A ‘Decision’ for Existence. Preliminary Commentary on Geoffrey Bennington’s Scatter 1. The Politics of Politics in Foucault, Heidegger, Derrida. (Draft.) By Alberto Moreiras.


I only have ten minutes or so, yet this is such an intense and important book one could only begin to describe it in such a time. I will give that up—I will attempt no description, no summary description, but I am glad to promise a lengthier engagement with the book soon. At this point, since Geoffrey Bennington is with us, and we will therefore have a chance at a conversation, it seems better to me to try to cut right to the chase and perhaps, not ask a few questions, that would be rather impolite, in the order of a set-up, and nothing of the kind is at all intended; what I really want to do is to offer a few thoughts, from my reading, having to do with my current interests and their intersection with Scatter 1 (and certainly also with what we know and with what we have just learned about “Scatter 2”). And those thoughts may or may not open the conversation, but they could be a chance at it, they could offer a possibility for it.

So let me start my attempt from the end of Scatter 1. Bennington tells us or has been telling us all along in the book that its continuation, “Scatter 2,” will be a book about “democracy.” And then, at the end of Scatter 1, Bennington says that a book on democracy is or will be also a book about “the future of deconstruction.”   In this last chapter Bennington’s considerations on “dignity” are offered as an investigation into what seems to be an inversion of the main modus operandi of early deconstruction, which was to question metaphysics from a subordinate term within a given pair of terms.   The second strategy of deconstruction, if we may call it that, will be the solicitation of metaphysically privileged terms, like “dignity,” that find themselves in need, that find themselves in lack. For instance, take “hospitality,” a term that concerned Jacques Derrida for a number of years, through seminars and a number of writings, and which has an important presence in Rogues.   Hospitality, Bennington will say not just following Derrida but really attempting to show what Derrida’s stakes were, is a term never quite worthy of its own name. Hospitality does not seem to be hospitable enough, not even to itself. Or take sovereignty, also from the seminars, also from Rogues—sovereignty is not worthy of its own name, it is never quite sovereign, and of course the same happens to dignity, and certainly the same happens to democracy—democracy is not worthy of its own name.   What indeed is at stake here?

Bennington presents the study of the difficulties that arise through the idiom “digne de son nom,” worthy of its name, as a kind of second-order deconstruction of the Kantian Idea. If the Kantian Idea is always already regulated by an eskhaton, then the gap of dignity, the incommensurability between something and its measure, the brutal fact that things cannot live up to their own promise—well, that is an interruption of the eskhaton, a structural one, and the trace of a blinding point in the Augenblick, in the kairós, an impossibility for any decision to be a decision and a displacement of the core problematic of the political towards something that Scatter 1 has been calling all along “the politics of politics.”

“The politics of politics” is, Bennington has previously told us, “a name for the persistence of the political in the face of all attempted philosophical resolutions of it and indeed for its ability to turn them (and all other philosophical enterprises) into so many rhetorico-political gestures.”   There can be no clear boundary between truth (or philosophy) and rhetoric, which of course means that the range of the rhetorico-political grows exponentially and there is no clear point at which a discourse of truth can oppose political discourse. Dignity, democracy, sovereignty can never constitute themselves into a discourse of truth.   They are only, because unworthy of their own names, demi-dignity, demi-democracy, demi-justice. No hyperbolic denial of their insufficiency, or of their auto-immunity, can organize a politics—or rather, they do, all the time, but it is a bad politics, a self-destroying one. “The politics of politics” is Bennington’s name for what we could call the recognition of the auto-immunitarian drift of any and all political concepts.   He links this to the Derridean “necessary possibilities” structure, namely, to the fact that the conditions of possibility of any political concept are at the same time its conditions of impossibility. Granted, this structure—ultimately, deconstruction—impedes any decisionistic approach to politics, whether from the left or from the right, because it organizes the absolute refusal of the trust in the moment, the kairotic approach, what Kierkegaard, or indeed the Podemos leadership in Spain at the moment, would have referred to as the situation “when the man is there, the right man, the man of the moment.”

The political chance, even the chance of a politics of politics, would have to do with turning demi-democracy into . . . necessarily more demi-democracy, since there is no plenitude, there is no end to the course of insufficiency, and you could never make democracy worthy of its name.   At the same time, this gives you work to do, it creates an infinite finiteness for you, and your task, political, will never be done.   So—the problem: Bennington gives us a formal indication of it in the phrase “the unconditional affirmation of the unconditional as the arrival of the event ‘itself.’”   The democratic event, to be unconditionally affirmed, is the event that demi-democracy cannot be hyperbolically reduced or turned into democracy proper, democracy worthy of its name. This is the “event” of politics—what in fact Jean-Luc Nancy, in an essay that Bennington regards highly and that is commented in the book, “The Decision of Existence,” would perhaps have called “the decision of (political) existence,” through a very particular notion of decision I do not have the time to go into: the event of politics is always the event of the politics of politics, because politics must assume its infinite finiteness, its radical incapacity for hyperbolic closure. This is the path towards a politics concerned with “justice,” which at some point in his book Bennington argues is the arresting trope (the undeconstructible) in Derrida’s tropology of thought.

In my own terms, I would like to say I accept all of this. It does seem to me Bennington is precisely pointing us to a “future of deconstruction” that merges with any possible future of democracy (and justice), and which preempts or organizes the need to stop talking about democracy, or its construction, in terms of hegemony or counterhegemony.   The “necessary possibility” structure means that all hegemony is an illegitimate hyperbolic suture that not only fails to make (political) names worthy of their names, but in fact condemns them to become the very opposite of what they mean (a demi-democracy hyperbolized into full democracy becomes, through hyperbolization, the very opposite of democracy, an unjust democracy.) We have been rehearsing the name “posthegemony” to point out the same thing.

But my main interest has to do with investigating the connection that the politics of politics may have with the other name we have been invoking, that is, with infrapolitics.   What I call infrapolitics in reference to an existence otherwise than political makes no claim to an unpolitical realm of affairs (which would be the equivalent of what the tradition Bennington debunks calls a realm of truth, existential truth if nothing else). Rather, infrapolitics merely claims that the rhetorico-political does not exhaust the world, no matter how much it expands or even while it expands.   Let me offer the thought that infrapolitics might be something like the existential residue of an overextended, hence exhausted, politics of politics.

Nancy’s decision of existence, of which Bennington shows how it connects, through the notion of formal indication, with the totality of Heidegger’s early thought, up to and including the existential analytic and beyond, is already an infrapolitical decision. Infrapolitics marks the point at which the politics of politics remembers, we could say, the ontico-ontological difference, and points to a realm—perhaps the Be-reich the late Heidegger mentioned as the space of play “wherein all relationships of things and beings playfully solicit each other and mirror each other.  Saying is reaching in the sense of [be-reichen] . . . The realm is the location in which thinking and being belong together” (Basic Principles of Thinking [1957])–that is no longer political, no matter how much it is still crossed by politics.

I am running out of time, and cannot do these things justice. I will simply attempt to offer some marks for conversation.   In 1974, barely a year and a half or so from his death, Heidegger, still obsessed with Paul Cézanne’s work on Mount St-Victoire, wrote the following postcript to one of his essays: “What Cézanne names ‘la realisation’ is the appearing of what is presencing in the clearing of presence—in such a way, indeed, that the twofold of both is converted (verwunden) in the simplicity of the pure appearing of its image. For thinking, this is the question of the overcoming of the ontological difference between being and beings. The overcoming, however, is only possible when the ontological difference is first experienced as such and taken into consideration, which again can only occur on the basis of the question of being, as posed in Being and Time. Its unfolding requires an experience of the dispensation of being (Seinsgeschickes). The insight into this is first prepared in a walk along the field path, which finds its way into a simple saying in the manner of a naming of the outstanding, to which thinking remains exposed” (Gedachtes, GA 81: 347-48).

Let me say that infrapolitics could also be referred to as the preparation for a “naming of the outstanding” in the politics of politics: for what out-stands the politics of politics Bennington has so beautifully elaborated. We could talk about the parergon, to use another notion dear to Derrida. Infrapolitics is parergonic thought past the politics of politics, the walk into the Be-reich of play that is also a necessary consequence of the “necessary possibility” structure when applied to the politics of politics.

In Rogues Derrida says that “it is on the basis of freedom that we will have conceived the concept of democracy.”   And he adds, rather enigmatically, a diabolical phrase: “It is not certain that ‘democracy’ is a political concept through and through.” Well, if democracy is not totally political, it is because its concern with freedom makes it partially infrapolitical.   To my mind, that “democracy” may not be a political concept through and through organizes the link between infrapolitics and posthegemony in the corollary that politics is not the parergon of deconstruction.   Deconstruction insists, or de-sists, in the politics of politics, but it calls for a parergon to it, to the extent deconstruction also out-stands its own position in order to be worthy of its name, where the politics of politics is un-worked in the direction of an enigmatic freedom we have not yet begun to glimpse. To sum it up, inadequately, but not as a provocation: I for one cannot conceive of a future of deconstruction that does not walk the path of infrapolitics.

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