Stories or fiction? A footnote to Derrida’s The Question of Being and History. By Gerardo Muñoz.

Arguably, one of central problems in Heidegger: The Question of Being and History (2016) is the radical destruction of storytelling proper to onto-theological history. For instance, if we are to take the question of historicity seriously, Giorgio Agamben’s recent efforts on a ‘modal ontology’ provides yet another form of storytelling principled on henological absolutism. A similar gesture appears in Reiner Schürmann’s late work on the possibility of an outside of metaphysics vis-à-vis Plotinus’s hypostases of a “One” prior to all differences and intellect [1]. Although Schürmann points to Derrida’s suggestions on Neo-Platonism as an exception to onto-theology, one should bare in mind that any effective destruction of storytelling would also bring to ruin the henological difference under the critique of the trace. This is the crucial passage delivered very early in the seminar:

“The writing that tells stories is easy, narration is easy and philosophy, in spite of appearances, has never deprived itself of it. The point is to break with the philosophical novel, and to break with it radically and not so as to give rise to some new novel. The philosophical novel, philosophical narration, is of course, but is not only, the history of philosophy as doxography that recounts, reports, gathers and lays out the series of philosophical systems. “Telling stories,” in philosophy, is for Heidegger something much more profound and that cannot be so easily denounced as doxography. The Novelesque from which we must awaken is philosophy itself as metaphysics and as onto-theology“. [2]

As it becomes usual throughout the seminar, telling stories is not just an intellectual operation of the history of philosophy and the philosophy of history. The gesture of going beyond storytelling entails an affirmation of the ontological difference. This leap is not to be understood as a way of entry into a higher kingdom of speculation. Rather, it implies an invitation to radically confront history without exceptions or absolutes. In a way, this is the opposite end of philosophical anthropology’s task, which for Blumenberg amounts to a nonconceptual metaphorics capable of man’s self-affirmation against the absolutism of reality.

But I wonder if one could make the case that the deconstructive operation already in the 1964 seminar vis-à-vis the destruction of storytelling opens to a new conception of fiction. It is telling that ‘fiction’ as such is never brought in the seminar. This displacement, however complex and aporetic, should point to a minimal difference between Heideggerian destruction and Derridean deconstruction when it comes to dismantling every effective onto-theological operation. Should one, then, distinguish between storytelling and fiction? For one, if storytelling belongs the realm of the sleepwalking of philosophy and ontology, then it would be productive to think whether the shift after destruction takes place between thinking and fiction. I am still unable to grasp (if it is indeed possible and consistent) if fiction could effectively be understood as an excess of storytelling. It is not a question of form or even truth.  Should fiction point to the distance between politics and infrapolitics in thought? Could we say that infrapolitics is the dissemination of singular fictions announced after the destruction of onto-theological storytelling? Fiction: a non-metaphorical essence over existence after the end of metaphoric translation.

A negation of fiction puts us in a position of anomy. Here the fiction of law is a productive site for thought, because it is a discipline in which we find that fiction (fictio) is an operation that organizes and brings about a nebulous domain. According to Yan Thomas, who is arguably the central scholar on the fictive nature of Roman law: “The fictio is, from the point of view of Western history, without precedent. It only arrives as an operation of law to fix and keep within its boundaries the limits of reality, and the possible distances that it could trace with the fictive Nature” [3]. Roman law’s artificiality is a second-degree fiction that can no longer represent the state of things, but only the ‘as if’ of every probable manifestation. Fiction is always double, aware and checking its own artificiality. Agamben has appropriated Yan Thomas’ hermeneutical notion of ‘operations of law’ in an opportunity to ‘render inoperative’ the ‘politico-theological machine’ of Western governance. But this non-contained negation of principles speaks to Agamben’s anarchy, which differs from Derrida’s democracy to come. Later on in his life Derrida will establish a coterminous relation between fiction and justice as hyperbolic conditions of democracy.

I think an important moment appears in Rogues, where Derrida endorses a notion of democracy in possession of an “essential historicity” [sic] well beyond the subject and natural rights. Derrida also seems to be grappling with an evolving and transformative notion of democracy that cannot be subsumed either as vulgar historical as principle (arche) nor as reversed impolitical an-archy. One cannot evade history, but can one evade the fiction of democracy?

Back to the seminar. At the very end of the last session, Derrida reasserts that “it is not a matter of substituting one metaphor for another, which is the very movement of language and history, but of thinking this movement as such, thinking metaphor in metaphorizing as such, thinking the essence of metaphor (this is all Heidegger wants to do). There is thinking every time that this gesture occurs, in what is called science, poetry, metaphysics, and so on.” (Derrida 190).

So fiction cannot amount to a mere substitution for storytelling. Fiction should name the process of uncontained de-metaphorization within an evolving economy of democracy that has no political arche. The end of philosophical storytelling will open to a contamination of the turbulence of fiction by which the legal operation is always insufficient, but never deposed. The shift from the absolutist negation of the Roman fictio (the political as roman ratio according to the Parmenides lecture) to democracy as an essential historicity, retreats politics in the shadow of fiction. Couldn’t we say, assuming all the risks involved, that infrapolitics is also a reflection on the nature of fiction as a condition for democratic reinvention?

 

 

 

Notes

  1. Reiner Schürmann. “The One: Substance or Function”. Neoplatonism and Nature (ed. Michael F. Wagner). State University of New York Press, 2002.
  2. Jacques Derrida. Heidegger: The Question of Being and History. University of Chicago Press, 2016.
  3. Yan Thomas. “Fictio legis. L’empire de la fiction romaine et ses limites médiévales”, Droits, no 21, 1995.
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