Overflowing/Counter-Overflowing. A Commentary on Jacques Derrida’s Théorie et pratique. Cours de l’ENS-Ulm 1975-76.

Alberto Moreiras
Texas A&M University

Volume 13, 2019

“Faut le faire/ca me regarde”

Jacques Derrida, Théorie, p. 37

I. Towards the impasse. Is there a third position?

One gets the impression at times that Jacques Derrida’s 1975-76 seminar Théorie et pratique was conceived as a merely pedagogical enterprise—a matter of letting the students know something that Derrida had established for himself long before, and where there wasn’t a lot of room for further discoveries. This is no 1964-65 seminar, Heidegger: The Question of Being and History, where a genuine Auseinandersetzung with Heidegger took place and where an astonishing blueprint for thinking that it would take Derrida years to turn into extensive writing was developed. Here, in the 1975-76 seminar on Louis Althusser, the agenda is to recognize the specificity of the Althusserian take on a Marxism that could not take flight from its roots in Hegelian productionism, which seemed to condemn it to endless variations on the metaphysical theme of the production of the subject or the subject as production; to examine the Heideggerian critique of it avant la lettre; and then to come to terms with the Heideggerian critique itself. Théorie is perhaps at the genealogical basis of Derrida’s 1992 Spectres de Marx, but only in a general or secondary sense. Derrida had thought enough about Marxism and the Marxists and about Marxist politics, like everyone in France in his generation, but never as an acolyte. Yes, he was politically on the left, which meant he did not want necessarily to overdo the public critique of his Marxist friends, including Althusser.[1] But he truly was more interested in undoing Marxism, perhaps in the spirit of Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, than in taking it in earnest, at its word.[2] I think that shows in the 1975-76 seminar. The question is whether there is anything in that Destruktion that remains particularly useful.

But, then, of course, at other times, one gets the impression that the 1975-76 seminar starts the path of something fundamental that goes beyond the discussion of the Althusserian take on “theoretical practice” and points to the question of the relationship between politics and thought. Paradoxically, in some ways, as it is not at all clear whether Marxism is primarily a politics, this question becomes the question of the relationship between Marxism and Heideggerianism, to be discussed in the seminar as respectively an “overflowing” and a “counter-overflowing.” At two points in Théorie et pratique Derrida mentions the “ambiguous homage” Heidegger renders Marx in “Letter on Humanism” and says that Marx “recognizes historicity in the essence of being” [106-07].[3] This seems to me the common link between the 1964-65 seminar on Heidegger and the question of being and history and the 1975-76 seminar on theory and practice. On the basis of the 1975-76 seminar, one could hypothesize that Derrida’s interest in the question of history in the earlier seminar was already deeply inflected by a desire to take a critical position regarding Marxism from the perspective of a certain Heideggerianism. Except that it was Hegel, of course, in the 1964-65 seminar, who stood in for Marx and the Marxists. In any case, the “ambiguous homage” to Marxism Derrida takes on for himself is not yet decisive or does not seem decisive to me in the 1975-76 seminar, it does remain fundamentally ambiguous, and it is for the most part (with some exceptions I will bring up at the end) limited to a repetition of the Heideggerian critique. Is there more? Is there a third position? There are indications that Derrida may have been moving in that direction but, given the state of the text we have for the last few sessions of the theory and practice seminar, an elucidation of this issue, it seems to me, can only be prepared. Furthermore: in a sense Derrida only ever prepared the question, but can we—we ourselves, forty years later—remain within the confines and restraints of such a preparation? Do we need a breakthrough? Some breakthrough, some new air? This paper is meant as preparatory, and you will see that I will only be able to finish it properly after the publication of the English version of the 1975-76 perhaps clarifies, as I hear it intends to, some textual and philological issues that make an understanding of the final sessions of the seminar difficult.[4]

In my reading, the first session, playful in its use of the French expression “faut le faire,” can already barely hide an impatience with it, with the expression itself, with the possibly arrogant demand it conveys that translates politically into possibly dangerous idiocy every time, but is nevertheless a staple of the Althusserian Marxists who were dominant in his academic milieu and, at that time, possibly in Marxist milieus everywhere in the West. In the seminar, it introduces the theory-practice opposition that will be its ostensible focus. Sessions Two through Five develop an analysis of it through the study of powerful inversions and counter-inversions of the theory/practice opposition in the work of Althusser. But the analysis culminates, perhaps predictably, in the confrontation with Heidegger’s notion of technology, on the basis of the 1947 “Letter on Humanism” and “Science and Reflection” and “The Question of Technology” (1953) in particular. Sessions Six through Nine are of uneven quality in the way they have come down to us, hard to read or at least hard to follow, but they are entirely consumed in a continuation of the reading of Heidegger’s essays on technology. I will offer some tentative notes on them in the second part of this essay.

Il faut le faire: the opposition theory/practice calls for deconstruction. But, Derrida says, we are not going to do it as a more or less standard complication and dismantling of what is oppositional in an oppositional logic, theory against practice, practice against theory. Instead, we will look at the specifically philosophical field where the opposition is today prominent. That is, at Marxism, which always takes its point of departure in this respect from the eleventh of the “Theses on Feuerbach” that show up in Marx’s The German Ideology: “Philosophers have only variously interpreted the world, what matters is to change it.” Or: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”[5] A priority of practice is announced, seems to be announced, or a certain priority of practice—let us change the world, interpreting it is a waste of time, or perhaps interpreting it in various ways is a waste of time. Perhaps, then, this priority of change no longer belongs to philosophy, and it leaves philosophy behind. Or, alternatively, perhaps this priority of practice is still a philosophical thesis, perhaps the first change in the world is that there is the priority of a practico-theoretical engagement now, or practico-critical, that is, revolutionary philosophy, the new thing. This was of course announced, at the time of German Ideology, as a revolution in philosophy. But look again at what is being said: if the priority of practice is a philosophical thesis, then there is a doubling of priorities here, because something like a philosophical priority establishes that there is something prior to it, regulating it or determining it, conditioning it.

This is Derrida’s guiding question: “does the last thesis mark the end of philosophy (which would have been contented with interpreting) or does it mark the end of the only philosophy that would have been contented with interpreting, so that what Marx calls forth is still a philosophy, but a practico-revolutionary philosophy, a world-transforming philosophy?” (28-29). Derrida opts for the latter: taking Marxists at their word, following, for example, Antonio Gramsci and also Althusser, he prefers to accept the notion that Marxist philosophy, that is, dialectical materialism, is still a philosophy and not something else: but a new, practico-revolutionary philosophy.

The question itself—are we within philosophy or in excess of philosophy?—brings up the notion of a philosophical border. Derrida points out that an investigation into the genealogy of this border, in Althusser, will produce “different effects in terms of content, but [is] structurally similar to a different genealogical perspective, namely, the Heideggerian-type text” (32-33). This comes at the end of the first session in the seminar, where a certain ambiguity occurs that should be underlined. Derrida has just announced that he is going partially to interrogate “Althusser’s systematic trajectory” (32), and he has also said that Althusser’s trajectory will produce effects similar to the trajectory of texts of the Heideggerian type. And then he says: “to its genealogical purpose, to its general type at least, we shall compare . . . a different purpose, a different perspectival take, a different interpretation . . . of the theory/practice couple” (33). The ambiguity that I want to underline is that it is not clear whether Derrida is suggesting here that he is going to develop a third genealogical perspective, one to be compared to the Althusserian and to the Heideggerian one, or whether he is simply saying that he will in fact oppose a Heideggerian type of genealogical investigation to the Althusserian one. In Sessions Six to Nine Derrida will attempt a reading of the Heideggerian texts on technology because those texts incorporate and develop Heidegger’s fundamental critique of Marxism. Derrida presents that reading as a critical reading—namely, his critical reading of the Heideggerian critique. But is the critique strong enough to offer a third position, an alternative reading? Does it move towards a third one at least? Or does the critique remain contentedly within a fundamentally Heideggerian approach? This strikes me as a question worth asking. If there is a genealogical line going from Théorie et pratique to Spectres de Marx it may very well have to do with whether Derrida’s critique of Marxism can supplement the Heideggerian one or is merely a repetition of it.

In the third session Derrida highlights Althusser’s interest, not so much in the eleventh of the Theses on Feuerbach, but rather in the eighth, that is, “All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.” He has already commented on it in the previous session, showing how the notion of rationality in this eighth thesis solicits the apparent priority of the practical in the eleventh thesis: if practice solves rational conundrums, then practice still has theoretical ends, practice still serves interpretative goals. Practice helps reason. It is unavoidable. The whole situation has to be taken on in the right way. Althusser, in fact, says that “there is only one step” between taking the eleventh thesis too seriously and falling into a “theoretical pragmatism” (63). This theoretical pragmatism is the other side of mystical theory. If a theory unrestrained by practice will go into the mystical, theoretical pragmatism is a practice without theory, which amounts to saying: “a practice in the horizon of philosophy’s death” (67). But Althusser’s project is not that, he does not take the eleventh thesis “too seriously.” Well to the contrary, his interest in developing Marxist philosophy, or even his interest in turning Marxism into not just a philosophy but philosophy in general, cannot survive within the region of theoretical pragmatism. This is why Althusser calls for “giving a bit of existence and theoretical consistency to Marxist philosophy” (69), where Derrida finds solid confirmation of the fact that Althusser, far from abandoning theory, seeks “a subordination of the philosophical in its totality to a theoretical instance or criterion” (70). Here are Derrida’s words: “the Marxist philosophical construction must be theoretically consistent, in other words . . . the theoretical instance is the principal instance, the tribunal of last instance to judge the philosophical character of philosophy. The theoretical is no longer an aspect, a side, a determination of philosophy, but the reverse” (69). It does sound as if Marx’s eleventh thesis were completely out of luck, at least for a conventional understanding. Theory, for Althusser, not just dominates over practice but it also seems to rule over any possible understanding of the new philosophy as itself a theoretical practice, a practice for changing the world.

Derrida salutes the Althusserian take by calling it “a singular and absolutely new displacement . . . in the history of philosophy” (71), because it adds to the traditional or fundamental gesture of regional subordination within a field of knowledge a different one: “This strongly classical gesture is strangely worked over, detoured, turned over, displaced . . . by another one” (71). The new gesture is of course precisely the subordination of the philosophical to the theoretical in the context of an epistemological break, a passage into science, which in itself relegates the totality of the theses on Feuerbach to the border of the break, on the bad side, the side that must be left behind or merely taken over as a historical residue (74). The “dialectical circle” of Marxist philosophy is construed precisely through the radical theoreticism that confronts practical history as such, and that only Marxism can or could accomplish. Derrida quotes Althusser: “this theory that alone permits an authentic reading of Marx’s texts, a reading at the same time epistemological and historical, is in effect nothing but Marxist philosophy itself” (78). “Marxist philosophy itself” leaves behind the theses on Feuerbach. Marxist philosophy itself goes through the recognition of the priority of theory over philosophy.

But there is a further turn of the screw: Theoretical practice in Marxist philosophy is precisely the practical concept of conceptual production, that is, the dialectical determination of a new knowledge that was already previously there in a practical state: “this irreversibly marks the anteriority, the primordiality of practice over theory, of the practical state over the theoretical state, an overflowing anteriority since it announces that theory remains a development of practice, a kind of practice, theoretical practice insofar as it produces knowledges that were already there in the practical state” (83). Please retain the notion of the “overflowing anteriority”—without forgetting that the decision regarding the overflowing anteriority of practice over theory is a theoretical conceit. Derrida is particularly interested in the way in which a practical state is elaborated or belabored into a theoretical concept. There is a transformation, that is, a production, a manufacture. From matter to product: that is itself practice. Transformation is always production, and production is always human production. Derrida’s seminar reaches at this point its main critical articulation, in my opinion. This Marxist discourse, says Derrida, “makes of practice (hence of transformative production, or human labor, or human technique) the essential determination of being, of that which is and of that which is to be thought; this discourse does not say ‘that which is essential is the primal matter’ or ‘the product,’ but, as Althusser reminds us, the ‘labor of transformation,’ the transforming production of human technique. From this point of view one understands, in its principle in any case, what Heidegger says of Marxism, and also the perspective he proposes, for example in ‘Letter on Humanism'” (89). Philosophy, Marxist philosophy itself, is a manufacturing, a production. Thinking is production and elaboration, following some good logical techniques, one hopes, of practical materials. But—is that what thinking is?

If Heidegger is right that metaphysics is the technical interpretation of truth, then clearly Althusser’s Marxism or Marxism tout court is a metaphysical enterprise. Marxism would be “a humanist metaphysics founded on a technological determination of being as production” (90). There is, Derrida says, another possibility, perhaps, that he, for the moment, will leave unattended, only registered, which is: “whether Marxism does not precisely come to think for the first time that which was involved in [certain] philosophemes (production, technique, humanity, labor, etc.) and to articulate the possibilities of these philosophemes, so as to render account of metaphysics as technological humanism rather than to let itself be understood as such, and to render account no longer theoretically but rather through a practical, essential transformation, etc.” (91-92). This is not, cannot be, an anticipation of the results of Spectres, but it is perhaps what in 1975-76 Derrida thought it was possible for him to do: to show that Marxism’s productionism can turn against itself and engage with a Destruktion of productionism. It seems to me the idea of what is possible in 1975-76 is more philosophically ambitious, from the perspective of Marxism, than what Derrida ended up doing, where quod erat demonstrandum is far from demonstrated, or even no attempt is offered, or comes to be offered. There is no move, beyond that announcement, towards a potential Marxist destruction of its own history or genealogy as technological humanism.

Derrida had already quoted Heidegger in the fourth session to the effect that the emphasis on materialism in Marxist philosophy had little to do with matter vs. spirit and was much more interested in material labor, in the essence of labor as the “self-organizing process of unconditioned production, that is, as the objectivation of the real by man, himself experienced as subjectivity” (Heidegger, quoted by Derrida 91). Now, in the fifth session, Derrida will refer to “the secular struggle between idealism and materialism” (103) as the crux of the Marxist redefinition of philosophy, which is also, for Althusser, the determination of Marxist philosophy as philosophy tout court. Marxist philosophy, in the Althusserian sense, engaged as it is in the “dialectical circle,” may claim for itself an (endless?) reciprocal overflowing of practice by theory and of theory by practice. This dialectical circle is presumably the mechanism that allows Marxist philosophy to conceive of every philosophy that is not itself as merely idealist. If materialist philosophy must be understood restrictively as class struggle in theory, it is not because other philosophies are not very precisely also class struggle in theory, except that they are on the side of the wrong class, not on the materialist side of the proletariat. They will misunderstand the dialectical circle. Marxist philosophy itself, therefore, has fully absorbed the theses on Feuerbach. Uniquely.

Derrida, in this fifth session, announces that he would wish to interrogate the Marxist silence on Heidegger, as he has “no doubt that this non-reading hides the assured certainty that Heidegger is always already understood within ‘the secular struggle’ between idealism and materialism, and that he represents a variation, more or less subtle, unheard-of or overdetermined, of the possibilities of this struggle” (106). The Marxists would say that Heidegger misunderstands the dialectical circle, but how, precisely? In the process of wanting-to-examine the Marxist (non-)critique of Heidegger, Derrida will examine the Heideggerian critique of Marxism, notwithstanding what he now announces as a project that is not immediate, only for the future, which is “an eventually deconstructive reading of Heidegger and of the questions Heidegger posits to Marxism, on the subject of Marxism and on what Heidegger considers the sense of Marxism” (106). Again: was that the original idea for Spectres de Marx? If so, we have to admit that things changed considerably. But is this “eventual deconstruction” of the Heideggerian critique of Marxism what Derrida considered essentially his own position on Marxism? Can we read Spectres de Marx from that perspective and find something there that would confirm this “third position”?

The question is important first because it refers back to the great question of the 1964-65 seminar, namely, whether Heidegger’s understanding of history or historicity marked an epochal break with the Hegelian, hence also with the Marxist, idea; whether there is a radicality in Heidegger that the Althusserian radicality, still a metaphysical radicality, simply cannot measure up to. Is Derrida still a thinker of Heideggerian radicality or does he claim for himself a third position? But the question is also important, second, because in my opinion the issue is not just a philological issue in Derridean criticism; rather, it constitutes still today an impasse for us—for contemporary thought in general—that must be solved. Can we really thrive in the perplexity regarding whether the Heideggerian critique of Marxism is terminal, in the sense that it marks the need for a new and epochally post-Marxist determination of thinking? Do we not have the means to decide whether Marxism can be rescued from it? Derrida’s ambiguity is a double ambiguity: he says to the Heideggerian critique something like “yes, but . . . ” There is a “yes, but . . . ” regarding the critique itself, that is one ambiguity developed in Sessions Six through Nine, although not conclusively; but there is also a “yes, but . . .” regarding Marxism, second ambiguity which Derrida talks about eventually resolving. And that, perhaps he did in Spectres. But we must come to some clarity ourselves. Perhaps Théorie et critique is or will become the classical place of an ambiguity that is by now overdetermined and should be critiqued. We need to break out of this epochal impasse which is really the contemporary form of the impasse of what some have called and will continue to call “left Heideggerianism.”[6]

If Marxist philosophy, in the Althusserian rendering, postulates an overflowing of philosophy and of the history of philosophy, if Marxist philosophy posits a new philosophy which must be the philosophy of the future, that is, philosophy as such, then Heidegger does the same: “because there is an enterprise of overflowing of Marxist discourse and its metaphysical space by Heidegger” (106). Derrida calls it: a “counter-overflowing” (106). This Heideggerian counter-overflowing in the context of the history of philosophy, of the history of thought, is presumably what starts to be critically examined and determined in the sessions that follow session Five in Théorie, and which have come down to us in a less elaborate form than the previous ones, and with less than full editorial clarity in the transcription (the French editors do not explain why, though; I expect the issue to be fully clarified through the English version). But, in any case, is this counter-overflowing not the decisive site of contemporary thought? Let us not call it “left Heideggerianism,” as it would solve nothing. In the Heideggerian critique of metaphysical productionism the question of an epochal politics is involved, hence the question of the possible relation between politics and thought, between the critique of political economy and the critique of the metaphysical epoch. Is that not today our fundamental question? (Whether it should be, and what the alternatives are, is a second question, no less fundamental.)

Still in the fifth session Derrida continues to set out the Althusserian parameters that will permit him to decide on the counter-overflowing: “every being, as matter, appears as a relation of production between one subject and another, a humanity and a nature that are fundamentally identical. The ground is then nature as production, the unity of the totality of being as production, whatever the differentiations and the further determinations of this production” (109). The world is an unconditioned and self-organizing process because this production is “the last instance, the ultimate determination of being as nature put into work by human praxis” (109). Accordingly, “the essence of dialectical materialism cannot be understood without reference to the essence of technology” (109). This is a derivation or a corollary of the Heideggerian analysis of Marxism in “Letter on Humanism,” or even more: this is the Heideggerian fundamental thesis. Dialectical materialism, that is, Marxist philosophy, is a productionism thoroughly subservient to the metaphysical understanding of being and of the being of beings as production. Within this context, the opposition theory-praxis must be rethought all over again: theory is an effect of practice, indeed, a form of praxis, a form of technology as praxis. With this, the pretension of a Marxist philosophy to philosophy as such is contained; or rather, denied. Within the Heideggerian machine, Marxist philosophy is nothing but an example—the most contemporary one, maybe—of the old philosophy of metaphysics, and of old metaphysics as philosophy. This is, finally, the “counter-overflowing,” and it remains, even today, for us to decide whether it is a terminal one, or it stands in need of revision. What does Derrida do with it?

Towards the end of the session Derrida hints at the questions he will now orient against the Heideggerian text—and of course this is the moment when the possibility of a third position starts to be developed. There are, he says, two types of questions to be addressed to Heidegger here. The first type: is Heidegger’s counter-overflowing a real counter-overflowing, or is it still to be contained? In other words, how can one, or can one, ascertain the Heideggerian pretension to a real difference between his own thinking and metaphysics as a thinking of technique, as a productionism that is consummated in Marxist thinking through the notion that the being of beings is the being of production, which radically involves human subjectivity? The second question: if the Heideggerian critique of contemporary philosophy, in the form of Marxism, condemns it to being a follower of a certain reactive deviation from an origin, the follower of a conception of truth that obscures a more primal meaning that we must now recover, how is this return to the origin not simply another metaphysical ruse? The two questions are really one question only, since the issues of subjectivity and truth are bound to each other inextricably in metaphysics, and they are well-known, they are in a sense the questions, or they are the question, Derrida always addresses to Heidegger, namely, is your pretension to a radical recovery of historicity as being, of being as historicity, anything but a pretension? Is it fake? Can we trust it? Is it an other beginning? Is it the beginning of an other beginning?

II. Four Tentative Notes on Sessions Six Through Nine:

  1. I feel some perplexity regarding the abruptness of session Nine, in particular because Derrida says, for the first time in the printed text, that all along the question has been this, “what follows:” and what follows are considerations on psychoanalysis, analytic theory, analytic practice, and analytic technique. In the same way that Heidegger could bring the issue of technique to bear on the Marxist (and Althusserian) determination of theory/practice, in order to declare Marxism yet another instance of metaphysics and incapable therefore of accomplishing a true overflowing of philosophy, Derrida brings the issue of analytic technique to bear on psychoanalysis. The question is, is analytic technique a “modern technique” in the Heideggerian sense? That is, does the analytic technique belong to the epoch of modern technology? Essentially, as determined perhaps, even if rather tenuously, in Session Eight, what is modern about the modern technique is that, in it, “Entbergen [unconceal] does not deploy itself any more as a ‘pro-duction’ (Her-vor-bringen) in the sense of poiesis . . . but rather as ‘Heraus-fordern,’ as a pro-vocation that tears away, requests, extracts violently with accumulation” (170). Derrida fundamentally finishes his seminar raising the question whether the analytic technique has already taken decisive distance from modern technique, in spite of appearances, and is therefore elsewhere. But this question is strangely, uncannily, linked to another question that is not the same question, namely, the question of what we could call the save, or salvation. Whether psychoanalysis, or even Marxism, or even Heideggerianism, by being re-traced to the ultimate question of the essence of technique, could in fact organize an Einkehren, a return home or a homecoming, an orientation towards the homecoming understood relationally, that is, as ankhibasie, as a simply ever-more original unconcealment. Derrida cites Heidegger in his penultimate page against the menace that “returning to a more originary unconcealment and experiencing the call of a more primal truth be refused” (173). This question of the save concludes the seminar. It is, to my mind, the site of the counter-overflowing, but it is far from clear to me that Derrida has done anything but repeat the Heideggerian solution, and it is not in that sense a third way yet, not a Derridean determination of what he could have found doomed, or metaphysically doomed, in Marxism, yes, but also in Heideggerianism. The issue is, therefore, whether a certain Heideggerianism can be called upon to save Marxism as well as to save psychoanalysis, to save thought itself, from metaphysics, and to save Dasein from being refused an experience of truth not constrained to the factum of being as production.
  2. That is, to me, what results from the questions to Heidegger that Derrida will indicate yet again in the seventh session (he had already raised them in session Five): “Does Heidegger not reproduce, in the style of the questions he posits from the border of philosophy, philosophy, the relationship of philosophy to itself? . . . wanting to go through thought beyond metaphysics, would Heidegger not reproduce a ‘reactive’ research [understood as] a theoreticism that wants to reappropriate theoria against practicism, by returning to a ‘more originary’ or ‘more initial’ site?” (143). The answer, to the obscure extent it is given, will have to do with whatever we think the answer to the question of analytic technique may be: is analytic technique also a reflective resetting of the endless search for an always-already where the ec-static temporality of Dasein exercises itself? Is the endless search for an always-already, understood as the save, whether in terms of Gelassenheit, releasement (there is a meditation on Heideggerian Gelassenheit in session Six), or in terms of exposure to whatever is more ancient as truth, aletheia as ever more initial unconcealment, not Derrida’s response to the question of theory-practice?[7]
  3. Besinnung, that is, meditation, or meditative thinking, opens itself as a “passive praxis” (125) of transformation no longer productionist. It searches for what is unavoidable or unmissable within every system of production: “Physics cannot accede the unavoidable that is for it physis, since the objectivity of nature to which it relates is only one of the ways in which physis determines itself. In the same way, for psychiatry . . . the Dasein of man remains the unavoidable: ‘the Dasein, for which man as man ex-ists . . ., remains the unavoidable of psychiatry.’ In the same way, ‘history’ (Geschichte) remains the unavoidable for ‘history as theory’ (Historie). And for ‘philology,’ ‘grammar,’ ‘etymology,’ the ‘comparative history of languages,’ ‘stylistics’ and ‘poetics’ what remains unavoidable is language” (128). Besinnung opens towards the unavoidable in productive systems through a practice of the “tra-” (“en tra-jet de pensée” [129]) that links it to the exercise I call infrapolitics. This seems to me the only point in the seminar where productionism, as the last word of (Marxist) metaphysics, is left behind in the positive proposal of an unthought that must be taken on or engaged, where thought is no longer to be understood as a manufacturing technique on the basis of “practical” raw materials.[8]
  4. But perhaps the more enigmatic of Derrida’s proposals is that, for him, techné and praxis “are not separable in a modern concept of labor” (161). They were, however, separable for Aristotle and, in principle, for Heidegger. Heidegger’s entire critique of Marxism can be subsumed into the forced separation of technique and praxis which is the very condition of the subsumption of praxis into technique—Marxist practice is productionist. This is what is intriguing: “You will say: but if Heidegger had returned labor to Aristotelian practice, the result would have been the same. Yes, but perhaps not if he had broken with the dissociation between techné and praxis operated by Aristotle and he had proposed to himself a new concept, a new organization, etc.” (162). I find this hard to agree with, or I simply fail to understand it, but perhaps it is what Derrida had in mind when, in session Four, he spoke about the possibility that Marxism could be understood “so as to render account of metaphysics as technological humanism rather than to let itself be understood as such” (92). The question for Marxism is a modulation of the question for psychoanalysis: are they something other than, and beyond, modern technique? A positive answer could in fact move further than Heidegger did, if still, it seems to me, along a rather Heideggerian path. Until we have it, however, we remain within the question. Is that comfortable enough?

Works Cited

  • Derrida, Jacques. Heidegger: The Question of Being and History. Geoffrey Bennington transl. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2016.
  • —-. Specters of Marx. The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning & the New International. Peggy Kamuf transl. New York: Routledge, 1994.
  • —-. Théorie et pratique. Cours de l’ENS-Ulm 1975-76. Alexander García Dütmann ed. Paris: Galilée, 2017.
  • Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Joan Stambaugh transl. Albany: State U of New York P, 1996.
  • —-. Country Path Conversations. Brett W. Davis transl. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2010.
  • —-. “Letter on Humanism.” In Pathmarks. William McNeill ed. New York: Cambridge UP, 1998. 239-76.
  • —-. “Memorial Address.” In Discourse on Thinking. John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund transl. New York: Harper & Row, 1966. 43-57.
  • —-. Mindfulness. Parvis Emad transl. London: Bloomsbury, 2016.
  • —-. Ponderings II-VI. Black Notebooks 1931-1938. Richard Rojcewicz transl. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2016.
  • —-. Ponderings VII-XI. Black Notebooks 1938-1939. Richard Rojcewicz transl. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2017.
  • —-. Ponderings XII-XV. Black Notebooks 1939-1941. Richard Rojcewicz transl. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2017.
  • —-. “The Question Concerning Technology.” In The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. William Lovitt transl. New York: Harper & Row, 1977. 3-35.
  • —-. “Science and Reflection.” In Question Concerning Technology 155-82.
  • Hyland, Drew A. “Heidegger: Enduring Questions.: In Gregory Fried and Richard Polt eds. After Heidegger? London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2018. 3-10.
  • Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. The German Ideology. In Collected Works. Volume 5. New York: International Publishers, 1976. 15-661.
  • —-. “Theses on Feuerbach.” In Collected Works. Volume 5. 3-9.
  • Peeters, Benoit. Derrida. A Biography. Andrew Brown transl. Cambridge: Polity, 2013.


01. Derrida and Althusser worked together for many years at the Ecole. Benoit Peeters hints at the beginnings of a friendship in 1954 that would last until Althusser’s death. See his Derrida 71-72, passim.

02. Famously in Being and Time Heidegger says: “If the question of being is to achieve clarity regarding its own history, a loosening of the sclerotic tradition and a dissolving of the concealments produced by it is necessary. We understand this task as the destructuring [Destruktion] of the traditional content of ancient ontology which is to be carried out along the guidelines of the question of being” (#22.)

03. Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism” is the locus classicus of his critique of Marxism. See also Four Seminars.

04. Infrapolitics, as I understand it, has perhaps already moved beyond the opposition between Marxism and Heideggerianism in a resolutely post-Heideggerian way. And yet, questions remain as to what is useful of Marxism today—also of Hegelianism. The constellation of problems those questions open up illuminates the relationship of politics and thought.

05. The “Theses on Feuerbach” were preparatory to the first chapter of The German Ideology. Both texts were published posthumously. The “Theses” are canonically published in the same volume as German Ideology.

06. “Left Heideggerianism” has long stood for the pretensions of some Heideggerians that their interest in Heidegger could be organically linked with political leftism; or, alternatively, with the belief in some circles of political leftism that the thought of Martin Heidegger could be productively assumed. The publication of the Black Notebooks has renewed the controversy over left Heideggerianism in ways only marginally significant. At the end of the day, left Heideggerianism stands or falls with the possibility that the Heideggerian critique of metaphysics can be consistently supplemented by Marxist political economy. Or vice versa. This is the crucial question that Derrida’s Théorie et pratique seminar hints at but cannot decisively advance on.

07. The term Gelassenheit, or releasement as it is translated, shows up in Heidegger’s “Memorial Address” and also in the first section of Country Path Conversations.

08. See Hyland, “Enduring Questions,” on meditative thinking. See also Heidegger, Mindfulness.