Passive Decision

Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott
University of Michigan

Volume 12, 2017

I want to begin by stating the relevance of Geoffrey Bennington’s Scatter 1. The Politics of Politics in Foucault, Heidegger, and Derrida, a book not only remarkable in its articulation, rigor, and deep engagement with contemporary post-Heideggerian philosophy, but also a book that has as one of its many merits the configuration of a systematic, yet not conventional, horizon of thinking —a constellation. His readings of Foucault’s work Parrhesia, or OF Heidegger on the co-belonging of Aletheia and Pseudos, the complication of Dasein’s existence and its Entschlossenheit, the configuration of the quasi-transcendental in Derrida’s engagement with Kant and Heidegger, the relevance of Kierkegaard’s understanding of time and the Moment for Heidegger’s early thought, the structural incompleteness of sovereignty, the folding of dignity and majesty, the problematization of the continuities between the eschatological and the theo-teleological orders, and so on, are issues that in the book are carefully articulated and presented to the reader. I have not doubt when I say that this is an important book not only in the general context of contemporary philosophical scholarship but also in the context of the humanities.

My few observations now are to be read just as a preliminary reaction to the gift of this book, a reaction that could never be misunderstood as a critique or as an attempt to appropriate the inner complexity of the thinking at stake here. Certainly, the rigorous crafting of its arguments, the meticulous archival work feeding them, the detailed reading and persecution of some key ideas through Heidegger, Foucault, and Derrida’s writings, and the obvious command of contemporary scholarship relevant to its problems, should not conceal the fact that this is also a risky articulation of Heidegger and Derrida’s relationship (I am skipping intentionally the arguments about Foucault as I have not enough time to dwell properly on them). This is a risky book —and I should say that there is no thinking without a risk— and the risk taken in its elaboration is proportional to the degree the book departs from merely reproducing what is already known, what has already been said, even if not heard yet. Somehow, hearing what others cannot hear is also risking a non-conventional way of thinking.

I want to dwell here because what matters to me is not the narrative of the book, rather the way in which the author positions himself in the series of problems that configure the relationship between Heidegger and Derrida. Right here, it is evident to me that the understanding of the book’s arguments will change as we have access to Scatter 2, a complementary volume that will not necessarily complete the “project”, but surely will emphasize, I believe, the scattering effect of its architecture; an architecture, if I may say, that is not an architectonic configuration of the grounds for a new kind of philosophy, for a new philosophical foundation of politics and history. There is not, I would say, a “secret politics” enabled by its architecture, by its scattering “logic”, mimicking the “Grand Politics” enabled by the architectonic founding of the Critique of Pure Reason. The politics of politics elaborated in the book is, on the contrary, an indication of the distance, or better, a way of distancing itself from the onto-political structure of the metaphysical demand imposed on thinking as political thinking, as political philosophy. Moreover, the politics of politics is not just a deconstruction of political philosophy and its categories, it is a more integral, radical if you want, interrogation of political philosophy as a disciplinary mechanism oriented to control, to give reason, to organize, to en-frame, the scattered condition of the real.

Scatter 1 therefore is a solicitation addressed to the archeo-teleological structuration of the political demand that informs the tradition of political philosophy. In this sense, the book could not be taken as an anti-political or as an a-political elaboration; on the contrary, it is a sort of suspension of the political demand, and thanks to this suspension (desistance), the politics of politics seems to me close to what we call infrapolitical deconstruction. However, I do not want to homologate these two instances as categories or ways of thinking that point to the same horizon since what really matters here is the tension and thoughtful confrontation of the way in which both, infrapolitics and the politics of politics, imagine the crucial relationship between Heidegger and Derrida, a relationship that we should not take for granted.

In this regard, the difference between scatter and the architectonic “vocation” of philosophy should not be overlooked, because it expresses one of the book’s main claims, the difference between Kant’s regulative idea and Derrida’s understanding of the time à venir, which is also reflected in the relationship between thinking and writing. Thinking as writing, since Bennington is able to dwell in the complexity of contemporary thinking without repeating the conventional gesture of reading it as a system, as a Gestell, as an already finished and closed moment, as an epoch. Certainly, his work with the three main authors named in the title, as well as with some overlooked problems articulated by these authors, question the very historicist organization of the philosophical work by the problematic notion of epochality, and in so far as the reading performed in Scatter 1 does not close onto itself, the scattering effect seems to go against any recourse to the notions of epoch and epochality.

Let me give you an example: one might say that if Reiner Schürmann were interested in criticizing the onto-theo-logical organization of philosophy by bringing to the fore the principial economy that is always articulating and feeding a particular epoch through a donation of language, Bennington, in a more Derridean way, is less concerned with the epochal organization of thought, or with the principial economy articulating and feeding the texts of a particular moment of the tradition, and is more concerned with the inner and unresolved battle of forces (and significations) at the “core” of those texts. And this is an important point to which we should come back at another moment, since what is at stake here is not just a technical problem related to the history of philosophy, but also, and more decisively, to the very practice of reading this history in a non-historicist way: Is not the notion of epochality still a notion proper to the philosophy of history, to philosophy as historicist history?

I would even say that this problematization of epochality is coherent with the question the book gives itself as its main concern: temporality as the only “quasi-transcendental” dimension of existence, and here the book could already be read not only as an elaboration of the ambiguities of kairology and the Pauline understanding of the event, the Moment, and its resolution as a radical decision, but also as a continuation of one of the main problems that Derrida identifies in Heidegger and his unsatisfactory elaboration of temporality, beyond what the German philosopher called the “metaphysical or vulgar conception of time”. Somehow, one might say, following “Ousia and Grammē” and other early texts by Derrida, the same hesitation the Algerian philosopher showed regarding Heidegger’s radical dismissal of the “vulgar” conception of time appears regarding the problem of decision.

But, let me introduce here another related problem: If Scatter 1 contests the notion of epochality as it works through the texts of the tradition in a non-traditional way, up to what point this scattering effect of reading in the texts the unresolved confrontation that is always at their “absent center’ is still functional to the logic of hegemony? Even if still in a preliminary form, I would dare say that the un-decidability proper to scattering would only be functional to hegemonic logic if the unresolved confrontation at the “absent center” of any text is resolved, decided, closed. But, in so far as Scatter1 problematizes rigorously the very condition of un-decidability, then scattering appears as something other than hegemonic logic, the logic that snares any sort of dissemination turning it into a meaningful articulation. Thus, the politics of politics seems to be already a step ‘beyond’ hegemony, ‘beyond’ the hegemonic logic feeding western political philosophy, and to dwell on this un-decidability, to de-activate the political demand, could not be taken as another politics, a politics of desistance, since desistance is, first of all, a desistance from the political demand.

No wonder, then, that one of Scatter 1’s suggestions is that Heidegger’s existential analytic is the unavoidable place from which any relevant thinking should depart today. But it does not mean that thinking should just conform itself with Heidegger’s presentation of Dasein’s intricacies; on the contrary, if Being and Time is read in the book within the context of Heidegger’s early writings, the problem that Bennington presents takes him beyond Heidegger, toward Derrida. And not in an easy way, since in thinking the Derrida-Heidegger relationship one should first of all overcome the resistance one finds in Heideggerian scholars today, people that still consider deconstruction as a postmodernist passion, while, at the same time, one should overcome the resistance to engage Heidegger’s philosophy because of his Nazism (and anti-Semitism).

Scatter 1’s motto would be: “No Heidegger without Derrida.” But would it also have to be “no Derrida without Heidegger”? And this is the underlying problem of this book, its main reason. Whether we agree with Bennington’s reading of Heidegger’s “decisionism” or not, with his subtle emphases on Heidegger’s shortcomings and problematic privilege of Being over beings (scattered), or, alternatively, we oppose to this the later Heidegger and the reworking of the ontological difference as something other than the Poem of Being (and all this conservative nomenclature), something related to what Schürmann called the aletheological constellation of being, what is certain is the pertinence of Scatter 1 when focusing the problem on this unresolved region.

Of course, with these preliminary comments I just wanted to emphasize the relevance of the book, but I am fully aware that a real reading, a generous solicitation not only exceeds my own ability as a reader, but also the time/space I was given for this endeavor. Nonetheless, let me just finish by repeating what seems to be urgent now, to say, the thoughtful consideration of Scatter 1’s reading of Heidegger and his “decisionism” is a symptomatic place that reveals the closeness and the distance between the politics of politics and the infrapolitical.

Works Cited

  • Derrida, Jacques. “Ousia and Grammē: Note to a Note from Being and Time”. Margins of Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. 30-67.
  • Schürmann, Reiner. Heidegger on Being and Acting. From Principles to Anarchy. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987.