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Monday, 19 October 2015

On living agents with head and tail

The other day when we were about to finish a section on my seminar on Derrida's The Beast and the Sovereign we were talking about the ontological turn. Someone then asked me if I had abandoned it and decided to rather go back to text (to writing, to deconstruction, to Derrida). The gist of the question was that prima facie an interest on Derrida's work, unless thoroughly critical, is anathema to a robust commitment to find ways beyond the broadly constructed linguistic turn. I disagreed. First, I tried to explain my growing interest in Derrida (and in Jabès, Blanchot, Nancy) in terms of works like Malabou's where écriture takes a broader scope and is presented explicitly as the opening gate to some sort of ontology (of accident, of plasticity). But then I moved on to rely on the idea that the linguistic turn is not to be just left aside but rather rethought so that its insights can be re-examined in a different framework. This is what I sometimes call "a linguistic turn of 360 degrees" where one goes back to ontological preoccupations after a full round around language. Hence, we can gain insight about indexicality in the world (demonstrative properties, orientation, perspectives) looking at Perry's work on de re thoughts and expressions or at McDowell's remarks about demonstrative concepts or we can learn about attribution of properties in general looking at the way Wittgenstein connects predicate use with family resemblances. With Derrida's deconstruction it is perhaps a bit different - deconstruction moves in many different directions and the way text is a place where differences emerge can be thought in terms of how articulations require text, even if they don't require human-written, correlational text. The idea of a non-correlationist text were we place ourselves amid traces - and not authoring them - provides a 360 degrees linguistic turn but one that certainly takes us to a very different landscape where ontology itself is exorcised not in the name of a correlation, but rather in the name of a sharing text. Our relation to the world appears less as one of apprehension and more as one of co-writing, something akin to a conversation as I wrote in this post last month.

In any case, I find The Beast and the Sovereign filled with interesting points about the difference between who and what - and about the making up of sovereignty and of political areas of governance or jurisdiction. In session 7, the issue is the supplement needed for a command in order to be what it is - the commanded part. It is like a dependence of a governing part on its supplement, the "bêtise" of the other that is either attacked or denounced. There ought to be an area of jurisdiction for every government, something that would be prone to stupidity (to "bêtises", rather) on the eyes of the sovereign. This double structure of sovereignty dialogues with the monadological approach, in Leibniz (or in Tarde, in Husserl, in Latour, in Whitehead). In Leibniz, the supplement question is (dis)solved in the same vein as the difference question is (dis)solved: appealing to infinitesimals. Deleuze, in the first chapter of Différence et Répétition finds in Leibniz a strategy to dismiss difference by appealing to the infinitesimals where being regain a commitment to identity and differences disappear in the name of the smallest component. Analogously, Leibniz postpone ad infinitum the issue of what is governed by a monad - for every piece of matter no matter how small has governing stances inside it. The issue of what is to be governed is resolved by an appeal to the infinitesimal. The governed part is never found before we reach infinitesimals. The problem of difference is in fact very close to the problem of supplement - both are connected to the problem of power which is the problem what is (the what) for which obedience is due.

Further, session 7 articulates the idea that the government-governing pair requires a head and a tail. Derrida doesn't want to side with the idea that only humans have sovereignty (and "bêtise"), as he finds in Deleuze (and Lacan). He rather prefers this conjecture that whatever has a head (and what follows it, supposedly) has episodes of bêtise and episodes where the sovereign head reigns. This is common to whatever is headed and is also composed by something else that is supposed to follow the head (as Agamben would have, following is both not commanding and not commencing). The exercise of command is understood in terms of a who that is intertwined with a what that is supposedly commanded. The stubborn (big-headed) resistance to the head, on the other hand, is what the beast does, it cannot be brought to command, it cannot be made to follow. Animation emerges as an issue of head and tail - of hosting a deontic inside the ontological. There is no genuine who without a what where it is expressed; animation requires not only an anima but also an animated body.

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