The Politics of Philosophy: On Geoffrey Bennington’s Scatter 1

Maddalena Cerrato
Texas A&M University

Volume 12, 2017

Good books in a technical sense are those books that talk to you in a way that triggers a powerful mixture of projections and magical thinking. They make you feel that what you are reading addresses your very own thinking. That is to say – if you allow me to play with Heideggerian terms –, it is not that what you are reading somehow reminds you of some dispersed thoughts that initially and for the most part occupied your mind, rather it is that your concern with your own existence seems to be at stake in what you are reading. Neither this or that everyday thought, nor even a particular “I-have-thought” or “I-was-just-thinking,” but rather a thinking that embodies the ecstatic character of temporality and the priority of the future in it. One could say that, technically, “good books” are those books that let themselves be read as though they were concerned with your thinking as thinking that has always-already been there as what is-to-be-thought, as thinking that is projecting toward a potentiality of thinking that has always been there. Ultimately, I am suggesting that we could then define “technically good books” on the basis of such an experience of undecidability between reading and thinking that is at the heart of reading as Bennington suggests. The specific task of reading is always already exposed to “potential confusion of authorial ‘voices’ and responsibilities –of who is saying what, who is signing or countersigning what in whose name” (55). And, as such confusion opens up to moments of undecidability and potential for Täuschungs (self-deceit) that concern both the “content” of the reading and the fact of the readings themselves. So, the sort of intellectual vertigo that marks the experience of a good book is one of the degrees of undecidability involved in reading, intended as interruption of hermeneutic closure, to which Scatter1 attests. On this ground, pushing it a little bit further, good books would be those that offer an opportunity for a reading to the extent that they offer a moment of undecidability, that is a moment (an Augenblick) of both “in-sight” and blindness, namely, a moronic moment. In this sense, the reading of good books always already enacts the “politics of reading,” a decision that interrupts undecidability at the same time that it interrupts the pretense of interpretative fulfilment.

When I say that Scatter 1 is a good book, I am saying, then, something different than that this book is very subtle in its analysis and elegant in its argumentative structure. My reading of this book and of the ongoing argument presented – which is, indeed, not so scattered – has been marked by the fantasmatic presence of many entangled layers of thinking where I dwelled in one way or another for many years, as well as by the active intrusion of my reading of the multiple readings hosted by another good (even if maybe a little too ambitious) book -Reiner Schürmann’s Broken Hegemonies– and, lastly and more relevantly, by the overall projection into and toward the thought of infrapolitics. The only – still completely self-referential – way to try to summarize and frame the countless perplexities, questions, and suggestions emerging from such an explosive mixture is by referring them to the relationship between philosophy and community, or maybe in the triad politics-philosophy-community taken in the broadest possible sense.

Behind the doubling up of politics in the locution “politics of politics” where Bennington’s reading starts, there is the inability of dogmatism and moralism to exhaust the realm of politics, to capture it in their normative conceptual structure. Behind this kind of doubling up that does not invest only politics, but actually any other practice and or discourse concerned with it, there is an inability of teleological thinking to exhaust the possibility of Being, or rather, of Being as a possibility that is always already the possibility of failure, or of the pseudos as primordial distortion. Such an inability calls for an intervention that interrupts with a foolish decision both the attempt of teleological closure of the political by political philosophy, which is also the attempt of metaphysical closure of Being, as well as the misery/ordeal of undecidability which will still mark, in the mode of spectrality, the decision itself. “The politics of politics” is a mode of a double rescue of politics from teleology both from its inherently autoimmune (self-destructive) logic (which indeed, as shown by deconstruction, affects all ethico-political concepts worthy of the name), as well as from its failure in exhausting politics. Such a doubling up of politics is a rhetorical-political gesture that interrupts the teleology, but saves the eskhaton. This eschatological dimension, separated and rescued from teleology, is the possibility of politics in the form of the possibility of a scatter of eskhata, of events of decision emerging from the undecidability of truth.

Here is my main perplexity. What is at stake in the ontotheological approach to the undecidability of truth, that is, substantially, in the moralistic-dogmatic denial of it, is a certain task of philosophy. What this originary possibility of deceit threatens is, overall, philosophy’s role with regards to community. As Schürmann put it, this is the promotion of “the koinon to the level of normative instance capable of consoling the soul and consolidating the city” (9). There is no room for the equi-primordial pseudos, for the originary possibility of distortion or deceit, if the philosopher needs to be able to console the soul and consolidate the city, that is, to absolve himself of his public function posing the koinon, the common, the norm that legitimizes theoretical and practical rules, as the bond that binds a community. To secure the stability of the laws governing knowledge and the acting of the community, to preserve the norm that legitimizes the theoretical and practical rules that bind the community, the traditional (political-)philosopher needs to secure the logic of subsumption without remainder through what Schürmann calls the denial of the transgressive withdrawal of the singular and of the tragic condition, meaning the denial of the ordeal of undecidability of truth. Ultimately, to preserve the public duty of the philosopher, to secure his function of consoling the soul and consolidating the city as what Schürmann calls the “professional philosopher” – which is “an altogether bureaucratized version of the philosopher-king” – is what still seems to be at stake both in Foucault’s reclaiming of philosophical parrhesia, as well as in Heidegger’s Entschlossenheit.

The suspicion is that after the end of metaphysics, with the failure of onto-theology, what is at stake in the rescue of the task of the philosopher as the one that institutes the common, the possibility of the community, is the idea that this task represents the only possible ground for something as a community of the so-called philosophers or- as Derrida says – a community of the question. If this is true, can we then say that at stake in the politics of politics’ rescue of politics is still what we can call “the politics of philosophy”, meaning the relation of the philosopher with the community in the double instance of the political community and of the philosophical community?

But, how should we then understand the deconstructive and deconstructed triad politics-philosophy-community? The scatter of eskhata gathering up in the idea of politics of politics certainly cannot be regarded as something that builds and organizes something like “an historical community of destiny,” of a community worthy of its name. But if this is the case, this means that such a rescued dimension of politics can only be thought as posthegemonic politics. In this sense the thinking of the existential unconditional conditions of such a politics, the excess, the dignity of life that is since it is marked by the “necessarily-possibly-not” in always already a demi-dignité, seems to be what we have been calling infrapolitics as a common name, a demi-title that happens to gather a scatter of readings (sometimes of good books), that is indeed haunted by its always-necessarily-possible indignity.