Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nietzsche - On the Genealogy of Morals

Friedrich Nietzsche - On the Genealogy of Morals (1887)
Okay, as promised, I will try to make this as brief as possible. I apologize, but this time I am not including page numbers because I used a weird edition.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals was published in1887 and it is his effort to expand on efforts begun in All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits (1878) and Beyond Good and Evil (1886) Human to investigate “the provenance of our moral prejudices.” Specifically, he is interested in asking “Under what conditions did man construct the value judgments good and evil? And what is their intrinsic worth?” The reward for such efforts, he says, is “that someday, we will be allowed to take it [morality] lightly. For lightheartedness, or to use [his] own phrase, a ‘gay science’ is the reward of a long, courageous, painstaking, inward seriousness, which to be sure is not within every man’s compass.” Part of Nietzsche’s project is an effort to give an example of “true interpretation” which demands in its reading a skill he says has been lost, for the practice of “reading as an art,” that is, “the skill to ruminate, which cows possess but modern man lacks.”

A view key points in no particular order and with minimal commentary:
First of all, it is important to keep in mind that what interests Nietzsche is not “good and bad” but “good and evil.” The distinction being between questioning actions (bad) and questioning judgments (evil).
Secondly, bad conscience, or the sick man, or guilt, about which he summarizes it best when he says that:
[to put it crudely, which does not mean that it should be understood crudely]…. The strong, healthy person digests his experiences [including every deed and misdeed] as he does his meals, even though he may have swallowed a tough morsel. If he can’t get rid of an experience, then this kind of indigestion is every bit as physical as the other, and often, in fact, merely one of the consequences of the other. Let me add that one may hold such notions and yet be an enemy of materialism.
This sickness of the soul, or bad conscience, is produced by “religious interpretation”:
I have briefly touched on the origin of that sense, treating it as an aspect of animal psychology; guilt was viewed there in its raw state. I may now add that to take shape it needed the hands of the ascetic priest, that virtuoso of guilt. ‘Sin,’ the priestly version of that animal ‘bad conscience’ (characterized earlier as introverted cruelty) constituted the greatest event in the entire history of the sick soul, the most dangerous sleight of hand of religious interpretation.
Explained further:
For, to put it quite generally, the main object of all great religions has been to counteract a certain epidemic malaise due to unreleased tension. It may safely be assumed that large masses of the earth’s population periodically suffer from physiological anxiety which, however, from lack of adequate physiological knowledge is not understood as such; whereupon religion steps in with its staple of psychological and moral remedies. 267
To put far too fine a point on it, Christianity produces guilt, Judaism, resentment and “slave mentality/ revolt.” This are historical statements, not ontological.
For our purposes it can’t go without saying how important Nietzsche’s Genealogy is to Foucault’s project, especially apparent in the text on our list, The Order of Things. You don’t have to look very hard to see both where Foucault found fuel for both his methods and his subjects. For example, this passage about the relationship of language (mots) and phenomena (choses):
For, just as popular superstition divorces the lightning from its brilliance, viewing the latter as an activity whose subject is the lightning, so does popular morality divorce strength from its manifestations, as though there were behind the strong a neutral agent, free to manifest its strength or contain it. But no such agent exists; there is no ‘being’ behind the doing, acting, becoming; the ‘doer’ has simply been added to the deed by the imagination – the doing is everything. The common man actually doubles the doing by making the lightning flash; he states the same event once as cause and then again as effect. The natural scientists are no better when they say that ‘energy moves,’ ‘energy causes.’ For all its detachment and freedom from emotion, our science is still the dupe of linguistic habits; it has never yet got rid of those changelings called ‘subjects.’
Or here, for example, which does not need to be stretched far to lead us to Foucault on subject formation:
“All instincts that are not allowed free play turn inward. This is what I call man’s interiorization; it alone provides the soil for the growth of what is later called man’s soul.”
Also the generator of the greatest and most disastrous of maladies, of which humanity has not to this day been cured: his sickness of himself, brought on by the violent severance from his animal past, by his sudden leap and fall into new layers and conditions of existence, by his declaration of war against the old instincts that had hitherto been the foundation of his power, his awesomeness.
Or, finally here, on the relationship between history and language:
(It is impossible to say with certainty today why people are punished. All terms which semiotically condense a whole process elude definition; only that which has no history can be defined.)
Another noted reader of Nietzsche on our reading list was Derrida. For example, it is interesting to think about how this passage from Genealogy might relate to Derrida’s ideas about religion as response in Faith and Knowledge:
Simply glance through history: in what sphere, thus far, has all legislation and, indeed, all true desire for laws, developed? In the sphere of ‘reactive’ man? Not at all. Exclusively in the sphere of the active, strong, spontaneous, and aggressive. Historically speaking, all law – be it said to the dismay of that agitator (Dühring) who once confessed: ‘The doctrine of vengeance is the red thread that runs through my entire investigation of justice’ – is a battle waged against the reactive emotions by the active and aggressive, who have employed part of their strength to curb the excesses of reactive pathos and bring about a compromise. Wherever justice is practiced and maintained, we see a stronger power intent on finding means to regulate the senseless raging of rancor among its weaker subordinates. 207
And, also so important to Derrida, the idea of credit (belief) and debt (guilt) are here in Nietzsche’s Genealogy at the crux of his investigation:
The civil-law relationship of debtor to creditor has been projected into yet another context, where we find it even more difficult to understand today, namely into the relationship between living men and their forebears.
And further:
The modern moralization of the ideas of guilt and duty – their relegation to a purely subjective ‘bad conscience’ – represents a determined attempt to invert the normal order of development, or at least to stop it in its tracks. The object now is to close the prospect of final deliverance and make man’s gaze rebound from an iron barrier; to force the ideas of guilt and duty to face about and fiercely turn on – whom? Obviously on the ‘debtor,’ first of all, who, infested and eaten away by bad conscience, which spreads like a polyp, comes to a view his debt as unredeemable by any act of atonement (the notion of ‘eternal penance’). But eventually the ‘creditor’ too is turned on in the same fashion. Now the curse falls upon man’s cause prima (‘Adam,’ ‘original sin’ the ‘bondage of the will’); or upon nature, which gave birth to man and which is now made the repository of the evil principle (nature as the instrument of the devil); or upon universal existence, which now appears as absolute non-value (nihilistic turning away from life, a longing for nothingness or for life’s ‘opposite,’ for a different sort of ‘being’ – Buddhism, etc.). Then suddenly we come face to face with that paradoxical and ghastly expedient which brought temporary relief to tortured humanity, that most brilliant stroke of Christianity: God’s sacrifice of himself for man. God makes himself the ransom for what could not otherwise be ransomed; God alone has power to absolve us of a debt we can no longer discharge, the creditor offers himself as a sacrifice for his debtor out of sheer love (can you believe it?), out of love for his debtor.
Lastly, these two gems, which I just can’t stand to leave out.
(the terms autonomous and moral are mutually exclusive)
(and all religions are at bottom systems of cruelty)

René Girard - Violence and the Sacred

René Girard - Violence and the Sacred.
Translated by Patrick Gregory. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1977.
René Girard’s Violence and the Sacred, published in French in 1972 and English in 1977, reads like a combination of Durkheimian sociology combined with a sort of Freudian use of Mythology. Ideas and language of primitiveness and progress is still well at work here, as I had to keep reminding myself the book was published just before turns toward a sense of reflexivity on such matters took hold.
According to Girard, internal violence is endemic to societies, and “if left unappeased, violence will accumulate until it overflows its confines and floods the surrounding area” thus, “the role of sacrifice is to stem this rising tide of indiscriminate substitutions and redirect violence into ‘proper channels (Girard, 10).’ Girard does think there is a difference between the societies who practice human sacrifice and those that only use animals, but he thinks that the gap between such societies “should not prevent us from perceiving what they have in common (Girard, 10).” Sacrifice in both types of society is defined as “an instrument of prevention in the struggle against violence (Girard, 17).”
What separates “civilized” people from these “primitive” ones is a system of law. Girard writes of this, that
if we compare societies that adhere to a judicial system with societies that practise sacrificial rites, the difference between the two is such that we can indeed consider the absence or presence of these institutions as the basis for distinguishing primitive societies from ‘civilized’ ones. These are the institutions we must scrutinize in order to arrive, not at some sort of value judgment, but at an objective knowledge of the respective societies to which they belong (Girard, 19).
Religion, then, develops as a means for man to protect himself from his own violence. He writes,
Religion, in its broadest sense, then, must be another term for that obscurity that surrounds man’s efforts to defend himself by curative or preventative means against his own violence. It is that enigmatic quality that pervades the judicial system when that system replaces sacrifice. This obscurity coincides with the transcendental effectiveness of a violence that is holy, legal, and legitimate successfully opposed to a violence that is unjust, illegal, and illegitimate (Girard, 23).
Girard then explores these theses through a variety of literatures. The second chapter, “The Sacrificial Crisis” looks at tragedy, and how
the modern mind has difficulty conceiving of violence in terms of a loss of distinctions, or of a loss of distinctions in terms of violence. Tragedy can help to resolve this difficulty if we agree to view the plays from a radical perspective. Tragic drama addresses itself to a burning issue – in fact, to the burning issue. The issue is never directly alluded to in the plays, and for good reason, since it has to do with the dissolution by reciprocal violence of those very values and distinctions around which the conflict of the plays supposedly revolves (Girard, 56).
Chapter Three “Oedipus and the Surrogate Victim” turns to everyone’s favorite tragedy of this variety, the continuing importance of this story he explains this way:
It is generally assumed that collective violence – in particular, the pitting of all against one – is an aberration in the history of a society; a perversion more or less pathological in nature, whose study can hardly be expected to yield anything of sociological significance. Our rationalist bent (about which I will have more to say further on) leads to an innocence of outlook that refuses to concede to collective violence anything more than a limited and fleeting influence, a ‘cathartic’ action similar, in its most extreme forms, to the catharsis of the sacrificial ritual. However, the fact that the Oedipus myth has survived over several millennia and that modern culture continues to hold it dear would suggest that the effects of collective violence are greatly under-estimated (Girard, 81).
From reading Oedipus with Girard we learn that, “men cannot confront the naked truth of their own violence without the risk of abandoning themselves to it entirely. They have never had a very clear idea of this violence, and it is possible that the survival of all human societies of the past was dependent on this fundamental lack of understanding (Girard, 82).” In it we also learn about the “generating spark of religion itself and the "transcendental force that characterizes it” are produced by the “violent unanimity…
of social unity forged or reforged by the ‘expulsion’ of the surrogate victim” which forces us to see that, “then even more momentous matters are at issue. If this is indeed the case we will find ourselves dealing not only with myths but also with rituals and the whole question of religion (Girard, 87).
Chapter Four, “The Origins of Myth and Ritual” Girard starts to talk about how the “ritualistic mind” and “ritualistic imagination” work. He says that we are now dealing with “an animal pharmakos, a calf or cow that assumes, not some vague and ill-defined sins, but the very real (though often hidden) hostilities that all the members of the community feel for one another” and that in this chapter, “Our portrayal of sacrifice as an imitation and reenactment of spontaneous collective violence in no way conflicts with the definition I proposed in Chapter 1 (Girard, 99).” He says that,
To understand how and why sacrifice functions as it does, we should consider the proposition that the ritual victim is never substituted for some particular member of the community or even for the community as a whole: it is always substituted for the surrogate victim. As this victim itself serves as a substitute for all the members of the community, the sacrificial substitution does indeed play the role that we have attributed to it, protecting all the members of the community from their respective violence 0 but always through the intermediary of the surrogate victim. Girard, 101-2
With this theory of the “surrogate victim” Girard is “evolving a theory of myth and ritual – in short of religion as a whole (Girard, 103).” In this process of sacrificing the “surrogate victim” the “ritualistic mind strives to reproduce the operation of violent unanimity without understanding its mimetic nature (Girard, 104)” and “The ritualistic imagination strives to repeat the original generative process. (Girard, 114).” From this analysis, Girard concludes that men are “doomed to ritual, arguing that this is because, “given the fundamental importance to mankind of the transformation of bad violence into good an the equally fundamental inability of men to solve the mystery of this transformation” arguing that it is not surprising that “the resulting rites assume forms that are both highly analogous and highly diverse (Girard, 115) and that if his hypothesis is correct, “no single religious form will suffice to illuminate the whole picture, but a multiplicity of examples will cast light on its various aspects until everything gradually becomes clear and certainly prevails (Girard, 104).” This leads us to another well-loved-by-theory myth, Dionysus.
Chapter Five, simply titled “Dionysus” gives Girard the chance to tell us that he has “no doubt” that “these [Bacchanalian] festivities commemorate a sacrificial crisis (Girard, 119).” He says, that, “The Bacchae takes as its subject a festival that goes wrong. And we will hardly be surprised at this unpleasant turn of events when we consider that this bacchanal is none other than the original bacchanal; that is, the sacrificial crisis. The tragedy seems to offer strong evidence in support of my theory of the meaning of festivals (Girard, 127).” Thus, he concludes,
Religion, then, is far from ‘useless.’ It humanizes violence; it protects man from his own violence by taking it out of his hands, transforming it into a transcendent and ever-present danger to be kept in check by the appropriate rites appropriately observed and by a modest and prudent demeanor. Religious misinterpretation is a truly constructive force, for it purges man of the suspicions that would poison his existence if he were to remain conscious of the crisis as it actually took place (Girard, 134-5).
So, from these myths, we learn that religion “humanizes violence” and protects him from his own through rituals (primitively, sacrificial, civilized, legally), as stated earlier.
In Chapter Six, “From Mimetic Desire to the Monstrous Double” Girard says that perhaps nothing “could be more banal that the role of violence in awakening desire (Girard, 144)” and that the Freudian death drive “is no more than a last surrender to mythological thinking, a final manifestation of that ancient belief that human violence can be attributed to some outside influence – to gods, to Fate, to some force men can hardly be expected to control” and that “it is a mode of thought that refuses to confront human conflicts squarely. It is an act of evasion, an attempt to ‘pass the buck’ and find an alternate sacrificial solution in a situation which makes such a solution increasingly difficult (Girard, 145).” Since, he argues, “desire itself is essentially mimetic, directed toward an object desired by the model (Girard, 146)” then “Mimetic desire is simply a term more comprehensive than violence for religious pollution. As the catalyst for the sacrificial crisis, it would eventually destroy the entire community if the surrogate victim were not at hand to halt the process and the ritualized mimesis were not at hand to keep the conflictual mimesis from beginning afresh (Girard, 148).”
He explains how “mimetic desire” names “religious pollution” more comprehensively than “violence” by telling the reader that
In the collective experience of the monstrous double the differences are not eliminated, but muddied and confused. All the doubles are interchangeable, although their basic similarity is never formally acknowledged. They thus occupy the equivocal middle ground between difference and unity that is indispensable to the process of sacrificial substitution – to the polarization of violence onto a single victim who substitutes for all the others (Girard, 161).
He describes this muddling of differences in terms of masking, wherein “They [masks] are beyond differences; they do not merely defy differences or efface them, but they incorporate and rearrange them in original fashion. In short, they are another aspect of the monstrous double (Girard, 167).” He explains this further in Chapter Seven on “Freud and the Oedipus Complex” saying that, “Mimetism is a source of continual conflict. By making one man’s desire into a replica of another man’s desire, it invariably leads to rivalry; and rivalry in turn transforms desire into violence (Girard, 169).”
Though Girard does take issue with some of Freud’s conclusions, in Chapter Eight on “Totem & Taboo and the Incest Prohibition,” he tell us that “Freud made an important discovery. He was the first to maintain that all ritual practices, all mythical implications, have their origins in an actual murder. Freud was unable to exploit the boundless implications of this proposition; in fact, he seemed unaware of the truly vertiginous scope of this idea (Girard, 201).” For Girard, the primal horde is the original sacrificial crisis. Thus, taboos are restrictions which “serve a basic. They maintain a sort of sanctuary at the heart of the community, an area where that minimum of nonviolence essential to the survival of the children and the community’s cultural heritage – essential, in short, to everything that sustains man’s humanity – is jealousy preserved (Girard, 221).”
In Chapter Nine, “Lévi-Strauss, Structuralism and Marriage Laws,” Girard turns to issues of language and insists that “There is no thought that is not symbolic in the structuralist sense of the word (Girard, 229)” and that,
To refer to the origin of symbolic thought is to speak as well of the origin of language. If the mechanism of the surrogate victim gives birth to language and imposes itself as the first object of language, it is easy to see why language should first state the conjunction of best and worst, the divine epiphany, the rite that commemorates this epiphany with the myth that recalls it (Girard, 235-6).
Saying further of how this relates to structuralism that, “the sacred concerns itself above all with the destruction of differences, and this nondifference cannot appear as such in the structure (Girard, 241).” He explains in depth that:
As long as meaning is healthy, the sacred is absent. It remains outside the structure, untouched by structural ethnology, banished by structuralism. … Structuralism constitutes a negative but indispensible stage in the discovery of the sacred, for it does away with the confusion that has previously prevailed. Thanks to structuralism, it is possible to distinguish the finite quality of sense – of structure – from the infinite quality of the sacred, that inexhaustible reservoir form which all differences flow and into which they all converge.
We now know that the sacred reigns supreme wherever a cultural order has not yet taken hold, has only begun to take hold, or has lost its hold entirely. The sacred also reigns over structure: engenders, organizes, observes, and perpetuates it or, on the contrary, mishandles, dissolves, transforms, and on a whim destroys it. But the sacred is not actually present in structure in the sense that it is present everywhere else (Girard, 242).
Thus, where a “cultural order” has not yet been put in place, the sacred is present. Within such a situation “Ritual violence is intended to reproduce an original act of violence. There is nothing mythic about this original violence, but its ritual imitation necessarily includes mythic elements (Girard, 249).”
From this investigation of the relationship between the sacred and structure, in penultimate Chapter Ten, “The Gods, the Dead, the Sacred, and Sacrificial Substitution,” Girard returns to sacrifice itself, arguing that his “theory of a violence that is sometimes reciprocal, sometimes unanimous and generative, is the first truly to take into account the double nature of all primitive divinities, the blending of beneficent and maleficent that characterizes all mythical figures who involve themselves in mortal affairs (Girard, 251).” He has accomplished this unprecedentedly complete study by first “tracing the course of violence through those beings who appeared to incarnate it: mythic heroes, sacred kings, gods, and deified ancestors” in such a way that “those various incarnations enrich our understanding of the many roles of violence and clarify the function of the surrogate victim and the preeminent importance of violent unanimity (Girard, 256-7).” But, he argues, “these incarnations are invariably illusory in one sense” because “Violence belongs to all men, and thus to none in particular (Girard, 257).” By which he means that,
all the actors have the same role, with the exception of the surrogate victim. But anybody can play the part of surrogate victim. It is futile to look for the secret of the redemptive process in distinctions between the surrogate victim and the other members of the community. The crucial fact is that the choice of the victim is arbitrary. The religious interpretations we have considered so far are at fault precisely because they attribute the beneficial results of the sacrifice to the superhuman nature of the victim or the other participants, insofar as any of these appear to incarnate the supreme violence (Girard, 257).
The way that he thus explains the sacred in light of this kind of relationship of the community to its members, is especially interesting in light of Derrida’s idea of auto-immunity, I think. Girard claims,
Sacrifice too can defined solely in terms of the sacred, without reference to any particular divinity; that is, it can be defined in terms of maleficent violence polarized by the victim and metamorphosed by his death (or expulsion from the community, which amounts to the same thing) into beneficent violence. Although the sacred is ‘bad’ when it is inside the community, it is ‘good’ when it returns to the exterior. The language of pure sacredness retains whatever is most fundamental to myth and religion; it detaches violence from man to make it a separate, impersonal entity, a sort of fluid substance that flows everywhere and impregnates on contact. The concept of contagion is obviously a by-product of this way of envisaging the sacred. Girard, 258
Contagion, here already, is an important way of thinking through the role of ritual and religion in society. Since “the birth of the community is first and foremost an act of separation … metaphors of severance permeate the generative act. … whether we refer to catharsis or purification, purgation or exorcism, it is actually the idea of evacuation and separation that is foremost (Girard, 267).” With an understanding of how these acts of separation are generative in society, we see that “all sacrificial rites are based on two substitutions. The first is provided by generative violence, which substitutes a single victim for all the members of the community. The second, the only strictly ritualistic substitution, is that of a victim for the surrogate victim” since “as we know, it is essential that the victim be drawn from outside the community” then “ritual sacrifice is defined as an inexact imitation of the generative act (Girard, 269).” Thus, he concludes,
Ritual requires the sacrifice of a victim as similar as possible to the ‘monstrous double.’ The marginal categories form which these victims are generally drawn barely fulfill this requirement, but they provide the least unsatisfactory compromise. Situated as they are between the inside and the outside, they can perhaps be said to belong to both the interior and the exterior of the community (Girard, 272).
In this conclusion, Girard tells us that “We encounter once again a remarkable fact: religious misapprehension figures largely in the very real protection offered society by ritual sacrifice, and indeed by religion in general (Girard, 273).” This “fact” of “religious misapprehension’s role in religion (which, to remind you, is how people protect themselves from their own violence) leads us to the Girard’s final chapter on “The Unity of All Rites.”
Chapter Eleven, reminds us that “the surrogate victim is the basis for all religious systems (Girard, 280)” and uses this idea to look at rites of passage, which he says, “have to do with the acquisition of a new status (Girard, 281).” He argues that,
The rite of passage is always an awesome experience, because it is impossible to predict at the outset what its course will be. Although the initiate knows what he is losing, he has no idea what he will be taking on. Violence will determine the final result of this monstrous mixture of differences, and the less one has to do with that, the better. In short, structure and change don’t go together. And even when change looks predictable to us, religious man fears that it might become uncontrollable. The idea of a nature subservient to social laws, or even to natural laws, is utterly foreign to primitive religion (Girard, 282).
Though, throughout the book, Girard has argued this way, and, thus, tried to demonstrate that generative violence penetrates all forms of mythology and ritual” he now says that we are “moving toward an expanded concept of sacrifice in which the sacrificial act in the narrow sense plays only a minor part (Girard, 297).”
With the minimization of the act, and the continuing importance of the concept, he defends the idea that “various ‘scapegoat’ phenomena are not the reflection of some ill-articulated guilt complex, but rather the very basis of cultural unification, the source of all rituals and religion (Girard, 302).” Thus, we see that,
All religious rituals spring form the surrogate victim, and all the great institutions of mankind, both secular and religious spring from ritual. Such is the case, as we have seen, with political power, legal institutions, medicine, the theater, philosophy and anthropology itself. It could hardly be otherwise, for the working basis of human thought, the process of ‘symbolization,’ is rooted in the surrogate victim. Even if no example taken alone offers conclusive proof of my theory, their cumulative effect is overwhelming; all the more so because they coincide with archetypal myths that tell, in apparently ‘naïve’ fashion, how all man’s religious, familial, economic, and social institutions grew out of the body of an original victim. The surrogate victim, as founder of the rite, appears as the ideal educator of humanity, in the etymological sense of e-ducatio, a leading out. The rite gradually leads men away from the sacred; it permits them to escape their own violence, removes them from violence, and bestows them all the institutions and beliefs that define their humanity (Girard, 306).
Thus, gesturing at Durkheim directly now, he says that “To carry Durkheim’s insight to its conclusion… religion is simply another term for the surrogate victim, who reconciles mimetic oppositions and assigns a sacrificial goal to the mimetic impulse (Girard, 307).” With this, he moves to his conclusion, in which he argues recites his main arguments, insisting still that “even if innumerable intermediary stages exist between the spontaneous outbursts of violence and its religious imitations, even if it is only these imitations that come to our notice, I want to stress that these imitations had their origin in a real event (Girard, 309).” And, once more claiming scientificity for his hypothesis and giving us a definition of “the religious,” stating that
whether my theory proves to be true or false, it can, I believe, lay claim to being ‘scientific,’ if only because it allows for rigorous definition of such terms as divinity, ritual, rite, and religion. Any phenomenon associated with the acts of remembering, commemorating, and perpetuating a unanimity that springs from the murder of a surrogate victim can be termed ‘religious’ (Girard, 315).
He concludes, in the first person, telling his reader that,
we have managed to extricate ourselves from the sacred somewhat more successfully than other societies have done, to the point of losing all memory of the generative violence; but we are now about to rediscover it. The essential violence returns to us in a spectacular manner – not only in the form of a violent history but also in the form of subversive knowledge. This crisis invites us, for the very first time, to violate the taboo that neither Herclitus nor Euripedes could ever quite manage to violate, and to expose to the light of reason the role played by violence in human society (Girard, 318).
Ultimately what I would say about this book is that it reads as a really interesting cross-roads for a lot of the other texts we’ve read, especially, as I stated at the outset, Freud and Durkheim. Many of our key themes appear (scientific method, literature, psychoanalysis, ritual, the sacred, etc.) and receive clear and interesting treatments. That being said, in reading this book it is hard not to be continually surprised at the ease with which Girard feels entitled to his language and his conclusions and to want to thusly, read him through those far more critical of such subjects, like Derrida. His position in French sociological and literary scholarship on religion places him between such periods and approaches, and for that, I guess, is perhaps still worth reading?

René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, Notes

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jacques Derrida - Acts of Religion - Part 2

Derrida, Jacques. Acts of Religion. New York: Routledge, 2002.
"Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of 'Religion' at the Limits of Reason Alone" continued...

Between the section heading “Post-Scriptum” and the twenty-seventh section of this essay is the italicized work “Crypts…” followed by this ellipses mark. An ellipses which is repeated at the start of section twenty-seven before a bold-lettered “Religion?” The second half of the essay thus begins with a very direct statement regarding how today we must “take into account, if possible in an areligious, or even irreligious manner, what religion at present might be as well as what is said and done what is happening at this very moment, in the world, in history, in its name (Derrida, (27), 61).” This idea of religion’s “name” leads to another important term, in the Derridean vocabulary, globalatinization. It is worth quoting this section in full in order to get the best possible idea of what he means with this neologism:
(30) Religion circulates in the world, one might say, like an English word <comme un mot anglais> that has been to Rome and taken a detour to the United States. Well beyond its strictly capitalist or politico-military figures, a hyper-imperialist appropriation has been underway now for centuries. It imposes itself in a particularly palpable manner within the conceptual apparatus of international law and of global political rhetoric. Wherever this apparatus dominates, it articulates itself through a discourse on religion. From here on, the word ‘religion’ is calmly (and violently) applied to things which have always been and remain foreign to what this word names and arrests in its history. The same remark could apply to many other words, for the entire religious ‘vocabulary’ beginning with ‘cult,’ ‘faith,’ ‘belief,’ ‘sacred,’ ‘holy,’ ‘saved,’ ‘unscathed’ (heilig). But by ineluctable contagion, no semantic cell can remain alien, I dare not say ‘safe and sound,’ ‘unscathed,’ in this apparently borderless process. Globalatinization (essentially Christian, to be sure), this word names a unique event to which a meta-language seems incapable of acceding, although such a language remains, all the same, of the greatest necessity here. For at the same time that we no longer perceive its limits, we know that such globalization is finite and only projected (Derrida, (30), 67).
Globalatinization, or the spread and domination of Christianity through the history and continued dominance of a vocabulary, if that is not too fine a point to put on it.
Rather than trying to make this flow in some way, I’m going to try and give the most crucial highlights from the rest of this section.
First, the “two veins (two strata or sources) of the religious: “1. The experience of belief, on the one hand (believing or credit, the fiduciary or the trustworthy in the act of faith, fidelity, the appeal to blind confidence, the testimonial that is always beyond proof, demonstrative reason, intuition)” and “2. the experience of the unscathed, of sacredness or of holiness, on the other?) (Derrida, (32), 70).” These two veins of religious experience, belief and the sacred, Derrida says “should be distinguished from one another” since “they can doubtless be associated with each other and certain of their possible co-implications analysed, but they should never be confused or reduced to one another as is almost always done (Derrida, (32), 70).”
Here, Derrida becomes downright practical. He asks, “how can discourses, or rather, as was just suggested, ‘discursive practices,’ be articulated and made to cooperate in attempting to take the measure of the question, ‘What is religion?’ (Derrida, (32), 70).” From here, he comes to what he is willing, “perhaps,” to call a “pre-definition” of religion, saying that,
however little may be known of religion in the singular, we do know that it is always a response and responsibility that it is always a response and responsibility that is prescribed, not chosen freely in an act of pure and abstractly autonomous will. There is no doubt that it implies freedom, will and responsibility, but let us try to think this; will and freedom without autonomy. Whether it is a question of sacredness, sacrificiality or of faith, the other makes the law, the law is the other; to give ourselves back to the other. To every other and to the utterly other. Derrida, 71
A “response not chosen freely,” that is religion. The “discursive practices” Derrida assesses in his effort to “take the measure of the question” of “what is religion?” are, then, etymologies, genealogies and pragmatics [bold in the original]. But, because, “etymology never provides a law and only provides material for thinking on the condition that it allows itself to be though as well (Derrida, (33), 71),” And filiations or genealogies would determine an immense field, with which the meaning of the word is put to the test of historical transformations and of institutional structures… which in itself, [prove] nothing about the effective use of the word (Derrida, (33), 71), for the purposes of this essay, “the last type,” pragmatics, “ought to dominate. It should not exclude others – that would lead to too many absurdities – but it should privilege the signs of what in the world, today, singularizes the use of the word ‘religion’ as well as experience of ‘religion’ associated with the word, there where no memory and no history could suffice to announce or gather it, at least not at first sight (Derrida, (33), 72).”
This is how we can think about the use of the word “religion” and how it is “singularized” but, Derrida argues, “there has not always been, therefore, nor is there always and everywhere, nor will there always and everywhere (‘with humans’ or elsewhere) be something, a thing that is one and identifiable, identical with itself, which, whether religious or irreligious, all agree to call ‘religion.’ And yet, one tells oneself, one must still respond (Derrida, (34), 73).” One must still respond. From here, Derrida turns his attention to the “problematic of the ‘return of the religious (Derrida, (34), 76).’”
The “return of the religious” (always in quotes), “which is to say, the spread of a complex and overdetermined phenomenon” is, according to Derrida, “not a simple return, for its globality and its figures (teletechno-media-scientific, capitalistic and politico-economic) remain original and unprecedented (Derrida, (37), 78).” Nor is it “a simple return of the religious, for it comports, as one of its two tendencies, a radical destruction of the religious (stricto sensu, the Roman and that statist, like everything that incarnates the European political or juridical order against which all non-Christian ‘fundamentalisms’ or ‘integrisms’ are waging war, to be sure, but also certain forms of Protestant or even Catholic orthodoxy) (Derrida, (37), 78).” In other words, it is not just the fear of “outsider extremists who destroy our values” kind of rhetoric at work here in this “self-destructive affirmation of religion (Derrida, (37), 78).” At work also is what Derrida says that something “auto-immune, could well be at work in all the projects known as ‘pacifist’ and economic, ‘catholic’ or not, which appeal to universal fraternization, to the reconciliation of ‘men, sons of the same God,’ and above all when these brothers belong to the monotheistic tradition of the Abrahamic religions (Derrida, (37), 78).” Auto-immune in the sense of a system whose logic is the identification and elimination of infection, the result of which, Derrida means, “it will always be difficult extricating this pacifying movements from a double horizon (the one hiding or dividing the other (Derrida, (37), 78).” Thus, “the field of this war or of this pacification is henceforth without limit: all the religions, their centres of authority, the religious cultures, states, nations or ethnic groups that they represent have unequal access, to be sure, but often one that is immediate and potentially without limit, to the same world market.” Religions are thus, “at the same time producers, actors and sought-after consumers, at times exploiters, at times victims” and
is thus the access to the world (transnational or translate) networks of telecommunication and of tele-technoscience. Henceforth religion ‘in the singular’ accompanies and even precedes the critical and tele-technoscientific reason, it watches over it as its shadow. It is its wake, the shadow of light itself, the pledge of faith, the guarantee of trustworthiness, the fiduciary experience presupposed by all production of shared knowledge, the testimonial performativity engaged in all technoscientific performance in the entire capitalistic economy indissociable from it (Derrida, (37), 79-80).
Further, the same movement” that “renders indissociable religion and tele-technoscientific reason in its most critical aspect reacts inevitably to itself (Derrida, (37), 79-80).” This, again, is auto-immunity. That linking movement,
secrets its own antidote but also its own power of auto-immunity. We are here in a space where all self-protection of the unscathed, of the safe and sound, of the sacred (heilig, holy) must protect itself against its own protection, its own police, its own immunity. It is this terrifying but fatal logic of the auto-immunity of the unscathed that will always associate Science and Religion (Derrida, (37), 79-80).
He explains further how this “logic of auto-immunity” produces an “internal splitting” which is
peculiar or ‘proper’ to religion, appropriating religion for the ‘proper’ (inasmuch as it is also the unscathed: heilig, holy, sacred, saved, immune and so on), appropriating religious indemnification to all forms of property, from the linguistic idiom in its ‘letter,’ to blood and soil, to the family and to the nation. This internal and immediate reactivity, at once immunitary and auto-immune, can alone account for what will be called the religious resurgence in its double and contradictory phenomenon (Derrida, (37), 81-82).
Religion today allies itself with tele-technoscience, to which it reacts with all its forces. It is, on the one hand, globalization; it produces, weds, exploits the capital and knowledge of tele-mediatization… But, on the other hand, it reacts immediately, simultaneously, declaring war against that which gives it this new power only at the cost of dislodging it from all its proper places, in truth from place itself, from the taking-place of its truth. It conducts a terrible war against that which protects it only by threatening it, according to this double and contradictory structure: immunitary and auto-immunitary (Derrida, (37), 82).
Here, this section ends and so beings the section entitled “… and pomegranates” which becomes even more physiological, or anatomical, or something, bringing in the phallic, and pregnancy to talk about the other subject Anidjar noted as important: life. He writes, “one could, without being arbitrary, read, select, connect everything in the semantic genealogy of the unscathed – ‘saintly, sacred, safe and sound, heilig, holy’ – that speaks of force, life-force, fertility, growth, augmentation, and above all swelling, in the spontaneity of erection or of pregnancy (Derrida, 84).”Now that we are speaking of “life-force, Derrida, says,
Thus, respect of life in the discourses of religion as such concerns ‘human life’ only in so far as it bears witness, in some manner, to the infinite transcendence of that which is worth more than it (divinity, the sacrosanctness of the law). The price of human life, which is to say, of anthropo-theological life, the price of what ought to remain safe (heilig, sacred, safe and sound, unscathed, immune), as the absolute price the price of what ought to inspire respect, modesty, reticence, this price is priceless. Derrida, 87
From auto-immunity and lives, he moves to auto-co-immunity, and thus, communities. Writing,
Community as comm.-mon auto-immunity: no community that would not cultivate its own auto-immunity, a principle of sacrificial self-destruction ruining the principle of self-protection (that of maintaining its self-integrity intact), and this in view of some sort of invisible and spectral sur-vival. This self-contesting attestation keeps the auto-immune community alive, which is to say, open to something other and more than itself: the other, the future, death, freedom, the coming or the love of the other, the space and time of a spectralizing messianicity beyond all messianism. It is there that the possibility of religion persists: the religious bond (scrupulous, respectful, modest, reticent, inhibited) between the value of life, its absolute ‘dignity,’ and the theological machine, the ‘machine for making gods (Derrida, 87).’
From here, there is a detour into Heidegger who
not only excluded the very possibility of a philosophy of religion. He not only proposed a radical separation between philosophy and theology, the positive study of faith, if not between thought and theiology, the discourse on the divinity of the divine. He not only attempted a ‘destruction’ of all forms of the ontotheological, etc. he also wrote, in 1953: ‘Belief [or faith] has no place in thought (Der Glaube hat im Denken keinen Platz).’ [“The Anaximander fragment,’ in Martin Heidegger, Early Greek Thinking] (Derrida, 94).
Later stating that,
Since the major question remains, in our eyes, albeit in a form that is still quite new: ‘What does it mean to believe? ‘ we well ask (elsewhere) how and why Heidegger can at the same time affirm one of the possibilities of the ‘religious,’ of which we have just schematically recalled the signs (Faktum, Bezeugung, Zusage, Verhaltenheit, Heilige, etc.) and reject so energetically ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ (Glaube). Our hypothesis again refers back to the two sources or two strata or religion which we distinguished above: the experience of sacredness and the experience of belief (Derrida, 97).
Back to the experiences of the sacred and of belief, which, he will argue, converge in “witnessing.” Of which he asks,
What therefore does the promise of this axiomatic (quasi-transcendental) performative do that conditions and foreshadows ‘sincere’ declarations no less than lies and perjuries, and thus all address of the other/ it amounts to saying: ‘Believe what I say as one believes in a miracle.’ Even the slightest testimony concerning the most plausible, ordinary or everyday thing cannot do otherwise: it must still appeal to faith as would a miracle. It offers itself like the miracle itself in space that leaves no room for disenchantment (Derrida, 98).
This site of testimony in witnessing, is “where the socius or the relation to the other would disclose itself to be the secret of testimonial experience – and hence, of a certain faith (Derrida, 99).” Here, it is shown that,
There is no alliance of two, unless it is to signify in effect the pure madness of pure faith. The worst violence. The more than One is this n+One which introduces the order of faith or of trust in the address of the other, but also the mechanical, machine-like division (testimonial affirmation and reactivity, ‘yes, yes,’ etc., answering machine and the possibility of radical evil: perjury, lies, remote-control murder, ordered at a distance even when it rapes and kills with bare hands). Derrida, 100
Thus, “The auto-immunity of religion can only indemnify itself without assignable end” because, “at the bottom without bottom of this crypt, the One + n incalculably engenders all these supplements (Derrida, 100). And here, the essay ends, on the following statement about how religion,
makes violence of itself, does violence to itself and keeps itself from the other On the bottom without bottom of an always virgin impassibility, chora of tomorrow in languages we no longer know or do not yet speak. This place is unique, it is the One without name. it makes way, perhaps, but without the slightest generosity, neither divine nor human. The dispersion of ashes is not even promise there, nor death given (Derrida, 100).
Which is a hell of a lot to deal with. I would say, that for our purposes, the take-away from this part of the essay are globalatinization (language and pragmatics), the two strata or veins of experience, belief and the sacred, the logic of autoimmunity that links religion and science, and a sense of what that means in terms of religion as response to the other.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion - Part 1

Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion.
Edited and with an Introduction by Gil Anidjar.
Routledge, 2001.
All right, Anand, are you excited? It’s finally time for a little bit of Derrida. Don’t worry, though, I’m going to try really hard to make this manageable. Which means I am definitely not going to go through every part of every essay in Acts of Religion. You want a freakin’ abyss, that would be an abyss. So the plan here instead will be to really go through Gil’s introduction to the book and then the first essay, Faith and Knowledge. After that, I think I will give very short synopses of the other essays, in part or entirely ripping off Gil’s introductory summaries that precede each of them. I see no sense in making it any harder than that, the texts are plenty difficult as it is.
Key Terms: Theologico-Political, Language, History, Politics, Christianity, Jew, Arab, Judaism, Islam, Difference, Abrahamic, Europe, Spectrality, Violence, Readability, Sacred, Knowledge, Abstraction, Globalatinization, Messianism, Law, Auto-Immune, Chora, Ethics, Memory
Introduction: “Once More, Once More”: Derrida, the Arab, the Jew by Gil Anidjar
Okay, so this starts out clear enough. Anidjar (yeah, I guess that’s what I have to call him for this purposes, right?) tells us that< “Jacques Derrida’s writing on religion has indeed consisted of a manifold and powerful effort to situate and raise again questions of tradition, faith, and sacredness and their relation to the premises of philosophy and political culture (Anidjar, 3).” But what do we mean by “religion” here? Well, of course that question takes no time to surface, because immediately Anidjar, by way of Derrida’s texts, takes aim at the whole enterprise of Religious Studies: “The modern discourse of comparative religion which rendered the incommensurable comparable, could hardly have emerged independently of Jewish, Christian and Muslim medieval disputations that stage the one/three faith(s) in different and complex ways (Anidjar, 4).” He elaborates in his fourteenth footnote a few pages later, that “as already pointed out, the scholarly tradition has not been entirely consistent in addressing he links and ruptures that operate between Islam and Judaism” and that, “moreover, this tradition has virtually ignored – has been unable to read – these links and ruptures as constitutive of what is still called ‘Christian Europe (Anidjar, 6).’” The question presented here, of what is readable will be of great importance throughout the essay. What is it about the study of religion, not just religion, but the comparative mode, that renders what is important unreadable?
The theme to which this essay attaches itself and uses to make Derrida’s text readable to an introduction, is that of the Abrahamic. This is “because to engage Derrida on religions is to follow ‘the religious beyond the concept, in the direction of a certain Abraham;’* it is to witness and experience – to read – the irreconcilable and, if not quite the explosion of the Abrahamic, then undoubtedly, and more precisely, the Abrahamic as explosive. And it is ‘an experience that leaves nothing intact (Anidjar, 4).” To be more and less clear, this is and is not the Abrahamic of the “new ways of talking about historically dominant monotheistic religions. There are many definitions of the Abrahamic passing through Anidjar’s essay, but the first one he really gives is on page seven when he begins a sentence this way: “The Abrahamic – that is to say, Derrida on religion” and concludes the paragraph by saying that, “The Abrahamic will also have been Derrida’s name (Anidjar, 7).” He continues, “The Abrahamic (‘la coupure [cut] abrahamique’ as Glas has it) dissociates and breaks the dividing movement around which ‘Europe’ – and religion – constitutes itself. the Abrahamic may very well be as unreadable as an explosion, yet the unreadable, as Derrida has shown, is often the trace that summons us time and again to the scene of something significant (Anidjar, 7).” Okay, so, still with me? The Abrahamic is Derrida’s way of leading us to the explosive force haunting the question of how ‘Europe’ came to be conceived of the way that it is; Derrida the Abrahamic is Derrida on Religion which is Derrida on the Jew, the Arab and Europe/ Christianity.
But, of course, the Abrahamic does more than that, “it does more than conjure a distant Biblical past to which ‘Judaism’ can be and has often been referred… The Abrahamic does more than harangue us toward a prophetic and messianic future that, more often than not, comforts because it presents, destroys, or steals no more than the images of the other (Anidjar, 9).” The Abrahamic “transports” us to a “reading field” which “is therefore that of an impossibility, a non-figure that, in its invisibility and unreadability, reproduces and exceeds the so-called ‘Jewish-Muslim symbiosis,’*[Jacques Derrida Donner la Mort (Paris: Galilée, 1999)] at once ancient and new – more ancient and newer than could, strictly speaking, ever appear or become manifest (Anidjar, 10).” This leads us to Derrida and Anidjar’s Jew and Arab:
Figured and failing to figure as the promise and the threat of an alliance – the cut of circumcision – of the Arab and the Jew, the Arab Jew (Muslim and Jew, Moor and Jew, Arab and Jew), the Abrahamic articulates the non-figure of the first as already the last, of the last and of the end, an explosive specter of uncertain and troubling existence (‘Judaism and Islam would thus be perhaps, serait peut-être alors, the last two monotheisms to revolt against everything …’).* The Arab Jew, whose silent hyphen will prove both more and less than that of ‘Judeo-Christianity,’ fails to fuse and violently opens the field of the Abrahamic that Derrida gives us to read.* This, then, is Derrida ‘on religion (Anidjar, 10).’”
The Arab Jew, the Abrahamic, is Derrida on religion. Thus, “Unsurprisingly, to read (for) the Abrahamic, as this anthology proposes, will mean to listen to the recurrence of sounds and lexemes that have escaped attention, have otherwise failed to gather or to coagulate – into words. They have therefore retained the spectrality and explosiveness of a non-history, the spectrality and explosiveness of the Abrahamic (Anidjar, 11).
After affirming the connection between the Abrahamic and Derrida as the connection between the personal and the political and the political and the theological (Anidjar, 20), Anidjar tells us of his introduction that it what it “traces is the way of marking a path of entry into the question of the Abrahamic, focusing on moments where the three so-called Abrahamic religions or markers thereof are cross-implicated (by now, it should be clear that they hardly cohabit peacefully) in and around Derrida’s texts (Anidjar, 22).”
Yet, and this will remain important, Anidjar reads Derrida to have not said all of what he might have said about religion. He says that in the remainder of the essay he will follow the “unreadability of the Abrahamic, of ‘religion’ in Derrida as the interplay of an autobiographeme (the utterance of the impossible: no longer, not only ‘I am dead’ but ‘I am a Muselman,’ ‘I am an Arab Jew’) and an impossible theological and political entity (Anidjar, 20).” This “autobiographeme” must be traced because, “the Abrahamic, in Derrida, is a silent, forgotten hyphen that constitutes the secret holdings of links between the personal and the political, between the political and the theological, whose porous boundaries are constantly violated. It inserts itself enigmatically and persistently in an unwritten and unreadable history (Anidjar, 20)” but “it remains possible that Derrida did not say what he would have wanted to say (‘I am saying nothing, then, that can be said or sayable (Derrida, Circonfession, 42)’). Anidjar then posits that “if recalling is not yet speaking (‘what I would have wanted to say’) neither is (not) speaking, avoiding (Anidjar, 26).” Which leads us to what Anidjar (and perhaps Derrida) is really saying about what Derrida is not saying (I know, sorry). A page earlier having written, “Shatila (that is, Judaism, Christianity, Islam (Anidjar, 27))” Anidjar asks about the Abrahamic, “What of it if its name is also ‘Islamism’? and what of it if this is also Derrida’s name, the name Shatila, the name of a place that like Moriah, then and today, is a brutal and explosive encounter between the three Abrahamic religions? What if this is indeed the name of the Abrahamic (Anidjar, 28-29)?” Shatila here, I can only imagine must be read as a reference to the massacre in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut in 1982. If you’ve seen “Waltz with Bashir,” the documentary footage at the end is of this event. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabra_and_Shatila_massacre). This is Anidjar’s proposition, then, that Shatila is the Abrahamic, is not some easily hyphenated lexeme like “Judeo-Christianity, but is a massacre in which Jews enabled the massacre of Arabs by Christians.”
Anidjar tells us that:
Earlier in ‘Comment ne pas parler’ Derrida elaborates on his decision not to speak: ‘I thus decided not to speak of negativity or of apophatic movements in, for example, the Jewish or Islamic traditions. To leave this immense place empty, and above all that which can connect such a name of God with the name of the Place, ce qui peut y lier tel nom de Dieu au nom du Lieu, to remain thus on the threshold – was this not the most consistent possible apophasis? Concerning that about which one cannot speak, isn’t it best to remain silent.? I let you answer this question. It is always entrusted to the other,’ (53) The answer to the question, the decision, is the other’s. The threshold, where Derrida may remain by speaking and not speaking, names a place, but it does not have one proper name (least of all Arab Jew’) this nameless threshold would be where Derrida stays, where he would have wanted to remain, when he stood and delivered the lecture entitled ‘Comment ne pas parler’ in Jerusalem… (Anidjar, 30).
Thus, he says, “these are the questions raised once again, once more, by the Abrahamic, and though they do not, could not, substitute for a reading of the undreadable, they may attend to the reading field to which Derrida exposes (and explodes) us ‘with,’ one could say, the Abrahamic (Anidjar, 33).” And, “with the Abrahamic, we are confronted, on the one hand, with a Derrida preoccupied with ethical concerns and with what one could call an ‘ethics of memory.’ On the other hand, there is here a Derrida who has painfully inscribed incineration, suffering and who exhorts us to an exp(l)osure, to a reading field that is a mine field (Anidjar, 36).” Ethics, memory, and the ethics of memory. The Abrahamic Derrida (Derrida on Religion) is also about that. Ultimately, Anidjar refers to the Abrahamic as a condition, which might be the most useful way to think of it. He writes, “As a condition, the Abrahamic cannot quite be said to structure, certainly not in any exclusive way, the distinct operations that are at work between all of these terms, and yet, ‘could I explain anything without it, ever [Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, 71]?’” I’m pretty sure you can imagine what Gil thinks about how that question gets answered.
Okay, so we’re all set on the Abrahamic, then? Basically, I think the point here is that Derrida on religion is Derrida on histories of violent construction and encounter as embodied in memory and language. Something like that. Now I’ll go through an actual example of Derrida writing about religion so we can see how this all really looks in action.
“Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone”
“Faith and Knowledge” is the first essay in Acts of Religion. In his introductory page preceding it, Anidjar tells the reader that, “’Faith and Knowledge’ can be read as Derrida’s own introduction to the question of religion in his work” and that it “recasts Derrida’s earlier texts, refiguring the politics of religion, technology (the text is also one of Derrida’s most extensive discussions of technology in its contemporaneity), and our understanding of ‘life (Anidjar, 41).’” The essay itself is broken up into fifty-two numbered sections of varying lengths, the first twenty-six of which are entirely italicized.
The first part of the essay, I admit, was really confusing, I think because it’s about, like, real philosophy, and I still don’t really know any of that stuff. Derrida tells that “eventually, we would therefore like to link the question of religion to that of the evil of abstraction. To radical abstraction (Derrida, (2), 43).).” We will link them
In order to think religion today abstractly, we will take these powers of abstraction as our point of departure, in order to risk, eventually, the following hypothesis: with respect to all of these forces of abstraction and of dissociation (deracination, delocalization, disincarnation, formalization, universalizing schematization, objectification, telecommunication etc.), ‘religion’ is at the same time involved in reacting to antagonistic technoscience (‘capitalist’ and fiduciary) and belief, credit, trustworthiness, the act of faith will always have made common cause, bound to one another by the band of opposition. Whence the aporia – a certain absence of way, path, issue, salvation – and the two sources (Derrida, (2), 43).
In other words, the question of ‘religion’ is that of an aporia produced by two sources, one of abstraction and dislocation and the other, of reacting to the antagonism of capitalism. Derrida further says that,
Now if, today, the ‘question of religion’ actually appears in a new and different light, if there is an unprecedented resurgence, both global and planetary, of this ageless think, then what is at stake is language, certainly – and more precisely the idiom, literality, writing, that forms the element of all revelation and of all belief, an element that ultimately is irreducible and untranslatable – but an idiom that above all is inseparable from the social nexus, from the political, familial, ethnic, communitarian nexus, from the nation and from the people: from autochony, blood and soil, and from the ever more problematic relation to citizenship and to the state. In these times, language and nation from the historical body of all religious passion (Derrida, (4), 44).
Language and nation are what are of interest and what are at stake. Thus, we must
never treat as an accident the force of the name in what happens, occurs or is said in the name of religion, here in the name of Islam. For, directly or not, the theologico-political, like all the concepts plastered over these questions, beginning with that of democracy or of secularization, even of the right to literature, is not merely European, but Graeco-Christian, Graeco-Roman (Derrida, (7), 46).
Thus, he asks,
Are we ready to measure without flinching the implications and consequences of the Kantian thesis? The latter seems strong, simple and dizzying: the Christian religion would be the only truly ‘moral’ religion; a mission would thus be reserved exclusively for it and for it alone: that of liberating a ‘reflecting faith.’ It necessarily follows therefore that pure morality and Christianity are indissociable in their essence and in their concept. … This thesis doubtless tells us something about the history of the world – nothing less (Derrida, (15), 50).
And thus we get to globalatinization, since,
From one religion to the other, the ‘fundamentalisms’ and the ‘integrisms’ hyperbolize today this outbidding. They exacerbate it at a moment when – we shall return to this later – globalatinzization (this strange alliance of Christianity, as the experience of the death of God, and tele-technoscientific capitalism) is at the same time hegemonic and finite, ultra-powerful and in the process of exhausting itself. simply, those who are involved in this outbidding can pursue it from all angles, adopting all ‘positions,’ either simultaneously or successively, to the uttermost limit (Derrida, (15), 51-52).
“Globalatinization,” one of Derrida’s many enduring neologisms, of which he “asks”: Is this not the madness, the absolute anachrony of our time, the disjunction of all self-contemporaneity, the veiled and cloudy day of every day (Derrida, (15) 52).” The next section, sixteen, tells us that,
When translated into the element of religion, moral ideas pervert the purity of their transcendence. They can do this in two times, two ways, and the resulting square could today frame, providing that the appropriate transpositions are respected, a programme of analysis of the forms of evil perpetrated at the four corners of the world ‘in the name of religions (Derrida, (16) 52).’
With this “framework” in place, Derrida then asks,
How then to think – within the limits of reason alone – a religion which, without again becoming ‘natural religion,’ would today be effectively universal? And which, for that matter, would no longer be restricted to a paradigm that was Christian or even Abrahamic? What would be the project of such a ‘book’? For with Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, there is a World involved that is also an Old-New Book or Testament. Does this project retain a meaning or a chance? A geopolitical chance or meaning? Or does the idea itself remain, in its origin and in its end, Christian? And would this necessarily be a limit, a limit like any other? A Christian – but also a Jew or a Muslim – would be someone who would harbour doubts about this limit, about the existence of this limit or about its reducibility to any other limit, to the current figure of limitation (Derrida, (17) 53).
Shortly thereafter he reframes the inquiry in terms of that titular element “faith,” and asks it this way,
In its most abstract form, then, the aporia within which we are struggling would perhaps be the following: is revealability (Offenbarkeit) more originary than revelation (Offenbarung), and hence independent of all religion? Independent in the structures of its experience and in the analytics relating to them? Is this not the place in which ‘reflecting faith’ at least originates, if not this faith itself? or rather, inversely, would the event of revelation have consisted in revealing revealability itself, and the origin of light, the originary light, the very invisibility of visibility (Derrida, (19), 54-55).
Which leads us to a desert, or an “abstraction of the desert” which,
can thereby open the way to everything from which it withdraws. Whence the ambiguity or the duplicity of the religious trait or retreat, of its abstraction or of its subtraction. This deserted re-treat thus makes way for the repetition of that which will have given way precisely for that in whose name one would protest against it, against that which only resembles the void and the indeterminancy of mere abstraction (Derrida, (20) 55).
That for which this “religious retreat” makes way for “messianicity without messianism,” by which Derrida means “the opening to the future or to the coming of the other as the advent of justice, but without horizon or expectation and without prophetic prefiguration Derrida, (21), 56). I take this to resemble something like the openness to “astonishment” de Certau advocated in Heterologies, since Derrida says further of it that,
The messianic exposes itself to absolute surprise and, even if it always takes the phenomenal form of peace or of justice, it ought, exposing itself so abstractly, be prepared (waiting without awaiting itself) for the best as for the worst, the one never coming without opening the possibility of the other. At issue there is a ‘general structure of experience.’ This messianic dimension does not depend upon any messianism, it follows no determinate revelation, it belongs properly to no Abrahamic religion (even if I am obliged here, ‘among ourselves,’ for essential reasons of language and of place, of culture, of a provisional rhetoric and a historical strategy of which I will speak later, to continue giving it names marked by the Abrahamic religions.) (Derrida, (21), 56)
Imagining such a “general structure of experience” requires us to use the language of ‘religion’ but it does not, itself, depend on such an institution. It is an idea of experience structured around expectation with an “invincible desire for justice” linked to it (Derrida, 22), 56). Derrida tells us that he distinguishes this idea of justice from “right,” and that it
alone allows the hope, beyond all ‘messianisms,’ of a universalizable culture of singularities, a culture in which the abstract possibility of the impossible translation could nevertheless be announced. This justice inscribes itself in advance in the promise, in the act of faith or in the appeal to faith that inhabits every act of language and every address to the other. The universalizable culture of this faith, and not of another or before all others, alone permits a ‘rational’ and universal discourse on the subject of ‘religion (Derrida, (22), 56).’
Faith as expectation of and for the other, that is, “this messianicity, stripped of everything, as it should, this faith without dogma which makes its way through the risks of absolute night, cannot be contained in any traditional opposition, for example that between reason and mysticism (Derrida, (22), 57).” This messianicity that exceeds and precedes “any traditional opposition,
is announced whenever, reflecting without flinching, a purely rational analysis brings the following paradox to light: that the foundation of law – law of the law, institution of the institution, origin of the constitution – is a ‘performative’ event that cannot belong to the set that it founds, inaugurates or justifies. Such an event is unjustifiable within the logic of what it will have opened. It is the decision of the other in the undecidable (Derrida, (22) 57).
To me, this reads like a way into Derrida’s engagement with Walter Benjamin, Carl Schmitt and Emmanuel Levinas in the essay contained later in this volume, Force of Law,’ a famously difficult and important text on law, justice, sovereignty and violence. In fact, the subtitle of that essay is The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority,’ a line he uses here when he says that we can,
… Henceforth reason out to recognize there what Montaigne and Pascal call an undeniable ‘mystical foundation of authority.’ The mystical thus understood allies belief or credit, the fiduciary or the trustworthy, the secret (which here signifies ‘mystical’) to foundation, to knowledge, we will later say also, to science as ‘doing,’ as theory, practice and theoretical practice – which is to say, to a faith, to performativity and to technoscientific or tele-technological performance. Wherever this foundation founds in foundering, wherever it steals away under the ground of what it founds, at the very instant when, losing itself thus in the desert, it loses the very trace of itself and the memory of a secret, ‘religion’ can only begin and begin again: quasi-automatically, mechanically, machine-like, spontaneously. Spontaneously, which is to say, as the word indicates, both as the origin of what flows from the source, sponte sua, and with the automaticity of the machine (Derrida, (22), 57).
To try to put this all together, what is being said is that “messianicity without messianism” would structure an experience of waiting for the other constitutive of a kind of justice that exposes the paradox at the foundation of law, “the decision of the other in the undecidable.” In this “structure of experience” we can then recognize “the mystical foundation of authority” which links faith and knowledge through the linking together of belief and credit (faith) with the practical and scientific (knowledge). Each time that it is forgotten that the mystical (faith) founds authority (knowledge) a space is opened for ‘religion’ to begin.
The space that opens, in which and out of which ‘religion’ begins, that space is “the open interior of a corpus, of a system, of language or a culture” in which “chora would situate the abstract spacing, place itself, the place of absolute exteriority, but also the place of bifurcation between two approaches to the desert (Derrida, (23), 57). Out of that space ‘religion’ might be produced, but so too, might chora, a different kind of space or place, a place of and for the other. A spacing, which, not allowing itself to be dominated by any theological, ontological or anthropological instance, without age, without history and more ‘ancient’ than all oppositions (for example that of sensible/intelligible), does not even announce itself as ‘beyond being’ in accordance with a path of negation, a via negativa (Derrida, (24), 58).” The chora is not related to ‘religion.’ In fact,
It will never have entered religion and will never permit itself to be sacralized, sanctified, humanize, theologized, cultivated, historicized. Radically heterogeneous to the safe and sound, to the holy and the sacred, it never admits any indemnification. This cannot even be formulated in the present, for chora never presents itself as such. It is neither Being, nor the Good, nor God, nor Man, nor History. It will always resist them, will have always been (and no future anterior, even, will have been able to reappropriate, inflect or reflect a chora without faith or law) the very place of an infinite resistance, of an infinitely impassible persistence : an utterly faceless other (Derrida, (24), 58-59).
The chora would be the place made, the spacing for, an other that could never be captured by language or visibility, about whom no decision could be made. The idea of which leads Derrida to ask, “Respect for this singular indecision or for this hyperbolic outbidding between two originaries, the order of the ‘revealed’ and the order of the ‘revealable,’ is this not at one the chance of every responsible decision and of another ‘reflecting faith,’ of a new ‘tolerance? (Derrida, (25), 59” Derrida then asks the reader to try to think of “tolerance” as it might be if it had never been Christian. He says,
Let us suppose it agreed upon, among ourselves, that all of us here are for ‘tolerance,’ even if we have not been assigned the mission of promoting it, practicing it or founding it. We would be here to try to think what ‘tolerance’ could henceforth be.” He thus explains that he has “immediately” placed the word in quotation marks to “announce” through it “through the density of its history, a possibility that would not be solely Christian (Derrida, (26), 59).” According to Derrida, “lesson of tolerance was first of all an exemplary lesson that the Christian deemed himself alone capable of giving to the world, even if he often had to learn it himself.” So, he leaves this part of the essay by proposing that “Another ‘tolerance’ would be in accord with the experience of the ‘desert in the desert’; it would respect the distance of an infinite alterity as singularity. And this respect would still be religio, religio as scruple or reticence, distance, dissociation, disjunction, coming from the threshold of all religion in the link of repetition to itself, the threshold of every social or communitarian link (Derrida, (26), 60).” As so often with Derrida, we “arrive” at a place suspension, expectation, distance, différance. And there we leave the “Italics” half of the essay and enter the “Post-Scriptum.”