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Greene / Hors d’œuvre


Hors dœuvre

Jody Greene

To love friendship it is not enough to know how to bear the other in mourning; one must love the future.

—Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship

Even if it is essentially preservative, love (but also deconstruction) is nev- ertheless no stranger to destruction, to loss, and to ruin.

—Peggy Kamuf, “Deconstruction and Love”

The archive should call into question the coming of the future.

—Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever

How we mourn, how we recognize and remember the dead, according to Jacques Derrida, dictates not only our relationship to the past, but also any possibil- ity of a future. This is also the commonest form of common sense, albeit pushed to its limits: while we cannot control the future in its unanticipatable unfolding, cannot predetermine or securely prepare for it, as death and “untimely death” above all surely shows, how we orient ourselves to the future in the wake of loss will have

Jody Greene is Associate Professor of Literature and Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of The Trouble with Ownership: Literary Property and Authorial Liability in England, 1660–1730 (Pennsylvania, 2005), and the editor of The Work of Friendship (GLQ 10.3 [2004]). She is at work on a new project on poststructural- ism and book history, sections of which have appeared or are forthcoming in PMLA and The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation.

Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 40, no. 3 (2007) Pp. 367–379.


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consequences for the memory or legacy of whatever or whomever has been lost, as well as for ourselves and those who come after us. Mourning, remembrance, and the preservation of the past are all intimately linked, as Derrida argues in Archive Fever, to “a responsibility for tomorrow.” 1

In assembling a volume that engages the question of Derrida’s relationship to the eighteenth century, I am unquestionably participating in an act of public mourning, even as I ask others—readers, writers—to join with me in “bear[ing]” Derrida’s legacy as a scholar of eighteenth-century texts to an audience of eighteenth- century scholars. I am trying, that is, in what I know is a doomed act of preservation, to protect from the ruin of forgetting something specific about Derrida’s oeuvre—his lifelong engagement with an eighteenth-century archive—even as I call attention to the fact that so many prominent readers of Derrida’s work make a living or at least began their careers as dix-huitièmistes. This project remains doomed because it is as likely to fall on deaf ears among self-identified Derrideans, skeptical of historicisms and periodizations, as among those who desire no truck with poststructuralism. The proprietary challenge of “Derrida’s eighteenth century,” then, seems to solicit in return only two possible and equally proprietary responses: “Not my Derrida”; “Not my eighteenth century.” Yet my interests here are not exclusively preservative and might even, truth be told, border on the destructive, or at least the disruptive. I am hoping that a volume such as this one might change the way scholars of the eighteenth century, in both senses of that modifying genitive, understand “their” eighteenth century, as well as the way readers of Derrida apprehend the Derridean corpus, the archive or oeuvre that consigns itself under that proper name. At once a project of derangement and a scheme of conservation, this volume offers itself, too, however sheepishly, as an act of love—for eighteenth-century studies, for the work of Jacques Derrida—a hybrid venture of mourning, love, and reading that both affirms the future of the Derridean archive and calls that future into question.

Throughout Derrida’s work, mourning’s link to futurity is conceived in both ethical and practical terms. While the two inevitably contaminate each other, for the purposes of an introduction (a foolhardy enterprise in itself, as any reader of Derrida well knows), it seems excusable to hold them apart, however provisionally. Derrida’s ethical approach to mourning can be glimpsed in the passage from Politics of Friendship cited among the epigraphs above, the one in which he adjures us to “love the future.” Lest we think we know what it is we are being asked, or told, to love in this undeniably affirmative moment, Derrida modulates instantaneously and characteristically from affirmation to something more tentative: “there is no more just category for the future than that of the ‘perhaps.’” 2 An injunction to commit ourselves to a perhaps, a command, in the name of justice, to love a mere possibility, an instruction, finally, later in the passage, to “open on to the coming of what comes,” whatever that may be (PF 29): the terrain of friendship, love, “bear[ing] the other” is suddenly very short on assurances. Futurity is becoming more perilous by the moment.

Perilous, or perhaps monstrous. One of Derrida’s preferred figures for the ethics of futurity from the time of the Grammatology forward, as Peggy Kamuf notes at the opening of her essay in this volume, is the figure of the monster. In 1990, in an interview on German radio, Elisabeth Weber asked Derrida to reflect on what he had elsewhere referred to as the monstrous nature of his writing, its

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tendency to “mutate” away from the tradition in which he had begun writing into something new and unrecognizable, a mutation into the future that serves to illus- trate the writer’s powerlessness over his own text. “What is the relation between what you call the monsters of your writing,” Weber asked, “and the memory of this absence of power?” 3 Derrida’s response itself mutates from a discussion of the past and of memory that returns him to the beginnings of his own oeuvre to an invocation of the future:

I think that somewhere in Of Grammatology I said, or perhaps it’s at the end of Writing and Difference, that the future is necessarily monstrous:

the figure of the future, that is, that which can only be surprising, that for which we are not prepared, you see, is heralded by species of monsters. A future that would not be monstrous would not be a future; it would already be a predictable, calculable, and programmable tomorrow. All experience open to the future is prepared or prepares itself to welcome the monstrous arrivant, to welcome it, that is, to accord hospitality to that which is absolutely foreign or strange, but also, one must add, to try to domesticate it, that is, to make it part of the household and have it assume the habits, to make us assume new habits. (P 386–87)

Derrida begins this recollection of his past writing practices by misremembering his own oeuvre, by failing to cite himself confidently, as if enacting a lifetime’s theorization of the failure of authorial self-presence in a momentary but illustra- tive lapse. The opening up of the past, the powerlessness over our own discourse that will ensure its mutation into the monstrosity of an unexpected future—these occur even as they are described in this passage. What arrives in the place of the recollection is a herald, a monstrous guest that is not the future but that, in its surprising appearance, reminds us of the duty to welcome whatever arrives. As it barrels through the door, this monstrous arrivant demands that we “open on to the coming of what comes,” whether we like it or not. The monster cannot itself be the future, because, as Derrida carefully notes, no sooner has it arrived than our hospitality tries to “domesticate” it, in a shuttling movement that alters both the monster and its host. To be open to the future, to the “perhaps,” means being willing to accommodate the monster, to put her up, to put up with her, to change our habits for her, but also and above all, even as this process of monster-taming is occurring, to be listening for the doorbell, the signal that the next monster is about to arrive, coming toward us from outside, de hors. This movement of hos- pitality, domestication, and repeated surprise, Derrida goes on, “is the movement of culture,” of writing and of scholarship, a movement that continually requires of us that we open toward the unknown (P 387).

As his disquisition on writing and monstrosity continues, Derrida moves from a figural meditation on the future and the ethical responsibility for hospitality to a more pragmatic discussion of the reception of texts. Like the monstrous figure that appears without warning demanding our welcome, new species of writing arrive on our desks and in our inboxes (electronic or otherwise) challenging us to make room for them, a challenge to which, more often than not, we fail to rise. Our failure to welcome these textual arrivants, however, does not necessarily ensure that they will leave us alone, much less that they will take a hint and go away:


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Texts and discourses that provoke at the outset reactions of rejection, that are denounced precisely as anomalies or monstrosities are often texts that, before being in turn appropriated, assimilated, acculturated, trans- form the nature of the field of reception, transform the nature of social and cultural experience, historical experience. All of history has shown that each time an event has been produced, for example in philosophy or in poetry, it took the form of the unacceptable, or even of the intolerable, of the incomprehensible, that is, of a certain monstrosity. (P 387)

Those texts we have the most trouble welcoming, those that most resist domestica- tion, ultimately, even during the era of their anomaly, bring about transformations in the cultural and historical field. What is most powerfully rejected and forcibly held outside, Derrida insists, must nonetheless already be intimately connected with what is inside a given culture, inside its archive, or it would not require such radical denunciation in the first place. It would not, we could say, provoke such a

perversely preservative response. As he put it in the very first section of his essay, “Scribble,” his introduction to the French translation of William Warburton’s 1742 essay on Egyptian hieroglyphics, “ce qui est chassé, exclus, dehors, se fait toujours

au-dedans, il travaille de façon surcryptée au-dedans” [whatever is

driven out, excluded, outside, always has itself represented; it works in an encrypted way on the inside]. 4 Whatever is deliberately defined as outside a culture, a system, or an oeuvre must also and at the same time be recognizable inside that culture, and thus must already reside there, albeit in an “encrypted” form.

Derrida’s remarks concerning the encrypted interior of any cultural system appear in the course of a discussion of the practice of editorial collections—specifi- cally, the curiously named “Collection Palimpseste” in which, in 1977, Warburton’s essay on hieroglyphics appeared. How do we decide what should go in such a collection, Derrida wonders, especially a collection devoted to texts “décryptés” [unburied, taken out of the crypt] (S10) after more than two hundred years? What should be included and what should be left out, and who decides? Almost twenty years later, Derrida would return to the question of the criteria that govern the collection of texts, this time in the 1990 work Archive Fever. Here, Derrida once again renders the movement between mourning and the future both as an ethical problem and as a matter of textual dissemination and reception, but now he does so in terms of the archive. One might be tempted to think of archives as reposi- tories of the past, Derrida hazards, whose job it is to gather up and preserve the artifacts of a bygone culture or deceased cultural maker in as complete, faithful, and permanent a manner as possible. Archives, then, would be yet another example of the work of mourning, of how we “bear the other in mourning,” not to mention of how we attempt to encrypt the things we love. Nothing, Derrida argues, could be further from the truth of the archive:


The question of the archive is not, we repeat, a question of the past. It is not the question of a concept dealing with the past that might already be at our disposal or not at our disposal, an archivable concept of the archive. It is a question of the future, the question of the future itself, the question of a response, of a promise, and of a responsibility for tomor- row. The archive: if we want to know what that will have meant, we will only know in times to come. (AF 36)

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The archive, Derrida counsels, is not of the past but of the future, not complete but open—an “opening on the future” (AF 30)—not so much faithful as an example of what he later called “la fidélité infidèle” [unfaithful fidelity]. 5 There is no sub- ject who determines the meaning of the archive, though there are subjects—call them “archons” (AF 2)—whose job it will be to decide what should be included in a given archive and what should not. Every archiving gesture, it follows, is a gesture of exclusion as much as of inclusion, which is why, as he tersely put it, “No archive without outside” (AF 11). Once again, of course, as with an editorial collection, decisions concerning what to exclude will have ramifications for the reception of whatever finds inclusion, inflecting the meaning of the content of the archive inexorably. Better to leave the archive open, Derrida suggests (as though we have any other choice), better to be prepared to welcome the unexpected ar- rival, however monstrous, and even to prepare a response. The archive, he writes, should not try to determine the future but should, instead, “call into question the coming of the future,” primarily by recognizing its own contingency, its suscepti- bility to ruin and loss as well as to preservation (AF 33–34). As Michael Naas and Pascale-Anne Brault note, in reflecting on Derrida’s own response to the works of his deceased friends, this conviction regarding the openness of the archive was derived from experience, as much as from philosophizing. In his acts of mourn- ing, they write in the introduction to The Work of Mourning, Derrida “always recognizes not only the systematicity and coherence of a corpus but its openness, its unpredictability, its ability to hold something in reserve or surprise for us.” 6 Derrida, that is, models for us in his reading of others, particularly dead others, how to open our mourning work and our archiving work to the future, how to stay faithful to an oeuvre and attend to or at the very least make way for what is hors d’œuvre at the same time.

Not long before his death, in a now well-known interview with Jean Birn- baum published under the title Apprendre à vivre enfin [To Learn/To Teach How to Live, Finally], Derrida addressed in personal and often humorous terms the matter of his own oeuvre and its destiny both within his life and after his death. To send a book into the world, he emphasized, always uncannily anticipates the experience of one’s own death: “au moment où je laisse (publier) ‘mon’ livre (personne ne m’y oblige), je deviens, apparaissant-disparassaint, comme ce spectre inéducable qui n’aura jamais appris à vivre” [at the moment I let ‘my’ book go (to be published) (no one makes me do it), I start appearing and disappearing like that unteachable ghost who has never learned how to live] (AVE 33). Publication precipitates an experience of radical self-loss, a powerlessness not only over the work, which has mutated into a public object, but over what is “mine” more generally. In publish- ing, I let go of what I once thought of as “my” book—but was it ever properly mine?—relinquishing it to its readers, and in so doing confront the specter of my own exteriority with relation to myself and to what I thought I could call my own. This experience of self-loss that attends publishing, which Derrida playfully de- scribes as “irréappropriable” [unreappropriable], hardly differs from the experience of death itself. “Épreuve extrême: on s’exproprie sans savoir à qui proprement la chose qu’on laisse est confiée. Qui va hériter, et comment? Y aura-t-il même des héritiers?” [The final test: one expropriates oneself without knowing to whom the thing one leaves behind is properly entrusted. Who will inherit, and how? Will


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there even be inheritors?] (AVE 33–34). “Confiée”: entrusted, confided, perhaps consigned, since that is the word Derrida repeatedly uses to describe deposition in an archive. Those who inherit what we expropriate by giving it out as though it were our own are also those who will decide what survives. To them is entrusted the task of gathering, but also “the tension between gathering and dispersion” that characterizes archive-making and knowledge-making more generally. 7 The decisions they make, these inheritors and archons, will be responsible for determining what appears and disappears, if not for the future, then at least for tomorrow.

Take this volume, for instance, which can certainly be understood to con- stitute a practice of archiving. Contributors were asked to consider whether Derrida could be said to have a special or privileged relationship with the materials of the eighteenth century, particularly at the beginning and end of his writing career, and to begin, if they so desired, by exploring certain key terms in the Derridean lexicon often associated with that century: reason, fraternity, democracy, and Enlighten- ment, to name only a few. The last of these, in particular, has been a persistent theme in the Derridean oeuvre, although the relationship between Derrida’s work and the project of Enlightenment has been understood more often as benighted than as privileged. As Derrida himself expostulated in 2002, “it is often the case that people would like to oppose this period of deconstruction to the Enlighten- ment. No, I am for the Enlightenment, I’m for Progress.” 8 If Derrida can be said to be “for the Enlightenment,” if we may take him at his word here, then “Derrida’s eighteenth century” might be interchangeable with “Derrida’s Enlightenment”—and so the contributors to this volume have largely taken it to be, focusing their studies almost entirely on the two great thinkers of Enlightenment whose works take up the most space in Derrida’s writing, Rousseau and Kant. No surprises there: when one is asked to consider Derrida’s preferred eighteenth-century archive, the works of these two thinkers are surely the first to come to mind.

At the same time, however, the contributors to this volume nearly all ex- pressed understandable reservations, notwithstanding the self-evidence of Derrida’s repeated return to these thinkers of the Enlightenment, about a project that ap- peared to be trying to historicize Derrida’s work, to tie it to or even to claim him for a particular historical moment. These reservations are understandable because of Derrida’s own painstaking exposition of the tricky relationship between a text and, on the one hand, the era of its original composition and, on the other, the proper name with which it is signed. Just because a work was originally composed in the eighteenth century, Derrida insists, in yet another modulation on the notion of “unreappropriability,” it is not necessarily an “eighteenth-century text.” “Ev- erything is out of joint,” he explains in A Taste for the Secret, because texts are “heterogeneous,” not even “contemporary with themselves”; “if deconstruction is possible,” he continues, “this is because it mistrusts any sort of periodization,” just as it “mistrusts proper names.” 9 As Geoffrey Bennington lays out in the first essay in this volume, an essay that might well be thought of as the collection’s

proper introduction, or at least as required reading for what follows, this skepticism about periodization and the proper name, which runs throughout Derrida’s work, makes its first appearance and finds its fullest elaboration in Of Grammatology, with direct reference to “our” period: “le ‘XVIIIe siècle français,’” Derrida there

calls it, “si quelque chose de tel existe” [the ‘French eighteenth century’

if such

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a thing exists]. 10 Anyone can see, Bennington argues, in the Grammatology above

all, Derrida’s attention to and even “affection for” the texts of this period (382), a period Derrida identifies as uniquely important in the history of writing. For Derrida, this period stands out as the place where a battle for supremacy between speech and writing became explicit in Western European history and philosophy, a place of “combat” and “crisis” (G 147) precipitated by three scholarly developments that occurred in the epoch running roughly from Descartes to Hegel: the project for a universal writing; the scholarly exploration of non-European scripts; and the development of a “general science” of language and of writing. Yet that epoch, from our belated perspective, is not the eighteenth century, but “ce qu’on appelle le XVIIIe siècle” [what is called the eighteenth century] (G 147), a deliberate estrangement of the historical referent that leads Bennington to his title, “Derrida’s ‘Eighteenth

Century.’” The necessity of defamiliarizing the referent, rendering it inhospitable, is directly traceable to the practice of reading: “the mere fact and act of reading (its very possibility),” Bennington writes, “is itself already sufficient to undo the largely unquestioned historicism” that continues to afflict “any periodizing effort” (384). Whatever it is that we access or respond to when we read a work written in the eighteenth century, Bennington reminds us, it is not a historically verifiable entity, the “reality and consistency” of another era located firmly in the past (384). What we access instead is a powerful received idea about the meaning of a par- ticular era—the “‘French eighteenth century,’” for instance—that conditions our reading practices but also inevitably deforms them. Our very activity as scholars, Bennington concludes, “opens texts up always beyond their historical specificity to the always possibly menacing prospect of unpredictable future reading” (392). Reading, that is, like archive-making, is open to the future, “unpredictable,” and, as often as not, fraught with danger.

Peggy Kamuf opens her essay, “To Do Justice to ‘Rousseau,’ Irreducibly,” in similar terms, with an act of estrangement and a warning of impending danger,

a warning that is also, as with Bennington, a kind of promise. Like the “eighteenth

century” to which he ostensibly belongs, “Rousseau” remains inaccessible to us, not only because the Rousseau we apprehend is a product of our reading, but also because the place in our reading from which “Rousseau” can be glimpsed is inevi- tably a “blind spot.” So, for instance, although Rousseau “names supplementarity endlessly,” refers to it constantly throughout his work, “the law of this naming and the concept governing its compulsive repetition in Rousseau’s discourse remains unthought, unnoticed, unread, and unseen by the signatory not less than by the generations of scholars or savants who have built a house of knowledge on the archive of Rousseau’s oeuvre” (396). The blind spot in Rousseau’s own discourse is replicated and redoubled in the field of vision of Rousseau scholars, such that they are as oblivious to the “law” of his discourse and hence of his entire oeuvre as he

himself must inevitably be. What is significant in Rousseau’s writing thus remains outside his oeuvre, or rather, inside and outside at the same time: Rousseau’s legacy “both belongs to and does not belong to the author’s signed work” (396), rendering

it “unreappropriable” by us as much as by Rousseau himself. The task of reading,

nonetheless, of reading “Rousseau,” “the age of Rousseau,” and ultimately “the age of Derrida,” Kamuf writes, is to forge a “tiny opening” within the blind spot (402), to remove and reorient ourselves through a practice of reading that allows us,


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on” our own blind spots otherwise (402). Whether

it remains possible to effect such a reorientation through an act of will, an act of

deliberate rereading of those corpuses, remains a question. Certainly, as Kamuf notes, it is too early to tell what the blind spots of “the age of Derrida”—includ- ing, quite possibly, that age’s “acrimony” toward the oeuvre of Jacques Derrida (402)—will have been. “Such acrimony writes on water,” she concludes, “where its ripples dissipate with the blink of an eye” (402). Given that our most generous and most loving readings, as much as our moments of acrimony, are afflicted by “little interval[s] of blindness” (402), our best hope is to turn and return, errantly but faithfully, toward an oeuvre that notwithstanding the efforts of “generations of scholars and savants” cannot, mercifully, be closed off or determined in advance.

The question of determination and its relationship to both faith and scholarship is taken up in the next two essays, Neil Saccamano’s “Inheriting En- lightenment, or Keeping Faith with Reason in Derrida,” and Richard Terdiman’s “Determining the Undetermined: Derrida’s ‘University without Condition.’” Saccamano’s essay presents us with yet another meditation on insides and outsides, this time with relation to the question of religion in Derrida’s thought, a question that might be phrased, how do we get outside the terms of religion sufficiently to be able to think religion? Given that the very ideals the Enlightenment is purported to have championed against religion—tolerance, publicity, universality, reason, critique itself—trace their roots to Christian theology, it remains impossible to stand outside religion sufficiently to deploy its critique a-theologically: “religion would seem impossible to think philosophically without religion,” Saccamano concludes (406). Ranging across the works of Kant to those of Shaftesbury, Hume, Voltaire, and even Richardson, Saccamano painstakingly and generously retraces what is only an apparent contradiction between the persistence of a discourse of faith and the dedication to rational exchange among Enlightenment thinkers—not least among them, Derrida himself. Derrida’s commitments to singularity, justice, and unconditionality, the unverifiable “absolutes,” as Terdiman will have it, of his philosophical project, only appear to be at odds with the more worldly, “progres- sive” concerns associated with the Enlightenment, including, as Saccamano points out, “the necessity of law, right, and norms in international politics” (421). Der- rida inherits his affirmation of unconditionality, which is also an article of faith, from the very thinkers—Kant, Rousseau—from whom he also receives the legacy of “perfectibility” that leads him to embrace the tools of progress, tools such as laws and norms (421). Thus Derrida “cannot but keep faith with the project of Enlightenment,” Saccamano concludes, because within that project the secret and the promise of an unconditional justice “resonate[s]” alongside the more practical, ethical, normative ends we cannot fail to be “for” (421).

Terdiman’s contribution also worries the edge or fold between Derrida’s invocation of unconditionality and his deployment of a vocabulary borrowed from, even determined by, the Enlightenment. In this instance the university will

be the site for thinking this tension between the conditional and the unconditional,

a tension that becomes, in Terdiman’s uncompromising account, frankly unten-

able, “internally contradictory and logically incoherent” (427). While Terdiman is sympathetic in principle to Derrida’s “motivation” in calling for a university “without condition,” a place where any question can be asked, freed from the

anamorphically, to “round

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encroachments of authority, he questions Derrida’s “model,” his “mechanism,” or lack of one, for achieving such a space free of determination (433). The ab- sence of “attention to material factors” that would enable such a university to come into being (430), its reliance on the very notion of an unpredictable and open “à-venir” that also grounds his notion of the event, of mourning, and of the archive, remains, for Terdiman, another kind of “blind spot” in Derrida’s thinking (433). In Terdiman’s account, however, the refusal to specify anything short of a “miracle” that will get us from the university of today to the ideal and ideational one of the future makes of the essay on the university something more insidious than a failure of method. 11 The problem with “The University without Condition” is not only that it is contaminated by Enlightenment thinking, and most notably by Kant’s thinking about the university, knowledge projects, Enlightenment, and critique more generally. Indeed, Derrida confesses as much at the outset. The issue is, rather, that Derrida knowingly inherits what Terdiman calls “Kant’s resonant theses about the liberation of thought,” but then “depoliticizes them,” emptying them of their pragmatic content, hollowing out Kant’s analysis of how the liberation of thought might be “made real” (434). Derrida relies too much on the thinking of the Enlightenment—and does not rely on it enough. In Saccamano’s terms, he is unfaithful in the very act of keeping faith with the Enlightenment. Derrida may have thought he was “for the Enlightenment,” according to Terdiman’s account, but in a fitting fulfillment of that prophecy of an unpredictable future to which he returned so frequently in his writing, he may also turn out to have been against it—dangerously, monstrously—all along.

Julie Candler Hayes joins the ranks of those interrogating Derrida’s rela- tionship to the Lumières in “Unconditional Translation: Derrida’s Enlightenment to Come.” Hayes sets out to circumvent the historicizing paradox that troubles some of the other contributors to the volume by focusing not on works published between 1700 and 1799, but instead on Derrida’s own “formulations and refor- mulations of a concept,” or rather of a series of concepts, including Enlighten- ment, Enlightenment to come, democracy to come, and even translation to come (444). In a painstaking review of the many articulations of the notion of the term “à venir” in Derrida’s writings, a kind of philology of the “to come,” alongside an exploration of what seems to have been a deliberate return to the vocabulary of Enlightenment in late works such as Rogues, Hayes tracks a shift in Derrida’s works from “the historical, however idealized Enlightenment” to “an ahistori- cal Enlightenment situated in the never-fully-present à venir” (445). 12 Far from evacuating the concept of Enlightenment of its politically progressive utility, this “renvoi” constitutes an effort to free Enlightenment from the “totalizing or fetishiz- ing forms of reason” for which it had been condemned throughout the twentieth century (450). Derrida’s loving resignification of the term, Hayes argues, might turn out to be Enlightenment’s saving grace, allowing Derrida his claim to be “for the Enlightenment” after all. Yet we can only know whether that will have come to pass in retrospect, since what it will have meant to be “for the Enlightenment” will require acts of translation, as this term mutates away from its many points of origin. The last third of Hayes’s essay thus turns to translation both as a theme in Derrida’s writing and as a necessary dimension of his philosophical practice. As the constant shifting between Enlightenment, Aufklärung, Illuminismo, Lumières


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shows, she argues, “semantic slipperiness,” far from constituting a hindrance to rational critique, is “salutary”: “it aids our understanding by preventing us from fixing on individual terms” (451). Semantic play allows and even forces us to move across a range of concepts “in an open-ended conversation between texts,” which makes possible a conversation among periods, languages, and genres of discourse that can only be felicitous for thinking, as well as for critique (454).

Srinivas Aravamudan’s “Subjects/Sovereigns/Rogues” opens just such a conversation among discursive domains in its exploration of the literary and spe- cifically fabular language that permeates eighteenth-century political philosophy. Beginning his analysis with the opening of Rogues, but moving outward from there to other texts that did not immediately capture Derrida’s attention, Aravamudan asks, “what better way to approach the self-important and self-aggrandizing narra- tive of sovereignty and reason than through myths and fables?” (458). Aravamudan, following Derrida, comes at some of the more exalted Enlightenment writings on reason and sovereignty from a perspective that is both outside and below them, the perspective of literature, fiction, and in particular the beast(ly) fable, only to find those fables already well encrypted inside the sovereign archive. “The rich cultural history of roguery as Enlightenment,” too, which Derrida traces from its origins in late sixteenth-century rogue literature, through the nineteenth-century evolutionary science of Charles Darwin, and into the post-9/11 American obsession with the phenomenon of “rogue states,” provides a fresh perspective on sovereign exceptionalism through pointing to a certain lawlessness at the heart of democratic governance (461). Aravamudan carries the analysis, as well as the “open-ended conversation” among philosophy, literature, beastliness, and roguery, beyond the pages of Rogues, to sites that include the works of Hobbes, Defoe, and Montesquieu, which is to say, the theory of statecraft, the English novel, and the oriental tale. Aravamudan concludes with a timely reminder that “Derrida’s eighteenth century” should not become a “pick-and-choose-affair,” in which Derrida’s contribution to eighteenth-century studies is remembered exclusively in terms of his treatment of particular eighteenth-century figures, among them “Rousseau, Condillac, Kant, and to a lesser extent Hobbes” (464). He recommends, instead, in a project his essay profitably initiates, taking up “concepts that are derived from other periods and figures,” but that nonetheless “are central to eighteenth-century studies,” concepts such as modernity, tradition, the human/animal divide, and individual freedom, to name only a few (464). He recommends, that is, that we venture outside of Derrida’s oeuvre and also beyond the specific constraints of 1700–1799, reading through and across those clearly delimited archives in search of material we might read back onto the “narrower” concerns of eighteenth-century scholarship, in a process that promises to open the field, and perhaps too to call it into question in surprising and enlivening ways.

To Ian Balfour falls the last word in this volume, and appropriately enough, that last word is “difference.” Balfour’s “The Gift of Example: Derrida and the Origins of the Eighteenth Century” returns us one last time to questions of peri- odization and archiving, as well as to those key eighteenth-century figures who fill the pages of the Grammatology: Rousseau, Kant, Condillac, and Warburton. Yet Balfour, not content with these perennial examples, turns our attention to works that made only a brief appearance in this volume and in Derrida’s oeuvre, if they

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made any appearance at all, works by Locke, the Shelleys, Defoe, Diderot, Herder, and even Cleland. Balfour references these works as some of those he might include alongside Kant and Rousseau in a new project on “the language of origins” in the eighteenth century (470), a project in dialogue with Derrida’s work, but which also aims to provide “a somewhat original supplement to Derrida’s charting of the ter- ritory” (471). A supplement, as readers of Derrida’s “Rousseau” well know, both adds to an entity and transforms it; thus Balfour’s work to come leaves us with a promise, a promise that it will expand what has come, perhaps in part through this volume, to be considered “Derrida’s eighteenth century,” even as it transforms that territory, that oeuvre, in as yet unpredictable ways.

To the list already provided by Balfour, I might add or expand on a few items of my own, items set down here like breadcrumbs for an eighteenth-cen- tury scholar to come, and especially for one who desires to perform a mutation in the archive we have so provisionally gathered here. Among the most obvious candidates for inclusion in the next version of “Derrida’s eighteenth century,” si quelque chose de tel existera, must surely be the works of and on Condillac and Warburton, treated in the Grammatology but also in essays of their own, each of which forms a tendentious introduction to a modern edition of an eighteenth-cen- tury work—“Scribble,” in the case of Warburton’s essay on hieroglyphics from The Divine Legation of Moses Demonstrated, and The Archeology of the Frivolous, originally published as a sprawling introduction to Condillac’s Essay on the Origins of Human Understanding, itself advertised as a “supplement” to Locke. 13 Briefer and harder-to-find but no less tantalizing examples, some of which might divert the conversation in revolutionary as well as monstrous directions, some of which also push the eighteenth century into its “long” version, include the following: the reflections on Robinson Crusoe that wind through the unpublished 2001–2003 seminars on “La Bête et le souverain,” as well as the extended lycological analysis of Hobbes touched on here by Aravamudan, which can be found in those same seminars and is already available in the French collection La Démocratie à venir; the discussion of Thomas Jefferson in “Declarations of Independence,” a must-read on this side of the Atlantic at least, particularly alongside Peggy Kamuf’s treat- ment of the work of Thomas Paine in “Signé Paine, ou la panique dans les lettres”; staying with the revolutionary theme, the staging of a conversation between the French revolution and the South African anti-apartheid struggle in “The Spirit of the Revolution”; and finally, the invocation of Jeremy Bentham and Cesare Becca- ria as early and influential opponents of capital punishment in “Death Penalties,” perhaps paired with “Violence against Animals,” in which Bentham appears again, this time elaborating a ground for a theory of animal rights. 14 These few and hastily assembled examples together serve to demonstrate that the present volume might be subject to yet one more act of diacritical defamiliarization: perhaps my title would be best rendered, with apologies to Geoffrey Bennington, as “‘Derrida’s’ Eighteenth Century,” given the near exclusive preoccupation in these pages with only two of Derrida’s eighteenth-century interlocutors. Is that preoccupation really a reflection of Derrida’s engagement with the eighteenth century, or does it instead tell us something about our own scholarly epoch, and perhaps also about our will to close off Derrida’s oeuvre, to domesticate that within it which is unfamiliar, foreign, or strange?


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The answer to such a question must come from elsewhere, from outside these pages. It will require a turn and a return toward the works of the past, a renvoi that is in part a work of mourning and in part a welcoming of the future. It will require not only revisiting the archive, but remaking it, attending to what is dehors as much as to what is dedans. To hear the answer, the echo from the crypt that calls the future into question, all that is demanded is a willingness to listen, to read, and in turn, to respond.

What happens when a great thinker becomes silent, one whom we knew living, whom we read and reread, and also heard, one from whom we were still awaiting a response, as if such a response would help us not only to think otherwise but also to read what we thought we had already read under his signature, a response that held everything in reserve, and so much more than what we thought we had already recognized there? (WM 206)


1. Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago: Univ.

of Chicago Press, 1996), 36. Hereafter abbreviated as AF.

2. Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London: Verso, 1997), 29. Here-

after abbreviated as PF.

3. Jacques Derrida, “Passages—From Traumatism to Promise,” trans. Peggy Kamuf, in Points:

Interviews, 1974–1994, ed. Elisabeth Weber (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1995), 385. Hereafter

abbreviated as P.

4. “Scribble: pouvoir/écrire” was first published as an introduction to a modern edition of Léonard

des Malpeines’ 1744 translation of Warburton’s essay, issued under the title, William Warburton, Es- sai sur les hieroglyphes des Egyptiens (Paris: Collection Palimpseste, Aubier-Montaigne, 1977). Most of the essay, minus the first ten pages, was translated into English by Cary Plotkin, and published as “Scribble (writing-power)” in Yale French Studies 58 (1979): 117–47. My citations are taken from the first, untranslated section of the French edition, and the translations are my own (10). Hereafter abbreviated as S.

5. Jacques Derrida and Jean Birnbaum, Apprendre à vivre enfin (Paris: Galilée/Le Monde, 2005),

38, my translation. An English translation is forthcoming from Meville House Publishing in 2007.

Hereafter abbreviated as AVE.

6. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, “To Reckon with the Dead: Jacques Derrida’s Politics of

Mourning,” in The Work of Mourning, ed. Brault and Naas (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2001),

28. Hereafter abbreviated as WM.

7. Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2005),


8. Jacques Derrida, “What is Owed to the Stranger?” Arena Magazine (August–September 2002),


9. Jacques Derrida and Maurizio Ferraris, A Taste for the Secret, ed. Giacomo Donis and David

Webb, trans. Giacomo Donis (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001), 9.

10. Jacques Derrida, De la grammatologie (Paris: Minuit, 1967), 150. Translations follow those

adopted by Geoffrey Bennington in this volume.

11. Neil Saccamano notes below that Derrida in fact made direct reference to the concept of miracles

in “Faith and Knowledge,” in which he “asks us to believe that we already believe in the everyday occurrence of miracles” (413). See Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone,” trans. Samuel Weber, in Religion, ed. Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vatimo (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1998).

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12. Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas

(Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2005).

13. For Scribble, see above n. 4. “L’Archéologie du frivole” was originally published as the introduc-

tion to Condillac’s Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines (Paris: Galilée, 1973), and translated

into English as The Archeology of the Frivolous: Reading Condillac , trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. (Lincoln and London: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1980).

14. All material is by Derrida, unless otherwise noted: for the Robinson Crusoe material in “La Bête

et le souverain,” see J. Hillis Miller, “Derrida Enisled,” Critical Inquiry 33 (2007): 248–76; for Hobbes,

see “La Bête et le souverain,” in La Démocratie à venir: Autour de Jacques Derrida, ed. Marie-Louise Mallet (Paris: Galilée, 2004), 433–76; for Jefferson, see “Declarations of Independence,” trans. Tom Keenan and Thomas Pepper, in Negotiations: Interventions and Interviews, 1971–2001, ed. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2006), 46–54; for Paine, see Kamuf, “Signé Paine, ou la panique dans les lettres,” in La Démocratie à venir, 19–35; for the last three breadcrumbs, see “The Spirit of the Revolution” (77–105), “Death Penalties” (139–65), and “Violence against Animals” (62–76), all in Jacques Derrida and Elisabeth Roudinesco, For What Tomorrow?: A Dialogue, trans. Jeff Fort (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2004).

Bennington / Derrida’s “Eighteenth Century”


DerriDas “eighteenth Century

Geoffrey Bennington

Mais ni Descartes ni Hegel ne se sont battus avec le problème de l’écriture. Le lieu de ce combat et de cette crise, c’est ce qu’on appelle le XVIIIe siècle. [But neither Descartes nor Hegel grappled with the problem of writing. The place of this combat and crisis is what is called the eighteenth century.]

le “XVIIIe siècle français” par exemple et si quelque chose de tel existe [for example, “the French eighteenth century,” if such a thing exists.]

Un texte a toujours plusieurs âges, la lecture doit en prendre son parti. [A text always has several epochs and reading must resign itself to that fact.]

Jacques Derrida, De la grammatologie

Ce qu’on called”—the Eighteenth Century.

My brief remarks bear the same title as this volume as a whole, with, however, this very slight difference: that the words “Eighteenth Century” are now enclosed in quotation marks. So not “Derrida’s Eighteenth Century,” but “Derrida’s ‘Eighteenth Century.’” These quotation marks are supposed to function as “scare- quotes,” first, suspending a potentially problematic term or concept, “mentioning” it rather than “using” it, not quite wanting to subscribe to it, but they also func- tion as “real” quotation marks, because I am quoting Jacques Derrida’s use of the

.” “What we call,” “what one calls,” “what is

Geoffrey Bennington is Asa G. Candler Professor of Modern French Thought at Emory Uni- versity. He is the author of 12 books, including Sententiousness and the Novel (1985), Inter- rupting Derrida (2001), Frontières kantiennes (2001), and Other Analyses (ebook 2005). He is currently working on the deconstructive theory of democracy.

Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 40, no. 3 (2007) Pp. 381–393.


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words “Eighteenth Century” (or at least “XVIIIe siècle”). 1 And then they have to be doubled up quotation marks, double and single, because I am especially quoting his use of those words already in quotation marks, more than once, several times, probably more often than not, in fact, in more than one text, the words “XVIIIe siècle” enclosed in what seem to be scare-quotes, and more explicitly still suspended in Derrida’s reference to “what we call” or “what one calls” the Eighteenth Century, “if any such thing exists.” My real point here will be to insist on those quotation marks and to wonder what they might do to the object of our study. What, for example, would it mean if the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies were to place quotation marks around the “Eighteenth-Century” in its title?

So: what he calls “what we call” the Eighteenth Century.

Now Derrida might reasonably be thought to have a certain affection for what he calls “what we call” or “what one calls” the Eighteenth Century. Among the very many centuries across which his work ranges, the eighteenth might not be the one most insistently discussed, but it could certainly be thought at least to hold its own. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, perhaps most obviously, is given a very central role (for reasons we shall probably see in due course) in Derrida’s “early” developments around the problem of writing—developments that are arguably absolutely crucial to his thinking in general; Kant, too, occupies an important place in Derrida’s understanding of deconstruction, if perhaps somewhat negatively, both in that one of the things that deconstruction must most saliently be compared to and distinguished from—in other words one of the things it might most obviously be, and has been, mistaken for—is critique, 2 and in that the “Idea in the Kantian sense” (usually though not always filtered through Husserl’s idea of Kant’s Idea) is also something I believe to be a real crux of Derrida’s thinking from the very first to the very last. In addition, Derrida famously asserts an interest in and affection for the so-called “mechanical” materialists when interviewed by a pair of Parisian dialectical materialists in 1972, 3 and also writes directly and one might say enthu- siastically about figures such as Condillac or Warburton.

As the quotation I used as my first epigraph makes clear, this interest in the eighteenth century (or at least in what Derrida calls more saliently in the Gram- matology the “époque de Rousseau” [145]) has its initial reason in that that age or era is the one in which a certain set of problems about writing come to the fore in an original way. In the section from which I take that epigraph, Derrida draws a very broad and quite dense picture of the history of metaphysics as the metaphys- ics of presence or as logocentrism. He suggests one major point of articulation in that history around Descartes, at which point presence takes on the form of self- presence, internalizing possibilities of repetition and mastery already given by the ancient forms of ousia and eidos, and reinforces them into an unassailable power of auto-affective ideality, which power can be called “God” without in principle compromising the integrity of consciousness, and this inaugurates a subsequent period (defined as that in which “l’entendement infini de Dieu est l’autre nom du logos comme présence à soi” [God’s infinite understanding is the other name for the logos as self-presence] (G, 146; OG, 98)—a subsequent period that stretches from Descartes to Hegel. That period identifies consciousness with voice (neces- sarily, according to Derrida), or more precisely with hearing-oneself-speak, as the only possibility whereby this idealizing mechanism of auto-affection can seem to

Bennington / Derrida’s “Eighteenth Century”


function without the need to compromise itself with alterity or mundanity. With its inherent phonocentrism, this Descartes-to-Hegel period has within it a new articulation, defined as the moment when writing is confronted and dealt with as such in these terms of self-presence. The story of that articulation, which Derrida wants to concentrate on Rousseau, is a story whereby the apparently inevitable tendency of the self-presence of consciousness to experience itself via voice and “hearing-oneself-speak” finds itself needing to expel writing from its central concerns; and needing to do so explicitly and vigorously in the wake of an event

Derrida describes as follows: “les tentatives de type Leibnizien avaient ouvert une brèche dans la sécurité logocentrique” [attempts of the Leibnizian type had opened

a breach in logocentric security] (G, 147; OG, 98) operated by projects for a uni-

versal characteristic. Rather than center his story on Leibniz, say (or, one might think, Wilkins, or even the earlier exchanges between Mersenne and Descartes on the possibility of an essentially written Universal Language, which Derrida does discuss to some extent in the Grammatology and again at greater length in seminars some fifteen years later), 4 he here chooses the slightly earlier moment at which the logocentric closure (in its “modern” or post-Cartesian form) is being repaired or reinforced in reaction to such a potential breach, and that repair or reinforcement must take the form of a reassertion of the foundational values of consciousness (or sentiment, adds Derrida perhaps a little rapidly, remembering that Rousseau is going to be his man here), and that repair (given the claimed centrality of the experience of hearing-oneself-speak to the new form taken by metaphysics in the whole Descartes-Hegel tranche of its history) must then take the form of an explicit grappling with and reduction of writing. This configuration would then organize the “age of Rousseau,” and Rousseau would be the central figure or hero of that age just because he happened, or so Derrida claims, to be the one who most obvi- ously stepped up to the breach, as it were, and tried to repair it. Rousseau would then seem to define or sum up “Derrida’s Eighteenth Century” because he is the one who most clearly or at least most energetically takes on this task of fighting off the threat that a certain kind of thinking about writing poses to the closure of metaphysics as defined in this, its Descartes-to-Hegel period.

On this reading, then, “Derrida’s Eighteenth Century” is defined not so much as an “age of Enlightenment” or an “age of Reason,” but as the age in which

a certain unfolding story of metaphysics as presence and then self-presence has its

specific crisis as a moment of recovering the foundational privilege of voice from the threat of writing. And this privilege is asserted more forcibly still elsewhere in the Grammatology, when in the chapter dealing with grammatology “as a positive science” Derrida writes,

A quel point le XVIIIe siècle, marquant ici une coupure, a tenté de faire

droit à ces deux exigences [i.e., that investigation of writing allow a theory to guide a history], c’est ce que trop souvent l’on ignore ou sous- estime. Si, pour des raisons profondes et systématiques, le XIXe siècle nous a laissé un lourd héritage d’illusions ou de méconnaissances, tout

ce qui concerne la théorie du signe écrit à la fin du XVIIe et au cours du XVIIIe siècles en a souffert par privilège. (G, 111)

[The extent to which the eighteenth century, here marking a break, at- tempted to comply with these two exigencies, is too often ignored or


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underestimated. If for profound and systematic reasons, the nineteenth century has left us a heavy heritage of illusions or misunderstandings, all that concerns the theory of the written sign at the end of the seventeenth century and during the eighteenth centuries has suffered the consequenc- es. (OG, 75)]

All of which might reasonably lead us to suppose that “Derrida’s Eighteenth Cen- tury” is almost simply “Derrida’s Century,” the one that he would be the most inclined to celebrate and investigate, and those of us who have kept at least part- time day jobs as “dix-huitièmistes” might feel inclined to be pleased about that.

And yet the tranquility (as Derrida might have said) with which these characterizations are made—forgetting the “ce qu’on appelle,” and those persis- tent quotation marks around the words “XVIIIe siècle”—that tranquility is one we might do well to question, before settling back more or less comfortably in the dix-huitièmiste armchairs of our supposed specialty. We would hardly be reading Derrida seriously if we thought it appropriate, or even really possible, to assume the reality and consistency of anything like an “eighteenth century” as a referent about which he might have said certain specific things (as opposed to other things he might have said about the sixteenth or nineteenth or fifth BC or any other “cen- tury” at all). A little later I’ll be suggesting that the mere fact and act of reading (its very possibility) is itself already sufficient to undo the largely unquestioned historicism that still, I fear, affects most work in the humanities and that haunts any periodizing effort. But in any case, the very passage I have been looking at in the Grammatology, on the “age of Rousseau” itself, immediately proceeds to put some preliminary questions to the kind of thing that is at stake in making such assumptions.

Les noms d’auteurs ou de doctrines n’ont ici aucune valeur substantielle. Ils n’indiquent ni des identités ni des causes. Il y aurait de la légèreté à penser que “Descartes,” “Leibniz,” “Rousseau,” “Hegel,” etc., sont des noms d’auteurs, les noms des auteurs de mouvements ou de déplacements que nous désignons ainsi. La valeur indicative que nous leur attribuons est d’abord le nom d’un problème. Si nous nous autorisons provisoire- ment à traiter de cette structure historique en fixant notre attention sur des textes de type philosophique ou littéraire, ce n’est pas pour y recon- naître l’origine, la cause ou l’équilibre de la structure. Mais comme nous ne pensons pas davantage que ces textes soient de simples effets de la structure, en quelque sens qu’on l’entende; comme nous pensons que tous les concepts proposés jusqu’ici pour penser l’articulation d’un discours et d’une totalité historique sont pris dans la clôture métaphysique que nous questionnons ici, comme nous n’en connaissons pas d’autre et que nous n’en produirons aucun autre tant que cette clôture terminera notre discours; comme la phase primordiale et indispensable, en fait et en droit, dans le développement de cette problématique, consiste à interroger la structure interne de ces textes comme de symptômes; comme c’est la seule condition pour les déterminer eux-mêmes, dans la totalité de leur appar- tenance métaphysique, nous en tirons argument pour isoler Rousseau et, dans le rousseauisme, la théorie de l’écriture. Cette abstraction est d’ailleurs partielle et elle reste à nos yeux provisoire. (G, 147–48)

Bennington / Derrida’s “Eighteenth Century”


[The names of authors or of doctrines have here no substantial value. They indicate neither identities nor causes. It would be frivolous to think that “Descartes,” “Leibniz,” “Rousseau,” “Hegel,” etc., are names of authors, or the authors of movements or displacements that we thus des- ignate. The indicative value that I attribute to them is first of all the name of a problem. If I provisionally authorize myself to treat this historical structure by fixing my attention on philosophical or literary texts, it is not for the sake of identifying in them the origin, cause, or equilibrium of the structure. But as I also do not think that these texts are the simple effects of structure, in any sense of the word; as I think that all concepts hitherto proposed in order to think the articulation of a discourse and of an historical totality are caught within the metaphysical closure that I question here, as we do not know of any other concepts and cannot produce any others, and indeed shall not produce any so long as this closure limits our discourse; as the primordial and indispensable phase, in fact and in principle, of the development of this problematic consists in questioning the internal structure of these texts as symptoms; as that is the only condition for determining these symptoms themselves in the totality of their metaphysical appurtenance, I draw my argument from them in order to isolate Rousseau, and, in Rousseauism, the theory of writing. This abstraction is, moreover, partial and it remains, in my view, provisional. (OG, 99)]

So here we have Derrida arguing that: 1) the only concepts we have available at pres- ent for formulating the relationship between a discourse and “its” historical struc- ture or totality are caught up in the very metaphysics under discussion; 2) we can only hope to begin to get some distance from that metaphysics by first reading the “internal structure” of texts as symptoms. At which point (or so a historian might suggest), Derrida happily gets into just that “internal” type of reading (typically, on the evidence of the Grammatology at least, in a ratio of several hundred pages as compared to two or three on the history bit) and never really reemerges.

The historian, of course, will in general be suspicious of what can only seem to be a somewhat homogenizing tendency (so that the history of metaphys- ics seems to be kind of all the same thing, or, even allowing the major articulation around Descartes, is still pretty much the same kind of thing, or, if we allow the identification of an “age of Rousseau” along the lines I’ve just rehearsed, still not really so very different), whereby metaphysics will always say something like “it all really comes down to presence, innit?,” and deconstruction will reply, “in fact it’s all really text and trace, innit?”). This tendency seems to be confirmed in a passing remark in the course of the essay “La mythologie blanche,” 5 which clearly enough has Foucault in its sights, although Foucault is not explicitly named here.

Comme il va de soi, nulle pétition ici de quelque continuum homogène qui rapporterait sans cesse à elle-même la tradition, celle de la métaphysi- que comme celle de la rhétorique. Néanmoins, si l’on ne commençait par prêter attention à telles contraintes plus durables, exercées depuis une très longue chaîne systématique, si l’on ne prenait pas la peine d’en délimiter le fonctionnement général et les limites effectives, on courrait le risque de prendre les effets les plus dérivés pour les traits originaux d’un sous- ensemble historique, d’une configuration hâtivement identifiée, d’une mutation imaginaire ou marginale. Par une précipitation empiriste et


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impressionniste vers de prétendues différences, en fait vers des découpa- ges principiellement linéaires et chronologiques, on irait de découverte en découverte. Une coupure sous chaque pas! On présenterait par exemple comme physionomie propre à la rhétorique du “XVIIIe siècle” un ensem- ble de traits (tel le privilège du nom) hérités, quoique sans droite ligne, avec toute sorte d’écarts et d’inégalités de transformation, d’Aristote ou du Moyen Age. Nous sommes ici reconduits au programme, tout entier à élaborer, d’une nouvelle délimitation des corpus et d’une nouvelle problé- matique des signatures. (Marges, 274–75; cf. Marges, 82)

[As goes without saying, no claim is being made here as to some homog- enous continuum ceaselessly relating tradition back to itself, the tradition of metaphysics or the tradition of rhetoric. Nevertheless, if we did not begin by attending to some of the more durable constraints which have been exercised on the basis of a very long systematic chain, and if we did not take the trouble to delimit the general functioning and effective limits of this chain, we would run the risk of taking the most derivative effects for the most original characteristics of a historical subset, a hastily identified configuration, an imaginary or marginal mutation. By means of an empiricist and impressionistic rush toward alleged differences—in fact toward periodizations that are in principle linear and chronological—we would go from discovery to discovery. A break beneath every step! For example, we could present as the physiognomy proper to “eighteenth century” rhetoric a whole set of characteristics (such as the privilege of the name), inherited, although not in a straight line, and with all kinds of divisions and inequalities of transformation, from Aristotle or the Middle Ages. Here, we are brought back to the program, still entirely to be elab- orated, of a new delimitation of bodies of work and of a new problematic of the signature. (Margins, 230–31; cf. Margins, 71–72)]

Derrida’s manner here (and this seems to be consistent throughout his work) is to try to combine two gestures: the one will insist on the secular or millennial, quasi- but never quite permanent features of what he calls, for shorthand, “metaphysics.” Any “century” (or age or epoch or era) will tend in this perspective to lose specific- ity as it is placed in the extreme long view that doesn’t even begin with Plato. On the other hand, specific texts will be read with that famously minute attention to detail and, more importantly, to their internal coherence, economy or “syntax” (as Derrida sometimes calls it). This moment corresponds to the “phase primordiale et indispensable” we saw mentioned earlier in the Grammatology, which “consiste à interroger la structure interne de ces textes comme de symptômes.”

In “La mythologie blanche,” Derrida also constantly interrogates this play between a kind of “internal” articulation of concepts, and a historical or genealogi- cal attachment. The relationship between the two, as exemplified by the question of the “XVIIIe siècle” is precisely our problem here.

Il ne s’agit pourtant pas de reconduire, selon une ligne, la fonction du concept à l’étymologie du nom. C’est pour éviter cet étymologisme que nous avons prêté attention à l’articulation interne, systématique et syn- chronique, des concepts aristotéliciens. Néanmoins, aucun de leurs noms n’étant un X conventionnel et arbitraire, l’attache historique ou généalo- gique (ne disons pas étymologique) qui lie le concept signifié à son signi- fiant (à la langue) n’est pas une contingence réductible. (Marges, 302)

Bennington / Derrida’s “Eighteenth Century”


[However, the issue is not to take the function of the concept back to the etymology of the noun along a straight line. We have been attentive to the internal, systematic, and synchronic articulation of the Aristotelian concepts in order to avoid this etymologism. Nevertheless, none of their names being a conventional and arbitrary X, the historical or genealogi- cal (let us not say etymological) tie of the signified concept to its signifier (to the language) is not a reducible contingency. (Margins, 253)]

En rappelant ici l’histoire du signifiant “idée”, il ne s’agit pas de céder à l’étymologisme que nous avons plus haut récusé. Tout en reconnaissant la fonction spécifique d’un terme à l’intérieur de son système, nous ne devons pourtant pas tenir le signifiant pour parfaitement conventionnel. Sans doute l’Idée de Hegel, par exemple, n’est-elle pas l’Idée de Platon; sans doute les effets de système sont-ils ici irréductibles et doivent-ils être lus comme tels. Mais le mot Idée n’est pas un X arbitraire et il importe une charge traditionnelle qui continue le système de Platon dans le sys- tème de Hegel et doit aussi être interrogée comme telle, selon une lecture stratifiée: ni étymologie ni origine pures, ni continuum homogène, ni synchronisme absolu ou intériorité simple d’un système à lui-même. Cela implique qu’on critique à la fois le modèle de l’histoire transcendantale de la philosophie et celui des structures systématiques parfaitement closes sur leur agencement technique et synchronique (qu’on n’a jamais reconnu jusqu’ici que dans des corpus identifiés selon le “nom propre” d’une signature). (Marges, 304; no mention of Kant and his idea here)

[Here, in recalling the history of the signifier “idea,” we are not giving in to the etymologism that we refused above. While acknowledging the spe- cific function of a term within its system, we must not, however, take the signifier as perfectly conventional. Doubtless, Hegel’s Idea, for example, is not Plato’s Idea; doubtless the effects of the system are irreducible and must be read as such. But the word Idea is not an arbitrary X, and it bears a traditional burden that continues Plato’s system in Hegel’s system. It must also be examined as such, by means of a stratified reading; neither pure etymology nor pure origin, neither a homogenous continuum nor an absolute synchronism or a simple interiority of a system to itself. Which implies a simultaneous critique of the model of a transcendental history of philosophy and of the model of systematic structures perfectly closed over their technical and synchronic manipulation (which until now has been recognized only in bodies of work identified according to the “proper name” of a signature. (Margins, 254–55)]

And this seems to be the point of the quite complex and obscure opening section to the chapter of the Grammatology on “La violence de la lettre,” which opens on the question of genealogy. Here Derrida advances a number of difficult points:


Si, de manière un peu conventionnelle, nous appelons ici discours la représentation actuelle, vivante, consciente d’un texte dans l’expérien- ce de ceux qui l’écrivent ou le lisent, et si le texte déborde sans cesse cette représentation par tout le système de ses ressources et de ses lois propres, alors la question généalogique excède largement les possibili- tés qui nous sont aujourd’hui données de l’élaborer. Nous savons que la métaphore est encore interdite qui décrirait sans faute la généalogie d’un texte.


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En sa syntaxe et son lexique, dans son espacement, par sa ponctua- tion, ses lacunes, ses marges, l’appartenance historique d’un texte n’est jamais droite ligne. Ni causalité de contagion. Ni simple accu- mulation de couches. Ni pure juxtaposition de pièces empruntées.


Et si un texte se donne toujours une certaine représentation de ses


propres racines, celles-ci ne vivent que de cette représentation, c’est-à- dire de ne jamais toucher le sol. Ce qui détruit sans doute leur essence radicale, mais non la nécessité de leur fonction enracinante. Dire qu’on ne fait jamais qu’entrelacer les racines à l’infini, les pliant à s’enraciner dans des racines, à repasser par les mêmes points, à redou- bler d’anciennes adhérences, à circuler entre leurs différences, à s’en- rouler sur elles-mêmes ou à s’envelopper réciproquement. dire qu’un texte n’est jamais qu’un système de racines, c’est sans doute contredi- re à la fois le concept du système et le schème de la racine. Mais pour n’être pas une pure apparence, cette contradiction ne prend sens de contradiction et ne reçoit son “illogisme” que d’être pensée dans une configuration finie—l’histoire de la métaphysique—prise à l’intérieur d’un système de racines qui ne s’y termine pas et qui n’a pas encore de nom. Or la conscience de soi du texte, le discours circonscrit où s’articule la représentation généalogique (par exemple ce que Lévi-Strauss consti- tue d’un certain “XVIIIe siècle” en s’en réclamant), sans se confondre avec la généalogie même, joue, précisément par cet écart, un rôle organisateur dans la structure du texte. Si même on avait le droit de parler d’illusion rétrospective, celle-ci ne serait pas un accident ou un déchet théorique; on devrait rendre compte de sa nécessité et de ses effets positifs. Un texte a toujours plusieurs âges, la lecture doit en prendre son parti. Et cette représentation généalogique de soi est déjà elle-même représentation d’une représentation de soi: ce que le “XVIIIe siècle français” par exemple et si quelque chose de tel existe, construisait déjà comme sa propre provenance et sa propre présence.


[1) If in a rather conventional way I call by the name of discourse the present, living, conscious representation of a text within the experi- ence of the person who writes or reads it, and if the text constantly goes beyond this representation by the entire system of its resources and its own laws, then the question of genealogy exceeds by far the possibilities that are at present given for its elaboration. We know that the metaphor that would describe the genealogy of a text cor- rectly is still forbidden.


In its syntax and its lexicon, in its spacing, by its punctuation, its


lacunae, its margins, the historical appurtenance of a text is never a straight line. It is neither causality by contagion, nor the simple ac- cumulation of layers. Nor the pure juxtaposition of borrowed pieces. And if a text always gives itself a certain representation of its own roots, those roots live only by that representation, by never touch- ing the soil, so to speak. Which undoubtedly destroys their radical essence, but not the necessity of their racinating function. To say that one always interweaves roots endlessly, bending them to send down roots among the roots, to pass through the same points again, to redouble old adherences, to circulate among their differences, to coil around themselves or to be enveloped one in the other, to say that a text is never anything but a system of roots, is undoubtedly to contradict both the concept of system and the schema of the root.

Bennington / Derrida’s “Eighteenth Century”


But even though it is not merely apparent, this contradiction takes on the meaning of a contradiction, and receives its “illogicality,” only through being thought within a finite configuration—the history of metaphysics—and caught within a root system which does not end there and which as yet has no name. The text’s self-consciousness, the circumscribed discourse where genealogical representation is articulated (what Lévi-Strauss, for example, makes of a certain “eighteenth century,” by quoting it as the source of his thought), without being confused with genealogy itself, plays, precisely by virtue of this divergence, an organizing role in the structure of the text. Even if one did have the right to speak of retrospective illusion, this would not be an accident or a piece of theoretical detritus; one would have to account for its necessity and its positive effects. A text always has several epochs and reading must resign itself to that fact. And this genealogical self-representation is itself already the representation of a self-representation what, for ex- ample, “the French eighteenth century,” if such a thing exists, already constructed as its own source and its own presence. (101–102)]


This methodological point is also made in the famous explicit exchange with Foucault, albeit not now about the “eighteenth century,” but about the history in terms of which anything like an “Eighteenth [or any other] Century” might be named. Announcing in a preliminary way the kinds of questions he will be asking of Foucault’s “interpretation,” Derrida defines interpretation in “Cogito et l’histoire de la Folie” as “un certain rapport sémantique proposé par Foucault entre, d’une part, ce que Descartes a dit—ou ce qu’on croit qu’il a dit ou voulu dire—et, d’autre part, disons à dessein très vaguement pour le moment une certaine ‘structure historique’, comme on dit, une certaine totalité historique pleine de sens, un certain projet historique total dont on pense qu’il se laisse indiquer en particu- lier à travers ce que Descartes a dit—ou ce qu’on croit qu’il a dit ou voulu dire” [a certain semantic relationship proposed by Foucault between, on the one hand, what Descartes said—or what he is believed to have said or meant—and on the other hand, let us say, with intentional vagueness for the moment, a certain “his- torical structure,” as it is called, a certain historical totality replete with meaning, a certain total historical project through which we think what Descartes said—or what he is believed to have said or meant]. 6 This unpacks as two subquestions:

first as to “what-Descartes-said,” and second as to its historical significance and its significance as essentially historical. And in a slightly later reference to the first of these subquestions, Derrida says the following, announcing some of the questions he’ll be putting to Foucault about the latter’s reading of Descartes:

Je ne sais pas jusqu’à quel point Foucault serait d’accord pour dire que la condition préalable d’une réponse à de telles questions passe d’abord par l’analyse interne et autonome du contenu philosophique du discours philosophique. C’est quand la totalité de ce contenu me sera devenue pat- ente dans son sens (mais c’est impossible) que je pourrai la situer en toute rigueur dans sa forme historique totale. C’est alors seulement que sa réin- sertion ne lui fera pas violence, qu’elle sera réinsertion légitime de ce sens philosophique lui-même. En particulier en ce qui regarde Descartes, on ne peut répondre à aucune question historique le concernant—concernant le sens historique latent de son propos, concernant son appartenance à une


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structure totale—avant une analyse interne rigoureuse et exhaustive de ses intentions patentes, du sens patent de son discours philosophique. C’est à ce sens patent, qui n’est pas lisible dans une immédiateté de rencontre, c’est à cette intention proprement philosophique que nous allons nous intéresser maintenant. (ED, 70)

[I do not know to what extent Foucault would agree that the prerequisite for a response to such questions is first of all the internal and autono- mous analysis of the philosophical content of the philosophical discourse. Only when the totality of this content will have become manifest in its meaning for me (but this is impossible) will I rigorously be able to situate it in its historical form. It is only then that its reinsertion will not do it violence, that there will be a legitimate reinsertion of this philosophical meaning itself. As to Descartes in particular, no historical question about him—about the latent historical meaning of his discourse, about its place in a total structure—can be answered before a rigorous and exhaustive internal analysis of his manifest intentions, of the manifest meaning of his philosophical discourse has been made. We will now turn to this manifest meaning, this properly philosophi- cal intention that is not legible in the immediacy of a first encounter. (WD, 45)]

“C’est quand la totalité de ce contenu me sera devenue patente dans son sens (mais c’est impossible) que je pourrai la situer en toute rigueur dans sa forme historique totale.” So it looks as though we will never get to the “historical moment” Derrida’s reading would then tend to remain at the interminable preliminary stage of decipherment, and endlessly defer the properly “historical moment” that it might seem ought to follow on. The suspicion would be that the “new delimitation of corpuses” and the “new problematic of signatures,” announced in “La mythologie blanche,” simply never comes.

And yet Derrida, in spite of certain appearances, really is arguing all this in some sense in the interests of history, of the possibility of history, and is doing so in a way that is already enacting (or at least beginning to enact) that new delimitation and new problematic. The burden of his argument with Foucault in this respect is that without the moment of “madness” that the “internal” philosophical reading finds in Descartes (i.e., that the cogito is valid whether I am mad or not), and which Derrida assimilates to a “mad” philosophical endeavor to exceed any determinate totality whatsoever, then there would be no history at all. When Derrida returns to Foucault many years later, and more specifically to Foucault’s treatment of Freud, he finds some comfort for this argument in a later reference Foucault makes to the “Malin Génie” (a reference which Derrida seems to have overlooked at the time of the “Cogito and History of Madness” essay) in which Foucault sees the “Malin Génie” posing an ongoing and indeed “perpetual threat” to the security of the cogito: what kind of historical status in general can the notion of “perpetual threat” have, asks Derrida:

On peut imaginer les effets que peut avoir la catégorie de “menace perpétuelle” (ce sont les mots de Foucault) sur les indices de présence, les repères positifs, les déterminations des signes ou des énoncés, bref toute la critériologie ou la symptomatologie qui peut donner son assurance à un savoir historique sur une figure, une épistémè, un âge, une époque,

Bennington / Derrida’s “Eighteenth Century”


un paradigne, dès lors que toutes ces déterminations se trouvent mena- cées, et perpétuellement, perpétuellement dérangées par une hantise. Car en principe toutes ces déterminations sont pour l’historien ou bien des présences ou bien des absences. Elles excluent la hantise. Elles se laissent repérer par des signes, on dirait presque sur une table des absences et des présences. Elles relèvent de la logique de l’opposition, ici de l’inclusion ou de l’exclusion, de l’alternative du dedans et du dehors, etc. La menace perpétuelle, c’est-à-dire l’ombre de la hantise (et pas plus que le fantôme ou la fiction d’un Malin Génie, la hantise n’est ni la présence ni l’absence, ni le plus ni le moins. ni le dedans ni le dehors), ne s’en prend pas seule- ment à ceci ou à cela: elle menace la logique de la distinction entre le ceci et le cela, la logique même de l’exclusion ou de la forclusion, tout comme l’histoire fondée sur cette logique et ses alternatives. Ce qui est exclu n’est évidemment jamais simplement exclu, par le Cogito ni par quoi que ce soit, sans que cela fasse retour, voilà ce qu’une certaine psychanalyse nous aura aussi aidé à comprendre.

[One may imagine the effects that the category of the “perpetual threat” (Foucault’s term) can have on indications of presence, positive mark- ings, determinations made by means of signs or statements, in short, the whole criteriology and symptomatology that can give assurance to a

historical knowledge concerning a figure, an episteme, an age, an epoch,

a paradigm, once all these determinations are found to be threatened, and

perpetually so, perpetually disturbed by a haunting. In principle, all these determinations are, for the historian, either presences or absences. They exclude haunting. They allow themselves to be located by means of signs, one would almost say on a table of absences and presences; they come

out of the logic of opposition, in this case, the logic of inclusion or exclu- sion, of the alternative between the inside and the outside, and so on. The perpetual threat, that is, the shadow of haunting (and haunting is, like the phantom or fiction of an Evil Genius, neither present nor absent, neither positive nor negative, neither inside nor outside), does not chal- lenge only one thing or another; it threatens the logic that distinguishes between one thing and another, the very logic of exclusion or foreclosure, as well as the history that is founded upon this logic and its alternatives. What is excluded is, of course, never simply excluded, neither by the cogito nor by anything else, without this eventually returning—and that

is what a certain psychoanalysis will have also helped us to understand.] 7

And this point is also just what the famous argument about context is establishing in “Signature, Event, Context” and “Limited Inc.” If I can caricature a little and say that the historian will always want to put it back into its context (the tiger is out of the cage, the historian always wants it put back inside), then Derrida will always also be urging the question: “how did it escape in the first place?” And the best proof that it did escape seems to be the irreducible (and somewhat mad) fact of reading. None of these questions could even arise were it not for reading, reading must by definition entail escape from context, and therefore something of the “madness” that Derrida is talking about in the “Cogito” text, something of the “haunting” he posits in later work, and therefore something of the order of an ongoing unreadability.

Oddly enough, perhaps, this argument could also be illustrated around an- other preeminently Rousseauian theme (albeit not one that Derrida himself focuses


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particularly on Rousseau), that also happens to be one of the chosen themes of this volume. Rousseau arguably offers the most coherent and economical account of sovereignty to be found in the tradition, and the account that shows up more clearly than some the inevitability of its deconstruction. Happily enough for our

purposes, the deconstruction of sovereignty is the condition of history itself. For if sovereignty “worked,” as it were, then its temporality would be one of absolutely self-contained instants that would have no link between them: the present would always be radically in the present with no possible link to past or future—whence

a profound identity, in spite of some appearances, between a Rousseauian and a

Nietzschean or Bataillean version of sovereignty. The same argument of course holds for subjectivity, too. What makes sovereignty not work, never quite work, and which in Rousseau gives rise to all the strictly supplementary features of the state, without which there would be no politics (the legislator, the government, the tribunate, and so on), is what Derrida is increasingly in his later work inclined to call “auto-immunity,” whereby a structure’s attempts to secure itself as itself and in itself founder on an irreducible opening to an “outside” which allows it to be, certainly, but to be only as finite and intrinsically (“perpetually”) menaced by unpredictable events without the possibility of which, however, the structure in question would simply not be (or would be dead, at best in a kind of living death). In the current case, this means that if the “Eighteenth Century” ever could be defined in and as itself, it would quite simply become unreadable to us, and that its continued readability and availability for discussion depend on our not quite knowing what it is and in general on its failure to be quite itself. This is also why, for example, Lévi-Strauss is still in some meaningful sense part of the “age of Rousseau,” and why texts have several ages.

In the general case before us, this auto-immunity is just what I call reading,

as what opens texts up always beyond their historical specificity to the always pos- sibly menacing prospect of unpredictable future reading. The link between this and madness is something that Rousseau’s work as a whole makes very plain. But just that same structure is what gives Rousseau’s texts their several ages, why reading

is never completed, and why we’ll always do well to keep putting the “Eighteenth

Century” in quotation marks.


1. The relevant passages invoking the eighteenth century, or the “eighteenth century,” appear in

Jacques Derrida, De la grammatologie (Paris: Minuit, 1967), 147 and 150, hereafter cited as G; trans- lations, with occasional slight modifications, are from Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1974), 98 and 102, hereafter cited as OG.

2. See my “Almost the End,” in Interrupting Derrida (London: Routledge, 2000).

3. See Positions (Paris: Minuit, 1972), 69.

4. Cf. “Les romans de Descartes ou l’économie des mots,” in Du droit à la philosophie (Paris:

Galilée, 1990), 311–41.

5. The essay appears in Marges de la philosophie (Paris: Minuit, 1972), translated by Alan Bass

as Margins of Philosophy (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1982). Cited in the text as Marges and

Margins. Again, minor modifications have been made to the translation.

Bennington / Derrida’s “Eighteenth Century”


6. L’Écriture et la différence (Paris: Seuil, 1967), 53; translated by Alan Bass as Writing and Dif-

ference (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1978), 32. Cited in the text as ED and WD.

7. Résistances de la psychanalyse (Paris: Galilée, 1996), 111–12; translated by Peggy Kamuf, Pas-

cale-Anne Brault, and Michael Naas as Resistances of Psychoanalysis (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press,

1998), 87–88.

Kamuf / To Do Justice to “Rousseau,” Irreducibly


To Do JusTice To “R ousseau,” i RR e D ucibly

Peggy Kamuf

De la grammatologie is a monstrous work. One should say that, if pos- sible, in the best sense, which is to say the sense evoked, now famously, in the last sentences of that book’s initial chapter, titled “Exergue”:

Perhaps the patient meditation and rigorous inquiry around what is still

provisionally called writing

attentive to the world that, irreducibly, is coming and that proclaims itself at present, beyond the closure of knowledge. The future cannot be antici- pated except in the form of absolute danger. It is what breaks absolutely with constituted normality and can announce itself, present itself only as a kind of monstrosity. 1

are the errancy of a thinking faithful and

beyond the closure of knowledge” and it is with just

such a wandering, without the security of known and normal compass points, that Derrida makes his way, blindly or monstrously, toward a future for thought and a thought of the future. Wandering, errancy [errance] is the name he will claim again, some two hundred pages later, for the “method” he is following, that is, the path toward the exit from “the closure of knowledge,” of metaphysics: “[This exiting] proceeds in the manner of an errant thinking concerning the possibility of itinerary and of method. It affects itself [s’affecte] with nonknowledge as with its future and deliberately ventures out [s’aventure]” (232). An errant method, a

Monstrous is an “errancy

Peggy Kamuf teaches French and comparative literature at the University of Southern California. She has translated several works by Jacques Derrida and edited two volumes of his essays (A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds [Columbia Univ. Press, 1991] and Without Alibi [Stanford Univ. Press, 2002]). Her early work was on 18th-century French fiction (Fictions of Feminine Desire: Disclosures of Heloise [Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1982]); she is the author most recently of Book of Addresses (Stanford Univ. Press, 2005).

Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 40, no. 3 (2007) Pp. 395–404.


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method of errancy is a flagrant contradiction in terms, a monstrosity that flaunts its aberration by questioning the very possibility of method. Here is a thinker who proclaims, without apology, not only that he is making it up as he goes along but that he is looking for an exit from safe precincts, for the path toward danger, and that, without knowing it, he knows a blind spot organizes the reading produced in this way: “And what we are calling production is necessarily a text, the system of a writing and a reading, about which we know, a priori—but only now—and with a knowledge that is not one, that they are ordered around their own blind spot” (234).

Another monstrous provocation: “their own blind spot,” “leur propre tache aveugle.” How can a blind spot be properly attributed? To whom, to what does it belong or return? This formulation is reflecting or repeating the designation of “a sort of blind spot in the text of Rousseau” (234), in other words, in the text being read and whose law is being produced by this reading. The Rousseauvian blind spot, namely, the law of the supplement, “the concept of the supplement” (234). Rousseau, as Derrida shows beyond dispute, names supplementarity tire- lessly, even obsessively, in his theoretical or philosophical texts (Émile, Essai sur l’origine des langues) no less than in his autobiographical or literary texts (Les Confessions, Les Rêveries). But the law of this naming and the concept governing its compulsive repetition in Rousseau’s discourse remains unthought, unnoticed, unread, and unseen by the signatory no less than by the generations of scholars or savants who have built a house of knowledge on the archive of Rousseau’s oeuvre. The blind spot at once belongs and does not belong to the author’s signed work; that is, it is undeniably used and properly intended by his discourse, but in order to become legible at all the proper aim of this intention to mean has to deviate through a point it cannot grasp or see and therefore cannot intend. This necessary deviation is therefore at once a condition of possibility of proper meaning and the condition of its impossibility as proper. That the possibility of the properness of any “thing” is conditioned by and as impossibility is what Derrida knows with a knowledge “that is not one” and what his errant thought will remain faithful to in every turn it takes from this point on. It accounts for both the immense diversity across his writings and the incomparable coherence of their wanderings.

But to return to De la grammatologie: its deconstruction of property in “the Age of Rousseau” sends tremors across innumerable faultlines and shakes up (and down) the ground of every ontological certainty. This is an enormous claim, befitting the monstrous. To measure it solely within the confines of a reflection on “Derrida’s ‘eighteenth century’” will certainly fail to do it justice. But then what might count as justice done to a work of this magnitude and whose impact has only begun to register against such formidable resistance? Perhaps Derrida would say that the justice awaiting his thought will have to be an unraveling around its “own” blind spots, on the order of that which he undertakes with Rousseau’s unthought thinking of supplementarity, or again, of Plato’s anagrammatic writing of the pharmakon. 2 And if this comparison sounds exaggerated, it is still the least one might envision as justice to a thought and a work that, by dint of wandering, would find the exit toward nothing less than a certain outside of “Platonism,” that is, of the massive and comprehensive structure that raised the curtain on the theater of the West and on its play, in continuous performance since then. One may rightly

Kamuf / To Do Justice to “Rousseau,” Irreducibly


expect such an unraveling to be delayed for some good while yet, and, even given the acceleration afforded by ever-new technologies of writing, likely to require more than the three centuries separating the appearance of De la grammatologie from that of Rousseau’s Confessions or L’Essai sur l’origine des langues. As Der- rida writes on the opening page of “Plato’s Pharmacy”: “The dissimulation of the woven texture can in any case take centuries to undo its web.” 3 To be sure, the texture of Plato’s web will have resisted its undoing far longer than Rousseau’s, but this tends to confirm Derrida’s reading of “Rousseau” as largely a repetition, with some important new twists, produced on the stage of the Platonic theater. And, of course, as far as most specialist scholars are concerned, they both continue to resist very well, thank you. The Age of Derrida may have dawned already but, for its contemporaries, it will have remained largely within their blind spot.

Such a figure of doing justice by undoing a text around one of its blind spots (for one cannot assume that there is ever only one) 4 can take us closer to the particularity, even the singularity, of Derrida’s “Rousseau,” if not his “eighteenth century.” For, at first approach, the figure would seem to promise harsh justice indeed, on the order of a judgment, sentence, or condemnation, a justice that is exacted by rending the tissue of the corpus rather than justice that is rendered, which is to say, returned or given back to the other, here to the name—Rousseau, Plato, Derrida—that stands metonymically for a work and, even beyond that, for an age, an epoch.

In order to hear a rendering rather than a rending as the blind spot comes to light, one has to pay close attention to the ways in which De la grammatologie is situating Rousseau’s text, writing, thought, and, finally or perhaps first of all, his experience. These ways are numerous, but may well all be described as modes of découpage: of cutting, separating, partitioning, dividing. 5 It is a matter of setting off thereby different levels or layers of the text from each other by identifying, to some extent, what Derrida calls their “structures of appartenance”—that is, of as- sociation, belonging, or affiliation. I’ve already mentioned one very large structure, “Platonism” or metaphysics, to which Rousseau’s texts largely belong through a direct, even if only rarely acknowledged, line of inheritance, in particular as regards the treatment of the question of writing. Within that découpage, however, there would be the affiliation between “Rousseau” and other, comparable metonymies, for example, “Warburton,” “Condillac,” “Hobbes,” “Mandeville,” “Vico,” “Des- cartes”—but also “Hegel” or “Saussure,” which extends the text’s layering beyond considerations of its assumed influences or declared polemics. 6

Besides these declared or more or less legible lines of division, there is what Derrida refers to as the habitation of the text being read, that is, the situation of any text in a language and a culture that it inhabits, is habituated to, and repro- duces, up to a certain point, by habit, without reflection, this being a condition of the minimal level of its readability. 7 Of this habitual habitation, Derrida remarks, underscoring twice the preposition “in”: “the writer writes in a language and in a logic of which, by definition, his discourse cannot dominate absolutely the system, laws, and life. He uses it only by letting himself, in a certain way and up to a certain point [emphasis added], be governed by the system” (227). Up to a certain point:

this phrase points to a place of découpage that must occur if a reading is not to miss, precisely, the point by settling for a repetition of habit that might have occurred in any number of other texts, with other signatures, from different “ages.”


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One of the many moments at which Derrida recalls the difficulty and necessity of this essential level of découpage occurs in the key metadiscursive chapter titled “The Exorbitant. Question of Method” when he is distinguishing his “method” of reading from that of a certain psychoanalysis:

Such a psychoanalysis [of Jean-Jacques Rousseau] would have to locate already all the structures of belonging of Rousseau’s text, everything that is not proper to it, by reason of the overarching already-thereness of lan- guage or of culture, everything that is inhabited rather than produced by the writing. Around the point of irreducible originality of this writing an immense series of structures, historic totalities of all kinds are organized, envelope, and cut across each other. Assuming that psychoanalysis could rightly carry out to completion their découpage and their interpretation, assuming that it takes account of the whole history of Western metaphys- ics that sustains relations of habitation with Rousseau’s writing, it would still have to elucidate its own belonging to metaphysics and Western culture. (230–31; emphases added)

I’ve underscored two phrases in the above lines because they situate something like the stakes or the point of the daunting enterprise of découpage that Derrida challenges psychoanalysis, or any other “method” of interpretation (including the one he is here setting out as his own), to carry out fully. The point would be to

be able to situate “the point of irreducible originality of this writing” by cutting away “everything that is not proper to it,” a point that would, as it were, remain in the hopper of the reading grid once everything that belongs to other structures of belonging or habitation has been sifted out or cut away. Indeed, the passage just cited continues with an image of reading (or interpretation) as something like


piece of large earth-moving equipment that carries away far more than what it


looking for:

Let us not pursue in this direction. We have already taken the measure of the difficulty of the task and the share of failure in our interpretation of the supplement. We are certain that something irreducibly Rousseauist is captured there but we have carried off, at the same time, a still quite shapeless mass of roots, soil, and sediments of every sort. (231; emphasis added) 8

Something “irreducibly Rousseauist” would be a “point of irreducible origi- nality.” An irreducible point ought to suggest that which cannot be broken down or divided any further; it would be very hasty, however, to understand Derrida’s

point in a quasi-geometrical sense of indivisibility. For irreducible originality, that point from which it resists further reduction to some encompassing historical to- tality or overarching habitation, has also the character or the function of a blind spot and thus of what necessarily divides any proper economy (of a self, a subject,

a discourse, an intention, etc.) from and within itself. The proper divides (itself)

and this is its improperly proper law. And yet, divided and cut off from itself, the irreducible still insists; it beckons to a reading that would not be content to leave undisturbed all those roots and sediments caught up with it, dissimulating its sharp, needle-like point in a haystack of historical, cultural repetitions and habits.

The passage cited above is just one of many comparable moments that surge into view as Derrida proceeds to sharpen ever more finely the irreducible

Kamuf / To Do Justice to “Rousseau,” Irreducibly


blind spot or point. At this point, the reading of “Rousseau” has only begun, by digging first, as a kind of test drill site, into Jean-Jacques’s confessional texts. The “interpretation of the supplement” has thus first situated supplementarity’s disconcerting logic—“almost inconceivable for reason” as Rousseau says of his cohabitation with the one he called “Maman,” Mme de Warens—in an economy of desire that ruses with substitution, delay, displacement, onanism, guilt, pleasure, nature, and its degradation in depravity. Given that Derrida has elected to initiate his reading with the specifically sexual underpinnings, as one is wont to say, of Rousseau’s, or rather Jean-Jacques’s experience, the warnings about confusing his “method” (that is, this path being cut through the thicket of three centuries’ worth of metaphysical reappropriations of “Rousseau”) with those of psychoanalysis seem altogether called-for. And especially in 1967, a year after the much-heralded first publication of Jacques Lacan’s Écrits, a work whose blind spot Derrida will soon situate in the place of the literary signifier. 9 But these warning remarks about the immense, in fact impossible task (in French, tâche, differentiated only by its circumflex from tache, as in tache aveugle, blind spot, stain, patch) stand also at the threshold to the reading of the—apparently—nonconfessional, philosophical or theoretical text that is Essai sur l’origine des langues, which occupies the much longer second part of the section of De la grammatologie devoted to the “Age of Rousseau.” One has, however, also been put on notice that such a distinction—con- fessional from philosophical, sexually-charged and driven from sexually-neutral or neutralized—is in question from here on out; indeed, the reading of the Essai is everywhere shot through with references forward or back to Les Confessions, Les Rêveries, Les Dialogues. Thus, the questioning of these entirely metaphysical distinctions will have begun with Rousseau “himself” (“c’est la faute de Rousseau .”)—in other words, with his experience as writer, thinker, reader, and relay point in the long legacy of Platonism. The question arises not only because the putatively speculative or theoretical writings (the Essai above all, but also Émile, Lettre à d’Alembert, Le Discours sur l’inégalité, Du Contrat social, etc.) rarely pass on the opportunity to put femininity, “le sexe,” in its place far from the stage of serious public matters, as Derrida unfailingly remarks, but above all because Rousseau “chose to exist by literary writing” (230), a choice made no less ineluctable by the inflection he gave to the Platonic schema denouncing all the dangers attending such a “life” in writing. It is, then, Rousseau’s experience, in its singularity, of ineluctable textual/sexual supplementarity that writes itself across the oeuvre subsumed to his name, to his signature.

It is such an experience—singular, signed, proper, but in irremediable, irreducible, and original rupture with the economic circle of pure auto-affection, without alterity—that the dredging machine of reading and interpretation must bring to the surface so as there to begin sifting through the roots and sediments in which it has lain buried, for want, perhaps, of a corresponding desire that could read it under the haystack of negations. 10 These negations appear to be its “own” but they also resemble and inhabit those of centuries upon centuries of repression. Repression of writing, of desire, of the other, of “woman,” of the blind spot, of errancy, and centuries upon centuries, the eighteenth being one more in a series that continues beyond it, approaching closure but still unclosed. But in that century, Rousseau will have cried out in writing for justice and articulated this cry or call in


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his own name (for example, in Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques) and in the general name of “man” (Discours sur l’inégalité parmi les hommes). To read “Rousseau” justly, one has to try to hear this articulation so as to respond in kind, that is, in and with the supplementary articulation whereby experience is endlessly textual- ized by differences that alter and space out the selfsame.

Which is why, throughout De la grammatologie and without contradicting the concern to cut away everything that does not belong or return to the name, Der- rida is no less interested to show how “Rousseau” names, more properly or more legibly than any of his contemporaries, a general, universal condition of experience. What Jean-Jacques in Les Confessions refers to as “the dangerous supplement” of his onanism, for example, is articulated by Derrida’s analysis at precisely the juncture of individual experience and its universal condition: “Auto-affection is a universal structure of experience. Every living being is a potential of auto-affec- tion. And only a being capable of symbolizing, that is to say, of affecting itself, can let itself be affected by the other in general. Auto-affection is the condition of experience in general” (236).

Rousseau names this condition in another sense as well, that of giving the name to the structure whereby auto-affection requires and thus calls for a supplement in order to “be” (with) itself. But in this very act of naming, Rous- seau would have also been at his most blind to what was being said and done in his text and by his text. And it is this absence from himself, this irreducible blind spot, this condition of writing and being written at once, beyond the pertinence of the opposition of activity to passivity, that calls for justice, which is to say, for the supplement of reading.

At least twice in the course of reading “The Age of Rousseau,” Derrida settles provisionally on the notion of “dream” to qualify this state of writing/being written while remaining essentially blind or unconscious. Both passages, however, are clearly articulated around the necessity to produce a new space for thinking experience that does not fall back on metaphysical categories, to which the psycho- analytic concept of dream, in its opposition to waking, consciousness, or vigilance, remains largely hostage. For this reason, the term can be used only provisionally, as a paleonym, or under erasure:

Using the word and describing the thing, Rousseau displaces and deforms the sign “supplement” in a certain manner, the unity of the signifier

and the

are regulated by the contradictory—or itself supplementary—unity of a desire. As in the dream, in Freud’s analysis, incompatibilities are admitted simultaneously when it’s a matter of satisfying a desire, despite the prin- ciple of identity or the excluded middle, that is, despite the logical time of consciousness. By using another word than dream, by inaugurating a conceptuality that would no longer be that of the metaphysics of presence or consciousness (which opposes, still within Freud’s discourse, waking and dream), one would thus have to define a space in which this regu- lated “contradiction” has been possible and can be described. (348–49)

This new conceptual space would exit the space of metaphysics by per- mitting an account of regular “contradictions,” which in their very regularity and regulation overrun the explanatory capacity of conscious logic that wants to exclude

But these displacements and these deformations

Kamuf / To Do Justice to “Rousseau,” Irreducibly


any such contradictions as aberrations, anomalies, monstrous. This observable regularity requires and thus calls for a new set of rules, rules that have to be pro- duced as one goes along, inductively and deductively, or rather by thinking always at the site of articulation between general structures and their inscription by and as proper names. 11 For this conceptual work, “Rousseau” cannot serve merely as an example, replaceable by or reducible to other examples, even as his articulation of supplementarity is not to be accounted for in and of itself, outside the general, universal, and historical conditions Derrida calls differance. Rather, it is a matter of displacing all the concepts proposed until now with which to think the articula- tion of a discourse and an historical totality” (148; emphasis in the original) and of doing so under the impulse given each time differently, under a different name and in view of a different displacement, by the inscription of desire in a space like that of dream. For example, and exemplarily, the name of supplement, which will have been (one of) Rousseau’s secret proper names.

The last paragraphs of De la grammatologie return to this problem of the term dream, but this time the movement of displacement toward a new concept is carried by the full impact and impulse of this inscription of “Rousseau.” This phrase, “the inscription of ‘Roussseau,’” must therefore now be understood at once in the active or subjective sense and the passive or objective sense of the genitive:

the inscription of Rousseau, that is, his inscription both of and by the text that is offered up to reading in the very movement of supplementarity it describes and submits to.

To the extent that he belongs to the metaphysics of presence, [Rousseau]

dreamed of the simple exteriority of death to life, of evil to good, of rep-

But all of these oppositions are irreduc-

ibly rooted [emphasis added] in this

of this series, insofar as they are comprehended there, can dominate the economy of differance or of supplementarity. The dream of Rousseau has consisted of forcibly introducing the supplement into metaphysics.

But what does that say? Is not the opposition of dream to vigilance also a representation of metaphysics? And what must the dream be, what must writing be, if, as we now know [emphasis added], one can write while dreaming? And if the scene of dreaming is always a scene of writ- ing? (444–45)

resentation to presence

None of the terms

“As we now know”: I am tempted to read this phrase as the echo of one cited earlier in which Derrida, using (as he does throughout De la grammatologie) the convention of the first-person plural, points to what “we know, a priori—but only now” to be the blind spot ordering the production of this text, “the system of a writing and a reading” (234). How can one know something a priori and yet with delay, “only now”? This delayed effect of knowing is the mark of supplementary differance, of the irreducible detour through the other, which is to say, the blind spot. When, in the closing paragraph just cited, Derrida remarks again the present of knowing, “as we now know,” this delay or detour has not been closed up or closed down but rather displayed and displaced through the other’s text. For hav- ing so patiently tracked “Rousseau” through innumerable points of articulation of his discourse with all sorts of general structures, what “we now know” (and “we” now, at the end of this work, includes Derrida’s readers) has the singular nature of


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a dream, “the dream of Rousseau,” which “has consisted of forcibly introducing the supplement into metaphysics.”

Once again, the genitive construction must be given its full play: “the dream of Rousseau” does not let one decide whose dream is inscribing the supplement. And it is through this very undecidability that De la grammatologie does justice to the one and the other “Rousseau,” Rousseau as irreducibly the name of more than one, its divisibility being the im-possible condition of its proper reference. The name refers now—but a priori it always already did—to a text, that is to say, to an experience lived as supplementarity. And this is so not only because Rous- seau also chose to write. But because he wrote, and because while writing dreamed incompatible things, it is to the writer’s name that is rendered the justice of his immense accomplishment: forcibly displacing the conceptual field of metaphysics from within.

Such a displacement, however, is not yet an exit from that field. The exit had still to be dreamed of when Rousseau wrote and lived, in the “eighteenth century.” This delay will now have to be accounted for according to a differant historicity. The delayed dream of a new Enlightenment will necessarily have been the dream of (a) monstrosity, which ventures out blindly toward, as we read, “the world that, irreducibly, is coming.” But it will also have signaled yet a greater accomplishment, just underway, as the Age of “Derrida” begins to unfold in the blind spot of its history.


When and if this age ever rounds on itself to try to identify its “own” blind spot, what will it see? This is, of course, a ridiculously premature question since the delay has only begun and the “dissimulation of the woven texture can take centuries to undo its web.” In the meantime, there have been relentless attacks on Derrida’s work. So far, however, these have not opened up even the smallest breach in that work’s incredibly tightly woven—and calculated—fabric. The reason cannot be that no room is left there for discussion, debate, questions, and disagreement. On the contrary, responses are constantly invited and called for. 12 It is rather, I believe, because these bids to dismiss out of court, without a hearing, have precisely the aggressive, even furious character of attack, which is a state that leaves the aggres- sors utterly incapable of reading. As I’ve argued above, and differently elsewhere, 13 Derrida is most fundamentally misread when his own work on others’ texts (and he is always reading) has been received as destructive, that is, as rending rather than rendering justice. Love for a text, as Derrida has affirmed more than once, is a necessary condition for reading. Perhaps it is a sufficient condition as well. As to why a number of Derrida’s contemporaries believed they ought not to love his writing and therefore ought not to read it, that is a question on which one can only speculate. But it’s also a question I don’t believe is going to trouble readers of the future, because such acrimony writes on water where its ripples dissipate in the blink of an eye, in a little interval of blindness.

That said, a tiny opening seems to appear in the very last line of De la grammatologie. It looks to be not deliberate, but instead, although one cannot assert this with any certainty, what is called a lapsus. Bringing his text to a close,

Kamuf / To Do Justice to “Rousseau,” Irreducibly


and as he so often does with unfailing courtesy, Derrida leaves the last word to his textual interlocutor of the moment. Hence, he cites and gives one to read a passage from Émile, in which Rousseau writes this on the subject of dreams:

the dreams of a bad night are given to us as philosophy. You will say I too am a dreamer; I admit it, but I do what others fail to do, I give my dreams as dreams, and leave it to the reader to discover whether there is anything in them which may prove useful to those who are awake. 14

The last clauses of this cited passage, which fall on the final lines of De la grammatologie, read in French: “je donne mes rêves pour des rêves, laissant chercher .] s’ils ont quelque chose d’utile aux gens éveillés.” Where I’ve inserted brackets Derrida’s quotation has dropped two words from Rousseau’s original text, an omis- sion that, as it happens, does not disturb the syntax in French as it might have in English. The two words are, simply: “au lecteur,” that is, “to the reader.”

To the reader. A blind spot? Perhaps. But whose?


1. Jacques Derrida, De la grammatologie (Paris: Minuit, 1967), 14; further references, in paren-

theses, are to this original edition and all translations are my own.

2. See Jacques Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy,” Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: Univ.

of Chicago Press, 1981).

3. Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy,” 63.

4. “The theme of supplementarity is no doubt, in certain ways, but one theme among others. It

is in a chain, carried along by that chain. Perhaps one could substitute for it something else. But it so happens that it describes the chain itself, the being-chain of a textual chain, the structure of substitu- tion, the articulation of desire and language, the logic of all the conceptual oppositions that Rousseau takes on board” (233; emphasis in the original).

5. See 230 for a foregrounded use of the term découpage.

6. On the crucial découpage Derrida effects between “Rousseau” and both “Warburton” and

“Condillac,” see, for example, 384 ff.

7. The term “habitation” is used by Rousseau in Les Confessions as just cited in the previous

section: “I had noticed moreover that living with women [l’habitation des femmes; also translated as “intercourse with women”] worsened my condition perceptibly” (224). Derrida’s attention to the inscription of sexual difference never flags, here or elsewhere. For example, after citing a passage from La Lettre à d’Alembert (the text containing some of Rousseau’s most furiously misogynistic writing), in which Rousseau elevates his bad experience with “l’habitation des femmes” into the principle that men suffer more than women from their “intercourse,” Derrida comments: “The parties are unequal and this is perhaps the most profound meaning of the play of supplementarity” (252).

8. Reading the works of Jean Genet, Derrida employs a similar image to describe his reading “op-


crane, I manipulate some levers and, from afar

the bottom, hook onto stones and algae there that I lift up in order to set them down on the ground while the water quickly falls back from the mouth” (Jacques Derrida, Glas , trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. [Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1986], 204).

I plunge a mouth of steel in the water. And I scrape

a sort of dredging machine. From the dissimulated small, closed, glassed-in cabin of a

9. See Jacques Derrida, “Le Facteur de la vérité,” trans. Alan Bass, in Derrida, The Post Card: From

Socrates to Freud and Beyond (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987). That a certain psychoanalytic interpretation remains blind to the literary signifier is already asserted explicitly in De la grammatologie:

“If the trajectory we have followed in the reading of the ‘supplement’ is not simply psychoanalytic, it is no doubt because the habitual psychoanalysis of literature begins by bracketing the literary signifier as such” (230).


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10. On several occasions, Derrida has recalled that his reading of Rousseau as a youth, and especially

Les Confessions, was a determining experience in his own decision to write. The axes of his identifi- cation with Rousseau could be seen as falling along the conventional divisions between philosophy, literature, and autobiography, “genres” that Derrida melds, crosses, and rearticulates with incredible inventiveness. The confessional genre in particular is one Derrida completely overhauls in Circumfes- sion (in Geoffrey Bennington and Derrida, Jacques Derrida, trans. G. Bennington [Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1993]).

11. On the question of the empiricism of his “method,” see 232.

12. See, in particular, Jacques Derrida, “Afterword: Toward an Ethic of Discussion,” trans. Samuel

Weber, in Derrida, Limited Inc (Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1988). For a recent and very fine analysis of the hostility Derrida’s work has encountered, see Marian Hobson, “Hostilities and Hostages (to Fortune): On Some Part of Derrida’s Reception,” in Epoché 10.2 (Spring 2006): 303–14.

13. See the chapter “Deconstruction and Love,” in Kamuf, Book of Addresses (Stanford: Stanford

Univ. Press, 2005).

14. As cited in Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1975), 316; translation slightly modified.

Saccamano / Keeping Faith with Reason in Derrida


InherItIng enlIghtenment, or KeepIng FaIth wIth reason In DerrIDa

Neil Saccamano

In his remarks on the question of method in Of Grammatology, Jacques Derrida acknowledges that the eighteenth century, characterized there as the “‘age of Rousseau’ [‘l’époch de Rousseau’]” holds a surprising privilege in his work insofar as it enables a “decisive articulation of the logocentric epoch” broadly understood (from Plato to Husserl or Heidegger) and thereby aids the effort of deconstruction to attain a certain exteriority in relation to that epoch. 1 Yet Derrida also explains that the privilege accorded this historical moment cannot be methodologically or

logically justified with reference to an already secured knowledge that lies beyond it:

the gesture of departure in deconstruction necessarily “takes the form of empiricism and errancy” because “it is affected by nonknowledge as by its future” (G, 162). If we possess no determinate knowledge of a destination that would sanction the choice of a beginning and if we can only attempt to read for traces of closure, then,

Derrida argues: “We must begin wherever we are believe ourselves to be” (G, 162).

In 1967, when Of Grammatology was first published in France, Derrida believed himself in a certain way to be inhabiting the texts and language of an “epoch” epitomized by Rousseau’s energetic reaction to the threat of writing that, with Leibniz’s universal characteristic, “had opened a breach within logocentric security” (G, 98). For Derrida, “[t]he place of this combat and crisis is called the eighteenth century,” and he sets as a task to “bring to light [mettre au jour] what limited the power and the extent of the breakthrough” (G, 98–99). By the 1990s, Derrida had for some time been venturing out from texts that mark another

in a text where we already

Neil Saccamano is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and English at Cornell Uni- versity. He has published various articles on eighteenth-century literature and philosophy and, most recently, co-edited Politics and the Passions, 1500–1850 (Princeton, 2006). His current research centers on the aesthetics and politics of force from Hobbes to Rousseau.

Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 40, no. 3 (2007) Pp. 405–424.


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form of crisis, although this point of departure is also called the eighteenth century precisely insofar as it concerns the legacy and continued pertinence of critique, which seeks to “bring to light” limits, which discriminates and separates. As Derrida’s later work increasingly reads the texts of Kant and often takes up the notion of “enlightenment,” we could say that the eighteenth century appears there as the “age of Kant,” who, in turn, believed himself to be inhabiting “the age of criticism (Zeitalter der Kritik).” 2 Moreover, just as enlightenment, identified by Kant with the autonomous use of one’s public reason, must emancipate itself from religious authority as the most pernicious of all restrictions on freedom of thought, so the question of religion gets repeatedly raised by Derrida in his reflections on the sta- tus of critique. 3 Indeed, the combat of religions—combat by religions against each other and by critique against religious dogmatism and fanaticism—may be said to constitute an insistent point of departure in his later work. In the Specters of Marx (1993), for instance, Derrida declares religious combat for what he calls the “‘appropriation of Jerusalem’” to be “today the world war”—this ubiquitous war “is our world” as well as the “singular figure of its being ‘out of joint’”—and, in response to this war, he sets out in that text in part to reread the “indispensable” inheritance of Marxist critique. 4 Similarly, in the essay “Faith and Knowledge” (1996), he again refers to a “war of religion” as “what is happening to us,” what characterizes precisely a “today” for an “us,” and poses this question or responds

to this demand: “[I]n view of the Enlightenment of today and of tomorrow,

to think religion in the daylight of today without breaking with the philosophical tradition,” with “the epoch and spirit of the Aufklärung” to which belongs Kant’s Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. 5

In response to the worldwide violence that Derrida says is misleadingly attributed to a “return of religions”—as if a period was supposed to have been

put to religion by two centuries of “enlightened” scientific and critical discourses, including Marxism, Nietzschean genealogy, and psychoanalysis—an effort to think religion would seem to define an especially urgent task (FK, 5). Yet, the prevalence of theological problematics and of religiously derived concepts or terms in his later writings (forgiveness, messianicity, gift, hospitality) has been read by some to be indicative of a turn toward theology, or as a belated thematization of what had always been implicit, despite his repeated statements to the contrary. One can imagine how Derrida’s resort to these religious terms, coupled with his question- ing of the ability to limit the reach of the religious, might lead to such a reading. For instance, “to determine a war of religion as such,” he notes, “one would have to be certain that one can delimit the religious,” distinguish its predicates, and dissociate them from “those that establish, for example, the concept of ethics, of the juridical, of the political or of the economic”; for Derrida, however, “nothing is more problematical than such a dissociation.” With regard to the political as an obstinately theological concept, he remarks that the so-called “wars of religion could also imply radical challenges to our project of delimiting the political” and

“constitute a response to everything that our idea of democracy

is religious” (FK, 26). Given its hegemony or perhaps sovereignty, religion would seem impossible to think philosophically without religion.

This difficulty in attaining a certain exteriority in relation to religion is, for some like John Caputo, not so much an inadequacy of deconstruction as a “blessing


still entails that

Saccamano / Keeping Faith with Reason in Derrida


for religion, its positive salvation,” insofar as deconstruction “keep[s] it open to constant reinvention.” 6 To consider deconstruction to be the reinvention of religion is perhaps one way of reading Derrida’s acknowledgment that deconstruction shares with the Abrahamic religions and with a secular, especially Marxist, critique of re- ligion “a certain experience of the emancipatory promise” that historically belongs to “messianic eschatology” and that is retained by deconstruction as the “formal- ity of a structural messianism” (SM, 59). Indeed, Derrida’s strategy of formalizing and redeploying as irreducible such concepts as messianism no doubt complicates efforts to distinguish rigorously between religion or theology and deconstruction. Rodolphe Gasché, for instance, argues with exceptional precision that “God” in Derrida is an effect of the trace as a self-effacing structure of referral, “that is, of the inevitable negativity and endless referral to Other that all attempts to think a positive infinity and full presence must meet”; but since “God” is also a singular figure for, or the “exemplary revelation” of, this structure, “the temptation, or the

to theologize is always imminent,” although Gasché concludes that

deconstruction “is certainly closer to philosophy than theology.” 7 On the other hand, Hent de Vries claims that Gasché underestimates the work done by theologi- cal and religious terms in Derrida insofar as the very privilege accorded religion makes it a “constitutive or essential instance” of a “structure of exemplarity per se” according to which the trace gets thought; for de Vries, the religious figures that preponderate in Derrida’s later work are “more than simply strategic” and function as what he calls a “generalized religion” on the analogy to a generalized writing in the earlier work. 8

Whatever their differences with regard to the problem of thinking religion without religion in Derrida, these readings agree that deconstruction does not sim- ply reproduce, as Gasché puts it, a “demystification in the style of Enlightenment” (ID, 161). In fact, the difficulty for Derrida is to think religion today in the spirit of Enlightenment without relying, however, solely on the demystifying aims of rational critique. To understand how Derrida seeks to negotiate this difficulty will be the aim of my essay and, in deference to certain themes identified with the eighteenth century, will require that we examine Derrida’s aporetic notion of responsibility in relation to the ethics of public discourse usually taken without qualification to be a common good. For, as de Vries has also noted in recalling Kant, “the ques- tion of religion cannot be addressed without incessant reference to the categories and the realm of the public—or without a consideration of the idea and practice of publicity, of censorship and tolerance, of secrecy, and of media and mediatiza- tion” (PTR, 64, n. 40). As a result, if the place of the combat of religion is called the eighteenth century, a deconstructive reading of the “age of critique” will also question the idea of an ethical community and the notion of the social bond as public responsibility that supports it.

For reasons we will examine in a moment, the task of thinking religion to- day cannot limit itself to critique, but this does not mean that Derrida repudiates it. On the contrary, in “On a Newly Arisen Apocalyptic Tone in Philosophy,” he insists on the need “to demystify, or if you prefer, to deconstruct apocalyptic discourse,” to bring to light the interests, calculations, ruses, and ends of those who declare “the imminence of the end,” for instance, “of man or the subject, of consciousness,

of progress itself”—and, we should add,

of history, of the West or of literature,



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of religion and of logocentrism. 9 Similarly, when Derrida affirms the necessity of the spirit of Marxism today, he does so, in part, by stressing its critical resources in transformed historical circumstances that require it itself to be transformed in order to provide “a new thinking of the ideological”—to analyze, for example, “the new articulation of techno-economic causalities and of religious ghosts” (SM, 58). With regard to these demystifying exigencies, the eighteenth century bequeaths a legacy that we cannot but inherit and carry forward: “We cannot and must not—this is a law and a destiny—forgo the Aufklärung, in other words, what imposes itself as the enigmatic desire for vigilance, for the lucid vigil, for elucidation, for critique and truth(AT, 148). If the Enlightenment has no imminent end, then critique must continue to be deployed to question every proclamation of truth by author- ity and to bring potential dissimulations and ruses of mastery to light in a public reckoning. In this project of a progressive critical accounting, philosophy thus finds itself still bound to republican democracy as to the cause of publicness [res publica] and to “the enlightened virtue of public space, emancipating it from all external power,” from “religious dogmatism, orthodoxy or authority”—although not from all faith, Derrida qualifies (FK, 8). An enlightened philosophy thus also finds itself caught up with literature since, for Derrida, the possibility of literature is politically inseparable from that of democracy and of the “unlimited right to ask any question, to suspect all dogmatism” and “to say everything publicly, or to keep it a secret, if only in the form of fiction.” 10

Yet critique, however indispensable, is not sufficient for Derrida or coexten- sive with deconstruction. The ambiguity of the “or” in his statement of the need to “demystify or, if you will, deconstruct”—conjunctive and/or disjunctive?—signals the complexity of the relation. For despite the importance of mobilizing diverse analyses of mastery in response to “wars of religion,” critique does not sufficiently think through the relation of faith or belief to science or reason. Hence Derrida takes some distance from the Marxist position that holds the “critique of religion to be the premise of all ideology-critique” and religion “the matrix of all ideology” not only because Marxism’s own version of “messianic eschatology” would perforce subject it to the ideology-critique it demands, but also because Derrida suspects the principles of such critique might “still appeal to a heterogeneity between faith and knowledge” or, in explicitly Kantian terms, “between practical reason and theo- retical cognition” (FK, 40). In Kant, we should recall, critique is the self-critique of reason in general, and its “primary use [ihr erster Nutzen]” is to perform what Kant figures as a “policing” function: critique distinguishes among the faculties, sets their proper boundaries, and determines their jurisdictions so as especially to make room for faith by restraining theoretical or speculative reason from venturing beyond the limit of experience, the condition of knowledge, and encroaching upon the domain of moral-practical reason, which alone must postulate and think God, freedom, and immortality (CPR, 26–27, 29). To reaffirm critique as the bequest of the Enlightenment is, for Derrida, to carry it forward in a reading (since “one must filter, sift, criticize” in every inheritance [SM, 16]) that questions its most essential concepts and practices. “[I]n the name of an Enlightenment to come,” deconstruc- tion would suspend “in an argued, deliberated, rational fashion” all “hypotheses, conventions, and presuppositions” and would “criticiz[e] unconditionally all conditionalities, including those that still found the critical idea, namely, those of

Saccamano / Keeping Faith with Reason in Derrida


the krinein, of the krisis, of the binary or dialectical decision or judgment.” 11 And foremost among the suppositions of critique that Derrida suspends in his later work is the possibility that constitutes its primary or “first” decision: the possibility of rigorously separating faith and knowledge.

What might be surprising to some in the way Derrida proceeds in his

critique, or deconstruction, of this critical decision is his insistence on remaining

true to a kind of reason: “For deconstruction

view, an unconditional rationalism that never renounces” (R, 142). Even when the deconstructive target in the Grammatology was logocentrism as phonocentrism, Derrida had remarked that an “enlarged and radicalized” notion of writing is still governed by a “rationality,” although he wondered whether that word should be “abandoned” since this rationality “no longer issues from a logos” (G, 10). Later, in The Other Heading, Derrida similarly remarks that, “to remain faithful to the ideal of the Enlightenment,” we should address the question of faith as well as other thoughts in the “history of reason” that “necessarily exceed its order, without becoming, simply because of this, irrational, and much less irrationalist.” 12 Rather than renunciation, it is a question of how to keep faith with reason: how to remain faithful to reason; how not to separate faith and reason; how reasonably to sustain faith. For Derrida, the exorbitant question of faith marks, finally, the limit of critique in the way it thinks its future insofar as its historicity depends on the repetition of an “enigmatic desire” that is not empirical or contingent but “imposes itself” and constitutes a “law” and a “destiny.” Critique must be interminably reaffirmed, read, taken up, and carried forward as our inheritance because we must desire the truth unconditionally.

In thus characterizing the necessity of (a future) Enlightenment, Derrida signals at least two complications to be elaborated: the claim to autonomy of public reason touches on the law of a desire that suggests heteronomy, and the “enigmatic” quality of this desire suggests a secret or mystery at the heart of critical demystification. The question of faith, in other words, raises for Derrida the issue of whether the origin and future of critical rationality is itself rational, and, if so, in what sense. In reading a strain of philosophical idealism on this issue, Derrida takes as exemplary Husserl’s insistence that the unity of reason requires its self- origination—the desire, the seeking or wanting, to be rational both is and must be rational—but reason is not to be differentiated into the potentially conflicting modalities of the theoretical, practical, and aesthetic. The necessity of the unity of reason functions as an imperative of reason that governs our knowledge of reason; there ought to be, there is to be, no differentiation of “ought” and “is.” In response to the question of why a “heroism of the responsible decision” in the face of crisis in Husserl remains “a heroism of reason,” Derrida answers: “It is not because faith would exceed reason. It is because theoretical reason is first of all, and finally, for him as for Kant, a prescriptive or normative task, through and through, a practi- cal reason, or, as others might say, a metaphysics of free will” (R, 131). Of course, Kant’s critical apparatus requires precisely such differentiation, but Kant also insists that “it is still only one and the same reason which, whether from a theoretical or a practical perspective, judges according to a priori principles.” 13 Hence the claim of a differentiated but unified reason as a faculty of a priori judgment enables Kant to counter the threat of heteronomy entailed in the possibility that what he calls

would remain above all, in my


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the interest of reason might originate in an empirical desire, feeling, or passion—a possibility he associates with the British theory of “moral sense,” which, through

the contingent feelings of pleasure and pain associated with virtue and vice, reduces everything “to desire for one’s own happiness” (CPrR, 35). Such a “pathological” theory of the will entails heteronomy for Kant insofar as reason does not legislate and obligate itself unconditionally but goes outside of itself and finds its end in empirical objects that promise happiness according to the choice of each person. As a consequence of this “pathology,” a will to morality as well as what we might call a will to knowledge could have no necessity and could not constitute a law or

a vocation. Yet, if Kant affirms the rational autonomy of the will, he also risks a

potential conflict within the faculty of reason in general that he attempts to avoid by introducing a hierarchy: “in the union of pure speculative with pure practical

reason in one cognition, the latter has

a conflict of reason itself would arise, since if they were merely juxtaposed (coordi-

nate), the first would of itself close its boundaries strictly and admit nothing from the latter into its domain.” And it is precisely Kant’s aim that certain propositions of morality that transcend knowledge and experience (God, freedom, immortality) be, like a “foreign possession,” “carried over” into the domain of theoretical reason [“als einen fremden auf sie übertragenen Besitz”] and united with concepts that make knowledge possible. This transference or translation of faith to the realm of knowledge must take place because, Kant claims, the interest of knowledge must be determined in order to “complete” it, and interest can only be determined by practical reason (hence its superiority) (CPrR, 101–102).

Since deconstruction never simply renounces an inheritance, Derrida char-

acteristically offers a double reading of this idealist recourse to a reason that requires

a faith in knowledge, a reason that precedes and orients itself as if by analogy to

the divine fiat that there be the light of knowledge. On the one hand, the moral- practical origin of cognition introduces a certain unconditionality—an imperative task or responsibility that cannot be strictly accounted for or calculated (it remains “foreign” to knowledge) but cannot be refused as irrational—that Derrida reads affirmatively as an opening to the event of the Enlightenment and a democracy- to-come. Already in the “greatest tradition of rationalist idealism,” he notes, “a rational and rigorous incalculability presented itself as such” in the unconditioned domain of practical reason (R, 133). For Hobbes, as a point of contrast, reason originates in the motions of the passions or appetites and consists in “nothing but Reckoning (that is, Adding and Subtracting)”; in Kant and the idealist tradition, Derrida reminds us, rationality is not limited “to reason as calculation, as ratio, as account, an account to be settled or an account to be given” (R, 133). 14 Moral- practical reason supposes an order of the incalculable that remains irreducible to the generality of concepts and the subsumption of particulars under them that con- stitute knowledge, or to the rules of evidence and norms of argument that govern discourses of knowledge; nor is it simply identifiable with positive universal laws and formally equivalent subjects under law. Rather, practical reason is the law of law, the unconditional demand that there be law: in commanding one to act in such a way that the maxim of the will could function “as a principle in a giving of universal law,” it “gives (to the human being) a universal law which we call the moral law” (CPrR, 28–29). Citing Kant on the sublime dignity of humanity

For, without this subordination

Saccamano / Keeping Faith with Reason in Derrida


as an end in itself and thus as incalculable, Derrida elaborates the rational uncon- ditionality he finds in Kant’s moral “kingdom of ends” as “at once universal and exceptional,” requiring us (impossibly) to universalize singularity by responding to each and every case as if it were unprecedented (as if it were precisely not a “case” of some general principle) and could justly depart from existing rules, norms, and laws to invent its own (R, 133).

Yet, if Derrida marks out a direction for thinking religion or, rather, faith through this affirmative reading, on the other hand, he also acknowledges the need to disentangle, if possible, the notion of unconditionality from what constrains it in Kant and the idealist tradition more generally: from the teleology of a self-founding and self-orienting reason that remains temporally or historically self-identical, and

thus also from sovereignty as the autotelic power of “ipseity” or self-sameness that “gives itself its own law, its force of law” (R, 10–11). For reason, in this tradition, always holds in advance some idea of what ought or is to be, which annuls the singularity and incalculability of any event. As we noted with regard to the “ra- tionality” of writing in Of Grammatology, Derrida in this context also wonders whether a reading of practical reason as radically unconditional might offer the chance to think a reason other than “the classical reason of what presents itself or announces its presentation according to the eidos, the idea, the ideal, the regulative

the telos” (R, 135). This other reason, if that word is to be retained,

might be distinguished from an ideology and teleology of the unconditional by emphasizing the paradoxical structure of the event of law-giving: it is a “‘perfor- mative’ event that cannot belong to the set it founds, inaugurates, or justifies” (FK, 18). Consequently, an unconditional imperative might still possess what is called rationality, but it is ultimately unjustifiable in terms of the knowledge it commands and also, we shall see, in terms of ethics and the “ought” of duty. If law-giving is “performative” insofar as it is an event of founding or invention, it also exceeds the “performative” insofar as it is an unconditional and, strictly speaking, impossible invention, since it cannot be granted any legitimacy or authority as an invention on the basis of the norms, rules, expectations, and institutions that actually or ideally precede, anticipate, and generally condition its occurrence. As Werner Hamacher has remarked, the demand for the autonomy of a self-legislating will in Kant involves the paradoxical “double structure of the law” as both command and rule: the law that commands there be a rule is itself an “unregulated command and law without law”; as “the giving of the law and not a given law,” the law lies in a “groundless laying down—groundless because ground-giving and ground-laying.” 15 In expos- ing practical reason to a rigorous thought of the paradoxical event of law-giving, Derrida hopes to displace the sovereign power of reason in the idealist tradition to posit, legislate, and orient itself as the self-same—a power he also finds entailed in the “calculable mastery” of the performative over the event it produces—and to open up a historicity in which reason exceeds itself and something “arrives or happens by reason and to reason” (R, 152, 135).

Idea, or

This critique or deconstruction of Enlightenment critique in relation to a rational unconditionality leads Derrida, too, to stress a heterogeneity between theoretical and practical reason. However, unlike Kantian critique, he does not deny knowledge to make room for faith, and, unlike Marxist critique, he does not deny faith in the name of knowledge; rather, both of these postulates of reason


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are necessary, necessarily inseparable, and necessary but impossible to negotiate harmoniously (R, 150). In fact, the hiatus between the unconditional and the conditional marks the place from which Derrida wants to think the religious and, especially, its relation to sociality:

The hiatus between these two equally rational postulations of reason, this

excess of a reason that of itself exceeds itself and so opens onto its future, its to-come, its becoming, this ex-position of the incalculable event, would also be the irreducible spacing of the very faith, credit, or belief without which there would be no social bond, no address to the other, no

uprightness or honesty, no promise to be

the rational space of a hypercritical faith, one without dogma and with- out religion, irreducible to any and all religious and implicitly theocratic institutions. It is what I’ve called elsewhere the awaiting without horizon of a messianicity without messianism. It goes without saying that I do not detect here even the slightest hint of irrationalism, obscurantism, or extravagance. This faith is another way of keeping within reason [raison garder], however mad it might appear. If the minimal semantic kernel of reason we might retain from the various lexicons of reason, in every language, is the ultimate possibility of, if not a consensus, at least an address universally promised and unconditionally entrusted to the other, then reason remains the element or very air of a faith without church and without credulity, the raison d’être of the pledge, of credit, of testimony beyond proof, the raison d’être of any belief in the other, that is, of their belief and of our belief in them—and thus also of any perjury. (R, 153)

Just as he tries to think unconditionality with and beyond Kant, so Der- rida employs the term “messianic,” which is historically marked as belonging to the Abrahamic religions, to refer to a “general structure of experience” that, we previously noted, he considers deconstruction and Marxism formally to share and that he wants to distinguish from any determinate revelation: the messianic names “the opening to the future or to the coming of the other as the advent of justice, but without horizon of expectation and without prophetic prefiguration”—a non-

teleological waiting (“without awaiting itself”) exposed to the “absolute surprise” of a singular event (for the best or the worst) that can occur at any moment and

This hiatus opens

coming” (FK, 17–18). The messianic is the hope of

a “universalizable culture of singularities” (FK, 18) that is promised by a faith or

belief in the other as the possibility of the social. If one were to entertain the pos- sibility that “all moral and ethical, legal and political systems have reached their

limits, at least as historical constructions,” Derrida states that what would be left is “the barest foundation of the social bond”: “What remains—the minimum, but it

is ‘fundamental’—is faith.” 16 The “‘fundamental’” character of this messianic faith,

which precedes and exceeds dogma and religion, lies in its constituting a “general structure of experience”—a kind of “transcendental condition of all discourse, of all experience even, of every mark or trace,” as Derrida suggests with regard to the “exemplary” structure of apocalyptic discourse in which “the destination remain[s] to come” (AT, 156–57). This faith is unconditional—our destiny is to desire repeatedly a destination that remains to come—because it gets inscribed in every utterance, not only in the type of performative that declares “let there be knowledge” or “let there be moral law.” The messianic event announces itself “in

that “no anticipation sees

Saccamano / Keeping Faith with Reason in Derrida


the act of faith or in the appeal to faith that inhabits every act of language and every address to the other” (FK, 18). Addressed and entrusted to the other, every act of language entails “an experience of faith, of believing, of credit that is irreducible to knowledge and of a trust that ‘founds’ all relation to the other in testimony”—a belief in the truth of the testimony of the other “beyond proof” or demonstration (FK, 18). Rational critique must suppose this trustworthiness of testimony and this truthfulness of bearing witness, even when suspecting lie or perjury, as the “elementary condition” of the religious that Derrida distinguishes from religion itself (FK, 44–45). And to give point to this analysis that renders critical philoso- phy and religion conditional upon a prior act of unconditional faith, Derrida asks us to believe that we already believe in the everyday occurrence of miracles. The promise entailed in every act of speech that one speaks truthfully and in good faith amounts to this: “‘Believe what I say as one believes in a miracle.’ Even the slight- est testimony concerning the most plausible, ordinary, or everyday thing cannot

do otherwise: it must still appeal to faith as would a room for disenchantment” (FK, 63–64).

In emphasizing that faith conditions this communicative rationality—the consensus or address universally promised to the other—Derrida not only allusively counters Max Weber’s well-known claim that scientific rationality is fated to de- mystify the modern world, but he also radicalizes the notion of critical thinking as publicity that Hannah Arendt had elaborated in her reading of Kant’s discussion of sensus communis in the Critique of Judgment. 17 For Arendt, Kant’s maxims of sensus communis—to think for oneself; to think from the standpoint of everyone else; to think consistently—mean that philosophical truth in the Enlightenment must have “general communicability” as its condition of possibility; whereas scientific truth depends on the reproducibility of experiments and has a “general validity” for Kant, critical philosophy and indeed “the very faculty of thinking depends on its public use” and needs “others to be possible at all” (LK, 40–41). Critical rationality as the “giv[ing] of an account” by which everyone could publicly be “held responsible and answerable” requires this communicability and promise of universal community (LK, 41). Derrida, on the other hand, extends the faith or trust in others that underwrites critique to include scientific truth insofar as science, whether purely theoretical or techno-science, is also premised on a “profound and essential ‘performativity’ of knowledge.” Scientific knowledge cannot deny faith without denying its own possibility since “an element of the fiduciary remains es- sential to all shareable knowledge, which is to say, all knowledge as such”: “there is no science without public space and without scientific community,” Derrida states, and consequently a “sworn faith” beyond proof or demonstration also organizes the community of scientists who must believe in “truthfulness” as they would in a miracle (AA, 63).

[and] leaves no

Yet, if Derrida remains so faithful to the Enlightenment demand for public reason and for an essentially communicable or shareable knowledge that he goes beyond the limits that constrain publicity in Kantian critique, his affirmation of unconditional faith leads him, at the same time, to take issue with this very demand for publicity, especially insofar as it supports an ethics that seeks to hold everyone formally “responsible and answerable,” as Arendt puts it in recalling that the Greek phrase “Logon didonai, ‘to give an account,’” is “political in origin: to render


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accounts is what Athenian citizens asked of their politicians, not only in money matters but in matters of politics” (LK, 41). For publicity, Arendt argues, is not a condition of knowledge alone: “publicness is already the criterion of rightness in [Kant’s] moral philosophy” (LK, 49). The maxim of one’s action needs to be made public and thereby potentially universalized in order for it to become moral. The

hidden, the secretive, or the mysterious shelters immorality: “To be evil, therefore,

is characterized by withdrawal from the public realm. Morality [in Kant] means

being fit to be seen, and this not only by men, but, in the last instance, by God, the omniscient knower of the heart” (LK, 49–50). In employing reason publicly and in giving accounts, one not only seeks to bring truth to light but allows oneself to be seen and to be held to account by others and, in the last instance, by the utterly other. For Derrida this demand for publicity, which has a regulative function, is

necessary and must be (cannot but be) reaffirmed; however, an unconditional faith in always singular others, who are irreducible to instances of law in its formality and generality, must make room for precisely the secretive as the figure for the unethical or, perhaps, the an-ethical demand for justice.

A particularly striking example of the ethics of publicity can be found in “Sensus Communis: An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour” (1709),

a text by Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, that Derrida does not cite

but that was influential on the eighteenth-century discourse of common sense on which Kant will later draw. Shaftesbury’s work belongs to the tradition of “moral sense” philosophy criticized by Kant for effectively vacating morality by locating its (original) motive in sensibility. Shaftesbury’s understanding of moral self- regulation, for instance, is premised on a natural economy of affections in which individual happiness is coordinated with the “strictest society and rule of common good,” and “the most unnatural of all affections are those which separate from this community”; the more these natural social affections remain dominant, “the more powerful and absolute I must be in self-enjoyment and the possession of my good.” 18 In Derrida’s paraphrase of Kant’s objection, morality cannot character- ize actions performed out of a “sense” of duty that is “natural, programmed by nature”; moral law, rather, commands our duty as rational beings and should thus “enjoin the sacrifice of everything that would only obey this sensible inclination” (P, 14). If we needed a warrant for introducing this text here, we would point to the fact that Derrida does not endorse Kant’s rejection of a “sensuous” incentive to morality, a rejection that relies on such critical distinctions as the sensible and the intelligible, the passive and the active, which Derrida questions in his effort to displace a logic of sacrifice and to think an affect or “passion that would be non-‘pathological’ in Kant’s sense”—a rejection, furthermore, that Derrida won- ders whether Kant himself can rigorously make since the command that sacrifices incentives of sensibility must, paradoxically, also inscribe in sensibility the feeling of “respect” for the law as its sole moral incentive (P, 14). 19

However, what especially motivates the introduction of Shaftesbury’s text here is the remarkable way that it both thematizes and performs this performative notion of sociality as necessary and as necessarily regulative. In Shaftesbury, dia-

logue in particular is the mode or genre of critical thinking—“a freedom of raillery,

a liberty in decent language to question everything, and an allowance of unravel- ling or refuting any argument without offence to the arguer” (C, 33)—by means

Saccamano / Keeping Faith with Reason in Derrida


of which religious and political authority can be questioned but without leading to the radical uncertainty associated with “endless skepticism” (C, 33, 39). The via negativa of critique is, instead, the “experiment” by which Shaftesbury hopes to recover an “assurance of things” (C, 39). In relying on critique as a dialogical practice, he seeks to test received opinions in religion and politics not only by try- ing their reasons, but by taking the performance of dialogue itself necessarily to presuppose and to manifest a common sense—a sentiment of sociality and of public interest—regardless of the specific intentions or positions stated by an interlocutor. Common sense is cunning, as Shaftesbury’s critical strategy in combating one “able and witty philosopher” exemplifies (C, 42). Hobbes is taken to task for having become so possessed by his terror of civil war and religious enthusiasm that he acted in a terrifying “spirit of massacre” and attempted to destroy the grounds of moral community and put an end to republican liberty (C, 42). In the guise of a

“modern projector,” Hobbes would “new-frame the human heart

and reduce

all its motions, balances and weights to that one principle and foundation of a cool and deliberate selfishness” (C, 54). Since Shaftesbury believes the “truth may bear all lights” (C, 30), he challenges this principle precisely by questioning Hobbes, by addressing him as an interlocutor and by staging a dialogue:

What should we say to these anti-zealots who, in the zeal of such a cool philosophy, should assure us faithfully “that we were the most mistaken men in the world to imagine that there was any such thing as natural faith or justice? For that it was only force and power which constituted

right. That there was no such thing in reality as virtue, no principle of or- der in things above or below, no secret charm or force of nature by which everyone was made to operate willingly or unwillingly towards the public

good, and punished and tormented if he did otherwise.”

philosophy you have condescended to reveal to us is most extraordinary. But, pray, whence is this zeal in our behalf? What are we to you? Are you our father? [emphasis added] Or, if you were, why this concern for

us? Is there then such a thing as natural affection? If not, why all these pains, why all this danger on our account? Why not keep this secret to

“Sir! The


It is directly against your interest to undeceive


us to

It is not fit we should know that by nature we are

all wolves. Is it possible that one who has really discovered himself such should take pains to communicate such a discovery?” (C, 43–44)

By conjuring up Hobbes as a figure whom he can address and make speak in a dialogue, Shaftesbury does not criticize Hobbes’s philosophical anthropology and theory of sovereignty simply by offering an alternative account, although he claims to present a less reductive view of the heart’s motions. As if he wished to avoid acting in the “spirit of massacre” by radically opposing and repudiating Hobbes’s principles, Shaftesbury instead refers to the performativity of language in order to insinuate that Hobbes is in conflict with himself and must have already been moved, like Shaftesbury and all others, by an affection for community. In effect, Shaftesbury argues that the very act of speaking involves Hobbes in a performa- tive contradiction, since the desire itself to give a truthful account of the ruses of mastery constituting social relations formally betrays the general knowledge of a wolfish human nature presented in the account. That Hobbes finds himself moved to speak and to make public this “secret” means, for Shaftesbury, that he takes


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responsibility for others and responds to the other in himself as if commanded by a force or charm that makes him “operate willingly or unwilling towards the public good.” Before Hobbes can decide whether and under what conditions to enter into covenants, to exchange an insecure freedom for the life of a subject, and to replace a fear of violent death at the hands of any and all others by a fear of the sovereign force of law in civil society, he has been addressed by and answered the call of a public that includes Shaftesbury, with whom, consequently, he must already agree even in the act of disagreeing. For “It is the height of sociableness to be thus friendly and communicative” (C, 43).

The cunning of a common sense that speaks for (an) us in our acts of speech and that thus seems unlimited or universal—a kind of divine cunning we would

need to relate to Shaftesbury’s belief in a providential order that determines what

is naturally “fitting” and that binds us through acts of language—also, however,

sets limits and enforces exclusions. As Derrida notes, for instance, with regard to a theory of “communicative action,” the advocacy of “good sense, common sense, or the democratic ethic” tends, “by means of these very things, and as if naturally, to discredit anything that complicates this model” and “imposes a model of language that is supposedly favorable to this communication” (OH, 55). 20 Although we might follow up this suggestion by examining what constitutes “polite” or “de- cent” language (and persons) in Shaftesbury, Derrida’s reservations concerning an originary faith inhabiting every act of language have less to do with the imposition of a communicative model than with the normativizing effect of speaking at all: it

assimilates in advance the singular speaking other to an existing regulative (ethical) society of formally equal and substitutable persons. In speaking, one cannot but be

a “semblable,” as Rousseau would put it, and belong with others. As Shaftesbury

remarks of those who fiercely prosecute all religion as superstition: “whatever savages they may appear in their philosophy, they are in their common capacity as civil persons as one could wish. Their free communicating of their principles may witness for them” (C, 43). If it were possible not to speak, Hobbes might have remained true to himself and to his analysis of infidelity by declining to publish his thought. The medium of print may be essential to the eighteenth-century imaginary of republican community, and, as we have seen, Derrida also repeats the call for an “enlightened notion of public space” (FK, 8), yet media also operate as means of normativization. To say everything publicly, to profess, to confess, to respond, to enter into dialogue is not only a right but a command. No one must have or keep secrets from the public.

Hence Derrida stresses the necessity of both publicity and the secret that responds to an unconditional demand to do justice to singularity. In order to think singularity as absolute—etymologically, “that which is cut off from any bond, de- tached, and which cannot itself bind”—he must elaborate a notion of the secret not as the concealed that can still be revealed or the unspoken that can still be publicly shared, but as the condition of communicability that remains “non-thematizable, non-objectifiable, non-sharable” and wholly resistant “to the daylight of phenom- enality.” 21 The absolute secret in this sense names a radical “nonbelonging” that precedes and exceeds the distinction between private and public, individual and social, and that also suggests, however, the inaugural power of sovereignty that shadows Derrida’s resort to unconditionality. For he repeatedly acknowledges that

Saccamano / Keeping Faith with Reason in Derrida


the ability or power to respond unconditionally to “absolute singularity,” to “in- calculable and exceptional singularity,” by departing from given norms, rules, and concepts in the face of the unprecedented and in the hope of some other invention is allied, albeit conflictively, with modern (and still theological) forms of sovereignty theorized in Bodin, Hobbes, Rousseau, and Schmitt as the “right to decide on the exception and the right to suspend rights and law” (R, 148, 141). As confirmed by Hobbes’s account of the sovereign as the one who remains exempt from the general renunciation of the freedom to use force that all possess as a natural right (“he that renounceth, or passeth away his Right, giveth not to any other man a Right which he had not before; because there is nothing to which every man had not Right by Nature” [L, 190–91]), the sovereign decides the exception because the sovereign is the exception: this one giveth and taketh away the force of law. In other words, a question that puts Derrida here to the question (R, 14) is whether he can think a responsibility that would not be limited solely to the inquisitorial demand to give an account, but that would also not endorse the sovereignty of the wolf or werewolf whose force constitutes right, as Shaftesbury writes of Hobbes and as Derrida also remarks of the general concept of sovereignty in his reading of the La Fontaine fable “The Wolf and the Lamb,” which introduces “The Reason of the Strongest” in Rogues. For both sovereignty and unconditionality figure a non- belonging or nonsharing that paradoxically founds community. Just as “sovereignty withdraws from language” as a universalizing medium that subjects one to “the law of giving reason(s)” and thereby shares and divides authority (R, 101)—the wolf’s acts of speech before devouring the lamb in the fable obviously retreat from communicating anything communal in practice—so too does singularity remain an absolute secret, even when it is spoken and made public, since “it is the sharing of what is not shared; we know in common that we have nothing in common” (TS, 58). Hence Derrida must try to distinguish, “even when this appears impos- sible,” between “the postulation of unconditionality” and the “auto-positioning of sovereignty” (which includes the “mastery of the lord or seigneur, of the father or husband”) as exigencies of reason associated with secrecy (R, 142). And this distinction would then make possible the deconstruction of sovereignty in the name of unconditionality.

Most interestingly for our purposes, Derrida attempts to make room for a nonpublicizable secret in public space through a reading of Kierkegaard on the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham in which two equally necessary modalities of responsibility come into conflict as each tries to keep faith. (With regard to this foundational narrative of sacrifice, Shaftesbury’s questions to Hobbes may take on a very different tonality if one imagines them asked by Isaac or by any of the monotheistic children descended from Abraham’s faith: “Are you our father? What are we to you?” No wonder, then, that Derrida also figures nonbelonging by the

phrase, “I am not one of the family [je ne suis pas de la famille]” [TS, 27]). Tracing Kierkegaard back to the convert St. Paul and the “still Jewish experience of a secret, hidden, separate, absent, or mysterious God,” Derrida notes that Abraham must keep secret what God has ordered him to do both because he must remain faithful to this command and also because it is unaccountable to him—“he is unaware of its ultimate rhyme or reason”—and hence incommunicable. 22 “[A]t the moment he has

to be obeyed,” Derrida comments, “God doesn’t give reasons

or share anything


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with us”; otherwise, “we wouldn’t be dealing with the Other as God or with God as wholly other [tout autre]”: “we would share a type of homogeneity” (GD, 57). In terms of Kierkegaard’s ethical order, which consists of the norms that dutifully bind us to our family, community, or nation, Abraham’s secret about child murder is an abhorrent transgression, but this unbreakable silence also sustains Abraham’s singularity in his unconditional responsibility to an utterly other. If he were to speak, his singularity would be dispatched to a general public, thus depriving or relieving him of his liberty and responsibility. For responsibility “consists in always being alone, entrenched in one’s own singularity at the moment of decision” (GD, 60) that can only take place when actions are not determined by knowledge.

The double imperatives of responsibility thus define a “scandal and a paradox” (GD, 60) for Derrida. On the one hand, “ethical exigency is regulated by generality; and it therefore defines a responsibility that consists of speaking, that is, of involving oneself sufficiently in the generality to justify oneself, to give an account of one’s decision and to answer for one’s actions” before others (GD, 60–61). On the other hand, Abraham’s secrecy contradicts the common-sense and philosophical

belief that “responsibility is tied to the public”; his is a responsibility that consists in not responding to others (GD, 60). Paradoxically and indeed terrifyingly, Abraham “answer[s] for nothing and to no one” in the community and must, in fact, resist the “moral temptation” of public self-accounting that would dissolve his singularity and make him irresponsible before what he calls God (GD, 60–61). Always to act ethically, in this respect, is to be absolutely irresponsible. Hence, for Derrida, the conflicting imperatives of responsibility are aporetic: “Absolute responsibility

needs to be exceptional and extraordinary

must therefore be irresponsible in order to be

absolutely responsible” (GD, 61). We must be irresponsible to be responsible, or, in Kantian terms, it is our duty not to act out of duty. 23

To begin to follow out a couple of the effects of this deconstruction of “ethics as irresponsibilization” (GD 61), let me recite what Derrida imagines God might have said to Abraham in commanding his secrecy: “Above all, no journalists!” The absolute responsibility of faith in its singularity allows for no mediator or public media—not even Christ who, like an Evangelist bringing the Good News, “will have been the first journalist,” Derrida suggests (AA, 57). In so doing, he characterizes the Enlightenment itself as a Christian phenomenon in a number of ways. First of all, in contrast to Judaism and Islam, Christianity promotes a notion of universal humanity and of a world shared by all peoples as children, specifically sons, of God, and this notion of universal “fraternity” has been “elaborated into the form in which it today dominates both philosophy and international law” (AA, 74). In a somewhat polemical reading of Voltaire, for instance, Derrida argues that tolerance as an enlightened virtue in the service of one world of united nations remains a principle internal to Christianity. Those who would “sloganize Voltaire and rally behind his flag for critical modernity,” he objects, fail to recognize that this committed deist and anticleric seems to think, “a little in the manner of Kant,” that “Christianity is the sole ‘moral’ religion” precisely for having obligated itself to the principle of tolerance (FK, 22). 24 On the one hand, as Derrida acknowledges, Voltaire in the Philosophical Dictionary calls tolerance “l’apanage de l’humanité [the prerogative of humanity].” 25 In that text as

as if [it] could not be derived from

the concept of responsibility and

Saccamano / Keeping Faith with Reason in Derrida


well as in the Treatise on Tolerance, we should recall, Voltaire claims that all reli- gions and cults before Christianity practiced tolerance. Ancient peoples considered different religions to be “comme des noeuds qui les unissaient tous ensemble” in “une association du genre humain” [“like knots that united them all” in an “as- sociation of human kind”]; “une espèce de droit d’hospitalité [a kind of right of hospitality]” existed among peoples and their gods such that a stranger arriving in

a city would begin by worshiping the local deities; even the gods of an enemy were

worthy of veneration. 26 Like Hume, Voltaire approvingly cites Roman tolerance of the deities presiding over their conquered territories, and, unlike Hume, who identifies intolerance with monotheism generally, he offers an ambivalent assess- ment of Judaism, the toleration of which by the scornful Romans being for him the greatest example that they regarded this principle “la loi plus sacrée du droit des gens [the most sacred law of the right of peoples]”: “On ne trouve dans toute l’histoire de ce peuple aucun trait de générosité, de magnanimité, de bienfaisance; mais il s’échappe toujours dans le nuage de cette barbarie si longue et si affreuse, des rayons d’une tolérance universelle [One does not find in the entire history of (the Jewish) people any mark of generosity, magnanimity, benevolence; but from the cloud of this long and frightful barbarism some rays of universal tolerance always escape]” (TT 163, 202–203). 27 Although certain Jewish sects differed from others more than Protestants differ from Catholics, he pointedly remarks, these sects still remained “dans la communion de leurs frères” (TT, 215–16). Nor did schisms result from conflicts among the apostles themselves, some of whom continued to follow Jewish religious practices—as did Christ himself, Voltaire stresses. In a strategy

that seems to counter a critical-historical appeal to original Christianity, Voltaire insists that the early Christians constituted one Jewish sect among others and that only subsequently with the influence of Platonism did they become independent, although also divided among themselves. Hence, he suggests an affirmative response to his question: “Mais quoi! faudra-t-il que nous judaïsions tous parce que Jésus a judaïsé toute sa vie? [Must we all become Jews because Jesus was a practicing Jew his entire life?]”(DP, 566). And once it succeeds in separating itself from Judaism and then becomes the imperial religion with Constantine, Christianity breaks with the tradition of Greek, Roman, and Jewish tolerance: “c’est nous chrétiens, c’est nous qui avons été persécuteurs, bourreaux, assassins! Et de qui? de nos frères [it

is we Christians, we who have been persecutors, executioners, murderers! And of

whom? Our brothers]” (TT, 182–83).

Yet if Voltaire repeatedly attacks Christianity as historically a murderous religion, he does so, on the other hand, by speaking in the voice of a Christian and by presenting a truer conception of Christian morality, especially with regard

to the practice of tolerance as characteristic of Christian fraternity. For instance,

Voltaire remarks that “notre sainte religion

is without doubt the sole good (one)]” (DP, 483), claims that

sans doute est la seule bonne [our

holy religion

fanaticism is inspired by “l’abus de la religion chrétienne mal entendue [the abuse and misunderstanding of the Christian religion]” (TT, 147), and praises the Jan- senists for helping to extirpate from the spirit of the French nation “la plupart des fausses idées qui déshonoraient la religion chrétienne [the majority of false ideas that have dishonored the Christian religion]” (TT, 243). For Voltaire, as Derrida notes, Christianity remains a privileged example: “De toutes les religions, la chrétienne est


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sans doute celle qui doit inspirer le plus de tolérance, quoique jusqu’ici les chrétiens aient été les plus intolérants de tous les hommes [Of all the religions, Christianity

is without doubt the one that ought to inspire the most tolerance, although until

now Christians have been the most intolerant of men]” (DP, 558). Thus Derrida remarks that the word “tolerance” “conceals a story: it tells above all an intra- Christian history and experience,” a story Voltaire narrates as a “co-religionist”

who reminds his fellow Christians of the superlative tolerance of their faith (FK, 22, n.13). 28 Although Voltaire presents tolerance as the dominant practice of religions before Christianity, we should recall that the Treatise on Tolerance responds to the plight of the Huguenots under French Catholicism and intervenes specifically in the Calas affair—he urges the French government to tolerate the Huguenots in

a kind of “indulgence paternelle envers nos frères errants qui prient Dieu en mau-

vais français [paternal indulgence toward our erring brothers who pray to God in bad French]” (TT, 146)—and that tolerance becomes historically thematized as a necessary principle to observe only in its breach by Christians, who persecute other sects and faiths while proclaiming a universal fraternity. Reading with Derrida, we can then interpret Voltaire’s dramatization of the horror of Christians killing Christians as a lesson, rather, about the nonarbitrary linkage of an appeal to hu- manity as fraternity and wars of religion. In his analysis of Carl Schmitt’s political philosophy in the Politics of Friendship, for instance, Derrida not only marks the exclusion of sisters and women generally from the political, but shows that war is entailed, not contradicted, by the notion of fraternity: the enemy is my brother or myself (“c’est nous”), “at one and the same time the closest, the most familiar, the most familial, the most proper”; war is essentially the intrafamilial violence of fratricide or suicide—we kill ourselves. 29 Hence, for Derrida, although to practice intolerance is even worse, to preach tolerance as a secular virtue of Enlightenment that could resolve conflicts among the Abrahamic religions, to advance it simply as a dehistoricizable ideal, is to remain within a Christian hegemony. Tolerance sovereignly and inhospitably sets conditions on the other and thus risks little or nothing and can paradoxically further the interests of the intolerant.

And one condition it sets is to enter into mediation in public space. The instituting of a public space capable of providing a potentially worldwide medium of communication—as television now seems to do and print publication understood itself to do in the eighteenth century —is itself a historically marked phenomenon that cannot be severed from Christian universality (which promotes the virtues of being “friendly and communicative,” to recall Shaftesbury). Whenever one seeks to put an end to the religious violence that one rightly calls “fratricide,” Derrida

observes, one proposes that a rabbi, a priest, and an imam participate in a “dialogue between the religions” in the name of “ecumenism, of religious cosmopolitanism,” and that this dialogue be broadcast in the ecumenical medium of television (AA, 89). Yet the notions of universality and mediatization conditioning this “fraternal” dialogue are marked as precisely Christian. The mediatic presentation of the differ-

ences between religions “seeks to capture and first of all produce

the unifying

horizon of [the] ‘paternal-fraternal’ sameness” of all religions as postulated by Christianity (AA, 89). From the moment that representatives of different religions enter into the public space of televisual media to discuss their differences and simi- larities in an appeal to tolerance, they have become Christianized. Derrida puts it

Saccamano / Keeping Faith with Reason in Derrida


formulaically: “media function as the mediatization between religions, in the name of religion, but above all in the name of what in Christianity is called religion”; Christianity is the “religion of the media or the media of religion” (AA, 89). Hence to employ a virtual public space of dialogue to mediate warring religions is by no means a politically neutral practice.

Finally, the irreducibility of belief forms part of the technology of media. Derrida tends to concentrate on televisual media and their immediate or “live” quality for this argument, but print technology was also exploited by epistolary fiction and other novelistic forms in the eighteenth century to produce the effect of immediacy, of a making present, so that reading could be experienced as a kind of seeing. We have already encountered this making present in the way that Shaftesbury frames “Sensus Communis” as a letter that continues a conversation with the reader as addressee (“What should we say to these anti-zealots?”) and then dramatically addresses and conjures up Hobbes as an interlocutor in a dialogue that transpires at that very moment (“Sir!”). Employing what will become a characteristic technique of epistolary fiction, Shaftesbury makes as if a past event happens in the reader’s present and performs the kind of incarnation that contemporary readers of Samuel Richardson’s novels, for instance, found virtually miraculous: when Pamela “pours out all her Soul” in her letters “without Disguise,” “one may judge of, nay, almost see, the inmost Recesses of her Mind.” 30 For Derrida, such moments of presentation or phenomenalization traverse a contradiction in “appealing to faith at the very moment of ‘letting know’”: “There is no need any more to believe; one can see,” “you are there before ‘the thing itself’” (AA, 63). Even though “seeing is always organized by a technical (mediatic and mediatizing) structure that supposes the appeal to faith,” the advance of televisual media over print in this respect consists in “the structural credulity” that, as “with the Evangelical dimension, one can almost put one’s finger on the wound”: “Belief is both suspended in the name of intuition and knowledge, and (at the same time, naturally) reinforced” (AA, 64). Believe me, you do not need to believe; you see it here and now yourself.

A critique or deconstruction of Enlightenment critique, then, marks the historical, ideological, and hegemonic traces of religion in what the Enlightenment opposes to religion— universality, humanism, tolerance, mediation, to mention only these few. And it does so in keeping faith with an unconditionality that ex- ceeds the limited norms and general rules of the ethical. Yet despite his reading of ethics as irresponsible to the unconditional demand for justice or democracy, Der- rida continues to insist on the necessity of law, right, and norms in international politics. Commenting, for instance, on the “cruelty, the disregard for human life, the disrespect for law, for women, the use of what is worst in technocapitalist modernity for the purposes of religious fanaticism” in what he calls the strategy of the “bin Laden effect” on and after 9/11, he declares as if decisively: “such actions and such discourse open onto no future and, in my view, have no future. If we are to put any faith in the perfectibility of public space and of the world juridico-political scene, of the ‘world’ itself, then, there is, it seems to me, nothing good to be hoped for from that quarter” (AI, 113). Derrida cannot but keep faith with the project of Enlightenment since its sense of a “perfectibility” (alluding to Rousseau and Kant) in the name of the political still “lets resonate within it an invincible promise” (AI, 114).


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1. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ.

Press, 1976), 161–62; De la grammatologie (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1967), 146. Hereafter abbrevi- ated as G.

2. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin’s

Press, 1965), 9, note a: “Our age is, in especial degree, the age of criticism [Zeitalter der Kritik], and

to criticism everything must submit”; Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1974), 13, note. Herafter abbreviated as CPR.

3. Immanuel Kant, An Answer to the Question: “What is Enlightenment?” in Kant: Political Writ-

ings (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1970), 59.

4. Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994), 58.

Hereafter abbreviated as SM.

5. Jacques Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason

Alone,” trans. Samuel Weber, in Religion, ed. Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vattimo (Stanford: Stanford

Univ. Press, 1998), 40. Hereafter abbreviated as FK.

6. John D. Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell (New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 1997), 159.

7. Rodolphe Gasché, The Inventions of Difference: On Jacques Derrida (Cambridge: Harvard

Univ. Press, 1994), 161–62, 170. Hereafter abbreviated as ID.

8. Hent de Vries, Philosophy and the Turn to Religion (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press,

1999), 90, 94, 434. Hereafter abbreviated as PTR.

9. Jacques Derrida, “On a Newly Arisen Apocalyptic Tone in Philosophy,” trans. Peter Fenves, in

Raising the Tone of Philosophy: Late Essays by Immanuel Kant, Transformative Critique by Jacques Derrida, ed. Peter Fenves (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1993), 148–49. Hereafter abbreviated as AT.

10. Jacques Derrida, “Passions: ‘An Oblique Offering,’” trans. David Wood, in On the Name (Stan-

ford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1995), 28, and “The University Without Condition,” in Without Alibi, ed. and trans. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2002), 205. In the latter essay, Derrida links the university to literature, but the publicity required and advocated by philosophy and literature con- nect them both to the university as a privileged institutional space of a democratic polity. In “Derrida and the Singularity of Literature” (Cardozo Law Review 27 [2005]: 869–75), Jonathan Culler stresses

that the democratic politics of literature for Derrida is surprisingly caught up with the status of fiction

and with “a fictionalized literary subject rather than

[a] calculable, responsible citizen-subject”

(874), although the notion of responsibility of a subject before the law belongs to ethics and thus is also irresponsible, as we shall see.

11. Jacques Derrida, “The ‘World’ of the Enlightenment To Come (Exception, Calculation, Sov -

ereignty),” Part II of Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas

(Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2005), 142. Hereafter abbreviated as R.

12. Jacques Derrida, The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault

and Michael B. Naas (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1992), 78–79.

13. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ.

Press, 1997), 101; Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1956). Hereafter ab-

breviated as CPrR.

14. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968), 111. Hereafter abbrevi-

ated as L.

15. Werner Hamacher, Premises: Essays on Philosophy and Literature from Kant to Celan, trans.

Peter Fenves (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1996), 90, 92.

16. Jacques Derrida, “Above All, No Journalists!” in Religion and Media, ed. Hent de Vries and

Samuel Weber (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2001), 64. Hereafter abbreviated as AA.

Saccamano / Keeping Faith with Reason in Derrida


17. Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press,

1992); see 68–72 for her reading of sensus communis. Hereafter abbreviated as LK. The maxims of sensus communis appear in paragraph 40 (“Taste as a kind of sensus communis”) of Kant’s Critique of Judgment.

18. Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury, “Miscellany 4,” in Characteristics of Men,

Manners, Opinions, Times (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999), 432, 424. Hereafter abbreviated

as C.


See the Critique of Practical Reason, Book 1, chapter 3, “On the incentives of pure practical

reason,” for Kant’s discussion of respect as both an effect and an incentive of moral law, and for his insistence that, in morality, “we stand under a discipline of reason” and must always posit the possibility of a desire to deviate that “costs the subject some sacrifice and therefore requires self-constraint” (71). For a compelling analysis of Derrida’s effort to displace sacrifice while recognizing it to be unavoidable, see Tyler Roberts, “Sacrifice and Secularization: Derrida, de Vries, and the Future of Mourning,” in

Derrida and Religion: Other Testaments, ed. Yvonne Sherwood and Kevin Hart (New York: Routledge, 2005), 263–82.

20. Although I obviously run a risk in suggesting a similarity between Shaftesbury’s communicative

notion of sociality and the “transcendental pragmatics” Derrida criticizes here, Laurent Jaffro in Éthique de la communication et art d’écrire: Shaftesbury et les Lumières anglaises (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1998) explicitly situates Shaftesbury’s ethics of discussion in relation to the work of Karl-Otto Appel and Jürgen Habermas, and does so by also citing Shaftesbury’s “demonstration by ‘performative contradiction’” in countering Hobbes (11–13).

21. Jacques Derrida and Maurizio Ferraris, A Taste for the Secret, ed. Giacomo Donis and David

Webb, trans. Giacomo Donis (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2001), 57. Hereafter abbreviated as


22. Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Willis (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995),

58, 59. Hereafter abbreviated as GD.

23. Derrida does more than elaborate the aporetic relation of the ethical responsibility of publicity

and the absolute responsibility of the secret: he suggests that there is a kind of hyper-ethical modality

of language which communicates incommunicability, which expresses responsibility “in a language that is foreign to what the community can already hear or understand only too well.” Following Kierkegaard’s reading of Abraham’s last words to Isaac, “God himself will provide for the holocaust, my son,” Derrida comments that Abraham speaks without lying, speaks without saying anything true or false, and thus articulates a “strange responsibility that consists neither of responding nor of not responding” (GD, 74). Such acts of language invoke a notion of fiction that Derrida connects in this context both to Kierkegaard’s concept of irony and to the enigmatical and repetitive “I would prefer not to” of Melville’s Bartleby.

24. In Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Kant distinguishes between a “religion of

rogation (of mere cult) and moral religion, i.e., the religion of good-life conduct” that requires the

“moral labor” of self-improvement from every human being. For Kant, “the Christian [religion] alone is of this type” of moral religion (in Kant, Religion and Rational Theology, trans. George Di Giovanni [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996], 95). Also see Derrida’s further remarks on Voltaire and tolerance in “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides,” in Giovanna Borrodari’s Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues With Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2003), 124–27, hereafter abbreviated as AI, and A Taste for the Secret, 62–63. For conflicting

opinions regarding Voltaire’s theism, from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, see René Pomeau, La Religion de Voltaire, 2nd ed. (Paris: Nizet, 1969), especially 7–16, 463–68; however, for Pomeau and most Voltaire scholars: “Voltaire fut déiste ardemment, agressivement. Pendant quelque soixante

Il n’a cessé, lui, de combattre

années, il a cherché des justifications historiques et

pour et contre, pour la religion dite naturelle, et contre la chrétienne” (463).

25. Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique, in Les oeuvres complètes de Voltaire (Oxford: Voltaire

Foundation, 1968–2006), vols. 35 and 36. The citation is from the article “Tolérance” in vol. 36, 552.

Hereafter abbreviated as DP.


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26. Voltaire, Traité sur la tolérance, ed. John Renwick, in Les oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, vol.

56c, 159. Hereafter abbreviated as TT.

27. Compare Hume: “The intolerance of almost all religions, which have maintained the unity of

God, is as remarkable as the contrary principle of the polytheists. The implacable narrow spirit of the

Jews is well known. Mahometanism set out with still more bloody

tians, the English and Dutch have embraced the principles of toleration, this singularity has proceeded from the steady resolution of the civil magistrate, in opposition to the continued efforts of priests and bigots” (David Hume, The Natural History of Religion [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993], 162).

And if, among Chris-

28. In conjunction with the claim that Christianity is the most tolerant religion and thus, in effect,

the religion most exemplary of “humanity,” Derrida reads Voltaire as “proto-Catholic” in his “declared preference, sometimes nostalgic, for primitive Christianity” (FK 22, n.13). This reading of Voltaire’s recourse to original Christianity as more “authentic” seems to run counter to Voltaire’s argument that Christians were originally indistinguishable from Jews, who, like the Greeks and Romans, were tolerant

of other sects.

29. Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (New York: Verso, 1997), 163.

Derrida here reads the “figure of the brother” as Schmitt’s solution to the logical dilemma that the

enemy must be both an effect of the self calling itself into question and the other of the self.

30. From a letter attributed to Reverend William Webster and included in the prefatory material to

the second edition of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971), 7.

Terdiman / Derrida’s “University Without Condition”


Determining the UnDetermineD:

DerriDas “University WithoUt ConDition

Richard Terdiman

In “The University Without Condition,” Derrida imagines a university- to-come. 1 His projection seems breathtaking. Without condition! Exempt from dictations and servitudes (224), immune from the exactions of authority and the contaminations of power (220). Self-standing, self-defined, self-governing, self- responsible (236). Sovereign (213; cf. 206, 208). It is as if the university Derrida conceives might at last complete the leap beyond its origin in a medieval meta- physics of the theological to become free, self-determining and self-determined:

thought thinking.

But such thinking has been thought before. Consequently, Derrida’s essay on the university-to-come cannot not think about Enlightenment conceptions of the thought-world through whose polemical and conceptual projection eighteenth- century philosophes imagined overturning the onerous conditions for thinking that burdened their experience. Derrida’s conception of the university’s absolute radi- cality, of the radical absoluteness of its constitution, would then turn out to have its own unexpected roots. Its thinking of the unconditioned and the undetermined would be ghosted—conditioned—by its own determinations. 2

In this essay I consider the filiation between the à-venir of Derrida’s uni- versity-to-come (229–31), and the Enlightenment determinations it internalizes both in the form of its address and in the substance of its affirmations. I hazard the paradox that in this essay that imagines a place for thought absolutely beyond determinations, Derrida comes as close as anywhere else in his work to registering

Richard Terdiman is Professor of Literature and History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of Discourse/Counter-Discourse: The Theory and Practice of Symbolic Resistance in Nineteenth-Century France, Present-Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis, and Body and Story.

Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 40, no. 3 (2007) Pp. 425–441.


Eighteenth-Century Studies

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the determinations of the period in Western thought that most rooted itself in the notion of determination to begin with.

But Derrida’s essay does so in a mode that he elsewhere defined as the

gap between what a text declares—what it explicitly wants to claim, and what

it describes—what can be read beneath and against its explicit assertion. 3 Then

Derrida’s twentieth-century imagination of the “unconditioned” university—what his essay declares—shines light in its description upon the Enlightenment’s own thinking about thought’s constraint, upon the philosophes’ reflection concerning what impedes, inhibits, conditions, or determines the fetters that bear upon and against thinking’s freedom. In any case, Derrida’s consideration on the university needs to be understood as embodying a reflection on the mode and means of En-

lightenment understanding of the very conditions for whose elimination Derrida calls in his essay.

But from its very different situation at the conclusion of the twentieth

century, and in an epistemological mode hostile to Enlightenment thinking about determination, “The University Without Condition” can hardly express this con- dition in an uninflected way. Consequently it speaks this meaning—and says that

it speaks it—as if in the voice of someone else, of a stranger, even a suspect: in a

mode of self-betrayal rather than of affirmation. Derrida is explicit about this. At the opening of his essay he casts himself as “a professor who would act as if he


Why would an orator begin his speech with such a self-inflicted disqualification?

To be sure, the mode of “as if” that Derrida asserts or assumes here has

a distinguished lineage. Consider this passage from the second essay in Rogues:

“‘What if we were called here to save the honor of reason?’ Or, if you prefer the fiction of the as if to a hypothesis, the fiction of the als ob honored in philosophy, and in the name of reason itself, by Kant and others, ‘it would be as if we were called here to save the honor of reason.’” 4 In “The University Without Condition,” however, the as if fiction—a mode presumably more playful and liberatory than the more logical “hypothesis” with which Derrida contrasts it in Rogues even as he analogizes the two—is not directed toward entertaining an invention about the external world of reason or thought, but about the philosopher himself. This “as if” functions as if to allow thought to slip the bonds of (some) constraint—perhaps to evade the very “conditioning” at the heart of what Derrida wants to consider in his lecture. So at its outset, Derrida seems to be granting himself the franchise to act in a guise or a disguise whose difference from himself—“infidèle,” “traître”—he at once asserts and subverts through the counterfactual mode which will frame everything that follows. But why the masquerade to begin with?

unfaithful [infidèle] or a traitor [traître] to his habitual practice” (202).

The odd, self-subverting mode of address with which Derrida initiates his discussion arises, I think, because to make his argument concerning the liberation of the university, to have a base to stand on to make this argument, Derrida finds himself appealing to a complex of ideas—the humanities, the freedom of inquiry, the affirmation of truth—that he is constrained to recognize sound anomalous in his own discourse. Derrida doesn’t talk like that, he seems to be saying. These no- tions, as he says, mark “the Enlightenment—Aufklärung, Lumières, Illuminismo” (203). The rhetorical extension through which Derrida repeats the Enlightenment’s names by mapping its dissemination across Europe itself seems a forceful signifier

Terdiman / Derrida’s “University Without Condition”


of emphasis. 5 Make no mistake, the iteration appears to tell us, I know perfectly well what I’m saying here, even if my profession (202), which is also a confession (213), might surprise you, coming as it does from me. 6

This profession then presumes and relies upon a “reference to truth” and a “concept of man” (203) that Derrida’s listeners may have been startled to encounter. For these overtly “metaphysical” notions mark the specific place of Derrida’s dif- ference with Enlightenment tradition and its grounding presumptions. 7 Why this self-subversion, this seeming apostasy, and this unexpected profession of allegiance to ideas that Derrida had contested since his very earliest work?

Derrida knows what he is doing in foregrounding the anomaly in his dis- course. But naming the incongruity does not suspend it. Rather, it lands his “profes- sion” in an unaccustomed place: in the mode of thinking of the intellectual complex against which his own thinking has always defined itself—often strenuously, and sometimes with an edge of philosophical disdain. It’s as if Derrida found himself shipwrecked on the island of the Enlightenment—relieved to have fetched up on dry land, but astonished that it should be that land which saved him.

It is not hard to understand this derogation of “Derrideanism” by Der- rida himself. His invocation of a set of concepts tainted with—indeed, constitutive of—“Western metaphysics” is clearly purposive, pragmatic, and task-oriented. The philosophico-political objective of “The University Without Condition,” and the rhetorical strategy that enables it, depend upon a set of conceptions and commit- ments reaching back to the Enlightenment’s own projection, and to the intellectual and polemical—ultimately the political—tools the philosophes devised to press their case against the tyranny of irrational power. 8 At the same time, however, Derrida is obliged to register the degree to which today such liberatory Enlightenment conceptualizations and objectives still remain embattled. The despotic powers of the eighteenth century against which the thinkers of the Enlightenment asserted their counter-discourse remain effective today—or there would have been no need for Derrida’s essay in the first place. 9 In the mode of Gayatri Spivak’s “strategic essentialism”—the adoption for the purposes of political effectiveness of a theo- retical position one would ordinarily resist—Derrida then finds himself coquetting with the Lumières. 10

To understand the politico-conceptual projection of “The University With- out Condition,” we need to explain two things: first, why the Lumières’ construc- tions of “truth” and “humanity” still remain effective, and why therefore Derrida should have felt constrained to rely upon them. Second, how the resistance against these projections or these ideals manifests itself, beyond the capacity of Derrida’s self-conscious embrace of Enlightenment conceptions and ideals. If we want to take Derrida’s argument seriously both in its implications and in the “unsaids” it carries within it, the central paradox to be examined is that in his essay the no- tion of the “unconditioned” is conditioned. I will argue that this concept of the “unconditioned” is internally contradictory and logically incoherent.


When we consider Enlightenment anticipations of Derrida’s reflection in “The University Without Condition” concerning intellectual and critical freedom,


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it is striking how closely his position tracks the tenets of their formulation more than two hundred years ago. These convergences bear upon my argument here, because Derrida’s essay makes the issue of determination or entailment—the con- trary of the unconditionality he invokes—central to his construction of the matter. Consequently, I want to consider what Enlightenment figures argued concerning key issues raised in “The University Without Condition.” I begin with Kant, then

I pass on briefly to the French philosophes whom Derrida does not mention in his essay.

Derrida refers to Kant frequently in “The University Without Condition,” citing The Critique of Judgment and The Conflict of the Faculties. However, he does not mention what many would consider the intertext most apposite to his own profession in “The University Without Condition,” Kant’s “What is Enlight- enment?” 11 What concepts, what arguments do we find there? How would the Enlightenment dialogue with Derrida on these points? Very close to the beginning of his essay, Derrida characterizes the university he envisions as follows:

This university demands and ought to be granted in principle

conditional freedom to question and to assert, or even, going still further, the right to say publicly all that is required by research, knowledge, and thought concerning the truth. (202; cf. also 220)

an un-

Here, in a celebrated passage, is Kant 214 years earlier:

For this enlightenment

the freedom to make a public use of one’s reason in all matters

public use of reason must at all times be free, and it alone can bring

about enlightenment among

nothing more is required than freedom:



The passage strikingly anticipates Derrida. Directly following it, Kant specifies

that use which anyone makes

of [reason] as a scholar [Gelehrter] before the entire public of the reading world

would be left free in their capacities

as scholars—that is, through writings—to point out the defects in the existing order of things [über das Fehlerhafte der dermaligen Einrichtung seine Anmerkungen zu machen]” (61, translation modified).

Despite profound transformations of the world over two hundred years, it

is difficult to see much daylight between Kant’s and Derrida’s respective affirmations

of the absolute right of free inquiry and of the free circulation of reasoned criticism. It is true that Kant does not localize his scholars specifically within universities, though such institutional formations are already visible on the horizon he projects. 12 Likewise Derrida’s projection of the university as “an ultimate place of critical resis-


to all the powers of dogmatic and unjust appropriation” (204; cf. 206–8)

(60). He further specifies that “all citizens

what he means by “public” use: “I understand

precisely echoes Kant’s assertion in the passage from “What is Enlightenment?” cited just above concerning the right of citizens to criticize existing institutions, and the corresponding argument a bit later in the essay that such freedom is in the interest of the polity itself, despite the state’s notorious tendency to impede it.

A head of state who favors such enlightenment

regard to his own legislation there is no danger in allowing his subjects to make public use of their reason and to lay publicly before the world their

sees that even with

Terdiman / Derrida’s “University Without Condition”


thoughts about a better formulation of this legislation as well as a candid criticism of laws already given. (“What is Enlightenment?” 63)

In “What is Enlightenment?” Kant does not principally utilize the vocabu- lary of “truth” that comes as something of an unaccustomed surprise at the open- ing of Derrida’s essay (203). The term does, however, appear at a crucial point in Kant’s text concerned with the freedom of scholars of theology to critically examine the theses of religion. In such critical examination, Kant writes, “it is not entirely impossible that truth may lie concealed” (60, emphasis added). One senses in this oblique formulation the sensitivity of the religious question in Kant’s period. He acknowledges the thorny status of this area of inquiry near the conclusion of his text: “I have placed the main point of enlightenment—mankind’s exit from self- imposed immaturity—primarily on religious matters” (62–63, emphasis added), because, as he says, the sovereign has permitted much freer inquiry in the arts and sciences than in questions of religion and theology (63). But despite the rhetorical restraint of his formulation, in this passage Kant confronts his period’s most criti- cal case for freedom of thought and expression. He makes it clear that even in this most sensitive area, scholarly reflection and criticism must be absolutely free.

No doubt Derrida doesn’t think “The University Without Condition” asserts a new right or set of rights for the university, but rather (re)articulates the freedoms that the modern university has always asserted. But are we to think that Derrida considers his own projection as a pure repetition of Enlightenment asser- tions, even as an echo or a simple pleonasm? If so, the purview of his essay would narrow considerably. Therefore reading it implies discerning what constitutes its difference from the traditional intellectual and institutional sources—arising in the Enlightenment particularly—to which Derrida appeals.


What’s critical in Derrida’s essay would not appear to lie in the specifics of his account of the university’s mission or of its privileges. These, beginning with the university’s exemption from “conditions,” are familiar and widely agreed upon. From the Enlightenment period in which Derrida roots his discussion, the university was always supposed to be without conditions. First of all, there was to be no limit imposed upon the reach of its study. Here is how Diderot’s Encyclopédie put the point in its article “Université”:

They are called universities or universal schools [universités, ou écoles universelles] because it is supposed that the four faculties form the university of studies or include all those [studies] which are possible. (emphasis added)

The university’s “immunity” from external interference, which Derrida argues we ought to commit to “with all our might” (220), likewise is rooted in ancient practice. Here is the same Encyclopédie article on this point:

The popes exempted these bodies of scholars [docteurs] and students from ordinary jurisdiction and gave them authority over all the members of the [university] body, no matter what diocese or nation they came from; and [gave] to those whom they had examined and admitted as doc-


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tors the right to teach anywhere in Christendom. Kings also took them

under their protection, and exempt from lay

the members of these universities were


This extension of scholarly privilege to the entire possible field of inquiry and to the entire world—or at least the Christian one—means that the university’s cos- mopolitanism (to which Derrida alludes approvingly [204]) is similarly built into the university’s unconditionality, its exemption from restriction. 14

But beyond what Derrida attributes to Enlightenment arguments on this point, there is no trace in “The University Without Condition” of any justification for the unconditionality of university privilege that Derrida claims for it. Such an omission in Derrida’s essay is curious. What, we must therefore ask, are the “conditions” that Derrida thinks the university should be without? Fundamen- tally these are political: they relate to power. And this is the point upon which an assessment—and a critique—of Derrida’s own projection of the university might most usefully put pressure. 15 The construction of the problem in “The University Without Condition” is clear. Derrida claims that despite the fact that the “idea,” the “vocation” (204) of the university—since the Enlightenment, at least—has always projected the absolute right to search for and to communicate truth, this right “has never been in effect [effective]” (206). Through its contrast with the much less fa- vorable empirical situation of state and corporate interests and interferences well known to modern intellectuals, the assertion of this abstract or theoretical right itself demonstrates the university’s actual “impotence, the fragility of its defenses against all the powers that control [commandent] it, surround it, and attempt to appropriate it” (206, translation modified).

Derrida has no difficulty situating the tension between the university’s sovereign commitment to freedom of thought, research, and expression on the one hand, and the forces inimical to such freedom on the other. However his analysis diverges from Enlightenment reflections and descriptions. He construes the issue with almost no attention to the material factors—particularly the interests of countervailing powers mobilized against the university’s sovereign freedom, and their underlying motivation—in a way very different from what typically occurs in eighteenth-century discussions of freedom of thought and reflection, and of the constraints that impede or oppose it.

Perhaps that fact has a relatively simple explanation. We might say that people living in situations of absolutist censorship and repression, as under the ancien régime, will have a livelier sense of the material constraints—Diderot clapped in Vincennes prison; Voltaire exiled to England; Rousseau oscillating nervously between France, England, and Geneva; Sade in the Bastille and in Charenton—that represent peremptory examples of tyranny’s domination. 16 Conversely, today—in the advanced democracies at least—the mechanisms of opposition and control tend to be less sovereign or unanswerable than were the overtly repressive apparatuses of the Enlightenment period. 17

It would be naive to think that attempts by governments in the advanced democracies to subvert or repress academic and intellectual freedom are not occur- ring regularly. While such interference bears some resemblance to limitations on individual or collective freedom in the Enlightenment period, and while in many countries the situation of civil liberties has suffered a perceptible deterioration since

Terdiman / Derrida’s “University Without Condition”


9/11, it would be an exaggeration to equate their severity with what regularly and almost unanswerably occurred under the ancien régime. Through material experi- ence, people in the eighteenth century probably knew more about the conditions constraining the exercise of intellectual freedom than we do today. They studied them because they had to. Determination was for them a palpable and singularly aversive reality, consequently one upon whose functioning they reflected intricately. Perhaps then it’s no surprise that Enlightenment discourses on the functioning of power—typically in articles in the Encyclopédie that intricately traced its mecha- nisms in all the areas of life—captured its operation with greater acuteness, and that their arguments for the establishment of intellectual freedom rang out with greater resonance, than similar discourses in our own period.

Whether this rough-and-ready hypothesis is true or not, it seems clear that while Derrida’s projection of the sovereign unconditionality that ought to inhere in the university’s search for truth tracks with Enlightenment analyses and incite- ments, “The University Without Condition” diverges from the reformist line of attack that determined the political strategies of Lumières writers under the ancien régime. Once Derrida had posited the inimical force of state or corporate power that threatens to condition—indeed potentially to destroy—the freedom of the university, we might have expected that his analysis would turn to the functioning of power itself in order to conceptualize and mount an opposition to it.

This, however, is the weakest element in Derrida’s account. 18 Derrida knows the name of the problem—the power of the state and of political and cor- porate interests—and he repeats it throughout his essay (206, 219). But though he appeals to the Enlightenment ideas that frame the ideal of thought’s liberation in a move whose oddity in his own discourse he clearly foregrounds, he declines to bring to bear the conceptual instruments that Lumières thinkers devised and deployed for understanding how this power