Saturday, December 2, 2006

there is no 'hors liberalisme et capitalisme': the radical status quo of derrida

Ford Maddox Brown, "Work" (1865)

It is now more widely accepted that Derrida's philosophy was always deeply political, even if this was not an explicit theme of his writings at the earliest stages. The (non-)concept of différance, for instance, was a strategic intervention into the account of reason and its realization as existence designed to protect difference from those who might want to find some final solution by means of which differences could be resolved and thereby achieve some account of Truth. Différance, a Derridean neologism, is designed to play on the double meaning of differe, to differentiate and to defer, by creating the present participle. Différance is meant to refer to both meanings at once by invoking this participle form, and thereby indicate the fracturing that produces existence in all its differences through space and time.

Thus it is a quasi-transcendental description of the conditions of the possibility of difference. Without in any way suggesting that there was once a whole or Unity that is now being divided or differenced in some way, one must say that existence only is in this differentiated relationship, i.e, it is mediated. On the one hand there is differentiation, spacing, while on the other differences occur as deferral, temporality. Since one can only know something through its relationships in space and time, the object of knowledge is constantly being supplemented. Knowledge of the original, or more importantly to Derrida, of the Origin of meaning itself, is not possible, because it never arrives in fullness. There is always more to come. Thus instead of an origin, one finds 'originary difference': an instability at the heart of existence that constantly keeps things in motion and never allows one to rest. This is, in effect history. "If the word 'history' did not in and of itself convey the motif of a final repression of difference, one could say that only differences can be 'historical' from the outset and in each of their aspects."

This is by no means a neutral or apolitical description of (human) existence, but instead one that celebrates differences as free play and sees that play as hopeful for the future. To put it in other terms, the ontological description of difference is at the same time a call, by Derrida, for a kind of radical liberalization of the social order. The irreducibility of differences, including human inter-personal differences, means that, in the tradition of liberalism, there is a fundamental integrity to the individual that cannot be undermined. Invoking the rights tradition, he identifies a certain sovereignty that arises from the fact that every other is dependent upon every other such that no one can achieve domination. Thus Derrida himself understands deconstruction to be the continuation of a pursuit of emancipation, one of the great themes of the Enlightenment. Difference is ontologically rooted in such a way that no violence can hope to overcome it, suppress it and by no means could it be brought to an end.

Moreover this political theme is also linked to political economy when one remembers that another interpretation of the quasi-transcendental is 'originary exchange' in Specters of Marx. There Derrida argues against Marx that there is no use value and that commodification is an irreducible reality. Everything is subject to the judgment of the exchange relation. To paraphrase one of the very earliest Derridean statements, the implications of which were always the same: "There is no hors capitalisme". And so, in Derrida liberalism and capitalism are united into the whole they have always been in the Enlightenment tradition.


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