Passive Decision by Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott


Passive Decision

Let me start by thanking Alberto Moreiras for the organization of this workshop, and Geoff Bennington for being part of it.

I want to begin by stating the relevance of Scatter 1, a book not only remarkable in its articulation, rigor, and deep engagement with contemporary post-Heideggerian philosophy, but also a book that has as one of its many merits the configuration of a systematic, yet not conventional, horizon of thinking, a constellation. His readings of Foucault’s Parrhesia, the co-belonging of Aletheia and Pseudos, the complications of Dasein’s Entschlossenheit, the configuration of the quasi-transcendental in Derrida’s engagement with Kant and Heidegger, the relevance of Kierkegaard understanding of time and the Momentum to Heidegger’s early thought, the incompleteness of sovereignty, the folding of dignity and majesty, the problematization of the continuities between the eschatological and the theo-teleological, and so on. Issues that in the book are carefully articulated and masterfully presented to the reader. I have not doubt when I say that this is a fundamental book not only in the general context of contemporary scholarship but also in the most appealing context of the humanities and the future of deconstruction and/in the American university.

Therefore, my few observations now are to be read just as a preliminary reaction to the gift of this book, a reaction that could never be misunderstood as a critique or as an attempt to appropriate the inner complexity of the thinking at stake here. Certainly, the rigorous crafting of its arguments, the meticulous archival work feeding them, the detailed reading and persecution of some key ideas through Heidegger and Derrida’s writings, and the obvious command of contemporary scholarship relevant to its problems, should not conceal the fact that this is also a risky articulation of Heidegger and Derrida relationship. This is a risky book and I should say that there is not thinking without a risk, that the risk taken in its elaboration is proportional to the degree a book departs from merely reproducing what is already known, what has already been said, even if not heard yet. Somehow, hearing what others cannot hear is also risking in a non-conventional way of reading.

I wanted to dwell here because what matters to me is not just the narrative of the book, rather the way in which the author positions himself in the series of problems that configure the relationship between Heidegger and Derrida. And right here it is evident to me that the understanding of the book’s arguments will change as we have access to Scatter 2, a complementary volume that not necessarily will complete the project, but rather will emphasizes, I want to believe, the scattering effect of its architecture, an architecture, if I may say, that is not an architectonic configuration of the fundaments for a new kind of philosophy, for a new philosophical foundation of politics and history. There is not, I dare to say, a “minimal politics” enabled in this architecture, in this scattering, mimicking the “Grand Politics” enabled by the architectonic founding the Critique of the Pure Reason. The politics of politics presented in the book is, on the contrary, an indication of the distance, or better, a way of distancing itself from the onto-political structure of the metaphysical demand imposed on thinking as political thinking, as political philosophy. Moreover, it is not just a deconstruction of political philosophy and its categories, it is a more integral, radical if you want, interrogation of political philosophy as a disciplinary mechanism oriented to control, to give reason, to organize, to en-frame, the scattered condition of the real. In this sense, the politics of politics is not anti-political, neither a-political, but a sort of suspension of the political demand that seems more related to our own infrapolitical insistence.

In other words, the difference between the scatter and the architectonic “models” of thinking should not be overlooked, because it expresses one of the book’s main claims, the difference between Kant’s regulative idea and Derrida’s understanding of the time à venir, which is also reflected in the relationship between thinking and writing. Thinking as writing, since Bennington is able to dwell in the complexity of contemporary thinking without repeating the conventional gesture of reading it as a system, as a gestell, as an already finished and closed moment, as an epoch. Indeed, his work with the authors, and with some “minimal’ and overlooked problems present in these author, problems that seems to be irrelevant to philosophy and to the history of thought, questions the very organization of philosophical work (concerned with Being) as epochality. To put it in other terms, if Schürmann (Broken Hegemonies) is interested in criticize the onto-theo-logical organization of philosophy by bringing to the fore the principial economy that is always articulating and feeding a particular epoch through a donation of language; Bennington, in a more Derridian way, is less concerned with the epochal organization of thought, or with the principial economy articulating and feeding the texts of a particular moment of the onto-theo-logical tradition, and more concerned with the inner and unresolved battle of forces at the core of these texts. And this is an important point to which I should come back in another moment, but it seems to me relevant to point here that what is at stake in it isn’t just a matter related to philosophy and its history, but also to the practice of reading.

I would even say that this is coherent with the problem the book gives to itself as its main concern: temporality as the only “quasi-transcendental” dimension of existence, and here the book could already be read not only as an elaboration of the ambiguities of the kairology and the Pauline understanding of the event, the Momentum, and the resolution as radical decision implied there, but also as a continuation of one of the main issues Derrida identifies in Heidegger and his unsatisfactory elaboration of temporality beyond what he called the “metaphysical or vulgar conception of time”.

Let me put this in another way. One of the merits of Scatter I is the suggestion of Heidegger’s existential analytic as the unavoidable place in which any relevant thinking today should dwell. But it does not mean that thinking should just conform itself with Heidegger’s presentation of Dasein whereabouts; on the contrary, if Being and time is read in the context of Heidegger’s early writings, the problem Bennington is working here takes him beyond Heidegger to Derrida. And not in an easy way, because this elaboration of the Derrida-Heidegger relationship should first of all overcome the many resistance one finds in Heideggerian scholars today, people that still consider deconstruction as a postmodernist passion, while, at the same time, should overcome the resistance to engage Heidegger’s philosophy and its Nazism. Not Heidegger without Derrida, not Derrida without Heidegger. And this is the worth of this book, its problem and its reason. Whether we agree with Bennington’s reading of Heidegger’s “decisionism” or not, with his subtle emphases on Heidegger’s shortcomings and problematic privilege on Being over beings (scatter), or, alternatively, we oppose to this the later Heidegger and the reworking of the ontological difference as something else than the Poem of Being (and all this nomenclature of conservative Heideggerians), what is certain is the relevance of Scatter I in focusing the problem on this unresolved relationship that marks the singularity of our historical occasion (Heidegger-Derrida).

As I already said, there are many important elements to consider here, and I cannot do justice to any one properly in these preliminary comments, but I will just mention two o three of the most appealing questions I have after reading the book. These, of course, are not questions addressed to Geoff, but the mere indication of what would be the topics of a more sustained engagement with the book in the future.

1) The status of philosophy and the problem of power. Let me refer to Derrida seminar of 1964-5 on Heidegger (a seminar which translation we owe to Geoff), when Derrida makes clear that the destruction of the onto-theological tradition is not just the destruction of the classical ontology in order to articulate a new or fundamental ontology organized by the restitution of the question of Being. On the contrary, the destruction of the tradition, of the history of the knowledge about Being, is both, the destruction of all sorts of ontology and, at the same time, the destruction of philosophy as the discourse concerning the traditional disposition of Being. The destruction of philosophy (and one should keep in mind the positive dimension of destruktion more than the “critical” one) is the “suspension” or weakening of its traditional role concerning Being, a role of over-codification that limits every time again, the crucial problem of being as historicity. In this sense, the subtle yet powerful reading of Heidegger performed by Geoff could be interrogated in his unwillingly restitution of Heidegger thought as a “system” (at least in the “systematicy” of his mistakes). This is, again, why confronting this reading with the “reversed” hypothesis of Shürmann’s Heidegger on Being and Acting: from Principles to Anarchy (1987), might be telling for our infrapolitical reflections. What is the relationship of philosophy and power, more than politics, implicated in Scatter I? How to avoid re-philosophizing Derrida’s deconstruction of some philosophical moments without renouncing philosophy as such, in an un-thoughtful philosophical anti-philosophy? I am thinking in Derrida’s comments on Heidegger’s destruction of philosophy as the history of ontology; comments that emphasize how the destruction of philosophy was, besides everything else, an unavoidable engagement with philosophy, the primary place to understand the ontological “capture” of being. I am also thinking, along this way, in Derrida’s understanding of philosophy as a weak institution, nothing to do with the Italian pensiero debole, an institution that is both necessary but always problematic. (I add here what Alberto and Maddalena also commented on this point: not just, what is the status of philosophy in relation to thought? But also, how to avoid in dealing with the tradition of philosophico-political thought being snared by its emphases and economies?)

And I would add a supplementary dimension to this problem related to Heidegger’s National Socialism, as we all somehow know about the unsatisfactory way of dealing with this issue of people like Bourdieu, Farías, Faye; people who cannot deal with the problematic of his thought and reduce, in a sociological way (or just with a great dishonesty) its complexity. If we are to consider Nancy’s early formulation (the best way to confront National Socialism in Heidegger is through his thinking, which is the one that better serves us to formulate in a radical way -not just in a liberal way– the very problem of National Socialism) as a common ground, then we should be able to understand that the very question about the role of philosophical discourses is not innocuous when talking about National Socialism. To put it in a sentence (to which I need to comeback in another moment) the question about the relationship between Heidegger thought and National Socialism is also the question about the relationship between history and philosophy, between historicity and ontology, and in so far as philosophy attempts to condemn Heidegger “mistakes” or his whole thought without questioning the role and “functionalization” of philosophy in general, we remain unable to deal properly with such a problem.

2) The question of eventful thinking and the amphibological understanding of temporality Vis á Vis Derrida’s à venir opposed to the arch-teleological structuration of time in modern philosophy (Kant but also Hegel). Here, I would like to mention what I have been calling for a while the Schmittianism (and the inversed Schmittianism) of contemporary political thought, the thought mainly concerned with the theory of the event (Badiou but also in a more sophisticated way, Agamben and his elaboration of a modal ontology and his Schmittian reading of Benjamin), since in the very conception of the event as an interruption of temporality, what we have is the restitution of the eschatological or theological messianicity of the final judgment that somehow works as a “principle of reason” feeding what, with Heidegger and Derrida, we might call limited historicity. The historicity that still depends upon a particular notion of agency and, therefore, subjectivity, that is always already entrapped in the metaphysical understanding of temporality (Schmitt is, therefore, and besides his anti-Hegelianism, a Hegelian thinkers as his formulation of the political as the quarrel between the friend and the enemy is still snared within Hegel’s powerful understanding of the Subject, and so, most of the contemporary anti-Hegelian thinkers unable to think beyond this particular agency and the political demand that is proper to Hegel, and besides their appealing to multiplicities, multitudes, and so forth).

Bennington’s interrogation of the Kantian regulative idea is crucial as it implies a restitution of the question of time in a form that differs “radically” from the philosophy of history of capital. But (and here I need to refer to Matías late-Friday question which I wasn’t able to respond properly, not because I can respond it now, but because the question, as a gift, implies a interesting problem), what seems relevant now is not just to correct the ambiguities of Heidegger’s in-famous resource to the “vulgar conception of time” in Being and Time, but to think the predominance of time in the understanding of the event (something that seems already stated in Derrida’s Ousia and Gramme), which will take us to the question of space and the Ereignis as an spacialization (appropriation) of being’s existential conditions. This, of course, points toward the topological configuration of Heidegger later thinking, but remains an interesting strategy to articulate the relationship between the onto-theological conceptions of the event (the different kinds of contemporary excepcionalism, Schmittianism), and the onto-political structuration of the political demand to which philosophy feels the need to respond, again and again.

Radical contingency, immanence, event, decision, interruption, etc., are all names that express more than a solution, the complexity of this interrogation. A complexity that, beyond contemporary political thought, is also important to understand, for example, the status of the quasi-transcendental foundation of the pragmatic orientation of language as communicative reason, since this quasi-transcendental foundation of communication, undeniably Kantian in its heart, re-moralizes (and re-transcendentalizes) the immanence of communication itself in Habermas and Apel. Not to mention the ambivalences of Laclau’s understanding of contingency as opposed to the logic of necessity that would have characterized and limited Marxism, a contingency nonetheless still limited to the prerogatives of the hegemonic articulation. Neither Luhmann’s conception of recursivity and complexity, as his theory of system (to which one needs to pay attention) is still fed by an unproblematic theory of differentiation as adaptation that command, from a secret place, the very logic of contingency that characterizes this elaboration. The systematic condition of this contingency, the one he opposed to classical social theory and to Frankfurt scholars, is still en-framed by a secret principle of evolution, one that doesn’t rest any longer on human agency, but in the system’s ability to adapt and evolve.

3) Finally (for now), in considering the co-belonging of aletheia and pseudos as an originary experience of Dasein, the book suggests the pseudos not as a derivative but as a constitutive element in Dasein confrontation with facticity. Even more, there is not way to separate, convincingly, both elements, which implies that the rhetorico-political is not a secondary dimension to immediate facticity but rather it is constitutive of it (the authentic and the inauthentic are always co-dependent and co-belong). The political, that cannot be just a politics of truth (which is always a politics of principles and, therefore, is always already articulated by a particular economy of signification), is, at the same time, to put this in a more challenging way, always already (Immer Schon) originary. Here then the main point, the politics of politics is not only the renunciation to the political demand that is always a moral demand, but it’s also the affirmation of the political as an originary experience of Dasein. Renouncing to the political demand (and to the emphases of political philosophy) is not to assert the secondary character of the political at all.

Infrapolitical is a desistance to the political demand, but not to the political as such, however, infrapolitical does not have as its main concern the reformulation of any sort of political thinking as it is concerned with the existential dimension of life. But if the existential dimension of life is always already rhetorico-politically constituted, how to explain the infrapolitical desistance without appealing to a sort of unpolluted conception of Dasein. How infrapolitics thinks Dasein’s existential decision without falling into solipsism and decisionism (ipseity)? The answer, I would like to suggest, will start by considering the relationship between historicity and the onto-political demand as an ontological over-codification of historicity as such, something one can explores in Derrida’s seminar of 1964-65.

On the other hand, the existential decision formulated by Nancy, as we have been discussing it these last days, would have to be interrogated again to determine whether it is a decision that presents itself and pretend to be something another than politics or not; something before the political experience or a kind of experience related to a politics otherwise. And here, what is at stake is precisely the reception of Heidegger thought in Derrida and the Derridian constellation that Bennington’s book brought to the fore. This is where Ronald’s paper matters and where I believe we all have a “productive” disagreement. This is an important disagreement as we all agree -it seems to me, particularly after Derrida’s own reading of Heidegger during the 64-5 seminar- in considering any reposition of ontology (whether lax, bland, plastic, historical, etc.) to be unsatisfactory. So, the limiting effect of ontology over historicity, the metaphysical formulation of historicity as depending on a notion of reason, consciousness, subject or science (Hegel, Marx, Husserl, et al.), and the inescapable problem of ipseity and alterity, otherness, incompleteness, and so for, beyond any anthropological reduction of the otherness (to multiculturalism, pluralism, multiplicity, etc.) and / or to a closed referentiality (the face, the sexual difference understood as an identitarian issue, etc.,) is the main issue at stake here. Is the politics of politics an attempt to deal with this metaphysical but also, onto-political problem? If so, how are we to think the fold of infrapolitics in the opening of the politics of politics? This is not a problem we may resolve by just opting to still dwell on Heidegger thought or, alternatively, by repeating what seems to be Derrida’s “decision” regarding Heidegger, a decision that is radically problematized by the publication of the 64-5 seminar. Since we are here not to vote and decide, but rather to practice a sort of passive decision, to dwell in the complex problem of the undecidability and the potentiality, a potentiality other than the one realized in the act, we still might take some time to ponder theses issues carefully; after all, to think, as well as to love, is a matter of time, is to give what one doesn’t have.

So I want to finish these preliminary comments to Geoffrey Bennington’s book, Scatter 1, a book worth of a more elaborated engagement, a book that brings with it the possibility of a new academic exchange, beyond narcissism and the principial economy informing our disciplinary emphases. If this is possible, as it seems to me when listening to all of you, then let’s take this occasion to celebrate what Maddalena has called a good book. Thank you.

College Station, March 2017


2 thoughts on “Passive Decision by Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott

  1. Dear Sergio,
    This is such a rich and complex response to my book that it’s going to take me a while to take it in and respond with a response worthy of the name. Just a few brief remarks here addressed to the three numbered questions you formulate:
    1) “How to avoid re-philosophizing Derrida’s deconstruction of some philosophical moments without renouncing philosophy as such, in an un-thoughtful philosophical anti-philosophy?” This is a crucial question, and is related to some of the reservations I have expressed in the past about Rodolphe Gasché’s understanding of Derrida, which I once described as an “impenitent re-philosophizing”. Elsewhere I have tried to argue that deconstruction is the least philosophical discourse imaginable, just because it works its way right through philosophy rather than simply accepting philosophical presuppositions and sedimentations. In the Grammatology, this is why Derrida says he has to go through all the resources of transcendental phenomenology, leaving a trace or track or wake in the text, because otherwise the “ultra-critical” (i.e. deconstructive) text, if abandoned to its mere conclusions, would run the risk of looking just like the pre-critical text. This “leaving a track through the text” is what I call reading.
    2) I completely agree that the pitfall of Schmittian decisionism is that it presupposes that decisions have to be made by subjects and ultimately sovereigns. This is as metaphysical as can be, even though here and there Schmitt opens other possibilities (for example in that comment in Political Theology that the decision “emanates from nothingness”). I tend to agree that Badiou’s commitment to the notion of the subject (however redefined) will always hold his thinking here short of Derrida’s. But Schmitt’s foregrounding of the decision certainly helps Derrida formulate the “passive decision” as “decision of the other”. I don’t think this has much to do with what Laclau calls contingency.
    3) On the relation of the infrapolitical and the relation the “politics of politics” might have with that, I tried to say some things about that at the end of microinterview with Alberto. I came to that formula as a way of trying to recall or insist on something that it seems to me political philosophy is always tending to ontologize or teleologize away. But just because trying to insist as I do on the politics in politics is not accepting that metaphysical configuration, then the politics (in a non-metaphysical sense) I’m trying to “put back into” politics (in a metaphysical sense), perhaps deserves a different name, and “infrapolitics” might indeed be a promising candidate.

  2. Thanks Geoff for taking the time and respond to this. I will produce a more developed version of this soon, and we will have the chance to talk more about it. For me Laclau’s contingency is crucially limited by his subordination of political practices to the hegemonic-populist logic of articulation, but this is a long argument and I do not want to bother you with it. I also call this amphibological as the historical understanding of politics (its historicity) is always subordinated to a sort of noumenal possibility. Anyway, I am reading the book on Frontiers:, but it is not the French one, it is, it seems, another book …there is much to think and talk in all of this!

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