Thoughts from a Forest of Fallen Trees : The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Side of Existence

(If a philosopher falls in the forest who really cares?) Critical Theory, Deconstruction, Ethics, Religion and other such Things.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mass Grave at Vukovar

Acrylic on Paper 2000.

Self-Portrait Death Mask

Photocopy on Paper. 2000

Private Collection.

Self Portrait as Van Gogh with Torn Corner

Acrylic on Paper. 2000


Remembering OKA: Or Who Stands on Guard for What?

Rust Paint. Sponge. Maple Leaves. 1999


Stalin's Gulags and the Death of the 60 million or Why Zizek and Badiou are Silent.


Lenin and the Truth of the October Revolution


Reading Van Gogh's Suicide

Mixed Media on Board. 1999

Branimir Cilic Paints the 33 Crosses

Mixed Media on Canvas. 1999.

Reading Nietzsche: The Last Pope

Rust Paint on Paper. Private Collection

Death Reclines in a Rainbow Room after a Hard Day of Reaping

Rust Paint on Paper. 1999.

Hegel Dressed in an Owl Custome Attempts to Climb the Staircase Dialectic Only to be Thrown Down by the Aufhebung

Rust Paint on Paper. 1999
Private Collection.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Lacan and Intellectual Games

"Jacques Lacan was a phenomenon of the extraordinary intellectual life of France which grew up during the late 1960s. Almost unheard of for most of his life and a virtual nonentity within the international psychoanalytic movement, he was suddenly elevated to the rank of a maître penser at the age of 65 with the appearance of Ecrits, a large volume of his papers on psychoanalytic themes. In these writings, and throughout his career as a charismatic intellectual prophet, Lacan proclaimed himself as the leader of a ‘return to Freud’. Although Lacan’s self-proclamation as Freud’s true heir was credulously and eagerly accepted by many Parisian intellectuals, some early readers of Ecrits were puzzled. In the first place Lacan’s work apppeared to be a chaotic amalgam of the ideas of Hegel, Saussure, Lévi-Strauss and others which, while presented under the cover of psychoanalytic terminology, bore scarcely any resemblance to the original theories of Freud. In the second place (and it was this which made it difficult to pin down Lacan’s astonishing divergence from Freud) Lacan’s writings were frequently opaque to the point of incomprehensibility. Even Lacan’s own followers will often readily admit that they find large portions of his work quite unintelligible. The situation was perhaps best summed up by an advertisement for a psychoanalytic magazine which appeared in France shortly before Lacan’s death in 1981: ‘January 1980. There are thousands of people who do not understand Lacan. In 1950 there were only twenty or thirty.’

During his lifetime Lacan became notorious not only for the obscurity of his prose but also for the shortness of his treatment sessions. Latterly these sessions lasted between three and ten minutes with one of Lacan’s patients paying £110 for a session which lasted barely a minute and was conducted at the entrance of his apartment through a door barely ajar."

"The ultimate emptiness of the mysteries which Lacan expounded in his seminars, and of his entire intellectual enterprise, is perhaps best conveyed by his last major project – in which, having already reduced human psychology to a series of pseudo-algebraic linguistic equations, he set out to discover the mathematical formulae (‘mathemes’) to which he believed all human psychology could be reduced. As equations, ratios, arrows and diagrams of complex knots covered the blackboard in the three-day meeting on mathemes which took place in 1976, many members of Lacan’s audience felt guilty at understanding nothing or very little of something that, as one of them put it, ‘everyone important seems to feel is so crucial’."

''on the one occasion when Lacan appeared on television, he said that he would not alter his notoriously impenetrable style because he simply did not care to speak to idiots: my discourse, he said, is for those who are not idiots.''....''if his theory has validity, one should be able to articulate it with clarity and precision,''.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Lacan on his Own Stupidity or What does Lacan Want?

The following quotes are taken from Encore, Book XX. Lacan writes,

"My sole presence is my stupidity". I should know that I have better things to do than to be here....It's stupidity because I myself obviously collaborate in it".

Speaking of his Ecrits he writes, " I thought they were not meant to be read".

Of his unreadability..." I won't tell you to read Phillippe Sollers, who is unreadable, like me as a matter of fact...."

What is that Lacan's stupidity has been taken to be the truth of psycho-analysis. In short, Lacan, like Zizek is dependent upon, terms and concepts of which he has not the faintest understanding.

See the wonderful article found at

For My Love of Lacan

This is a post for anonymous who dares not to reveal his/her identity. By his own admission, Lacan states that his writings are anti-thetical and therefore without an argument. Lacan was not a philosopher. This is evident given his misreadings of Hegel, Kierkegaard and Derrida. Pop culture does not underpin the very forum of this discussion. Technology provides the underpinning. I have nothing to learn from Zizek or Badiou, especially when they fail to acknowledge the crimes committed by their beloved Lenin and Mao.

Let us continue to educate anonymous. Lacan, even within the psychoanalytic movement was very much a minor figure, an eccentric psychiatrist with a taste for surrealism who had made no significant contribution to psychoanalytic theory and who was known, if he was known at all, for his stubborn refusal to conform to the therapeutic guidelines laid down by Freud. I follow the following critics: François Roustang, in The Lacanian Delusion, called Lacan's output "extravagant" and an "incoherent system of pseudo-scientific gibberish". Noam Chomsky described Lacan as "an amusing and perfectly self-conscious charlatan". In Fashionable Nonsense (1997), Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont accuse Lacan of "superfical erudition" and of abusing scientific concepts he does not understand (e.g., confusing irrational and imaginary numbers). .... In short, Lacan's writings are largely indecipherable as the contradictory, that is why they find a home here in the Blogosphere supported by failed assistant English professors, righly denied tenure.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

With Mom in Rakitno, 1967

Reading Charles Scott or Van Gogh at Walmart

Acrylic on Board. 2003. Private Collection

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Kristeva's Eurocentrism

Stop- sufferer, stranger, you must not trespass!...
Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus


How to understand the foreigner, the alien and outsider in our time is both a political and ethical question. How various states and traditions have dealt with the foreigner is the focus of Kristeva's book Strangers to Ourselves. In Strangers to Ourselves, Kristeva advocates an ethic of cosmopolitanism and a recognition of the foreigner, both in the other and in ourselves.
In what follows, we will examine Kristeva's appropriation of cosmopolitanism and her critique of nationalism from the framework of the Biblical, Enlightenment and Psychoanalytic traditions. The first section addresses the general question of the history of cosmopolitanism. Here we will focus upon Kristeva's discussion of biblical cosmopolitanism, Pauline ecclessia, Augustinian caritas and stoic oikeiosis.
The second section extends the discussion of cosmopolitanism by shifting to the landscape of political cosmopolitanism via the insights of the enlightenment tradition. Kant and Montesquieu will be the focus of our concern and a distinction will be drawn between Volkgeist and esprit général. It is here that Kristeva's critique of nationalism is centered.
The third section shifts the analysis to examine what could be called a psychoanalytical cosmopolitanism. Most of this section is devoted to Freud's notion of the Unheimliche, that allows us to detect the foreignness in ourselves.
The fourth section will focus upon the practical implications of Kristeva's theories. I shall argue that Kristeva's overall position can be described as a Cosmopolitan Nationalism that embraces a Eurocentrism.

Preparatory Analysis:
A History of Cosmopolitanism

The old man went away, but returned at once and offered Zarathustra bread and wine... Whoever knocks at my door must take what I offer him. Eat, and fare you well.
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "Zarathustra's Prologue"

Kristeva selects various moments in the history of our civilization and argues that an ethic of cosmopolitanism can be seen in the pronouncements of the Old Testament Prophets, the Pauline ecclesia in which a community of foreigners emerges, the Augustinian notion of caritas which emphasized the union of stranger with stranger and in the Stoics concept of oikeiosis, or universal conciliation.

Biblical universalism

Kristeva examines the Old Testament and the Talmud where she locates a "biblical universalism" . Kristeva cites the following passages:

You must not molest the stranger or oppress him, for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt.

If a stranger lives with you in your land, do not molest him. You must count him as one your countrymen and love him as yourself.

Kristeva is impressed by the universalism of the prophets from Amos to Jeremiah who asserted that "all mankind is respectable in its intrinsic dignity". The poor, widows, orphans and strangers are treated with equal justice. Kristeva cites the Book of Job:

If ever I have infringed the rights of slave or maidservants in legal actions against me-what shall I do when God stands up ? What shall I say when he holds his assize ? They, no less than I were created in the womb, by the one same God who shaped us within our mothers....No stranger ever had to sleep outside, my door was always open to the traveller.

Kristeva argues that "in the spirit of Judaism, the complete integration of the foreigner in the Jewish community is the counterpart of the idea of the "chosen people". Being chosen is "accessible to any individual, at any given moment".

Ecclessia and the community of foreigners

According to Kristeva St. Paul adapted the word of the Gospels to the Greek world. In bringing the word to the Greeks, St. Paul formed a ecclessia or "a community of those who were different, of foreigners who transcended nationalities by means of faith in the Body of the risen Christ". The ecclessia challenged the political structures of the Greco-Roman world. The framework of the ecclessia challenged the foundations of the polis by creating " a new alliance cutting across the political community", while at the same time, inheriting, the "cosmopolitanism specific of late Hellenism". According to Kristeva, the Pauline Church " emerged as a community of foreigners, first from the periphery, then from the Greco-Roman citadel, united by a statement that challenged the national and political structure". In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes:

Do not forget, then, that there was a time when you who were had no Christ and were excluded from membership of Israel, aliens with no part in the covenants with their Promise, you were immersed in this world, without hope and without God. But now in Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far apart from us have been brought very close, by the blood of Christ... So you are no longer aliens or foreign visitors: you are citizens like all the saints, and part of God's household.

For Paul, the member of the ecclesia was no longer a xenoi kai paroikoi ( an alien or foreign visitor), no longer Greek or Jew, but a new creation. As Kristeva argues

Ecclesia conflicts with the Greek word laos (people). Of course, pagan ethnic groups and nations were already distinct from the people. What mattered to Paul, however, was a new opposition: the nations and the people refashioned so as to constitute an original identity: the Church. The well known messianism of the Jews was changed into a messianism that includes all of humankind.

This messianism culminates in the figure of Jesus, who is not of this world. In this account, the foreigner would identify with Jesus who defines himself as a stranger on earth. As Kristeva adds, "the foreignness of Jesus would thus have been the basis of Paul's cosmopolitan ecclessia".

St. Augustine and Caritas

Moving on through the Biblical landscape, Kristeva discovers the respect that St. Augustine had for the foreigner. This respect is the foundation of caritas. Caritas embodies the notion of Christian love. Its cognates include the word carus or dear, which is akin to the Old Irish word carae or friend. It is affiliated with the Sanskrit word kama or love. Caritas may be defined as a benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity; as a generosity and helpfulness toward the needy or suffering. Charity engages the question of the relationship to the other. Charity refers to the individuals approach to that which confronts him. How does one welcome a friend or stranger? The attitude we adopt in addressing friends, strangers or enemies, who wish to seek admission into our economy reflects our interpretation of the call to embrace a positive tolerance and to be charitable towards the other. St. Augustine captures the spirit of caritas when he writes:

You are alone, and your neighbours are many. Indeed, mark this well, your neighbour is not only your brother, your relative, your marriage relation. Any man's neighbour is any other man. One considers oneself close between father and son, son-in-law and father-in-law. But there is nothing closer to man than another man.

For Augustine, the identification with Christ, brings foreigners together. He writes:

Your soul is no longer yours alone, but it belongs to all your brethren whose soul also become yours, or rather whose soul and yours constitute just a single soul, that is to say, the unique soul of Christ.

The meaning of charity is found in the relation that I have with the Other, and the demand that is placed upon me by the Other. Charity is a question of how we meet the Other. Do we meet the Other with the charity of the open hand or the imperialism of the closed fist and of the equally closed mind ? Charity relates to the question of the toll. A toll is a fixed charge to travel across a bridge or road. This question engages the discussion of customs, debts and borders. It opens the question of admission and who is allowed to cross over the border.
Stoic Conciliation

Kristeva argues that the ancient Stoics (Zeno and Chrysippus), " considered that every living being was supported by the principle called oikeiosis, a complex notion that might be translated as "conciliation". Oikeiosis was rendered by Cicero as conciliatio and commendatio and as committo by Seneca. In commenting on the notion of oikeiosis, Kristeva writes:

that original conciliation binds us not only to ourselves but also to the concentric spheres that would represent the arrangement of our fellow men-starting with close relatives and ending up with the whole of mankind... in reverse, by tightening the circles, we succeed in absorbing all men, of whatever race or blood, into ourselves. That human universality, which is asserted in such a manner for the first time, was founded on the community of reason.

This universalist ethic, founded on oikeiosis and conciliation, according to Kristeva, "leads one, on the political plane, to challenge separate city-states and substitute a tolerant cosmopolitanism". According to Seneca, the distinctions between Greek and barbarian, free men and slaves, men and women, citizen and foreigner are meaningless, since, we are all " a part of God, and the Whole that contains us is also God: we are his associates and his members".
Kristeva sees a danger in the cosmopolitanism that issues forth from biblical universalism, Pauline ecclesia, Augustinian caritas and stoic oikeiosis. For Kristeva the question that arises is whether the cosmopolitanism expressed by these schools of thought are only a religious reality, "without ever being capable of becoming a political reality". The problem is how the ideals expressed by, biblical universalism, Pauline ecclesia, Augustinian caritas and stoic oikeiosis can be translated into the demands of realpolitik.
Though Kristeva is critical of Stoicism to the extent that its "universalism rested on the pride of the wise stoic, separated from the remainder of humanity that was incapable of the same effort of reason and wisdom" , she nonetheless believes that stoicism universalist breakthrough, "continued to make progress up to Locke , Shaftesbury , and Montesquieu... and did not die out but rather took on a new orientation with the Freudian discovery of our intrinsic difference".
The discoveries of Freud, according to Kristeva allowed us to " better approach the universal otherness of the strangers that we are- for only strangeness is universal and might be the post-Freudian expression of stoicism". Before moving on to Freud, we will take a detour through the Enlightenment Cosmopolitanism of Kant and Montesquieu.

Kant and Montesquieu:
Political Cosmopolitanism

Shatter, you enlightened men, shatter the old law-tables !
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, " Of Old and New Law-Tables"

Kristeva argues that Kant formulated "the internationalist spirit of the Enlightenment in political, legal, and philosophical terms". In Perpetual Peace, Kant writes:
Since the earth is a globe, (men) cannot disperse over an infinite area, but must necessarily tolerates one another's company. And no-one originally has any greater right than anyone else to occupy any particular portion of the earth. The community of man is divided by uninhabitable parts of the earth's surface such as oceans and deserts, but even then, the ship or the camel ( the ship of the desert) make it possible for them to approach their fellows over these ownerless tracts, and to utilize as a means of social intercourse that right to the earth's surface which the human race shares in common.

The wandering of those looking for work in other countries, the influx of immigration and the technology of mass communication, ensure that it is no longer possible for individuals to remain isolated or for nations to remain homogeneous. To be a foreigner and to live in exile has become commonplace in our time. Given this reality, an ethic of cosmopolitanism for Kristeva is the only viable ethic.
According to Kristeva, Montesquieu "protected the rights of man beyond the rights of the citizen". The esprit général endorsed by Montesquieu is more favourable than Volkgeist , "whose origins have been traced back to the ambiguities of the great Herder and that is mystically rooted in the soil, the blood, and the genius of language". For Kristeva, the danger of Volkgeist is due to the fact that it can degenerate "into a repressive force aimed at other peoples and extolling one's own". Kristeva uses the insights of Montesquieu to formulate the general spirit of a cosmopolitan ethic. Montesquieu writes:

If I knew something useful to myself and determental to my family, I would reject it from my mind, If I knew something useful to my family but not my homeland, I would try to forget it. If I knew something useful to my homeland and detrimental to Europe, or else useful to Europe and determental to Mankind, I would consider it a crime.

Montesquieu's hierarchy of self/family/homeland/Europe/Mankind is workable only if one is steeped in the traditions of Europe. But what of those for whom a European identity nullifies their own national identity ? Montesquieu's slogan presumes a French national identity that is precisely European. Derrida might say that Kristeva pays homage to the superiority of French/European capital.
As a solution to the problems of nationalism, Kristeva argues that Montesquieu's slogan should be engraved on the walls of all schools and political institutions. The ABC's of cosmopolitanism should be "commented and elaborated upon, it could become a touchstone for anyone wishing to participate in the French nation understood as an esprit général". For Kristeva, nationalism is the embodiment of the Volkgeist that aims at neutralizing the esprit général. If a cosmopolitan ethic is to take hold, one spirit, one Geist, one esprit must prevail over the other. Kristeva writes, " Tomorrow, perhaps, if the esprit général wins over the Volkgeist, such a polyphonic community could be named Europe".
Kristeva a practicing Lacanian psychoanalyst ends up sounding like a liberal. She writes,

I am a cosmopolitan... I maintain that in the contemporary world, shaken up by national fundamentalism on the one hand and the intensive demands of immigration on the other, the fact of belonging to a set is a matter of choice. Beyond the origins that have assigned to us biological identity papers and a linguistic, religious, social, political, historical place, the freedom of contemporary individuals may be gauged according to their ability to choose their membership, while the democratic capability of a nation and social group is revealed by the right it affords individuals to exercise that choice. Thus when I say that I have chosen cosmopolitanism, this means that I have, against origins and starting from them, chosen a transnational or international position situated at the crossing of boundaries.

Kristeva is dogmatic in her claim that we are all foreigners within ourselves and in relation to others". For those of us who may not accept the insights of Freud or Lacan, Kristeva's assertions ring hollow.
The coupling of Montesquieu with Freud is a strange move. Kristeva pairs Montesquieu with Freud, since according to her, both can be classified as neo-stoicists. While this may be the case, Montesquieu and Freud operate from different traditions. For example, the word "Enlightenment" signifies a move from the darkness to the light. The Enlightenment project was marked by an emphasis on rationalism that sought to leave the past with its ignorance and false opinions behind. To this extent, the term "Enlightenment" can be connected with the Platonic image of the Cave. For Plato, acquiring true knowledge meant escaping from the shadows of the Cave and journeying to where the Sun illuminated all things. By contrast, Freudian psychoanalysis focuses on the power of the irrational and dark aspects of ourselves. Freud's project might be called an En-nightenment . Kristeva's attempt to derive an ethic of cosmopolitanism by coupling Montesquieu with Freud leads to contradictions in her position. The question posed in simple terms is how can Montesquieu's Enlightenment be blended with Freud's En-nightenment? In other words, how can Montesquieu's esprit général become compatible with Freud's insights concerning the unconscious ? Kristeva might argue that in psychoanalytic terms, the esprit général is precisely the unconscious. Having examined Kristeva's appropriation of Montesquieu, we now turn to Freud.

Freud and the Unheimliche:
Psychoanalytical Cosmopolitanism

Uncanny is human existence and still without a meaning...
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "Zarathustra's Prologue"

According to Kristeva, identity is formed on the basis of exclusion. This psychoanalytic insight has a political correlative. In the case of psychic identity, it is necessary for the individual to distinguish himself from the other. The nation-state must also distinguish itself from other nation-states to form its identity and to mark out its distinguishing features. But there is a boomerang effect that issues forth from exclusion. The individual must learn how to deal with the return of the excluded other, just as the nation-state must learn to deal with elements it has excluded, especially when those elements reside in the nation-state.
For Kristeva the ethics of psychoanalysis implies a politics. In other words, psychoanalysis locates what is strange and foreign, not in order to exclude it but to welcome it. According to Kristeva,

The ethics of psychoanalysis implies a politics: it would involve a cosmopolitanism of a new sort that, cutting across governments, economies, and markets, might work for a mankind whose solidarity is founded on the consciousness of its unconscious...

Freud attempted to show that alterity, difference and otherness is within each of us. If we can accept this alterity and strangeness in ourselves, we can also accept the the strangeness of the other.
The central feature of Kristeva's discussion of Freud has to do with his understanding of das Unheimliche, literally, "unhomely". After tracing the etymology of das Unheimliche through various languages, Freud concludes that " the German word unheimlich is obviously the opposite of heimlich, heimisch, meaning 'familiar'; 'native', 'belonging to the home' ". Strangely, the word heimlich can be understood in two ways. The first meaning designates that which is familiar, while the second meaning designates that which is concealed or kept out of sight. In Greek das Unheimliche, would be rendered as ξέυoς (foreign or strange). According to Freud,

we can understand why the usage of speech has extended das Heimliche into its opposite das Unheimliche; for this uncanny is in reality nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old-established in the mind that has been estranged only by the process of repression.

Within the framework of Strangers to Ourselves, Freud remains an important figure for Kristeva, not because Freud spoke directly about foreigners but because he "teaches us how to detect foreignness in ourselves. That is perhaps the only way not to hound it outside of us". Through Freud, we learn that we are disintegrated. We learn to welcome the Unheimliche in ourselves and in others. In Kristeva words, "the foreigner is within me, hence we all all foreigners. If I am a foreigner, there are no foreigners".
Strangely though, this sounds all too Hegelian. Recognition is achieved between individuals when they understand foreignness to be their interrelatedness, in other words, the I that is we and the we that is I. Respecting difference requires not attempting to assimilate what is other as one's own. Kristeva's analysis remains a classic Hegelian example of how the recognition of identity through difference, is a privileging of identity over difference, so that the foreigner is not foreign at all. Kristeva offers another Aufhebung, whereby the foreigner is assimilated, reduced and swallowed up. While criticizing narcissism from a psychoanalytic postion, politically Kristeva seems to adopt a position whereby "the Same mistakes itself for the Other" . In other words, since I am a stranger to myself, the Other must be just like me. The foreigner must be transformed according to my needs and desires.
If we are all strangers to ourselves, it would appear that we suffer from the same affliction. Holding such a position would merely be a re-telling of the dominant stories of our Jewish/Greek tradition, namely the fall of Adam and the crime of Oedipus. How can we infer from the myth of the fall, that Adam's sin founds our sinfulness, or that Oedipus's complex is THE Oedipus Complex? These symptoms drawn from literature can only be understood as individual cases and cannot be appropriated as general symptoms of humanity.

Baptizing the New Nationalism ?

No herdsman and one herd. Everyone wants the same thing, everyone is the same: whoever thinks otherwise goes voluntarily into the madhouse.
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "Zarathustra's Prologue"

Kristeva argues:

Stemming from the bourgeois revolution, nationalism has become a symptom-romantic at first, then totalitarian- of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Now, while it does go against universalist tendencies (be they religious or rationalistic) and tends to isolate or even hunt down the foreigner, nationalism nevertheless ends up, on the other hand, with the particularistic, demanding individualism of contemporary man.

It is precisely within this individualism that one locates "incoherences and abysses" that may lead to "promoting the togetherness of those foreigners that we all recognize ourselves to be". According to Kristeva, the foreigner:

lives within us: he is the hidden face of our identity, the space that wrecks our abode, the time in which understanding and affinity founder. By recognizing him within ourselves, we are spared detesting him in himself. A symptom that precisely turns "we" into a problem, perhaps makes it impossible. The foreigner comes in when the consciousness of my difference arises, and he disappears when we acknowledge ourselves as foreigners, unamendable to bonds and communities.

The foreigner does not count, is not counted. If s/he is greeted, it is with suspicion and hostility. The foreigner is an irritation on the skin of the state. The foreigner should be grateful for simply being tolerated and if he does not agree with the toleration given he should go back where he came from. The phrase, which I have often heard, "If you don't like it here, go back to where you came from", becomes unsettling. But according to Kristeva, only fools asks questions about origins. Even if the question is asked, the answer is already framed before it is given. The question of origins can never yield an answer to what one is. We cannot be so easily framed within pre-fabricated conclusions. According to Kristeva, the foreigner:

has fled that origin-family, blood, soil- and, even though it keeps pestering, enriching, hindering, exciting him, or giving him pain, and often all at once, the foreigner is its courageous and melancholy betrayer. His origin certainly haunts him, for better or for worse, but it is indeed elsewhere that he has set his hopes, that his struggles take place... Elsewhere versus the origin, and nowhere versus the roots... He is a foreigner: he is from nowhere, from everywhere, citizen of the world, cosmopolitan. Do not send him back to his origins.

For Kristeva, the adoption of the esprit général of Montesquieu and the insights of Freud that we are all strangers and foreigners, "within ourselves and in relation to others" , would be a way of combatting nationalism. Kristeva writes:

It is a fragile ideas but nevertheless one bearing a chance of incomparable liberty, one that today happens to be challenged by wounded, therefore aggressive, nationalisms of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, but one that might be, tomorrow, a resource in the search for new forms of community among individuals that are different and free.

For Kristeva, nationalism is fundamentally antidemocratic, anticosmopolitan, chauvinist and racist. But has Kristeva moved too quickly to condemn nationalism as chauvinist and racist? Edward Said, has noted that "nationalism is a word that has been used in all sorts of sloppy and undifferentiated ways". For Said, nationalism, "still serves quite adequately to identify the mobilizing forces that coalesced into resistance against an alien and occupying empire on the part of peoples possessing a common history, religion and language". The problem with Kristeva is how to reconcile what she says about respecting the foreigner, with her Eurocentric attitudes. To quote Edward Said:

At the heart of European culture during the many decades of imperial expansion lay what could be called an undeterred and unrelenting Eurocentrism. This accumulated experiences, territories, peoples, histories; it studies them, classified them, verified them; but above all, it subordinated them to the culture and indeed the very idea of white Christian Europe... And it must also be noted that this Eurocentric culture relentlessly codified and observed everything about the non-European or presumably peripheral world, in so thorough and detailed a manner as to leave no item untouched, no culture unstudied, no people or land unclaimed. All of the subjugated peoples had it in common that they were considered to be naturally subservient to a superior, advanced, developed, and morally mature Europe, whose role in the non-European world was to rule, instruct, legislate, develop, and at the proper times, to discipline, war against, and occasionally exterminate non-Europeans.
Though Kristeva defends the virtues of cosmopolitanism, her vision of the esprit général remains Eurocentric. In an autobiographical article entitled My Memory's Hyperbole, Kristeva relates her vision of Judeo-Christian Europe in alliance with the United States against the Third World:

While the Latin American or Arab Marxist revolution is brewing on the doorsteps of the United States, I feel closer to truth and liberty when I work within the space of this challenged giant, which may, in fact, be on the point of becoming a David before the growing Goliath of the Third World. I dream that our children will prefer to join this David, with his errors and impasses, armed with our erring and circling about the Idea, the Logos, the Form: in short, the old Judeo-Christian Europe.

Here the Third World is compared to Goliath, while the United States with its nuclear weapons and smart bombs is a small David. The Third World is precisely the stranger that Kristeva asks us to embrace in Strangers to Ourselves, yet here, the Third World is established as that against which Judeo-Christian Europe must establish its identity; its Volkgeist.
The high ideals expressed in both Strangers to Ourselves and Nations without Nationalism, have revealed themselves to be just another form of political rhetoric. The antidotes to xenophobia, racism, chauvinism and nationalism in terms of welcoming the foreigner, because in doing so we recognize the foreigner in us, is a simplistic solution. Kristeva's policy suggestions consist of according foreigners political rights to the extent that their home countries reciprocate. Kristeva argues,

One might imagine, for instance, a "double nationality" statute that would give those "foreigners" who want it a number of rights- but also the political duties specific to natives, with a reciprocity clause giving the latter rights and duties in the countries of origin of those same foreigners. Such a rule, easily applicable within the European Economic Community, could be tempered and adjusted for other countries.

Where does one begin to criticize the political naivety of such a policy ? Is the problem of foreignness so simple, direct and immediate as to propose a foreign exchange, in other words, a process of settling accounts or debts between peoples and states ?
Having argued that foreignness is our historical condition, Kristeva reverts to putting the word foreigners in quotation marks. Would there then be a double meaning attributed to the word "foreigner"? I do not mean the regular renderings found in the dictionary such as, "situated outside a place or country" or "alien in character".
The word foreigner is linked to the Latin word foris or outside. Foris is etymologically connected to the word forum. A forum is a public meeting place for open discussion. It would appear however, that Kristeva's discussion of the "foreigner" has taken place in the foreigner's absence. Kristeva is speaking from the position of a French intellectual and not as a Bulgarian exile. The issue of foreignness cannot be resolved by calling on some higher authority, whether it is a political or psychoanalytical institution, in order to impose a "cure".
The foreigner remains both outlaw and outcast. That is, one who is deprived of the protection of the law and one who is refused acceptance. If the foreigner is granted political rights, he is no longer and out-law. If the foreigner's home country reciprocates, the foreigner is no longer out-cast. The foreigner, therefore would no longer exist. The foreigner would have become neutralized for the sake of unity or either domesticated and assimilated in order to prevent potential threats to existing political systems and political alliances.

Kristeva tells us that "recognition of otherness is a right and a duty for everyone". The issue is centered upon recognition, but do we recognize otherness in order to welcome it or cancel out its effects ? Recognition can lead either to acknowledgement or annulment. Ulysses is still tied up, this time his ears are plugged with wax, in order not to hear the Siren's song and the call of the Other.


The word tolerance is related to the Latin and Old English terms meaning "to lift up" and "to bear" "to put up with" or "to support". Based on its etymology tolerance can be understood in a negative or positive manner. Within a negative framework, tolerance is interpreted as a burden and partial acceptance of the other, whom we "put up with". Within a positive framework, tolerance can be interpreted as a supporting and fostering of otherness, plurality and diversity. In what follows, I want to examine the different types of economies which have emerged from the different approaches to tolerance. I want to argue that certain types of liberalism (represented by Locke and Mill) and certain types of communitarianism (represented by MacIntyre ) are restricted and intolerant.
The paper is structured as follows. In Section one, I shall disentangle a number of different conceptions of tolerance; a failure to distinguish them has meant a serious incompleteness in the arguments of those who have claimed that tolerance is either a communitarian or a liberal virtue. In Section two, I examine whether or not liberal and communitarian proponents violate the imperative of tolerance. In Section three, I argue that liberals must have a better defense of tolerance if they wish to retain the concept. Drawing on insights from the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, I develop a model for a "postmodern liberalism", which shares an affinity with Rawls conception of "political liberalism".


In a remarkable study, Preston King points out that "there is something intolerable about the concept of 'tolerance'. For King, the fundamental question concerning tolerance has to do with "the legitimacy of the advantage which the tolerator may enjoy"(T,9). Framed in this manner, tolerance does not promote equality, but inequality. According to King, "the proponents of tolerance...normally fall into two classes. On the one hand, there are the poor, the oppressed, the unfortunate, who, hard-pressed as these always are, beg for indulgence. On the other hand, there are the wealthy, the powerful, the fortunate, who, the better to protect their advantage, make marginal concession to those over against whom it is held"(T.9-10). For King, toleration is linked to the question of power. According to King, "toleration of an item presupposes some form of power over that item"(T.14). Mere tolerance is subversive because it protects the interests of the powerful who are content with their advantage over others. The means of tolerance is determined by those who hold power and decide what will be included in and excluded from their economies. This type of tolerance allows only those practices to flourish which do not threaten the internal purity of the system.
In his study, King examines the differences between three English nouns, namely, tolerance, toleration and tolerationism. King points out that the discussion concerning tolerance has ignored these grammatical distinctions. Rather than focusing on the distinctions between tolerance, toleration, and tolerationism, I want to emphasize the distinctions within the word tolerance. To this end, I will examine five definitions of tolerance.
The first definition of tolerance, is the action or practice of enduring pain or hardship. Here, tolerance is defined as putting up with that which we dislike. This definition presupposes that once we overcome the pain and hardship which is inflicted from the outside, things will be better.
The second definition of tolerance is the power acquired by becoming immune to the effect of large doses of active drugs or resisting the action of poison. This definition points out that the agent being tolerated can be harmful but not fatal; that a certain degree of immunity can be built up over a period of increased and controlled exposure to the "harmful" agent.
The third definition of tolerance is the small margin within which coins when minted are allowed to deviate from the standard. Here, the question of the model or form is brought into question. Only a small degree of deviation from the model is tolerated. Once the deviation exceeds acceptable limits, intolerance becomes "the norm".
The fourth definition of tolerance concerns the allowable amount of variation in the dimensions of a machine or part. In this instance, variation is allowed as long as it resembles the original.
The fifth definition of tolerance is allowing practices to take place without authoritative interference. This definition presupposes that an authority has already granted that diversity can exist, provided that these practices are acceptable to the authority.
All of the above definitions determine tolerance as a "negative virtue". Tolerance becomes the practices of "putting up with" what is not actually approved. As King points out: "In the tolerating conjuncture we discover elements both of objection (dislike/disapproval) and of acceptance...when we tolerate x, we accept it in the sense either that we associate with it or do not interfere with it in some limited sphere, in some limited degree."(T.52). According to King, there is a "tension internal to tolerance"(T.35). This tension occurs in that space where objection intertwines with acceptance. King points out that "the objection is... a matter of degree"(T,51). A total and comprehensive objection would signal the end of tolerance.
Tolerance understood as "putting up with" sketches a restricted picture of what it means to be human while outlining the kind of existence that is essentially good or virtuous for the human individual. Tolerance, in the restricted and negative sense of "putting up with", presupposes a moral high-ground for the person who is in a position to tolerate the other.
In each definition of tolerance, there is a source, standard or model, in relation to which something is judged to be tolerable or intolerable. Thus, the problem of tolerance is opened by putting into question the value of the arche (source, origin or center). The arche provides stability and unity at the expense of arresting the profileration of differences, such that a restricted economy ensures the arche is used to orientate, balance and organize its accounts, while limiting plurality. A restricted economy must prevent the profileration of differences in order to insure itself against loss or instability.

As we have seen, the word tolerance is caught up in a chain of significations. In "An Early Essay on Toleration", Harriet Taylor, argues that toleration "implies the existence of its opposites" Taylor points out that " while we can be conscious that we tolerate there must remain some vestige of intolerance... not to be charitable is to be uncharitable" (EET.116). I want to argue, that it is inadequate to conceive of tolerance as arising out of a that series of oppositions; that is cannot simply be assigned a site which is understood in terms of those oppositions. In order to rethink the economy of tolerance in a liberal society, we must prevent ourselves from trying to comprehend tolerance on the basis of opposition. As King argues,
one cannot praise an individual, sub-group or government simply because they are tolerant. They may be tolerant of cruelty and genocide. Nor can one condemn agents simply because they are intolerant. They may be intolerant of cruelty and genocide. In this sense, therefore, everything must turn, not around tolerance and intolerance, but around the objects of tolerance and intolerance, and the consideration whether they are properly objects of the one rather than of the other(T.68).
Herbert Marcuse argues that tolerance is of two kinds, namely passive and active. Passive tolerance, according to Marcuse is in fact partial to "entrenched and established attitudes and ideas even if their damaging effect on man and nature is evident". Tolerance, on the other hand is active in that "it refrains from taking sides"(RT.85). This type of tolerance may still be a form of prejudice because through its neutrality, it "actually protects the already established machinery of discrimination"(RT.85) (e.g. "tolerance" of minorities by means of segregation or assimilation). Marcuse correctly points out that "when tolerance mainly serves the protection and preservation of a repressive society... then tolerance has been perverted"(RT. 111). Instances of this distorted tolerance occur both in the liberal and communitarian traditions, (e.g. ignoring the specific needs of minorities). According to Marcuse,
the tolerance which is the life element, the token of a free society, will never be the gift of the powers that be; it can, under the prevailing conditions of tyranny by the majority, only be won in the sustained effort of radical minorities, willing to break this tyranny and to work for the emergence of a free and sovereign majority-minorities intolerant, militantly intolerant and disobedient to the rules of behavior which tolerate destruction and suppression(RT.123).
The question of tolerance becomes relative once we examine, who is tolerating what. Normally, neutrality has been thought to be the foundation upon which tolerance could exist. Taylor links tolerance with neutrality, by arguing that "to tolerate is to abstain from unjust interference, a quality which will surely one day not need a place in any catalogue of virtues"(EET.116-117).
In The Restoration of Tolerance, Steven D. Smith raises the issue of neutrality and tolerance and argues that the choice which faces a liberal society is not between intolerance and neutrality, but between tolerance and intolerance. Smith argues that "the prevailing conception of liberalism, which is committed to the ideals of neutrality and equality, is incapable of supporting a viable liberal community" . I share Smith's views that a state which is committed primarily to neutrality can be repressive, stagnant or even impotent insofar as it wants to neutralize change itself. According to Smith,
a healthy political community must stand for something. If it does not, then it becomes a mere aggregation of jarring individual atoms; politics and government becomes a battleground... A community's values, especially in a pluralistic society, may not constitute a unitary or cohesive philosophy. But a state which asserts that in principle it is simply neutral among competing values, like an individual who denies that he believes in or is committed to anything, is not likely to command one's respect.. Thus, the liberalism of neutrality in fact impoverishes the very community that it promises to enrich (RT.328, 329).

Smith argues that neutrality is not an alternative to intolerance, and I agree that neutrality can be co-extensive with intolerance. However, I disagree with Smith when he argues that the true alternative to intolerance is tolerance. As we shall see, tolerance defined as "putting up with" is in fact intolerant because it suppresses differences. The choice, as I see it, is between two types of tolerance, namely, tolerance as "putting up with" and tolerance as "supporting or fostering otherness".


John Rawls describes toleration as "liberalism's own principle" and Will Kymlicka characterizes tolerance as "one of the fundamental liberal values" . On the other hand, Glenn Tinder, argues that "where there is full community, no tolerance is necessary". Both the liberal and communitarian traditions operate according to a certain level of tolerance and charity. Liberals claim to be tolerant in theory, but based on individual and egalitarian principles, liberal societies have, in practice often suppressed differences, i.e. have been intolerant. Communitarians on the other hand, think that a homogeneous community does away for the need of tolerance, which, of course, can come dangerously close to tyranny, dictatorship or fascism. In this section, I want to mark out the limitations of both liberalism as represented by Locke and Mill and communitarianism as represented by MacIntyre. By examining liberal and communitarian positions we will be able to determine whether or not liberal and communitarian proponents violate the imperative of tolerance and charity. In this manner, the dangers of a certain kind of liberalism represented by Locke and Mill and a certain kind of communitarianism, represented by MacIntyre, will become apparent.
In A Letter Concerning Toleration, John Locke argues that, "those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. According to Locke, the " liberty of conscience is every man's natural right equally belonging to dissenters as to themselves and that nobody ought to be compelled in matters of religion either by law or force" (LT.47). Locke goes on to argue, "it is not the diversity of opinions, which cannot be avoided; but the refusal of toleration to those that are of different opinions, which might have been granted, that has produced all the bustles and wars, that have been in the Christian world, upon account of religion"(LT.52). The gist of Locke's argument is clear. While variation in belief is not immoral and should be tolerated, those who hold no theistic beliefs (i.e. atheists), should not be tolerated because they are immoral. Ironically, Locke failed to recognize that intolerance was only an issue for those who believed in a deity and not for those who rejected theism.
John Stuart Mill also develops a puzzling attitude towards tolerance. In the opening section of On Liberty, Mill argues that some people may be more fit for despotism than liberty. Mill argues that "...Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end may be their improvement..." . In this instance, tolerance towards the barbarian does not apply. The other is already described as a "barbarian" who must be improved by becoming "a good European" perhaps. While restricted liberals like Locke and Mill argue for tolerance, their interpretation of "tolerance" rests on intolerance and a denial of otherness. As we shall see, communitarians like MacIntyre do not seem to provide an alternative position. It is clear that, within the restricted liberal and communitarian paradigms, those who are tolerated are only those individuals who belong to a specific group. Those outside the group, who hold radically different beliefs(i.e. deviate too far from the standard), are not to be tolerated.
A certain form of tolerance exists within the communitarian tradition . I agree with Steven D. Smith, who points out that "tolerance is a virtue in Alasdair MacIntyre's sense insofar as it is a prerequisite to the kind of cooperation that marks members of communities"(RL.339). MacIntyre argues that the liberal individual " is a citizen of nowhere, an internal exile where he lives... Modern liberal political society can appear only as a collection of citizens of nowhere who have banded together for their common protection". According to MacIntyre the liberal individual is isolated and egoistic,
To cut oneself off from shared activity in which one has initially to learn obediently as an apprentice learns, to isolate oneself from the communities which find their point and purposes in such activities, will be to debar oneself from finding any good outside of oneself... our pluralistic culture possess no method of weighing, no rational criterion for deciding between claims based on legitimate entitlement and against claims based on need (AV.240,229).
In order to combat liberal isolation, MacIntyre tells us, that what we need, " is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us"(AV.245).The type of community envisioned by MacIntyre, is a community in which the other is avoided and in which the stranger is excluded or exploited. Such exclusion is not only characteristic of communitarianism but shares an affinity with restricted versions of liberalism.
Liberals may argue that the comminitarian principles of unity and coherence play an unnecessarily exclusionary, repressive role. Maurizio Passerin d'Entreves argues that,
community is a term associated with strong identities, fixed by custom and tradition and rooted in history and/or collective memory. Tolerance, on the other hand, suggests more flexible identities, less rooted in history and collective memory and more open to the acceptance of difference, of plurality and of alternative lifestyles.... in the modern age it would seem, therefore, that those who uphold the principle of tolerance have little in common with those who uphold the principle of community. How is it possible to defend tolerance if one is a bearer of an identity rooted in history and fixed by tradition, afraid of being assimilated or displaced by other identities ?
The question of tolerance cannot be reduced to a simple either/or equation. d'Entreves seems to be saying that community is hostile to the principle of tolerance because it takes difference as something that exists only outside the (homogeneous) community . On the other hand, the heterogeneity of individualism, would, according to d'Entreves, provide a space for tolerance. Both classical liberals such as Locke and Mill and communitarians like MacIntyre, want at all costs to maintain the boundary line between the inside and the outside. I want to argue that the questions of tolerance will never be answered if it is simply reduced to a choice between either community or individuality. In both cases, tolerance can be understood merely as "putting up with" the other, rather than "supporting" and fostering the alterity of the other.
In the next section, I will attempt to make a case for a new tolerance which escapes the confines advocated by communitarians such as MacIntyre and liberals such as Locke and Mill. Drawing on the insights of Jacques Derrida, I argue that liberals must have a better defense of tolerance if they are to retain the concept.
It is important to note that the synonym of tolerance is charity. Charity engages the question of the relationship to the other. Within the context of our discussion, charity refers to the individuals approach to that which confronts him. How does one welcome a friend or stranger? The attitude which the individual adopts in addressing friends, strangers or enemies who wish to seek admission into our economy reflects our interpretation of the call to embrace a positive tolerance and to be charitable towards the other. The concept of charity, its cognates and their genealogies, comport a plethora of antithetical senses. Charity is a cognate of the Latin caritas, suggesting dearness, costliness, high price(the cost of a gift), and carus dear, valued, esteemed, beloved. The concept of charity is also affiliated with the Sanskrit word kama, the old Irish world caraim (love) and the Slavic word kamata which means both debt and the interest payment calculated on a loan. Construed in the light of its etymology, charity, resonates with significations of not only giving gifts but it also of being indebted to the other.
I want to suggest that tolerance should be rethought on the basis of charity. The charity which is being described here is a complex charity that cuts across differences . Rethinking tolerance on the basis of charity will allow us to leave behind the negative definition of tolerance as "putting up with" and adopt the positive definition of tolerance as supporting or fostering diversity.
As we have seen, liberals such as Locke and Mill and communitarians such as MacIntyre, call for a denial of otherness, that is, a denial of alternative perspectives which fail to cohere within their own conceptual schemes. Within the restricted liberal and communitarian schemes, the existence of alternative practices, world views, or ways of life are incomprehensible and hence candidates for intolerance. Restricted liberals and communitarians fail to cultivate the power of the question. Their unnecessarily restrictive paradigms of unity, close off the possibility of questioning. Subscribers to both restricted liberalism and communitarianism are guided by the demand for a unified horizon and are mandated to develop an interpretive posture which fits with, rather than breaks from, the story told by their traditions. Both operate according to an exclusionary policy. Alternative positions which depart too far from the story that the tradition tells, positions which simply fail to cohere with the dominant paradigm or model, are swiftly excluded from consideration.
Postmodern liberalism should seek an alternative approach which will overcome the unnecessary, reductive properties of both restricted liberalism and communitarianism. I am aware of how startling the phrase" postmodern liberalism" might seem here. Postmodernism and deconstruction are usually associated with a destruction of ethical values. Richard Rorty argues that while deconstruction is important on a private level it is "pretty much useless when it comes to politics" and is "largely irrelevant to public life and political questions" . In a recent interview Ronald Dworkin expresses the view that postmodernism "is silly, indeed incoherent".
I interpret postmodernism as an event which revises the restricted understanding of ethics and the relation of self and other. The task of postmodern liberalism calls the citizen forth with a radical responsibility and tolerance which is based on charity. Postmodern liberalism will permit hitherto excluded positions to be heard. It will offer an alternative to unequivocal hegemony of one unified metanarrative over other narrative.
A postmodern liberalism will interrogate those forces that have made dominance and intolerance a central part of their agenda. Postmodern liberalism will reveal that within the codes and rules of restricted moralities, there has always been an intolerance. A postmodern liberalism will cultivate plurality and alterity, rather than suppress it.
The postmodern liberalism which I am developing here, shares an affinity with Rawls conception of political liberalism and justice as fairness, which is not metaphysical . Rawls argues that,
the aim of justice as fairness as a political conception is practical, and not metaphysical or epistemological. That is, it presents itself not as a conception of justice that is true, but one that can serve as a basis of informed and willing political agreement between citizens viewed as free and equal persons... in a society marked by deep divisions between opposing and incommensurable conceptions of the good, justice as fairness enables us at least to conceive how social unity can be both possible and stable.

Rawls concedes that although political liberalism is "neutral in aim" it may "affirm the superiority of certain forms of moral character and encourage certain moral virtues"(PL. 194). The virtues which Rawls enumerates are "the virtues of fair social cooperation such as the virtues of civility and tolerance, of reasonableness and the sense of fairness"(PL.194).
In Force of Law, Derrida describes that deconstruction, "operates on the basis of an infinite idea of justice". This deconstructive justice is "owed to the Other before any contract."(FL.965) Deconstructive justice is committed to responsibility and to Otherness. Derrida argues deconstructive justice "always addresses itself to singularity, to the singularity of the Other"(FL.955). Deconstructive justice examines the phenomena of injustice that has oppressed, marginalized and excluded the Other. A deconstructive justice exposes the violence inherent in all restricted economies. Within a restricted economy, the metaphysical blanket protected dominant forces, while systematically smothering and eliminating Otherness. A restricted economy operates according to a metaphysical(i.e. comprehensive) and totalitarian metanarrative, that formulates laws in order to suppress Otherness. In short, a restricted economy employs a resistance to Otherness, whose final aim is the total elimination of Otherness.
A restricted economy, has always been threatened by the forces that have upset its order. The response to these "threats", has been to contain them in one place, i.e. the clinic, the prison, the "safe haven" or the concentration camp. A restricted economy maintains purity by excluding difference. Such exclusion is based on intolerance.
A restrictive tolerance which merely "puts up with the other" maintains its oppressive dominance. The tolerance of postmodern liberalism, on the contrary, should be linked to charity and should adopt an openness to Otherness. Otherness is cultivated, rather than suppressed. A postmodern liberalism would provide a sobering account of the intolerance of certain restrictive communities to intrusions.
Restricted liberal and communitarian strategies for containing undecidability, shelter individuals from options that might otherwise appear. Postmodern liberals recognize that decisions must be made in the face of a set of equally compelling alternatives.
Plurality increases both the difficulty and liberty involved in decision making. Postmodern liberalism allows for a series of rival divergent choices. In giving individuals more options and no independent basis for ultimately selecting from these options, postmodern liberalism calls for an increase in responsibility. In Derrida's words, " each case is other, each decision is different and required an absolute unique interpretation, which no existing coded rule can or ought to guarantee absolutely"(FL.947).
According to Derrida, "undecideability is always a determinate oscillation between possibilities... These possibilities are themselves highly determined in strictly defined situations (for example... political, ethical, etc.) They are pragmatically determined". The task of the postmodern liberal is to invigorate these highly determined contexts in order to open up more possibilities than would otherwise be generated by the restricted liberal or communitarian program.
A postmodern liberalism will support the imperative of stating and maintaining the liberty of the question. Maintaining the liberty of the question allows individuals to choose between various forms of life without protest or interference. The deference to the demands of coherence excludes other world views and reduces the liberty of the question. Tolerance as political, incorporates a responsibility both to the other and to the liberty of the question. Maintaining the liberty of the question, to borrow Kymlicka's words, "is the first step in starting a dialogue" .
A dialogue involves an interplay between self and other. How we respond reflects the tolerance we show toward the Other. Our response towards any question can take the form of "yes"or "no". As Derrida points out, " One always has, one always must have, the right not to respond, and this liberty belongs to responsibility itself, that is, to the liberty that one believes must be associated with it. One must always be free not to respond to an appeal or to an invitation- and it is worth remembering this, to remind oneself of the essence of this liberty"(PO. 15, my emphasis).This responsive "no" recognizes a limit to what is "tolerated". David H. Jones, argues that,"citizens with liberal civic virtues must recognize limits to tolerance and that their loyalty to liberal institutions will sometimes require them to repudiate and even combat some of the more robust forms of illiberal community"

A postmodern liberalism will be attentive to the question of what kind of community will emerge from the new tolerance. Will it be "a community that builds on the resources of difference and diversity that begin to emerge with pluralism" or a community which "sets out to annihilate the communities that do exist". (ML.179) In examining the question of tolerance, Susan Mendus asks," what are the requirements of toleration... does toleration require more than merely letting alone? Does it require assisting and nurturing?" (TLL,17). We are now in a position to answer, that tolerance does require more than "merely letting alone". The tolerance which is being outlined here answers Cain's question with a "yes". Tolerance understood in terms of charity is a supporting of the other. But this support is not without criticism. The citizen who dwells in the polis is one who responds, questions and criticizes responsibly.
Let us recall that tolerance relates to the question of the toll. A toll is a fixed charge to travel across a bridge or road. This question engages the discussion of customs, debts and borders; of admission and who is allowed to enter; of what is allowed to cross over of what is acceptable; of what and who is allowed to pass over to the other side.
Ultimately, the meaning of tolerance is found in the relation that I have with the Other. and the demand that is placed upon me by the other. Tolerance is a "problem of human relations"(T.21). Tolerance is a question of how we meet the Other. Do we meet the Other with the charity of the open hand or the imperialism of the closed fist and of the equally closed mind ?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Derrida and the Ethics of Community

Friday, August 04, 2006


(For Al Lingis)

Four quotes, and four corners to lead us into an exploration of coronation, queens, grounds, crowns, glory and falling down:
The woman you call the mother of the child is not the parent, just a nurse to the seed, the new sown seed that grows and swells insider her.
Aeschylus, The Eumedides

Be not anxious, great King! said the Brahmans, “a child has planted itself in the womb of your queen...he will become a Buddha and roll back the clouds of sin and folly of this world.
Jataka, The Birth of the Buddha

The angel said to her, “ Do not be afraid, Mary for you have found favor with God”...and Mary said, “ My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed...he has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.
Luke 1. 30:46

And yet the discourse on khora, conducted by a bastard reasoning without a legitimate father is inaugurated by a new return to the origin. Philosophy cannot speak philosophically of that which looks like its “mother”. “nurse”, “receptacle”, or its “imprint bearer”. As such, it speaks only of the father and the son, as if the father engendered it all on his own.
Jacques Derrida, Khora

Noah is sixteen months old. I enjoy taking him to the park. He teaches me how to play and how to look at the world in an fresh non-philosophical way. There we are on the ground playing with wood-chips. Wood-chips can be dangerous. Once a little boy fell from the swing face first. The wood-chips embedded themselves in his mouth. Fun and play had turned into crying and bleeding. The play-ground had become a pain-ground.
This same ground was also used by midnight lovers and drug addicts. Used condoms strewn on the grass, cigarette remains, ash and the faint impressions of bodies were the presents left behind to let fall on the ground. Noah does not see these things which are being swept up by the groundskeepers.
We make our way to the bridge past the ducks and squirrels. Noah stops to chase them until he spots a dog. “Doggie, woof, woof”, he cries out in delight. Here too the ground is littered with muck and excrement though it is different from the cat litter that I clean every day and even different still from Noah’s four pound diapers.
Throughout our lives we find ourselves on different ground. The ground that supports us can also cause us to sink and fall. The ground can yield its secrets, corpses in mass graves, artifacts and treasure and though they do not bloom as the tulips and lavender in the spring, they might yet rise from the ground and resurrect. In standing on one ground we are always on a many layered ground so hospitality would be the imperative to follow as we take our steps across sidewalks, boardwalks, roads, bridges, streams and deserts. This is what Lingis has taught me.
Fall is my favorite time of year. The colors sweep across the landscape. Crown is said of a fire when it sweeps through the canopy of a forest. In the backyard, fenced in, the leaves are changing color. Fall explodes with vibrancy, echoing with an intensity that only Van Gogh or Tom Thompson could capture. Fall time is the time of the fall when colors crown and then tumble down, cascading in an almost waterfall rhythm.
Noah and I are playing with the leaves. I am trying to rake them into one pile but soon give up this game of uncover the ground. Ground cover consists of various plants used to fill in space along walk-ways and highways. To provide ground cover in times of war means to put up a moving wall of bullets so that nothing alive is left standing.
Suzanne, Noah and I are walking into Zehrs. It’s grocery day. Outside the sliding doors a crowd has gathered. It watches as three security guards throw a man to the ground. He stole some Listerine. Later the police officer tells me that he’s a heroin addict. She tries to justify the excessive force used by the law and security students. But somehow it is no use convincing her that the man’s gashes and gouges and bleeding skull bounced off the concrete wall are a terrible punishment to pay for a minor infraction. The law walks on violent ground. I did speak up as the three looked at me proud of their accomplishments. After-all they did protect the market and saved a bottle of Listerine from falling into the wrong hands. However, the man suffering from addiction could have been apprehended in a more gentle aikido way.
On week-ends after I have finished teaching philosophy I work for a demolition contractor. Such work is quite refreshing and fits nicely with my deconstructionist background. Lingis writes, “I now do not feel I am really a man unless I get my hands dirty. Cleaning out the cellar, the garage, that is a man’s job”. I can relate to Lingis’s description of work as “endurance, capacity to suffer, responsibility to family that bends one to harsh labour, comradery, loyalty to one other”. My father taught me how to work. My mother taught me how to pray. Last Saturday I was demolishing storage lockers with a group of Cubans who speak very little English. In between the swings of crow-bars and sledge hammers the thought occured that its perverse to enter someone’s fantasy space in this manner. I stopped for a moment. The Cubans thought I was tired and they were making fun of me . I reamained mute. Unable to tell them why I disagreed with Slavoj Žižek’s theories. I knew a line was being crossed and that I was tearing down space and standing on a ground that I had difficulty comprehending. You ask what obsessed this person to collect Third Reich paraphenalia, pornography, children’s toys and pictures of his grandmother? Let’s not jump to hasty conclusions such as the grandmother was really a secret agent posing as a porn-star who finished her career at Toys-R-Us. I would later learn that the man whose storage locker I was tearing down had tried to kill himself. But he only jumped from a four storey building. At that height which is no height at all, the ground did not have a chance to rush towards him. No terminal velocity was achieved. The jumper was grounded. The ground bounced him back like a stone skipped on the surface of a calm Nothern Lake. For some sorrow is such that it consumes all traces of joy, pleasure and receptivity.
Ground is never gained or lost. At best one can manage to leave a faint imprint but that disappears as well. The question becomes how to ground oneself on ground that is never stable; on ground that quakes. The plane is grounded. The ship runs a ground. The meat is ground. The human full of disaster and catastrophe never seems to be grounded.
I don’t know where I am going with this. But I know that I wanted to travel some ground with you, to expose my thinking to you, to ground myself in some concrete examples and along the way to pay homage to Al Lingis.
In 1992 as I was beginning my Ph.D. thesis I was told by my advisor not to trust what Lingis had to say because his thinking was dangerous. Of course, the analytic tradition would find Lingis dangerous. After- all he made philosophy exciting, exotic, visceral, photographic and above all, honest. His writing was impressive because it impressed itself on the one who was drawn into a world of lived experience. Lingis showed the hospitality that was at the heart of being human as he shared his food, medicine and money with street kids and with the wretched of the earth whom analytic philosophy has forgotten.
Lingis is to the practice of philosophy what Francis Bacon was to painting. Bacon portrayed human flesh saturated with pain, dis-ease and affliction but he also found room for joy and abandon. Bacon focused on heads, crowns, gaping wounds and screaming faces; flesh trapped in geometric cages. Watching the man with the addiction being beaten down his blood stained flesh mixing with brick I saw the extent to which the consumer cage surrounds us.
In one of his last interviews before he died in 198? Bacon expressed that he had only wanted to paint the human smile. But I could understand why Bacon’s attempt at a smile could only resemble the Joker’s grimace that kept Batman on edge. Flesh is meat and Bacon learned from Rembrant how to expose a carcass and make it glow with glory. From Velasquez, Bacon took the papal throne and turned it into a caged toilet; a space for toil; a spoiled space where the dropping weight of glory could shine, purple, yellow, brown and vermillion. Bacon like Lingis shows us what is royal in the pageantry of things.
In the Timaeus, Plato speaks of the khora as a receptacle, as a nurse and as a mother. The khora is that from which spectacle, space and display flow forth. It is what Hopkins would describe as a gush of juice and joy. Khora births us. Khora allows us to stand on the earth and to fall back into it. Following Plato we might say that we are Khora-Nated or birthed from a source we cannot name. Khora crowns us to become human and to assume our place. But the history of our species shows that we have not taken our human place. We have become something other than human, monstrous without innocence. Crown from the Latin corona means garland or wreath. Corona can also mean anything curved like the tip of a bow, the stem of a ship, the curve of a hip, lip breast or phallus.
The word crown relates back to the Sanskrit word kridati or he dances. To dance is to turn and bend. In this dance of glory, life bends us with pain but there can be pleasure in the bending, in heading, jumping and turning to fall asleep. Once Noah was dancing with a belly full of breast milk and he threw up all over Suzanne. He kept on dancing and laughing oblivious to the nausea that was overtaking us.
To crown means to finish off and to climax. Crown can also mean to inflict a blow and to bruise. In childbirth to crown means to appear at the vaginal opening or to be taken out of the womb. All of us have been crowned so we are royal, majestic and sovereign. I remember when Noah was pulled out of Suzanne’s womb. He was bloody, glistening in muscous. He was glorious and beautiful.
Related to the word crown is the word coroner. A coroner was an officer in Englad whose duty it was to keep a record of the pleas of the corwn and guard the royal revenues arising from them. Lingis reverses this lawerly order. Lingis coronates what the rest have forgotten, overlooked, hidden, discarded or are afraid to speak of. He becomes a universal or catholic coroner who brings to our attention the pleas of the lowly while teaching us how to turn sorrow into a glory filled joy.
Crown refers to the highest quality or state of something. In Catholicism Mary as the mother of God is crowned with glory not because she was sweet submissive, silent and subordinate. This dehydrated and theological Mary is not the mother of Jesus. When my mother taught me to pray she never presented Mary in a bland manner. In my childhood home Mary was not floating in the clouds waiting to be spotted by NASA satellites. She was grounded, in the flesh, in our daily living. If the word was made flesh, the flesh was the Mothers’. Devotion to Mary is shown through the rosary; a devotional excercise marked by the use of beads. She is said to be a rose. A rose is a woman of great charm, excellence, virtue and vitality. Mary as Khora exists as a manifestation of life which is always maiden, youthful and new. What is full of life can be described as “quick”. The word quick means marked by the presence of life; not dead; charged with passion and action. In the Magnificat Mary sings a song of bold affirmation, revolution, and reversal of values which was already recorded in the Old Testament Books of Sirach and 2 Samuel: “The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers, and enthrones the lowly in their places...he will find gladness and a crown of rejoicing” and “ He raises up the lowly from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princess and inherit a seat of honor”. Mary sings a song for the oppressed and expresses her hope that the unjust structures of society can be changed. I see Lingis carrying on this Marian mission of bringing hope to those without hope; to those without a foreseeable future. Such work is perhaps beyond philosophy. The work of overturning is the work of the stomach. Disgust happens when one’s stomach is sickened. The stomach turns, churns, tightens and weeps with an ever greater urgency that demands action.

Prefacing the Antiphon: Towards an Animal Theology

(The Preface to my book, Derrida's Aporetic Ethics)

Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares
There is no speech, nor are there
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through
all the earth,
and their words to the end of
the world.
Psalm 19

Antiphon: 1. A devotional composition sung responsively as part of a liturgy. 2a. A short liturgical text chanted or sung responsively preceding or following a psalm, psalm verse, or canticle.

Your story, please.
Plato, Phaedrus

We do not wish to be spared by our best enemies, nor by those whom we love from the very heart. So let me tell you the truth!
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, ‘Of War and Warriors’

A foreword is not necessarily provoked or provocative, to be sure. But a provocation will always resemble a foreword.
Jacques Derrida, Without Alibi

In For What Tomorrow Derrida speaks of “the compulsive and often pathetic efforts, desperate or fearful to discredit at any cost- and not only my work, of course, but an entire configuration to which it belongs”. How is this violence to be addressed? Why have so many of Derrida’s disciples remained timid and silent for so long? What is to be done?
One very good answer comes from John R. Searle who appears to have recognized the earlier pathology of his own efforts to discredit Derrida’s work. Searle writes, “When it comes to intellectual pathologies, once you can accu-rately name them you are a long way toward understanding them, and once you understand them, you are well on the way to overcoming them”. Searle also adds that such intellectual pathologies are, “self-refuting, and simply quoting them is often refutation enough”. For the sake of analytic rigor and responsibil-ity, I wish to push past what is enough. Following Searle’s advice I will not only quote, I will also name, describe and analyze some of these intellectual pathologies that have chosen to attach themselves to Derrida’s work.
Stated clearly, the criticisms against Derrida’s work are ill informed, ignorant, and pathetic. For example, Johann Hari, writing for the Independent (London) writes:

The popularity of Jacques Derrida's philosophy among aca-demics is hard to understand except as a symptom of deca-dence. Western intellectuals have never been more safe, more comfortable or more free - so they have turned to a wild, often absurd philosopher who trashes the humanities (and any coher-ent political project) in a search for intellectual stimulation. As he is buried this week, it is time to ask whether his ideas - and the long, agonising postmodern intellectual spasm - should be buried with him….Derrida was, in short, the mad axeman of Western philosophy. He tried to hack apart the very basis of our thought - language, reason and the attempt to tell big sto-ries about how we became as we are. All we are left with - if we accept Derrida's conclusions - is puzzled silence and irony.

I can find no finer example of journalistic ignorance and incompetence. Hari’s article is full of falsehoods, rhetorical banalities, and culture dope metaphors.
Derrida’s vocation of patiently and closely reading the canonical texts of our tradition is described as ‘trashing’ the humanities by Hari. He could have easily consulted the recent collection of essays published by his alma mater entitled, Jacques Derrida and the Humanities. Hari could have also read Der-rida’s essay Of the Humanities and the Philosophical Discipline. The Right to Philosophy from the Cosmopolitical Point of View (the Example of an Interna-tional Institution). One would expect someone with a first class degree from Cambridge to produce better work, but Hari (once again) exhibits his own philosophical illiteracy. Has Cambridge become a diploma mill? Is it in need of yet another Wittgensteinian rescue? What conclusions can be drawn from this?
Hari shows that journalists can say whatever they wish about subjects they know nothing about, while believing themselves to be educating their public. Hari criticizes Derrida’s supposed relativism only to reveal his own relativism and ignorance on full display in the pages of the Independent. The problem can be formulated as follows : journalists who know nothing about the subject matter they are writing about disseminate their views with the help of newspapers with a massive and international distribution. Derrida has already informed us what is at stake. He writes,

Hegel was right to remind the philosophers of his time to read the newspapers every day. Today, the same responsibility also requires us to find out how the newspapers are made, and who makes them, the dailies, the weeklies, and the television news. We would need to look at them from the other side: from the side of the news agencies as well as that of the teleprompter. And let us never forget what such a statement implies: when-ever a journalist or a politician appears to be addressing us di-rectly, in our homes and looking us straight in the eye, he (or she) is actually reading a text that was produced elsewhere at another moment, possibly by other people or even by a whole network of anonymous writers.

Journalists who cannot decipher, evaluate or support their claims will not be able to understand the call to responsibility and vigilance that Derrida evokes here.
Following Hari in another massive display of journalistic aberration and irrational prose is Mark Goldblatt who in his review of the documentary film Derrida writes, “ Derrida is not now, nor has he ever been, a philosopher in any recognizable sense of the word, nor even a trafficker in significant ideas; he is rather an intellectual con artist”. Goldblatt continues, “Jacques Derrida, has made a career out of playing whiffle ball in his own backyard, with half the humanities professors in the United States watching and doing color commen-tary.” Goldblatt displays an attitude that is harmful to the spirit of philosophy and truth. I would expect someone steeped in historical and philosophical analysis to define their terminology. Such rigor should be expected from an assistant professor of Educational Skills who teaches “Religion and Religious Dissent in American History to the Civil War” and “Ancient Greek Philosophy” courses at The Fashion Institute of Technology. Simply put, Goldblatt is not qualified to comment on Derrida’s writings. Indeed, those with little knowledge of Derida’s works and writings are often the first to make fashionable noise concerning Derrida’s so called “relativism”. To use Kant’s language, such individuals engage in “quibblings about things they do not understand” .
To counter this slide into error and to be vigilant against journalistic mendacio perhaps a new itinerary could be constructed for those wishing to become journalists. I propose that journalists declare an unlimited commitment to the pursuit of truth rather than an unlimited commitment to fraud and simplic-ity. This would require a rigourous education, first of all, in philosophy, history, literature and science so that they could, with a public promise, make a pledge of responsiblility. As if this is going to happen. Philosophers then, must reclaim their role. They have fallen into a slumber so deep that they have forgotten their commitment to action, resistance and dissidence.
Notice how Goldblatt’s writing reveals a failure to follow institutional mandates. In other words, he destroys his own position. We read,

So what exactly are educational skills? Essentially, they are the skills you need to get the most out of college courses. Reading comprehension, grammatical correctness, language fluency, listening and note-taking - these are the foundations of a liberal arts education. Educational skills are also life skills - the ability to gather ideas from what you read and hear, to express your own thoughts in clear, effective speech, to write crisp, compe-tent sentences. It's difficult to overestimate how crucial these skills are to leading a well-rounded, intellectually rewarding life.

This is not the first case of a professor, who fails to follow the educa-tional guidelines they set up for their students. How can someone teach the essential skills of reading, writing and argumentation only to engage in a jour-nalistic drivel that breaks all the rules of critical thinking? The simple answer is that such individuals are incapable of reading philosophically demanding texts. Rather than stating this obvious fact, Derrida’s critics resort to play ground name calling. Rather than blame themselves for not being able to understand Der-rida’work they blame Derrida for not being understandable. The latter game is far easier as it avoids knocking up against the problems and aporias that Derrida has located.
Goldblatt could have first defined the meaning of the words, intellectual, con and artist while attempting to show us how the three words fit together. He could have informed us that a con-artist is a person who uses dishonesty for financial gain. A con artist often works with one or more conspirators called shills, who try to assure the “mark” by pretending to believe the trickster. How has Derrida exactly “swindled” Goldblatt? How has Derrida used deception and fraud? I find Goldblatt’s comments to be offensive in their self-evident ridicu-lousness. Goldblatt’s mistake is not only verbal to use Ayer’s language, it is a factual error as well.
The issues raised by Derrida cannot be swept under the analytic carpet simply because one is incapable of understanding them. Hari, Goldblatt, Smith and Hagen have not tried to meet the arguments put forth by Derrida. Instead they insist on the superiority of their own non-positions. In Hegel’s words from his famous preface, “ not everyone who has eyes and fingers, and is given leather and last, is at once in a position to make shoes”. Reading and under-standing Derrida’s writings require work, labor and intimate knowledge of the history of philosophy. Those who criticize Derrida’s work are lacking in all these areas and yet they continue to defend their ingenious ignorance.
For example, L. Kirk Hagen proclaims, “ Derrida never made any ef-fort to improve his prose. And yet, over the years hordes of converts took to aping his impenetrable rodomontade’s in article after article, dissertation after dissertation, book after book…..Derrida was no great shakes as a writer or philosopher. (my emphasis) Hagen’s attack is simply preposterous bluster and outright untruth. If Derrida’s prose is “impenetrable” how can Hagen even say a word or stage a proper critique? Indeed how can he even begin to write any-thing about Derrida’s work? Hagen has simply shown his inability to read and to understand Derrida’s writings while adding one more entry to his list of “published works”.
Having spent many years of my life immersed in Derrida’s work I can-not allow such comments to pass without a proper Swiftean response. I do not know if they will be understood by Derrida’s critics. Are they capable of under-standing especially when they are caught in a vicious and strange auto-immune response? Derrida’s worst critics remind me of the seekers of fame on the Next American Idol, unable to sing Madonna’s Like a Virgin, or Led Zeppelin‘s “Going To California” they complain the loudest when they are not chosen to proceed further. Not swayed by the truth of the instant replay they criticize those who really do know how to sing opera and hold a credible note.
In the spirit of charity, I would like to follow Barry Smith’s own criteria on what constitutes a meaningful life. Barry Smith spear-headed a smear cam-paign against Derrida when he found out that Cambridge wanted to grant him an honorary degree. In an essay entitled, “Luck, Responsibility and the Meaning of Life”, he writes, “Whether a person leads a meaningful life depends in every case not on that person’s, or other people’s beliefs or feelings, but on what the person did as a consequence of his or her own decisions, as evaluated (actually or potentially) against the relevant public measures of success.” From his own admission, Derrida did lead a meaningful life and Smith’s criticism is null. Here is the proof. I quote Smith again: “Whether a person leads a meaningful life depends on every case ( my emphasis) not on that person’s (Derrida) or other people’s beliefs or feelings (Smith) but on what the person did as a consequence of his or her own decisions ( please refer to Derrida’s CV). One can only conclude that Smith’s vicious reaction against Derrida’s work rests on a founda-tion of jealousy or to borrow Smith’s words this jealousy could be considered to be “a pathological continuant entity”. I do not recall Derrida writing a letter to the editor when Smith was awarded the Volkswagen prize. On the other hand, perhaps Smith is angered because Derrida never quoted his work or devoted a long footnote to one of his papers. Citing jus in bello, I have taken on the task of defending my teacher and wish to remedy the injustice by devoting a very long endnote within a endnote that was converted from a footnote to Barry Smith as I continue with my analysis of other matters.
What is to be done?
Socrates had an easy time explaining geometry to the enslaved boy of the Meno. At least he was willing to be lead by the Socratic maietuic as Plato looked on and took careful footnotes.
What is to be done with those individuals not fully trained in the history of philosophy and theology, who display an inability to analyze, understand, elucidate, discuss, give evidence and read? Such learned ignorance coupled with extreme arrogance and an inability to detect or appreciate irony and humor is a deadly combination.
What is to be done as one reads the mountains of papers criticizing Der-rida’s work, other than rub one’s eyes in disbelief while waiting for an answer to arrive from the non-human world. Rather than evoke Hagen’s ape or Kant’s billy goat, I will defer to Leopold Bloom’s cat.
Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses together with Hegel’s Phenomenology, while waiting for Canada’s Next Top Model to return and wondering why the Maple Leafs never win the cup, I happened upon the following paragraphs. The first is from Joyce, the second is from Hegel:

O, there you are, Mr. Bloom said, turning from the fire. The cat mewed in answer and stalked again stiffly round a leg of the table, mewing. Just how she stalks over my writing table. Prr. Scratch my head. Prrr….They call them stupid. They un-derstand what we say better than we understand them. She un-derstands all she wants to.

Even the animals are not shut out from this wisdom, but, on the contrary, show themselves to be most profoundly initiated into it.

Following this Joycean/Hegelian wisdom, the question I posed to my cats was as follows: “How do individuals educated at the best schools, manage to obtain degrees and doctorates- become journalists or professors, publish books and articles, write plays, obtain grants and prizes yet criticize Derrida’s work and the history to which it belongs without offering a rational discussion or valid arguments about a specific topic, sentence, word or text?” Maggie, Gilles and Ellie meow in unison. Is this ad bestia permissible? I can only imagine how smart Derrida’s cat must be.
What is to be done?
How do I retrieve an answer? Can I use the same tactics used by Der-rida’s esteemed critics from the journalistic academy? I continue wondering what Aristotle really meant by his phrase “rational animal” as I pose further questions to various cats from the neighborhood: Spartacus, Guy, Marat, Mao, Lenin, and Che. I carefully listen for their response. ME-OW! they cry in unison. Now I understand! Derrida’s critics feel wounded and hurt. His writings have caused them pain. Imagine spending a lifetime researching whether Achilles really had a heel or whether mountains really exist; imagine devoting one’s career to answering the question, “Did Confucius read Nietzsche?”, only to have someone state very clearly, “Nietzsche was born in the 19th century”. Imagine working for thirty years attempting to unravel the real meaning of the word “and” only to be told by Google that “the "AND" operator is unnecessary -- we include all search terms by default”. Such a revelation must be earth shattering. In Nietzsche’s words, such scholars “ were playing on the sea-shore- then came a wave and swept their playthings into the deep: now they cry”.
Is it best then, not to speak, especially when a logical explanation of Derrida’s work will not be understood? I have struggled with this question like Jacob wrestling the angel, as I read and interpret the words of Jesus’ animal theology in the Gospel of Matthew: “Do not throw your pearls before swine or they will trample them under foot and maul you”. The “swine” is the con-temptible person who would take more than his or her share. Of course, it is not a literal description but a quality of mind. For example, the Buddhist tradition makes use of animal imagery in its psychology. Chogyam Trungpa in Tran-scending Madness states,

The animal quality is one of purely looking directly ahead, as if we had blinkers. We look straight directly ahead, never looking right or left, very sincerely…the animal realm is asso-ciated with ignorance….Whenever there is falseness or some devious way of relating to things, you begin by convincing yourself that it is the right thing…..the idea behind that is that the pig supposedly does not look to the right or to the left or turn around, but it just sniffs along….it goes on and on , with-out any kind of discrimination, a very sincere pig…..We may be dealing with all kinds of extremely sophisticated topics and intellectual concepts of the highest standards- but still, our style of working with that sophisticated world is that of a pig….you are not able to look at yourself, you are unable to relate with the mirroring quality of the realms and of your life. There is no sense of humor. There is no way of being willing to surren-der, willing to open, or willing to give, at all.

What can be said to the omnivorous animal that cannot read but makes paper? A hog according to the OED is “an agitator for mixing and stirring pulp in paper making”. A hog is also a machine with a revolving cutter for reducing bulk materials as waste lumber. Critics of Derrida’s work would like it to disap-pear. The task here is not as simple as the prodigal son leaving the swinesty to rush back into the protective arms of his father.
To throw from the Latin terere means to rub and to grind. To throw is to propel, to cast, to get rid of, and to unseat. To throw is to make oneself dependent upon some thing or other. It is to give oneself up without resistance. To throw is to allow an opponent to win by losing intentionally. Throw is an undertaking that requires risk, danger and dislocation. To throw away is to discard and squander what is precious, rare, relevant and reverent. In being thrown there must never be a throwback, a reversal or backward deviation from the path or course, however aporetic. The soccer ball like the idea must be thrown-in after it has gone into touch.
What must be done?
How to throw off; to free oneself as Derrida writes, from “ a more stubborn aggression” without throwing up or admitting defeat even as one is thrown out and abandoned? What would be a through road in this ethics of resistance that must learn how to protect and yet at the same time share with an unconditional hospitality the pearl, that which is precious, fine, noble, rare; a small round globule that forms from the infinite tear drops that come from learning how to live and navigate this one life.
Jesus alerts us to the trample- the heavy repeated tread of many feet. To tread is to follow a habitual course of action while learning to be like a machine. The treadmill first used in prison discipline was a device that allowed for the continuation of a wearisome routine. Somehow, this treadmill found its way into the University system. To trample is to tyrannize. How to stop the tyranny of the Absolute Rule that stultifies, represses and suppresses the liberty of the question? This is the work of deconstruction which as Derrida reminds us, never proceeds without love?
The risk of being mauled will always be present. Maul from the Latin molere relates to the word meal and means to grind. The cannibalism within that which is called human being is never far away. To grind is to reduce something to powder. Recall Nietzsche’s characterization of scholars as those who grind. To grind down is to repress harshly, to keep rigidly under control or in a state of submission, much like the archives of electronic records. Against such grind-ing down that often takes place within the University that proclaims its support of academic freedom while doing otherwise, a singular response will always be necessary if only to not allow these forces of repression to proceed unchecked.
I had wanted to talk to you about grounding and being-grounded and what takes place in the grind of work; in the process of being ground down though never run aground. The groundwork for this project began in one institu-tion, where certain members of the department of philosophy attempted to ground it to a halt like the Avro Arrow almost sending it into an abyss without hope of return. It was finished at another institution which allowed it space to breathe and grow to completion. I am grateful to both institutions for different reasons.
After having completed coursework in Aristotle, Kant, Wittgenstein, Rawls and Kymlicka and after having successfully passed comprehensive exami-nations in the history of philosophy, I submitted a thirty page thesis proposal under the title “Jacques Derrida’s Aporetic Ethics”. I was not allowed to even defend the proposal. Judged without a trial by those not competent to judge, I experienced first hand what is meant by intellectual censorship and administrative violence, along with the pettiness, anti-democratic nature and small-mindedness of departmental politics. At that moment, I finally understood what Derrida meant by repressive structures growing out of intellectual traditions.
What can be done?
What proposal would make sense as I dream of organizing a Derridean Council of Nicea? Proposal is a rich word. It relates to the orchestral overture or opening. Propose means to put forth; to make an offer of marriage. What I put forth here is hardly an offer of marriage even if it resembles a declaration of love for that which I call philosophy. Many in the academic tower had wanted to throw it out and to keep it in the projects. Perhaps it provoked and issued a challenge while evoking what was at stake in terms of ethics, much like a Catho-lic and Franciscan Luther nailing his theses to the church door in Wittenberg, “Ich kann nicht anders”.
What will be done?
Here are a few snap-shots, some film stills resembling a work still in progress. I do not pretend to be able to analyze these issues fully but I can point out things that might count as a fragment to an answer. You are invited to sift through the memories as ghosts gather to embed themselves in these inherited archives as I attempt to avoid the Hegelian preface.
The scene is staged. You are in a courtroom or a theatre of law. You have come to visit Kafka’s man from the country that is waiting for the door-keeper. You want to ask him: “Why do you continue to wait?” I manage to go past the other sentry, after-all this door belongs to me and no one else. Final arguments are being presented. The jury is sleeping. The judge is dis-ceased. Someone is speaking. Perhaps it could be me: “If physicians were as negligent as interpreters of Derrida’s work have been, they would be subject to malpractice suits. Some would even lose their license to dispense healing. No such fate awaits the negligent “philosopher” trained in the vulgarity of ignorant responses, which are often times published in respectable academic journals.” Does the lawyer win the case to emerge triumphant on the balcony of a Boston penthouse smoking a cigar and drinking cognac? What would win here exactly mean? Who would be convinced? Would the conviction stand or would the hemlock once again be mixed and dispensed?
What should be done?
More than ever, deconstruction is required in order to save the humani-ties from the dogmatists and keep philosophy alive and accessible to all. Here are Derrida’s words:

Philosophical teaching must continue to develop, one must con-tinue to read, the relation to tradition must be as cultivated as pos-sible: from this point of view, let it be said in passing, those who see deconstruction as a threat to culture and even to academic cul-ture and to its canon, those who try to denounce its “barbarism” are the barbarians: most often, you know, it is they who have not read enough, especially of the so called deconstructive texts. De-construction presupposes the most intensely cultivated, literate re-lation to the tradition. Thus, it is a matter of keeping the field of tradition open, of making things such that the access to philosophy remains open to the greatest number of people: one must pursue the critical project of philosophy as far as possible.

Notice Derrida’s emphasis on philosophical teaching, reading and culti-vating the tradition. Who would find this stance objectionable, if not those who do not know how to teach philosophy, how to read and cultivate the tradition? In addition to being an exemplary philosopher, a generous and kind man, Derrida was a distinguished teacher who related thinking to action. He writes, “I have always thought that thinking is acting….there is no thought of the future that is not at the same time an engagement with the question, “What should I do”.” I am sure that posthumous texts will emerge from the archives that will continue to teach us.
What have I done?
The intellectual risks involved in defending Derrida’s work, especially in the inhospitable and dominantly analytic environment that is called “North American philosophy” has been high, personally and financially but I could not have proceeded otherwise. It never occurred to me that I should ‘play it safe’ and betray what was so evident, namely that Derrida did have an ethic and that this ethic was in place from the beginning of his authorship. Here are Derrida’s words. Please read them carefully:

But what I am proposing here is not meant to suggest any more than were my earlier allusions to responsibility, hospitality, the gift, forgiveness, testimony etc.—some “ethical turn” as some have said. I am simply trying to pursue with some consequence the thinking that for years has been engaged with the same apo-rias. The question of ethics, of rights and politics has not sprung forth unexpectedly, as from a bend in the road.

In other words, Derrida did not make an ethical turn. He was always al-ready dealing with the ethical aporia.
What has been done here?
The work I have written brings out the aporias that Derrida has been dealing with since the beginning of his authorship. In it I explore the traditional areas of philosophy such as Metaphysics, Logic, Epistemology and Ethics and show how Derrida re-reads the tradition for the sake of a responsible decision.
I was drawn to Derrida’s work because it displayed a search for wisdom that was credible. I believe that his work exemplifies a passion and a courage that is rarely practiced by intellectuals. His idea that “deconstruction never proceeds without love.” is exemplary. Derrida’s work transformed my thinking and gave me a new appreciation for the history of philosophy, literature, poetry, architecture, aesthetics and psychoanalysis. Unlike others, I did not want to begin my career by writing books on Kant or Aquinas (however necessary and worthwhile), only to sneak Derrida in the back door twenty years later when it would be safe to do so and no one would take much notice. What I have been outlining here leads to the question of the role of the university and the role of philosophy within the university. Derrida has devoted considerable effort to making philosophy accessible to all those who wish to study it. This is one reason his work has done so well and reached so many people. He released philosophy from its unnatural academic restrictions.
The university writes Derrida, ‘professes the truth, and that is its pro-fession. It declares and promises and unlimited commitment to the truth”. One would think that this would be the case especially in departments of philosophy where wisdom, truth, knowledge and enlightenment are said to be valued. At least this is what their brochures claim. Derrida continues, “ This university without condition does not in fact exist, as we know only too well.” If this university without condition which will have been founded on the “unconditional right to ask critical questions…. in which nothing is beyond question” does not exist what stands in its place? The answer according to Derrida is “research institutions that are in the service of economic goals and interests of all sorts”. What is required writes Derrida “ is not only a principle of resistance, but a force of resistance- and of dissidence”. I would like to think that this work has taken Derrida’s insights to heart.
What is still to be done?
I have often asked myself; why there is so much hostility to Derrida’s works? One simple answer is that detractors of Derrida’s work have failed to follow their own methods. . Adherents of the analytical, phenomenological and hermeneutic schools of philosophy have failed in their task to uphold their own methodological procedures. Following Plato, we could ask, how can these experts engage in discourses full of error unless they are in a state of ignorance? Or, is it the case that these guardians of morals really know what Derrida is saying and cannot accept the consequences? Is one scenario worse than the other? Perhaps another answer is that detractors of Derrida’s works have finally realized the restrictive and reductive nature of their methods and instead of abandoning their paradigms and procedures, they have no other recourse than to recoil in resentment and attack everything Derrida stands for.
Derrida has shown that “to lie one must know what the truth is and distort it intentionally”. The lies against Derrida have been increasing since his death. Is it a case of simple negligence: of hurrying to a judgement in order to affirm at all costs that Derrida is a nihilist? What is the excuse? What alibi do these thinkers, theorists, academic philosophers and scholars have to offer us? Perhaps the simplest answer, that would of course, require at least one book for each infraction would be: incompetence, lack of analytical lucidity, ignorance, error, lies, jealousy, thoughtlessness, journalistic simplicity.
I find it disconcerting that philosophy professors still insist that Derrida has nothing to say about ethics or responsibility when the evidence is clear and distinct. To profess writes Derrida,

is to make a pledge while committing one’s responsibility… Philosophiam profiteri is to profess philosophy: not simply to be a philosopher, to practice or to teach philosophy in some pertinent fashion, but to pledge oneself, with a public promise, to devote oneself publicly, to give oneself over to philosophy, to bear witness, or even to fight for it. And what matters here is this promise, this pledge of responsibility.

I hope I have produced a rigorous inquiry. At the same time, I ask my-self; in the end what is the point? Derrida has been defending himself for many decades. Many of the best Continental philosophers and thinkers to whom I remain infinitely indebted have been defending Derrida. and still the chorus of negligence continues to sing on without respite.
In answering the question, “What’s the most widely held misconception about you and your work?”, Derrida responds,

That I’m a skeptical nihilist who doesn’t believe in anything, who thinks nothing has meaning, and text has no meaning. That’s stu-pid and utterly wrong, and only people who haven’t read me say this. It’s a misreading of my work that began 35 years ago, and it’s difficult to destroy. I never said everything is linguistic and we’re enclosed in language. In fact, I say the opposite, and the de-construction of logocentrism was conceived to dismantle precisely this philosophy for which everything is language. Anyone who reads my work with attention understands that I insist on affirma-tion and faith, and that I’m full of respect for the texts I read.

I must stop here (jus ad bellum) out of compassion for my opponents. I am reminded here of Joseph Beuys' most famous performance work “How To Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare” (1965), in which he walked around a gallery with his face smeared with honey and covered in gold leaf, carrying a dead hare to whom he talked, explaining the pictures. If Beuys could explain pictures to a dead hare perhaps there is hope in explaining Derrida to those illiterate in the history of philosophy, critical theory and theology while nonetheless teaching in departments of philosophy. Is it too much to hope that patient analysis and the display of evidence can counter obtuseness?”