s possible speculation. (170)

The categories of counterfeit or original are not essential or necessary conditions of any experience. All things are neither purely monetary, nor are they counterfeit, since for a counterfeit to be a counterfeit requires imitation of an ‘original’. For Derrida, there can be no essential difference between either, since both do not exist in and of themselves or strictly in relation to each other. The gift is impossible because it cannot be in itself truly original. Since alms can be simultaneously counterfeit or authentic, open to other possible demarcations and potentialities, it is thus possible to claim that Derrida is not equating deconstruction with either realm, but is defining the general structure of all gifts. This contestation asserts that charity is not immune or inviolable; it cannot be made sacred or untouchable. Charity follows the same logic as sacrifices and the sacred. At the core of charity resides a monstrous double. It requires at a basic level that in the act of giving in order to be good, it is necessary to exclude others. This would seem to suggest, as Derrida might argue, an undecidable structure. However, there is a broader ideological force at play here, since charity is essentially driven towards the protection of the home. Charity, at its purest level, demands immediate distance and separation. This is why it is so common to give to a beggar out of repulsion in order to jettison their pres- ence. Thus, charity, in its most perverse rendition requires a payment that excludes the radical needs of the needy. We give charitably in order to pre- vent the proximity of the poor and in order to counter any prospective disturbance that they might eventuate. This is why the adage that charity begins at home has such force. Strictly speaking, charity does not admit of unconditional hospitality, since by definition one cannot give charity at home. If one tried to give charity at home it would require the destabi- lization of the security of the home and would thus amount to the utter


Derrida: Profanations

destruction of the home in itself. Charity is therefore founded on the preservation of the home’s sanctuary. While charity certainly has a double structure, functioning at the intersection of exchange between a home- world and its other, this does not mean it is an undecidable in the sense that Derrida understands it to be. Charity is exhaustible, and thus only ever asserts itself within particular confines. For charity to be charity, it must stop and assert a state of repose. For Derrida, undecidability, spectrality, hospitality, and any other deconstructive tropes are by definition not exhaustible. This does not mean they are infinite; only that they are infi- nitely demarcated. This is precisely why Derrida subscribes in this context to Hegel’s ‘bad infinite’ as the condition of all things. This shows the difference between charity and deconstruction. Charity, while applicable beyond the home or the homeworld, is limited and only begins at the door of the domicile. The undecidable can come from any- where and designates that which may be anything. The sovereignty of any identity or homeworld is manifestly violable by whatever delimitations may or may not occur. Deconstruction is indeterminate and general rather than localized to a homeworld. This is why deconstruction names the vital condition of existence itself, rather than merely the life of particular home- worlds. Charity is essentially reactive. For example, the swell of international charitable donations which ensued after the tsunami hit South-East Asia in 2004, or, and the aid New Orleans received after hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 demonstrated that charity reacts to a state of emergency. It is not founded on alleviating wider and more endemic problems. These demon- strate that charity is essentially reactive, it never gives in advance only after the fact, or when it is too late. Charity requires, to varying degrees, either the precipitation of a problem, or a crisis to which it is deemed a measured solution. Charity requires the giving of non-all. If charity did give all, it would exact terrible consequences upon the donor. Charity requires some form of sacrifice or self-sacrifice. It requires the loss of one’s worldly gains or at least the surplus of ones worldly gains. Charity strictly gives only some of what we have. It requires that the home remains intact to be possible in order to be possible in the first place. This is where we can see the first dis- sonance between deconstruction and charity. Charity cannot correspond to what Derrida understands by a hospitality which entwines the home and what it necessarily excludes. 3 Charity, whether it exonerates one of ones own guilt in the face of the non-all, or whether it aims towards fostering a unified and sheltered homeworld, still aims to preserve the unanimity of the social edifice. Hospitality is mutually entwined with inhospitability, or conditional and unconditional hospitality, and designates how no social

The Deconstruction of Christianity


space is inherently safe. The contrast between hospitality and charity is exceptionally revealing here. Charity, at its most ideologically pure, entails a pathological complicity with what it supposedly attempts to combat. It requires as its essential condition an insurmountable difference, preserving the difference and distance between the same and the other remaining perpetually removed in its otherness. Hospitality, on the other hand, as Derrida conceives, is essentially doubled and exposed to an inestimable and indiscriminate amount of others. It therefore requires mediation and contact, even if it is of a disruptive variety. To say hospitality, on Derrida’s terms, is equivalent to saying inhospitability or the essential contingency of community and home. Thinking this double necessity why the gift is impossible: because it can never be absolutized and therefore wholly separated. To think this double necessity is precisely why hospitality is an apt expression of deconstruction. One cannot so easily make the same claim about charity. This is because charity founds itself on temporal structure but a temporal structure which suspends the disrup- tions of time. Charity is given after the fact and is, by definition, always too late. It requires the presentation of a quandary to be instantiated whereas deconstruction is the condition of anything happening, whether it is a quandary or not. Charity reflects a managerial, deliberate and measured approach to donation. The point is that the contingency of the domicile is contingent a priori. It is founded on pre-thought structures in the face of what is disturbing the homeworld. Hospitality is founded on a prior affir- mation of whatever violation affects communal identity, irrespective of the constitution of that management. If it is founded on a pre-thought or a prescription then it undermines undecidability. As Derrida suggests: ‘Let us say yes to who or what turns up, before any determination, before any anticipation, before any identification.’ 4 The point is that it is not possible to nominate a preference for who shall receive hospitality; it is what happens anyway. Hospitality is never pure and unconditional, nor does it necessarily endorse either economic welfare or social rank. This is where it is possible to see the dissonance between deconstruction and charity. Charity cannot correspond to what Derrida understands by hospitality which entwines with the home and what it necessarily excludes. Charity, whether it exonerates one’s guilt in the face of the non-all, or whether it aims towards fostering a unified and sheltered homeworld, still aims to preserve the unanimity of the social edifice. In contrast, what Derrida understands by hospitality cannot be correlated with this under- standing of charity. Hospitality is mutually entwined with inhospitability, or conditional and unconditional hospitality, and designates that no social


Derrida: Profanations

space is inherently safe. The contrast between hospitality and charity is exceptionally revealing here. Charity, at its most ideologically pure, entails a pathological complicity with that which it purportedly attempts to com- bat. It requires as its essential condition and insurmountable difference one which keeps intact a distance between the same and the other. This is why Derrida in Given Time locates charity at the intersection of the poor and the divine. Both the poor and the divine must be kept at a distance. In a classical sense, the execution of charity in works and institutions operates in order to expunge the poor and needy from God’s perfect universe.

* * *

Since deconstruction cannot admit of charity as an essential undecidable, then it becomes necessary to examine the level to which it is possible to say that deconstruction is Christian. If charity remains somewhat synonymous with Christianity, to what extent can a deconstruction of charity entail a deconstruction of Christianity? Although I have argued that deconstruction entails a more radical understanding of ‘giving’, there is a strong emphasis in the Christian tradition on the radicality of charity. Take for instance the work of Ivan Illich. Illich argues for the prospect of revolutionary charity or ‘revolutionary agápe’. This argument derives from his re-reading of the story of the Good Samaritan, which indicates the necessity of rupturing one’s ethos in order to begin contemplating the widening of the Christian community. Renunciation of the possession of one’s immediate horizon is for Illich a prerequisite of radical charity or agápe. In the Pauline sense, renunciation opens oneself to gratuity. Charity, in a radical Christian sense, involves the transgression of one’s own social milieu. 5 Illich’s analysis pro- vides an extension of this concept in terms of the historical orientation of early Christian communal horizons. By retracing the history of political concepts, Illich argues that there is distinct neglect in the recognition of the consequences of a radical Eucharistic assembly, especially with respect to the life of a citizen (14). This is illuminated by the notion of communion or the Eucharist. In earliest Christian times, in the very act of assembly, a ‘we’ or a radical ‘we’ was established which was in effect not of this world, or of worldly politics in the Greek sense, defined within the orbit of the polis. Reiterating the Pauline renunciation of the world of the philosophers, Illich illustrates this movement with reference to the Latin verb Conspiro or ‘kiss’, which was a celebration of otherness. Illich stresses the Conspiratsio must not be taken in the modern sense of ‘conspiracy’, because it is deriva- tive of the word spiritus, meaning roughly, ghost or Holy Spirit. In early

The Deconstruction of Christianity


Christianity, the Conspiratsio was expressed in the mouth-to-mouth kiss. This symbolized the point where each individual at the communal dining contributed the essence of their own spirit, particularity through what was common to all, and this is why the notion of Holy Spirit came to unite the identity of the Christian community. Sharing the Eucharist created a spiritual community or gathering together (Ecclesia). What is interesting though, as Illich stresses, is that master, Jew and Greek equally contributed towards making the community to which through their contribution they could then belong. This argument illus- trates that those who participated believed that community can come into existence outside of, or other than to the community, into which one is born. 6 The freedom and equality of Christian communion prefigured mod- ern notions of political community. However, there was a crucial difference, Illich says. The Eucharist meal manifested an other-worldliness, the body of Christ, symbolized through the breaking of bread, signified something evanescent yet deeply personal which could not be understood in a legal or contractual sense. The key thing to understand here is that the conditions in which Christian community came into being at the point where the limits of one’s own community came to be. This understanding was gradually lost, Illich thinks, with the growth of the Church as an establishment. This analysis of the transformative potentiality of Christian community is borne out in Klaus Held’s analysis of the story of the Good Samaritan. Held’s interpretation reveals that the Good Samaritan reveals a radical new sense of responsibility, whereas previously one’s ethical homeworld was defined within a particular orbit or localized golden rule, the story of the Samaritan represents the establishment of a revolutionary new form of transgressive charity, where ethics becomes revolutionized within a new remit which requires a reaching beyond the orbit of given ethical contexts. Held argues that prior to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, ethical communities found their own unique sense of proportion from within a definitive hori- zon or homeworld. In a moral sense, a community bases its habituating coherency on the golden rule or the regular area, which basically requests of the individual to treat others as oneself would like to be treated, as Christ did during the Sermon on the Mount. ‘Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.’ Held holds that despite the variability of all home- worlds, ‘a general statement about every conceivable ethos is possible, because the Golden Rule, as a prohibition, can be formulated universally’. 7 However, the revolutionary element of this was brought to the fore, with the tale of the Good Samaritan where the homeworldly ethos is supplanted by his actions towards the wounded man on the side of the road.


Derrida: Profanations

The homeworldy ethos or golden rule of the Samaritan does not require that he offers aid to a member of a strange community. It is this that allows Held to contest that the constitution of one’s own golden rules is open to radical expansion in order to be able to deal with the radical otherness of one’s own context. The familiarity of the Samaritan’s world and a new, unknown community is open to the possibility of transcending a habitual- ized existence at the very moment of engagement with another community. The evaluation of the Christian message is in its elucidation of how ethicality can take place during a radical move beyond the economy of the familiar. Ultimately, what the Samaritan story reveals is that the other is met as another and is not appropriated. Coming upon another community in the simple act of meeting breaks the barrier of one’s ethos. As Held puts it:

Thus the compassionate charity which was preached by and practiced by Jesus characteristically turns ‘strangers’ into ‘neighbours’, as the Samaritan did; that is, it knows no boundaries in relation to anomalies, isolated ‘foreign’ individuals, and enemies; people possessed by demons, women with questionable reputations, tax collectors, and so on.(6)

In this vein, Christian ethics only really begins at the point where charity offers a radical thought which opens the infinite and limitless possibility of ‘selflessness’ and compassion which is always necessary in the act of meet- ing with another community by hearing the other’s call of ‘non-belonging’ beyond one’s own rigidly defined community. In many ways, Held’s view reflects Illich’s view. If there is any contrast, it can be seen when Illich more fully drawing out the consequences of what such a construction of the Christian community involves. Illich emphasizes the assemblage of a radical ‘we’, one that must be non-worldly, which to all intents and purposes names the notion of the Holy Spirit. The transgres- sion of the bounds of a community is therefore founded in an immaterial gathering. This requires formlessness, an indeterminacy which gathers within a common identity. Held’s idea on the other hand operates through phenomenological principles. At base, his insights on the encounter with the strange is a development of Husserlian insights, where the encounter with the strange allows one to question one’s own natural attitude, allowing one to put into question one’s cultural dispositions. Held, if he is to rely on strictly phenomenological principles, cannot admit of the radical, formless ‘we’ since in phenomenological terms formlessness rules out the possibility of the place of the horizon, since by definition, what is formless is not demarcated and figural. This is why the

The Deconstruction of Christianity


notion of the Holy Spirit is a symbol of this formation. It is without border, delimitation and horizon. This is why Illich more fully grasps the consequences of Christian charity in its desire to assert formlessness without figurality and demarca- tion. Hence Held’s discussion of how Christianity allows ethics to move beyond particular homeworlds cannot cope with or even admit of the possibility of pure formlessness. Held’s discussion of the transgressive nature of Christian charity neglects to denote the full consequences of the radical ‘we’ which his phenomenological descriptions take into account. Christian charity does not simply rely on the transgression of one’s home- world as embodied in the Samaritan reaching out to the pariah; it must also construct a radical and non-formal ‘we’. To be fair, Held is aware of this; he notes that the transgression of ethos goes some way towards explaining the evangelical aspect of Christianity, and in turn, observes how, historically, radical charity allowed Christianity – as well as Buddhism and Islam – to become world religions. It is the formlessness of spirit that allows it to stretch far beyond its own restrictive horizons to deliver its message. The question of formlessness is central to my analysis. It demonstrates the coalescence of the ethical and the ontological in Christian terms. Charitable acts are undertaken in order to match the substantial existence of God’s universe. In metaphysical terms the locus of this formlessness becomes concentrated in the figure of Christ. It is impossible to think of the revolution of Christianity without thinking that, especially in terms of Christian incarnation, Christ formlessly stands in for all of humanity. As Illich well knew, the radical ‘we’ must be formless, Christ substitutes himself for all of humanity, a blurring the highest with the lowliest; hence the radical resonance of the Samaritan story. Christ embodies an ethically driven universalism founded on radical and non-synonymous substitution. The true core of Christian charity resides in the supplementary identifi- cation of God and humanity. Only through such an identification can a person become eternal and reach everlasting life, that is, life without end or horizon, unconditionally universal without limits and demarcations. The formlessness of the Christian identification with the lowliest finds its deepest and most concentrated expression in the figure of the suffering Christ. God empties himself of his divinity (kenosis), allowing for a universal identification with all of humankind. Christ is the supplemental ‘we’ for all particular humans. The consistency of Christianity’s theological edifice relies on identification with the poor figure of the suffering Christ. This endorses a political theology which is founded on ‘classlessness’ wherein the particularity of one’s situation is transgressed in a formless ‘we’. This is


Derrida: Profanations

where rich and poor, thieves and saints, masters and servants, tax collectors and beggars may all be included in a radical ‘we’. This provides the broadest expression of the charity which underpins the metaphysical presuppositions of Christianity. God himself sacrifices himself to exonerate us of our sins. For this reason, Christian charity is unambiguously equivalent to the formulation of a political theology and contains a much wider remit than making simple voluntary donations. Political theology defines the manner in which political power is under- stood in light of God’s creation. Charity and creation match each other; God or the gods dispense the necessary expedients and vital needs of the people. The people of a sovereign political entity are therefore in effect at the mercy of what the God’s chose to give. The political ‘miracle’ of Christ is dependent upon a radicalization of homeworlds in favour of a ‘this-world’ transcendence; the intent to estab- lish and guarantee heaven on earth. Thus, the end result of Christian charity and its revolutionary capacity is the establishment of a God who demarcates ranks and lines of isolation between different homeworlds, between the formlessness of us and them, friends and enemies, the redeemed and the damned. Likewise the Christian commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’, 8 exists not simply in terms of the continuation of universal love qua inter-cultural reciprocity but under its true evangelical auspices, differentiating between those who belong and those who do not belong to this radical formless ‘we’. 9 Christian community after all must be Christian community. Charitable acts of compassion towards the needy are founded on salvag- ing and giving refuge, of annulling pain, suffering and potential violations. The crux of charity, especially in terms of political ontology, is based on a notion of fullness which can be understood from the ground up, from base to superstructure so to speak. First, this fullness can be understood in terms of the establishment of a radical and formless ‘we’ that is applicable to all homeworlds, and second, it can be grasped in the most potent incarnation of charity, the identification with the sacrifice of the Christ figure; the figure par excellence of the tragic scapegoat. The death of the figure of Christ is often argued to be the locus of compassion for the unfortunate. This is because God divests himself of his divinity in order to become fully human, which mitigates against the instantiation of hierarchy. God sub- stitutes and sacrifices himself for all mankind. This asserts the substitutabi- lity of the Christ figure, which constructs a space absolutely exempt and impervious from transgression and violation. The consequence of the crucifixion, the highest concentration of God and humanity, aims towards infinitely transcending the mortality of our own existential situation.

The Deconstruction of Christianity


To be more precise, Christ’s substitution for humanity is not wholly indis- criminate. It is indiscriminate only with a view to establishing a paradise of salvage and refuge. The problem however is that this means particular homeworlds or particular local identities are allowed to universalize them-

selves for all as if all. Ideologically this allows communities in specific posi- tions to claim that their own predicament is that of all others. It amounts to

a substitution of the particular for the universal. Despite the influence

and importance of the Christianity to the history of thought, it ultimately reiterates the self-contained security of established social hierarchies. The rich man and the prostitute, the businessman and the politician, the tax- collector and the pariah can now all identify whatever lifeworld predica- ment they occupy as universal, thereby keeping the social edifice intact without revealing their unavoidable interrelation and dependence. In a weird inversion, one has the full capacity to assert one’s contingent world position as ‘authentic’ victimhood, while sublimating one’s own impurity in the redemption offered by Christ’s suffering. 10 This point must be grasped with full Nietzschean vigour. 11 Christ’s or the God-man’s excessive sacrifice fulfils the task of exonerating all humanity of guilt, conscience and scruple. This is the principle and most sublime form of Christian charity: through love, gratuity and grace God exonerates man- kind from its moral limitations and from mortality. God doesn’t have to do this but does so out of love and grace, God suspends humanity’s intermi- nable ‘economic’ exchange of moral blow and counter-blow, while simulta- neously suspending the contingencies of historicity and historical causality. This is why God divests Himself of His divinity in order to endure the pain that humans do, to see what it is like to walk with us. Christ dying for us

allows our ultimate identification with God. In this way, what Christ achieves

is the hubris of all, through precisely the act of delimiting the possibility

of hubris. This is the striking outcome of what Nietzsche called the stroke

of genius called Christianity: no one can undermine God if we are all of God. The crux of Christ’s crucifixion is supposedly an act of equality, which

is necessary to guarantee us everlasting life; the guarantee of life without

death. In a Nietzschean sense, God, finally having unmasked the true rami- fications of his divinity, barters and bribes his way into our favour and affec- tions as if He were no more than human. Christ offers us God’s own destiny, which is to say an everlasting life without tragedy and the vicissitudes of life in the world. Some may argue that Christ is the tragic figure par excellence, but is never without the guarantee of a rising up – quite literally in the Ascension – to the resurrection of everlasting life. After all, if this was not a possibility, the whole structure of Christianity would collapse because Christ would die


Derrida: Profanations

like any mortal. This is the true destiny of Christ’s sacrificial substitution: his death on the cross for all our sins amounts to no more than a perpetual substitution, where we all have our particular worldly troubles salved and alleviated. Following Christ’s example (imatio Christi) is undertaken in order to alleviate us of our worldly concern and finite anxieties. Therefore, the most concentrated expression of Christian charity is a substitution that saves and makes sacred; it immunizes from harm all nascent violabilities and contingencies which humans encounter. 12

* * *

It is now possible to demonstrate why, for Derrida, a thorough compliance of deconstruction and charity, and therefore Christianity, is irreversibly unsustainable. The Christian redemption – its promise of its messianism – is an absolute promise, a promise of the satisfaction of all demands, infinite bliss and a fulfilment of all the voids which afflict and beset existence. This is a name for the very metaphysics of presence; a metaphysics that guaran- tees its own end within a paradise of perfection. It is hence not possible to draw a direct equivalence between Christianity and deconstruction. All deconstruction is a deconstruction of metaphysics, and since the entire theological assemblage of Christianity relies on an invulnerable guarantee of presence, indeed on the divine presence of absolute sacrality, then all deconstruction is by definition an unremittingly profane profanation of the very possibility of Christianity in all its metaphysical vestiges. 13 Because, and as I have shown from the outset, deconstruction entails that all identities are always a priori controvertible, then the absolute verticality of the God-man, his absolute sacrality is always dependent on an alterity which undermines its sacred stature and dignity. The concept of ‘God’ always already contra- dicts itself and cannot ensure itself without division. God, as the god of charity, is only ever an infinitely deficient promise. The issues is not whether God is longed for, or whether one day it will become fulfilled, but rather that the concept of God, as an absolute locus of sacrality and holiness does not exist in an existential sense, since its sacrality is de facto open to contami- nation. Furthermore, the concept of sacrality does not allow for the possi- bility that everything is contaminable, impure and scathed. God’s divine charity, as it rests on the metaphysics of the figure of the suffering Christ, is always brought to an end and is always brought back to the world. God or absolute and unconditional sacrality can never be fully asserted to begin with, because purity is always entwined with the experience of its own termination which existentially annuls the possibility of absolute sacrality.

The Deconstruction of Christianity


As the previous chapter argued, deconstruction is always a radical pro- fanation, because it asserts the essential violability and non-sacrality of all identities. If one wishes to think deconstruction consistently, then the notion of profanation is an inevitable consequence of Derrida’s central premise. If deconstruction is above all a deconstruction of presence, then it is difficult to see how sacrality, or anything which sets something apart from and above the mundane presentation of worlds, can be wholly consistent with its operation. In this light, sacrality subscribes to a notion of the immune. Immune from penetration and contamination the sacred as such must be unscathed, whole and complete. The argument that Derrida main- tains here is that notions of absolute life without death is equivalent to the foundation of absolute sacrality and untouchable immunity. In contrast, for Derrida, everything is auto-immune since the structure of life is always indissoluble from its own necessity of finitization. Nothing is sacred. Both the charitable structure of Christianity and the political theology which underpins it are open to the contaminative logic of deconstruction. Christianity, its apostolic mission, what charity gives, its origination in a home; all these principles are irreversibly ‘ontologically’ corruptible. Indeed the language of ontology is never fully sufficient to express the radicality of Derrida’s position, since it is impossible for anything to ‘be’ in itself, consequently, deconstruction always already undermines the privi- leged complicity between metaphysics and theology. This does not, how- ever, endorse a simple distinction between the sacred and the profane, nor does it imply a simple preference for a profane or even secular reading. Instead, this becomes a deconstruction of the binary of the sacred and the profane. Within the logic of deconstruction, the separation of the sacred and the profane is no longer tenable: deconstruction profanes all possible separation. This is why philosophically profanation is not just the profane in and of itself, for even the profane must by necessity be profaned. Charity, therefore, is limited ‘economically’. It does not hold as radical resource for expressing what deconstruction sees as the openness of any identity to innumerable transgressions. ‘Deconstructive charity’ is an unten- able proposition, as mentioned earlier, regarding the concept of the gift; nothing can be given without strings, since what is given by definition is never pure and sufficient. This is why charity happens after the fact, and why it is never radical enough to think the precise conditions of ontology let alone an emancipatory politics. Such an association could only stem from a glib over-identification of deconstruction with charity and its supposedly attendant values such as liberality, generosity and superabundant bountifulness. This allows one to


Derrida: Profanations

have one’s philosophical cake and eat it too, casting deconstruction as radical and at the same time rendering it open and sharing. This misreading stems from the desire to see in deconstruction values which it always already disputes. As a case in point we can look to where Caputo adopts a similar strategy in his recent What Would Jesus Deconstruct? Caputo cites the Biblical tale of Christ’s preference for the poor woman who gives little, over the rich who only give from their abundance. For Caputo, the poor woman gives not of her abundance but of her blood; she gives what she cannot give, which is to say for Caputo the impossible. The association of the ‘blood’ of the woman with the deconstructive notion of the impossible should offer a clue to Caputo’s methodological error. Caputo associates an organ of life, thereby symbolizing what is most precious to life, with the deconstructive notion of the impossible. While Caputo is quite right to suggest that ‘charity’ is of a different nature to questions of life and death, since it may be construed as giving voluntarily while never allowing the resources and security of the home to be perturbed, he is however wrong to suggest that this may be equated with what Derrida calls the ‘gift’, or the impossible structure of the gift. 14 Caputo valorizes the ethical act of the poor woman. However, there is absolutely no reason, in deconstructive terms, that the voluntary giving of the rich can be differentiated from the constrained giving of the poor woman, since deconstruction is a structure that affects all notions of gifts, one as much as another. Caputo cannot consistently say then that when the poor woman gives her gift she is giving the gift of the impossible in particular. She still only offers what she, just as the rich person does. It is the question of what one ‘has’, that is, the presence of one’s ontological possessions, which can be deconstructed, but not in favour of one form of giving over another. Derrida’s interpretation of ‘Counterfeit Money’ showed that the idea of giving cannot be consistently distinguished or valorized in favour of one type of giving over another. The woman’s gift cannot be endorsed over and above what the rich person gives, unless one utilizes pre-established ethical criteria to judge which gift is better. For Derrida, both regions are equally under deconstruction. Caputo’s endorsement of the woman and Christ’s commendation of her surreptitiously reiterates the ideology of charity which he seems so anxious to avoid. A further consequence of this reading is that deconstruction is not suitable to express the weakness of God. Caputo, incorrectly we hold, argues that such is the case where he asserts that ‘the event of the promise, the call of what is “to come,” is inscribed in the name of God, but not only


because the name is endlessly translatable in other names like

The Deconstruction of Christianity


justice or the gift, all of which hold out the promise of something to come’. By now it should be apparent that such an understanding of Derrida is a misrepresentation of deconstruction. Why, it could be put to Caputo, is the name God privileged among others, unless one is engaged in a prior act of sacralization? Why, for instance, is the term ‘God’ not substitutable with justice, gift or any other thing for that matter? The point for Caputo is that the name ‘God’ signifies a weak messianic force, which effectively dissemi- nates God, depriving God of its omnipotence and omni-temporality. This

however is a covert sacralization of all that is in the world, an expression of pantheism; in other words, it is a way of saying that God is in everything. For Caputo, this weak messianic force is a call for justice to come; it belies

a concern ‘with redeeming the dead’ and ‘redeeming the future’. 15 This is

a startling conclusion to draw in terms of understanding deconstruction. It is hard to see why Caputo is concerned with redeeming the dead given

that ‘redemption’, heard in its full literality, unequivocally entails an actual desire to assert the possibility of absolute life, of a life without end, or of

a life without death, where all mortal anxieties and shortcomings are jetti-

soned. Caputo’s understanding of deconstruction is thus always founded on sacralization rather than profanation, and remains theological in the metaphysical sense through and through. To be fair, Caputo does make the express caveat that he is not concerned literally with raising the ‘dead out of their graves’. However, if this is the case, it is hard to see then what kind of redemption is being envisaged. For if redemption falls short of delivering the dead to an eternal reward, then the dead must be subject to the transience which besets all others, and if this is the case, this rules out the possibility of sacred redemption. Deconstruction by definition does not advocate any particular name, since any name that is selected simultaneously entwined with its own exclusion. This is why it is also illegitimate for Caputo to valorize particular Christian and unquestionable liberal values over others. For Caputo, the name of God is specifically involved with preordained principles which require that one must be engaged in:

forgiving the unforgivable instead of getting even, in loving one’s enemies instead of hating back, or mercifulness instead of punishing, or hospitality instead of exclusion, or saying yes in the face of bottomless despair. In every case a weak force rather than a strong, powerful only with the power of powerlessness, each of which is a way of making the impossible possible. (95–8) (my emphasis)


Derrida: Profanations

That Caputo chooses to endorse liberal values indicates that he is reading an ethical world view into deconstruction in advance. The choice of the name ‘God’ over others belies the ethical presuppositions that Caputo seems to believe are inherently writ into Derrida. A serious consequence of such a reading is that one could in fact name any concept as the central focus of deconstruction. One could quite plausibly not stop at naming God or religion as a motivation of deconstruction, one could re-affirm incrementally the entire metaphysical canon of Western philosophy, from intelligent-design-without-intelligent-design to the deus ex machina. This would undermine the theoretical consistency of deconstruction, since deconstruction comes to provide a name for anything that is historically available to us. There is a huge difference between saying that deconstruc- tion compromises all identities and saying that it allows one to assert the special status of particular identities. One cannot, within a strict decon- structive purview, privilege one name to the exclusion of others, since deconstruction is founded on the necessity that any identity is essentially exclusionary as well as open.

* * *

The argument that charity cannot be implicit to deconstruction is further bolstered by asking whether the question of charity is relevant to other deconstructive tropes. Take for instance the deconstruction of friendship. The simple point is that if Derrida has a theory of friendship, to what end does it advocate a Christian injunction to love thy neighbour. As I will show below, Derrida’s understanding of friendship cannot amount to a Christian notion of charity. Although charity is canonically linked to the question of friendship, as is evident in St Thomas Aquinas, Derrida radicalizes the question of friendship with a view to introducing an essential and general finitization or mortalization. Deconstruction, as I asserted earlier, entails what Derrida calls the ‘indefiniteness of the “bad infinite” which character- izes real or counterfeit money and everything it touches, everything it con- taminates: that is by definition everything’. 16 This means that everything, or everything which happens, is conditioned by the ‘bad infinite’ of decon- struction. Everything is infinitely contaminable and therefore everything is subject to the process of finitization which radically constitutes any relation in general. In terms of friendship then, as Derrida himself suggests, ‘there is no friendship without this knowledge of finitude’. 17 This underlines the axial feature of Hägglund’s book on the radical atheism of deconstruction. What makes Hägglund’s theorization so convin- cing is the emphasis he places on the full consequences that deconstruction

The Deconstruction of Christianity


entails for the contaminability of identity. If deconstruction entails contam- inability then it cannot reside in that which remains exempt from this thought and must remain wholly concerned with the mortal. In its simplest expression if all identity is contaminable then all things are wholly mortal and cannot admit of that which is immortal. Therefore, since deconstruc- tion by definition contests the notion of absolute immunity and absolute immortality, it cannot be understood within any religious configuration. If religion, in its most metaphysical expression, understands notions of deity in terms of presence, immortality and eternity, then the ‘happening’ – the temporal and spatial disruption (espacement) of all that is in order for any- thing to be – cannot admit of any religious affirmations and must deny the possibility of their existence a priori. Since much of religion is founded on the idea of the eternal, to remain consistent it must jettison any possibility of temporal alteration. For Hägglund, deconstruction contests all notions of immortality, since all things come to an end in deconstruction. If God, or the presence that religion guarantees, were to die, then it would be mortal like all other things and could not assert the guarantee of an infinite and everlasting life; hence all identity comes to be as fundamentally mortal or mortalized. If one were to assert absolute life or immortality one would assert absolute death, since that which is eternal cannot die. Hägglund finds the most striking example of radical atheism in Derrida’s discussion of friendship. The point at stake is that God, as the model of a perfect friend, is subject to mortal contingency. In terms of a classical meta- physical reading, God must be perfect and immune from the vagaries which mortal friendship is subject to, such as betrayal and infidelity. If God is immune and wholly related to itself then God cannot think about anything other than itself (this is why Derrida invokes the notion of God’s jealousy in Des Tours de Babels), 18 and consequently, cannot admit of any relation, since such a relation would not be wholly immune from life, death and time. As Hägglund decisively puts it,

The decisive question then is why there cannot be a perfect friend that is exempt from mortal corruptibility. God is the model of such a perfect

friend, since only an absolutely self-sufficient being can be immune from

betraying either itself or the other

A self-sufficient being cannot

think about anything other than itself and is consequently incapable of entertaining any relation whatsoever. 19

From the vantage point of radical atheism it is possible to see why friend- ship is not suitable to equate with charity. If the supreme expression of charity is to be found in God’s grace, then such grace must be subject, from


Derrida: Profanations

the radical atheist perspective, to the operation of mortal corruptibility.’ This logic is evident when Derrida coined the term ‘aimance’. This defines the notion of a friendship, or more specifically, relationality prior to particular friendships. The consequence being that friendship is therefore undecidable and corruptible. 20 Aimance operates on the same level as différance. It gives the condition of possibility of all relations, and thus of specific friendships. Without having to begin with the potential of being friends with innumerable others, no friendship would be able to occur in the first place. But in choosing specific friends we exclude others; anybody, and innumerable others. Aimance is as much the condition of enmity as it is of friendship. Since friendship is constructed on an essential contingency, where friendship is entwined with enemies, trust with betrayal. For this reason deconstructive friendship and charity are not of the same order. Charity, as we will see with St Thomas, orients itself towards the possibility of friendship, or sacred hallowed union with God. For St Thomas, it brings to perfection the Aristotelian idea of friendship. In Derrida’s terms, no such relationship is possible since all possible friendships are equally pervertible as well as perfectible. In the strictest deconstructive terms the perfectibility of friendship is the pervertibility of friendship. It is not sur- prising then that St Thomas attempted to reconcile Aristotle’s notion of appropriate friendship with the Christian idea of charity, that is, love of one’s enemies. St Thomas provides a canonical example of the proximity between God and charity, or more accurately, of how charity is always directed towards the security of God’s presence. Charity provides the radical nexus of friendship allowing friendship to surpass itself. Since in basic Aristotelian terms friendship of the highest order is limited to friends of equal stature, then friendship is limited to those whom we enjoy the most. However, charity allows us to surpass this limitation to be surpassed for us to love our enemies as well as our friends. So, for example, friendship towards an enemy is impossible by definition. Charity is required in order to transgress the circularity of friendships in order to transcend the concerns of the self and its peers. Furthermore, charity towards the sinner is a crucial component of friendship with God. What is interesting for my analysis is that for St Thomas, charity towards the neighbour is always merged with charity towards God. This makes perfect sense for St Thomas, since to want the best for our neighbour is to want them to dwell with God. In Christian terms then the symmetry of neighbourliness and God must be underlined. To love our neighbour is at one and the same time to love God. 21 Charity, on the Thomistic view, is the essential activity that rec- onciles the existential tension between friendships and enmities, allowing

The Deconstruction of Christianity


everyone to become neighbours in God. This provides further evidence of what I have argued throughout this piece: charity provides the central radicalizing force of Christianity in its effort to state itself absolutely. For Illich, this absolutization is what takes Christianity from the confines of one world, to other homeworlds; from the particular to the universal. Charity provides the basic ground level component which gives rise to the, no doubt radical, grasp and force of Christianity. Put simply, the explosive power of Christianity finds its kernel in the supposedly transgressive power of charity, for only in acts of charity can existence and human beings coalesce. The excessive force of charity, in its move to a friendship with God, enables a radicalization of our friendship with all of those who reside in God, in short God is all, including our foes. This requires fundamentally undercutting any interaction between enemy and friendship, thereby instantiating the formlessness of the Holy Spirit of the Christian community. In the sacred union with God there are no enemies. This is precisely why St Thomas saw caritas as an expression of sacred love. Charity is the very thing which allows a formless friendship with all to develop; friendship finally becomes eternal. 22 In Derrida’s terms this configuration is wholly unsustainable, because sacralities are compromised to being with. Deconstruction thus entails both the methodological exclusion of friendship with the Gods and existential exclusion as well. Existentially, for Derrida, what is is always in a state of being determined. It is not possible to be wholly innocent. There never could be a pre-temporal and spatial utopian sacrality from which we have fallen nor may there be a post-temporal paradise. We are always limited and mortal with respect to others, whether they are things or persons. This essentially designates how we come to be by virtue of our common mortality, the ever-present experience of life and death, of comings and departures, of presences and absences, which constantly impinge on consciousness. Derrida adheres precisely to this rationale in his final interview Learning to Live to Finally. When meditating on his life and work he unambiguously states that the structure of the trace ‘is not a striving for immortality’. 23 In

Learning to Live to Finally, he asserts that we are all in effect survivors, bound and limited, by a state of incessant corruption. Life and death for Derrida are no longer constructed out of either sphere in its own self-sufficient integrity, but instead ‘all that comes to pass comes to an end’ (32). As Derrida states in the The Work of Mourning, ‘Death takes from us not

only some particular life within the world

someone through whom the world, and first of all our own world, will have

but, each time, without limit,


Derrida: Profanations

Given that finitude is a key component of deconstruction, what is it further possible to say about the nature of friendship? A critical outcome of this discussion is that the purity of any friendship is in and of itself always mediated and impure. This means that any form of purity, whether on a conceptual or an ontological level, always exceeds its own bounds. Deconstruction is radically hubristic, to its core dependent on the mortal transgression of all boundaries. Deconstruction thus precludes the absolute sacrality of all entities and subjects all identities to an irreducible profa- nation. This applies to all worlds as well as the most ‘high’. All identities in themselves are subject to profanation (Tout Autre est Tout Autre). What is kept apart and considered as consecrated may only be through the force of profanation. In philosophical terms, the radical nature of Derrida’s thought is clearly evident. Derrida adheres to neither pole of the Biblical dichotomy of the ‘God of the bible’ and the ‘God of the Philosophers’. He deviates from the metaphysical presuppositions the traditions of both Christianity and metaphysics, and from the desire for charity to unite with the eternal. This is why friendship is utterly re-formulated for Derrida. In traditional terms, friendship was always founded on terms of direct reciprocity. For example, in the Christian tradition, as I demonstrated with my reading of St Thomas, friendship was merely a means towards direct ontological kinship with God. In contradistinction to this reading, as Derrida suggests:

‘One becomes a brother, in Christianity, one is worthy of the eternal father, only by loving one’s enemy as one’s neighbor or as oneself.’ 25 Here Derrida reveals the true ‘kinship’ between metaphysics and Christianity. They are both guided towards a return to the same, to rest and repose in the same and its eternal duration. For Derrida, friendship is always compromised and tarnished. It is never without alterity. As Derrida states, the social union of friendship ‘is, perhaps, a social bond, a contem- poraneity, but in the common affirmation of being unbounded, an untimely being alone and simultaneously, in joint acquiescence to disjunction’ (55). This illuminates the structure of friendship in terms of it being the prospect of being friends eternally with anyone or anything, spiritual or otherwise, which is forever annulled since any bond or ‘contemporaneity’, that is, in an aggregation of time and space, is simultaneously unbound and dis- joined. Hence the possibility of a friendship with God, and furthermore God’s charitable relation with us, is ‘ontologically’ fallible, and hence by definition existentially delimited tout court. The reason that this must be recalled is in order to separate the decon- struction of friendship from the metaphysics of a radically transcendent

The Deconstruction of Christianity


charity. This also goes to the core of the Christian thematic of the God-man, as is founded in the metaphysics of the suffering Christ. The figure of the suffering Christ allows Christianity, in true Hegelian fashion, to absorb various assaults on its harmony while concomitantly guaranteeing its per- petuity. This is why the concept of the death of God is always already a Christian concept; why traditional atheism always defines itself negatively in relation to religion; why divine majesty coalesces with human frailty, why life mingles with death; and why intellectual configurations exist which see the interchangeable nature of absolute power and absolute powerlessness. Deconstruction as profanation, which I have laid out, admits of no such possibility and contests the fundamental tenets of this configuration from its very inauguration. Therefore, the sacred verticality of any of these terms cannot reconcile itself to any particular term, in a privileged way, without also being potentially violable – therefore not de-sacralized but under profanation to begin with – by a myriad other terms. As I have argued, the full philosophical ramifications of Derrida’s decon- struction entail a methodological exclusion of friendship with the gods, any Gods’ beneficence, or for that matter any form of interpersonal or inter-object relation with absolute sacrality, due to all sacralities being profane and are profaned to begin with.

* * *

In summation, through Derrida’s deconstructive notion of friendship, we see how Derrida understands that friendship deviates from advancing of a notion of ‘loving thy neighbour’. To love thy neighbour entails that one must engage in a charitable action in order to formulate a formless ‘we’ of Christian community. This formlessness defines the possibility of radicaliz- ing one’s own homeworld in order to reach out to the pariah. Since decon- struction entails that all charitable actions are founded on an essential contamination, to love one’s neighbour can no longer accomplish the security of the neighbourhood, since the neighbour already bears traces of radical insecurity at its core. What we can draw from this is one of the central consequences of Derrida’s work: that the concept of the neighbour is not infinitely expanding to embrace every other self as other in its particular circumstances of being. Likewise we can conceive the Christian commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’, 26 strictly in terms of its essential evangelical nature, where reciprocal symmetry is a necessary condition of universal love and for the most radical, moderate and militant forms of Christianity. This is why Christianity has such potency


Derrida: Profanations

and resilience within the history of thought. Since friendship and enmity as well as any relation in Derrida are always entwined with a radical alterity, Derrida’s thought precludes friendship with the Gods, and most specifically with the God-man. The ‘radical’ charity that underlines Christianity’s ethos of transcending while including the particular is deconstructed prior to its construction. This is because the deconstruction of all identities operates on a horizontal, levelling axis rather than a vertical sacralizing one. Decon- struction deconstructs without exception and does not advocate any ethical or political prescriptions which found an absolute and inviolable sacrality for all particular identities. The mortalism that characterizes Derrida’s work demands that the con- tamination unremittingly brings death and life to all things. This entails that nothing can be set apart or kept sacred. The force of profanation, of the finitization of all entities, demonstrates that Derrida is the most irreverent of thinkers reminding us that all is equally entwined with an irretrievable impropriety, bearing and carrying the irreverence of the world and other worlds which undermine us. Friendship, and the possi- bility of all relations, as Derrida understands them, to be fully grasped, must be understood as ‘mortal’, which requires coming to terms with the irreducible poverty and impossibility of immortality.

Chapter 5

There May Be No Community Whatsoever:

Towards the Destruction of Morality and Community in Deconstruction

When it comes to examining the ethical and political work of Derrida, one is exposed to a divergence of opinion. Ranging from readings of his work from the 1960s to the 1980s, and beyond, we see him cast as the nadir of philosophical and ethical relativism, a purveyor of dadaesque nihilism, as well as the claim that his work contains the most serious of ethical injunc- tions; advocated by those such as Simon Critchley and John Caputo. More recently, his work from around the 1990s onwards, which focus on ques- tions of ethics and responsibility, has come under strong criticism in a new key by Slavoj Žižek. For Žižek, Derrida as an exponent of a philosophy of difference and the other, exhibits a much more Levinasian orientation, exhibiting an intensified attention to the ‘Other’ – a theme which has heavily preoccupied recent continental philosophy. This participates in what Žižek considers as an ideological complicity with some of the very objects it attempts to subvert. 1 Žižek argues that there remains a patholo- gical element to Derrida’s work, that is, a pathological desire to hold the other as other. 2 In psychoanalytical terms the desire to respect the other as other, irrespective of its ontological removal is defined for him as a fetish- istic obsession elevating the other to a privileged position invested with an excess of meaning and ethical stature. For Žižek, this only ever amounts to a narcissistic re-appropriation, where the other consistently remains removed in its otherness. It is, in the fullest sense wholly other. The consequence of the desire for this removal, and the desire to safeguard this distance, in fact leads to a reversal of intention, where the other as wholly other remains entirely removed from any ethical horizon and thus stripped of its ethical raison d’être. Furthermore, it keeps the other at an ideological distance where we can respect the other from the safety of a distance without effecting any action to aid its political circumstance. The recent mass proliferation


Derrida: Profanations

of academic articles and books on the ‘Other’, of which deconstructive thought is so concerned with, would thus have the effect of proclaiming the ethical injunction of difference while secretly proclaiming the ‘same’ and ignoring the plight of the other. 3 In the context of the 50-year period in which Derrida wrote it would thus seem that he occupies the highly unusual and enviable position of inspiring a stance of total immorality to one of intensified, if misguided, morality. Zizek’s claims have their merit. More specifically, from the perspective of intra-Derridean debates, one of the most typical ways of characterizing Derrida over the past 15 to 20 years has been to compare his work to that of Emmanuel Levinas. Simon Critchley and Robert Bernasconi would be seen as some of the main exponents of this type of thought. Critchley’s pio- neering The Ethics of Deconstruction was one of the first major articulations of the ethical possibilities of deconstruction in terms of a valorization of Levinasian alterity. Critchley argued that this was evident through Levinas’ influence on deconstructive thought where the alterity of the other escapes the objectification of consciousness and evokes and commands respect through its removal from conscious self-presence. This connects to the operation of deconstruction by articulating an experience of difference as that which signifies outside of subjective self-presence or self-interiority, and resultantly, is conceived as an asubjective alterity. The subject is surpassed and brought into the region of ethical relations. For Critchley, ‘ethics’ is necessarily one of deconstruction’s central motivations. He argues that Derrida contains an ‘unconditional categorical imperative’ or ‘moment of affirmation’. This is produced through an extended form of ‘deconstruc- tive reading’. 4 This accedes to a critical opening of undecidability where the ‘reader’ is opened towards an ‘irreducible dimension of alterity’. This reading is also evident in Bernasconi. In his essay ‘The Trace of Levinas in Derrida’ he carefully discriminates and draws the different strands of both philosophers together by arguing that Derrida’s famous critique of Levinas and his metaphysical heritage in the essay ‘Violence and Metaphysics’ was a reading of Levinas that read Levinas deconstructively, which is to say that any reading that Derrida engages opens onto another level of otherness while remaining mindful of any metaphysical presupposi- tions that are in play within Levinas’ work. Thus, Derrida only ever remained a corrective to Levinas’ ethical philosophy. This meant that Derrida’s cri- tique is only ever Levinasian in principle and only safeguards the primacy of Levinas’ alterity. For a number of reasons we will see that this is an unten- able reading of Derrida, since it forecloses critical elements of Derrida’s notion of deconstruction. 5 In short, I suggest that Derrida extends and

Destruction of Morality and Community


expands the thought of alterity and the other. This rules out the possibility of an ethics of deconstruction to begin with. This is not to say that decon- struction cannot say anything about ethics, or that ethics do not exist, only that whatever ethical principles do exist, are essentially contingent and open to finitization. This will in turn allow me to respond to some of Žižek’s criticisms by suggesting that the role of the other in Derrida contains a much broader range of application than Žižek allows for. I will begin by examining Slavoj Žižek’s understanding of moral necessity. Thinking with Žižek allows us to establish how, while moral precepts occur they are essen-

tially delimited. However, Žižek’s logic only goes so far. It wilfully relies,

I argue, on both a voluntaristic and exceptional decision outside of the

contingencies and vagaries of time and space. Instead I develop a rationale of how the structure of moral necessity is necessarily mitigated and delim- ited by the operation of deconstruction. Deconstruction does not offer codes of ethics or politics but rather offers us the scope to think the condi- tions of the ethical and the political, or, in other words, what precisely makes both the ethical and political possible. Again this places deconstruc- tion within the purview of a ‘tragic’ sense of the world. Since alteration is necessary then there must be a degree of violence, or originary violence

intrinsic to all identities. No identity is without being subject to suffering and delimitation. Whatever ‘ought’ which a moral decision asserts, it is at one and the same time a necessary contingency, one which irreducibly delimits the grounding of any moral ought. The question of community

is philosophically relevant since it is located precisely at the intersection of

both ethics and politics. While community may be formulated in numerous ways, it must minimally be defined as a concept which limits the ethical and political sphere from external influences. Thus, and at same time, it exposes the question of individual ethical questions to a broader remit. Deconstruction, because of its radical realignment of the question of being, in that nothing can be in itself, cannot therefore be said to advocate any axiomatic moral principle nor does it advocate any particular form of ethical or political community. Therefore, our task here will be to assert precisely what one can say ethically about Derrida’s deconstruction, what ethics it valorizes if any and concurrently, how these ethics valorize particu- lar notions of community. The question of community becomes relevant here. This is because the consequences of Derrida’s deconstruction places ethical and moral necessity right at the heart of the dissolution of commu- nity. This reading will serve to undermine recent characterizations of Derrida’s work as unquestioningly endorsing a respect for otherness. As we saw in Chapter 3 the equation of Levinas and Derrida is problematic.


Derrida: Profanations

This chapter will further reinforce this argument by demonstrating how deconstruction does not valorize a respect for the other. The other, and its worthiness of respect, is as subject to profanation as any other identity. My claim is that deconstruction does not admit of notions of ethics which are exempt from mitigation and compromise. This essay will involve a phi- losophical investigation of whether the concepts of ethics and community are essential to a thinking of Derrida’s deconstruction. To this end we will challenge both John Caputo’s and Mark Dooley’s utilization of notions of community and ethics as erroneous representations of deconstructive logic. We will devote some time to contesting Mark Dooley, who, following Caputo, commits a common error when coming to understand deconstruc- tion, namely he commits the mistake of sacralizing particular ethics in the name of deconstruction. A disputation of Dooley will allow us to show the effort to write an ethics into deconstruction is flawed from the beginning thereby giving relief to Derrida’s own approach to the question of ethics. The upshot of this argument is that deconstruction expresses a much more radical understanding of what the conditions of ethics and politics actually are. To achieve this we will examine the philosophical currency of two notions, morality and community, their respective links and whether they are relevant concepts for a rigorous understanding of what Derrida under- stands to be at stake in deconstruction. The consequence of this claim is to say that deconstruction is not in the business of advocating ethical or political principles tout court and at its core utterly challenges efforts to sacralize the ethical and the political.

* * *

Derrida’s understanding of moral principles is best understood as the impossibility of the assertion of final moral principles. Thereby, it effects a deconstruction of the is/ought distinction. Within a basic deconstructive ‘logic’ this binary remains interminably deconstructed. Since moral prin- ciples are impossible to justify ultimately, they then cannot subsist in and of themselves without their ontological stature being essentially mitigated. If moral principles are subject to other considerations, then by definition they must contain some form of alterity or otherness. If this is the case, then moral principles must by necessity be in relation to other things whatever that might be. Moral principles are therefore delimited from existing without contamination and hence by definition are subject to wider ‘ontological’ considerations.

Destruction of Morality and Community


Slavoj Žižek is exceptionally instructive here. Following Bernard Williams he argues that there is an irreducible separation between must and ought. What we must do only takes place at the juncture of competing alternatives. 6 The inevitability of the must requires a holding in abeyance of different ethical alternatives. This therefore means that any ought inherently refers beyond itself to competing ethical possibilities of varying merit. An ethical decision is a decision because it forecloses the guarantee of the full pres- ence of a life narrative. If one had full access to ones life biography, from beginning to end, then one would not have to make decisions, since one would have at one’s disposal a full account of the manner in which current acts will affect prospective views. This is a somewhat absurd proposition in the case of any ethical decision since no one can wholly transcend the temporality of the ethical position they inhabit in order to assert an atem- poral view qua ethical decision. This would require a God’s eye point of view. The idea of a ‘must’ therefore implies that every imperative contains a meta-imperative. This is where ethical precepts contain an inherent variety of referrals, inferences and deferrals from their own moral sphere. Intrinsic to this point is the fact that other possible oughts are also funda- mentally mitigated. There is no ‘good conscience’ immune and innocent from better or worse ethical possibilities. Definitive ethical oughts contain the simulacrum of other ethical possibilities or outcomes, haunted by the possibility of a paradise of good conscience which they necessarily fail to meet. This defines the essential with culpability of conscience to begin with and is not just a curative for a good conscience. The point is that a neces- sary component of a moral precept is its own inherent insufficiency, an ‘ought’ indicates the possibility of other better and worse possible worlds. Also, the assertion of ethical axioms means it is forever complicit with a form of wish-fulfilment, or the desire for it to bring about an ideal world or the best of all possible alternatives. As Žižek suggests, a must is irrespective of what that must may be. One must act irrespective of what one does or how one takes up varying ethical alternatives. It is a haunted necessity that must tout court be troubled, pre- occupied and disturbed by other considerations. Therefore, it takes place containing an existential reference to other possible worlds and is irrevo- cably complicit with its own failure. This is why Žižek sees the difference between ought and must relies on some limited understanding of tempo- rality. The contingency of any ought comes about because an ethical pre- cept can only be evaluated after the fact; in other words, after a temporal period in which the ethical action took place. If someone must have done


Derrida: Profanations

something, then it had to be a choice, more than likely, a difficult choice. If someone says they ought to have done something then, as Žižek suggests, this implies that it was not as necessary as what was done (48). Responsibility for one’s character then means that ‘we cannot do other- wise than this’, or so at least Žižek claims. For Žižek the must means one’s character is revealed in what was done. This in effect gives relief to the structure of ethical acts. Žižek, again following Williams, suggests that when we must do something, the location of our ethical acts, and the character they manifest, is situated within the very limits ethical deliberation faces; which is to say within the confines and the limits our situation sets, as well as the limits deliberation itself sometimes sets. This implies that the reality of ethical acts must be done because they are fundamentally limited. One cannot do certain things and must do others. Moral decisions are temporally intertwined and cannot guarantee the full presence or pristine stature of moral dignity. A decision that is made must be made by virtue of past expe- riences which delimit an absolute position of ethical stature. Philosophi- cally, ethical situations retrieve, govern and foreordain what must be done by virtue of the limitations they present to an ethical agent. This underlines why Williams casts himself in opposition to specific types of universalism as founded in consequentialism and deontology. Williams’ position entails that the experience of temporality or some form of historical genesis is vital for moral actions. Speculatively and retroactively the ethical agent will only be such from singular points within a temporal narrative. We cannot foreclose in advance and institute an ethical calculus for the way singular acts affect future or past selves. At base morality entails that one is responsible for the choice of one’s ethical coordinates, which mitigate further ethical alternatives and drive the action of others. When the must takes place, as it must do, then the ethical act for Žižek ‘redefines the coordinates of what I cannot and must do’(49). The sine qua non of Žižek’s argument is that the must holds that the necessity of moral decisions means alternative ethical possibility, or indeed potential moral idealities are disavowed in favour of what has to be done, that is, that which cannot be avoided. This places moral necessity within the framework of a necessary radicalization of various social obligations. Even if our ethical situation is limited to a set number of ethical alternatives, indeed anxieties, then the coordinates of our finite situation can and must be transformed into a novel dimension. 7 For Žižek the ought is essentially contingent since it might be done or it might not. What interests Žižek is the formulation of an ethical principle which cannot be avoided. It is something we cannot but do, since we cannot do otherwise.

Destruction of Morality and Community


But is this accurate? In a sense an ought does, at least minimally, affirm an ideal state of affairs. This is how the world should be. While certainly the oughts define an ethical ideal – in the form of commandments or prohibitions – Žižek somewhat downplays the temporal logic that makes this ethical. He tends to reify and hold fast to the separation of must and ought in order to assert how the must reveals a true, authentic and revolu- tionary path. But surely the point is for Williams that the must cancels out one of the original oughts since one cannot do it and another and at the same time. The ought is thus not immune from the must. Indeed it is to some degree its essential condition since the temporal arc of whatever limitations and confines delimit the possibility of specific oughts. 8 If we are to be faced with certain competing alternatives, where different oughts are there to be taken, then surely one of them in itself must be taken. This does not delimit affectation by other oughts. This means for a responsible deci- sion to be a responsible decision the ought turns into a must only after the ethical event takes place. Thus the actuality of any ethical act requires the splitting of the must which has taken place. That which must be done can only be done because there is a limited set of coordinates from which to instantiate the ethical act; not because it reveals itself as immune from the limitations of our social circumstances. Such immunity would undermine the urgency of an ethical action, in the sense that something must be done (whether this is the correct ought or not) since there is nothing else to avail of. In other words there would be nothing to be done. This amounts to elevating the must to the domain of an absolute voluntarism, since in prin- ciple, there could not be mitigation or mediation by alternative oughts. For deconstruction, precisely what must be done is accompanied by an innumerable aggregation of disturbing, radically beneficent or even terri- ble consequences which contravenes the limits of the material coordinates of ethical deliberation, habituation and fortune. Thus, necessary to moral precepts is the necessity of transgression of the coordinates which define social obligation. In other words, the realm of must is just as contingent, dependent on being annulled, internally compromised, and placed before the test of the world. Since as I have been arguing deconstruction is founded on the finitiza- tion of all identities through the becoming-space of time and the becoming- time-of-space, then the structure of any decision is constituted as both active and passive. This is the reason why responsibility, faced with the levelling of identities that deconstruction entails, one cannot do other than choose. The point is that one must discriminate and choose within whatever situa- tion one finds oneself in. This is to say that one must actively differentiate


Derrida: Profanations

and distinguish how one is passively constituted and exposed to alterities. Discrimination and indiscrimination coalesce within the deconstructive matrix. Therefore, the decision in deconstruction is always under a certain force. This does not mean that a decision necessarily occurs under the duress of absolute violence or coercion, only that varying degrees of extenuation impinge on the actualization of any decision. This means the moral choices we take are mitigated by situations which ruthlessly and indiscriminately fall upon us. Whatever oughts we face they must always arise from a necessary contingency. The ethical choice must come to pass, and hence, must be essentially divided. That decision is forced by circumstance means that the truest decision is only as free as ones imposed destiny and fortune allows. One is chosen in a sense by fortune, or the vagaries of the world in which one is given over to. This is why every choice is a forced choice. Every choice is mitigated, limited, and finitized from the fullness of its own internal autonomy.

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The argument of the previous section shows the reason why Žižek’s critique of Derrida remains unsustainable. This is worth pursuing because it reveals the stature of the ethical in deconstruction. Žižek’s critique relies on an over-equation of Derrida’s work with Levinas’. Žižek critiques Levinas’ work for not accounting for the ‘inhuman’ dimension of the ethical relation. 9 Levinas, in his conceptualization of humans’ ethical relations, fails to account for the necessity of a monstrosity at the core of the ethical relation which elides the face-to-face relation. The face of the other is not the pre- serve of an ethical sanctity, it becomes a mask offering a protective wall that truly distances us from the other as we mentioned in our introduction.