To Be Decided Remains to Be Decided

Ronald Mendoza-de Jesús
University of Southern California

Volume 12, 2017

When I wrote to the organizers of this event and told them that the title of my intervention was “to be decided,” I could not yet see that this placeholder would have become the first part of my actual title, since I could not have yet anticipated that Geoff Bennington’s remarkable engagement with the motif of “decision” in Heidegger, Schmitt, Derrida, Nancy, and other thinkers would be the aspect of his book that would catch my attention the most. However, in a certain way, we could say that Scatter 1 is concerned with affirming the urgency and even the strange necessity of the concept of decision, while insisting on the need to deconstruct the bond that links this concept with the motif of being in the wake of Heidegger’s powerful destruction of Western metaphysics. In a footnote halfway through Scatter 1, Bennington even suggests that we could begin to take stock of the differences between Derrida and Heidegger by paying attention to how they diverge precisely around their thinking of the “moment” (“instant” or “Augenblick”) of “decision,” since Heidegger’s decision hearkens to the call of “being,” whereas Derrida’s irrupts as a response to a demand for/of “justice” (Bennington 159). My remarks for today take up Bennington’s suggestion in this footnote, but do so obliquely and by adding another suggestion, disguised as a question: what if, in the difference between these modes of decision, we could also catch a glimpse of the difference between two different ways of thinking, and even experiencing or living, the undecidability of decision? To be more precise, what if, in line with Bennington’s powerful formalization of the thrust of Derridean deconstruction in the phrase “the necessarily-possibly-not” (275, 281), the most decisive aspect of the way in which deconstruction takes up the necessity of decision involved affirming also the structural undecidability of any decision worthy of its name?

Paradoxically, for any decision to be decisive it would have to remain undecided as to whether it has been or will be decided or not, and, for this reason, it will call out for further decisions. Furthermore, the remaining-undecided of the decision is such that it affects the decision with undecidability even when any decision has supposedly been decided. The decision remains undecidable even if one has already decided to always decide (on) the decision; the possibility of this “not-yet-decided” affects with undecidability each decision, regardless of any possible hierarchization or serialization. In fact, the undecidability of the decision is what generates the need for a decision on the decision to decide on this or that decision, and so on. This remainder of undecidability, which survives even the most decisive decision on the decision, is thinkable along the lines of Bennington’s logic of scattering, since the decision’s structural errancy outside the region of its decidability thwarts the attempts to gather the decision by deciding on its structural features and establish the boundaries of its concept. What is most decisive about any decision, in other words, is its powerlessness to decide itself. If I follow Bennington correctly, the difference between Heidegger and Derrida could be seen from this perspective as the difference between two ways of relating to this powerlessness: whereas Heidegger oftentimes wants to decide on the decision, Derrida, while recognizing the necessity of this drive to decide on the decision, insists that we do not have to necessarily relate to the decision in such a way. In other words—and this is both a statement of what I take to be some of the guiding tendencies of Bennington’s Scatter 1 and a question to Bennington about the implications of his thinking on the decision—there may be a way of relating to the decision that affirms the strange necessity of undecidability, of the “necessarily-possibly-not” of all decisions. Pursuing the consequences of this other thinking of the decision would have a crucial impact, not only on thinking in general, or on current interrogations of the political in the epoch of what many have not hesitated to call its exhaustion under neo-liberal capital, but also for our own efforts to think infrapolitics, and to do so infrapolitically.

In the few pages that I have available I want to turn to two moments from the chapter in Scatter 1 titled, “Kairos,” in which Bennington engages with the thinking of the decision that Jean-Luc Nancy puts forward in his somewhat early essay “La decision d’éxistence”. Recognizing that Nancy brings out precisely what is essential about Heidegger’s thinking of the decision, namely, that the decision is constituted by undecidability just as truth is always in a relation to the pseudos or to untruth, Bennington then points out that Nancy’s decisive relation to the undecidability at the heart of Heidegger’s thinking of the decision leads him to posit a distinction between two modes of decision—one proper, the other improper. It is this distinction that first opens up the very possibility of deciding for decision, which always means to affirm its undecidability:

Nancy now has this powerful formulation: “‘Decide’ will mean, then, not to come down for this or that ‘truth,’ this or that ‘meaning’ of existence—but to expose oneself to the undecidability of meaning that existence is” (128/97): and this leads him to tend to claim that in Heidegger there are two senses of the decision—the more apparently “decisive” decision, which comes to a decision and thus closes things off, and the truer or more authentic or “proper” decision, which opens to the possibility of decision itself. As we shall see later in the context of the Beiträge, this doubling of decision means that the authentic or proper decision is always also a decision between the two decisions: “We shall, then, have to make the difference between two decisions—or else, we shall have to decide for what, in decision, properly decides” (130/98). This opening of decision to decision or to the undecidability of decision, each time not yet decided except as that opening, is what Nancy’s Heidegger both inscribes and “excribes” in Sein und Zeit.

 (Bennington 121)

Nancy seems to have managed to pass through the aporia of decision—that is, to affirm the coincidence of decision and undecidability—and emerged with a concept of the decision that, by recourse to the lexicon of the proper and the improper, is capable of identifying what is truly, properly decisive within the structure of the decision. That which is properly decisive about decision for Nancy is that decision does not decide between this or that form of existence, but rather decision is nothing but existence, or existence is nothing but decision in its properly decisive moment, namely, in the exposure of its own existence to its own opening, to the inaugural moment of both decision and existence. Although Bennington does not necessarily dwell on the existential dimension of Nancy’s thinking of decision, I want to finish my remarks by bringing to your attention a moment from Être singulier pluriel in which Nancy’s thinking of the decision-to-existence reaches its most powerful philosophical, and indeed ontological, articulation:

‘Soi’ définit l’élément dans lequel ‘moi’ et ‘toi’ et ‘nous,’ et ‘vous’ et ‘ils,’ peuvent avoir lieu. ‘Soi’ détermine l’en-tant-que de l’être: s’il est, il est en tant qu’il est. Il est ‘à soi’ antérieurement à aucune ‘égoité,’ à aucune ‘propriété’ présentable. […] Ce n’est pas une propriété présentable, puisque c’est la présentation même. La présentation n’est pas une propriété, ni un état, mais l’événement, la venue de quelque chose […]. Dans sa venue, l’existant s’approprie […]. Son appropriation est transport et trans-propriation dans cet écartement du là : tel est l’événement-appropriant (‘Ereignis’). Mais cette dénomination signifie, non pas qu’il y a un événement où/d’où le ‘soi propre’ surgirait, comme un diable de sa boîte, mais que la venue est en elle-même et par elle-même, comme telle, appropriante. […] Ainsi, dans la mesure où ‘soi’—l’‘ipséité’—veut dire ‘à soi,’ rapport à soi, retour en soi, présence à soi comme au même (à la mêmeté de l’‘en tant que tel’), l’ipséité advient, c’est-à-dire, s’advient, comme venue […].

(Nancy 119)

Although decision no longer figures here in Nancy’s more mature thinking of existence, another feature that is crucial for Bennington’s thinking of scatter emerges here, namely, the motif of ipseity, which Nancy reconfigures here as the very region of the sameness in which all beings exist, as the qua or the as in which beings appropriate their essence-in-existence as the beings that they are by arriving to themselves as themselves. The decision to exist or to be is now the appropriation of being or being thought of as appropriation, in the closest proximity possible both to Heidegger’s thinking of Ereignis and to the thinking of the self or of the same that structures the second part of Being and Time. Although the motif of the decision drops out of Nancy’s later thinking of existence, the decision between a proper and an improper decision has already been absorbed into this thinking, so much so that Nancy is now even capable of embracing without hesitation the metaphysical concept of ipseity, no doubt because ipseity also declines itself properly and improperly. Bennington’s insistence on the undecidability of decision corrodes the very possibility of deciding between these two decisions, and thus represents a more radical embrace of Heidegger’s attempt to contend with the utmost consequences of the facticity of Dasein. Since Dasein exists equally in truth and untruth and since this ambivalent existence remains “necessarily-possibly-not” decidable, our ability to decide on the decision by distinguishing the proper from the improper decision and existence deprives both the decision of what remains most decisive about it and existence of the force of its life.

I want to conclude by making the following analogical claim: Bennington’s implicit affirmation of the unsurpassable doubling of the decision is structurally isomorphic with his motif of “the politics of politics” not only because both are doublings, but also because both insist on the fact that the philosophical tradition has neglected or suppressed the intense politicity that is linked to the infinite doubling of politics and of the decision in favor of the delimitation of the proper concept of the political, which has more often than not required the suppression of this doubling of politics and of the decision. By inviting us to confront the metaphysical tendencies in our thinking that allow us to assume that we can decide on the closure of politics without taking into account what Bennington has outlined regarding the politics of politics, Bennington’s Scatter offers not just a challenge to, but also a further catalyst for, infrapolitical thought.