Geoffrey Bennington
Emory University

Volume 12, 2017

I am humbled and honored by all these responses to my book Scatter I: it is already a gift to be read carefully and generously by any reader, and to have several such readings here is a blessing I have never experienced before. So my overwhelming reaction to these readings is one of thankful recognition: there is something almost magical and a little uncanny about seeing one’s work and its ambitions so accurately and carefully reflected and developed on its own terms (remarkably lucid accounts here from Humberto González Núñez, Ronald Mendoza-de Jesús, Sergio Villalobos) and, on occasion, inventively recast sometimes in reference to other work by Derrida or Heidegger I do not here pursue (thanks to Adam Rosenthal for the intriguing hints as to the importance of the figure of tobacco, and above all to Alberto Moreiras for bringing all these pieces together and pursuing my understanding of Derrida and Heidegger with what the former might have called a certain acharnement) or to other works and names beyond my own immediate frames of reference (thanks to Maddalena Cerrato for the links to Schurmann, to Gareth Williams for the Cicero and the hints about otium). These are all precious reference points that will inform my work to come. Many of these pieces formulate my arguments and suggestions more clearly and pointedly than I think I managed to formulate them in Scatter I, and they will certainly help me refine the readings of the tradition that will make up Scatter II.

I was also surprised to see certain motifs picked up on more than others. Scarcely a mention here of the Kierkegaard “moment of madness” analyses that I hold dear, and not so very much on the attempt to extend the Heidegger analyses into the world of the Beiträge and their difficult radicalization of the motif of decision; on the other hand more attention to my brief and essentially transitional invocation of Jean-Luc Nancy than I would have expected. Most especially, it has been of the greatest interest to me to see the eagerness with which many of these responses pick up on my pseudo-concept of “the politics of politics” and relate it in a variety of ways to the ongoing development of a thinking of “the infrapolitical”. This has helped me to clarify further for myself (and with luck for Scatter II) what is at stake in that formulation “the politics of politics,” and perhaps to begin to see how to avoid misunderstandings that might seem to be invited by it.

One virtue I claim for “the politics of politics” is that it helps avoid the moralism that I think is endemic to much “left” thinking in this domain. (I am more indebted than is perhaps made clear in Scatter I to the thought of Jean-François Lyotard in this regard: what I tend to call moralism is close to what he used to call “piety”.) This it does by suggesting that any politics involves at least something of the order of “politicking,” and that the claim to avoid such politicking or to know how it might be avoided is itself a political manoeuver. This might seem (and has seemed to some readers, though mercifully not those represented here) to amount to an apologia for the sophistic-rhetorical manipulations that are usually the object of moralistic denunciations by political philosophers. Stress the unavoidability of this dimension of politics, play up the pseudos, so the suspicion might go, and you are not far from normalizing Trump’s notion of “fake news” and thereby confirming the responsibility of “post-modernism” for the undermining of values of truth and of justice in the current political scene. Of course this is a misreading: “politics of politics” is simply, in what I think is a Derridean spirit, pointing to a structure of “necessary possibility” that on the one hand brings out something specific about politics, and on the other allows for a generalization of that “something” across everything that is made (im)possible by the trace structure, i.e. everything whatsoever. As several contributors here point out, this is a structure parallel to what Derrida’s later work often calls “autoimmunity,” which itself is sometimes presented by him as a terrifying possibility, and sometimes as the positive condition for anything at all to happen. Given the potential for misreading, however, I might now be inclined to make an at least provisional distinction between “politics of politics” in a narrower sense, and appeal to the notion of a “non-political opening of politics” (based on Derrida’s “non-ethical opening of ethics” in the Grammatology) for the more general sense (which might then, perhaps, be more readily aligned with the thought of “the infrapolitical,” as several contributors here seek to do). This gesture would itself not be without its ambiguities, and—especially given my criticisms of Foucault’s concept of parrhēsia —would need to be careful not to suggest a distinction between a “good” politics of politics (now re-written as the non-political opening of politics) and a “bad” (the politics of politics in the sense of sophistry, rhetoric, and so on). Rather, the difference would have to be construed as parallel to Derrida’s occasional resort to a distinction between “writing” and “archi-writing,” the latter clarifying the quasi-transcendental status of the former in contexts where misunderstanding seems probable.

In contrast to the other responses, and calling for a specific reply, I think, Brett Levinson attempts at some length a quite general outflanking of Scatter I, driven it seems by his irritation at my criticisms of Foucault, and depending on a set of claims about “theory” and the role played within theory by what he calls “branding”. This allows him to suggest that I am essentially concerned to defend the Derrida “brand” within a theoretical marketplace, and that this involves a misrecognition of the status of relationships between the thinkers whose proper names mark the brands available in that essentially American field of “theory”. Levinson’s ability to propose such an argument, however, presupposes his own ability to transcend the field he calls “theory,” to situate that field in essentially discursive and historico-institutional terms, and to tell us the truth about it in a way that precisely mirrors the Foucauldian approach I was attempting to call into question. The position from which Levinson pronounces judgment is, then, eminently susceptible to analysis in terms of its blindness to the structure of the quasi-transcendental, which is precisely what is at stake in my reading of Foucault. Insofar as there is any thinking in Scatter I, it is already escaping this type of analysis: it is certainly not, for example, essentially concerned to do anything like what Levinson calls “theory” here. I also note a different kind of maneuvering: Levinson complains that I do not mention the fact that Foucault’s invocation of Heidegger and truth also invokes Lacan, and implies that I am avoiding something important by not mentioning that fact. But if we go back to the text, not only do I quote the whole passage involving Heidegger and Lacan (Scatter I, p. 47), it is Foucault who dismisses Lacan as soon as he has mentioned him, and places his own efforts explicitly and squarely in relation to Heidegger.

Having said that, I am happy to recognize that Levinson has correctly picked up on my own irritation with what he would call the Foucault “brand,” which does, I think, enjoy an unwarranted position of dominance in the contemporary scene, in France as much if not more than in the US. I certainly welcome his suggestion that Foucault’s late courses should be given further consideration, beyond my explicit purpose in Scatter I, and I do think that some of the analyses of parrhēsia itself (especially in The Courage of Truth) would bear more patient attention, and that one might place them in a more systematic way against Derrida’s own suggestion that truth-claims always involve a quasi-performative dimension that is not itself answerable to the criterion of truth. Pending such patient analysis, I maintain my claim that Foucault’s repeated need to separate parrhēsia into a supposedly good philosophical form and a bad rhetorical form prevents him ever stepping back, as it were, to consideration of the radical undecidability of parrhēsia “itself,” which undecidability, or so it seems to me, becomes accessible via Heidegger and Derrida. This is not merely a local issue with this particular concept, but does indeed engage more generally with what it is to think, and how that thinking might be inflected “politically” by the structures explored in Scatter I.