Thursday, March 29, 2018

Daily Bread by Jacques Derrida

April 22, 1993

Among the traits that characterize a certain experience that belongs to my generation, that is, an experience that will have lasted at least forty years, and which is not over, I will isolate first of all a troubling paradox. I am speaking of the troubling effects of déjà vu, and even of a certain toujours déjà vu [‘always seen’]. I recall this malaise of perception, hallucination, and time because of the theme that brings us together this evening: “whither Marxism?”

For many of us the question has the same age as we do. In particular for those who, and this was also my case, opposed, to be sure, de facto “Marxism” or “communism” (the Soviet Union, the International of the Communist Parties, and everything that results from them, which is to say so very many things. . .), but intended at least never to do so out of conservative or reactionary motivations or even moderate right-wing or republican positions. For many of us, a certain (and I emphasize certain) end of communist Marxism did not await the recent collapse of the USSR and everything that depends on it throughout the world.  All that started –all that was even déjà vu, indubitably – at the beginning of the ‘50s. Therefore, the question that brings us here this evening – ‘whither Marxism?’ –resonates like an old repetitions. It was already, but in an altogether different way, the question that imposed itself on the many young people who we were at the time. The same question had already sounded. The same, to be sure, but in an altogether different way. And the difference in the sound, that is what is echoing this evening. It is still evening, it is always nightfall along the “ramparts,” on the battlements of an old Europe at war. With the other and with itself.

Why? It was the same question, already, as final question. Many young people today (of the type “reader-consumers of Fukuyama” or of the type “Fukuyama” himself) probably no longer sufficiently realize it: the eschatological themes of the “end of history,” of the “end of Marxism,” of the “end of philosophy,” of the “ends of man,” of the “last man” and so forth were, in the ‘50s, that is, forty years ago, our daily bread. We had this bread of the apocalypse in our mouths naturally, already, just as naturally as that which  I nicknamed after the fact, in 1980, the “apocalyptic tone in philosophy.”

What was its consistency?  What did it taste like? It was, on the one hand, the reading or analysis of those whom we can nickname the classics of the end.  They formed the canon of the modern apocalypse (end of History, end of Man, end of Philosophy, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, with their Kojevian codicil and the codicils of Kojeve himself). It was, on the other hand and indissociably, what we had known or what some of us for quite some time no longer hid from concerning totalitarian terror in all the Eastern countries, all the socio-economic disasters of Soviet bureaucracy, the Stalinism of the past and the neo-Stalinism in process ( roughly speaking, from the Moscow trials to the repression in Hungary, to take only these minimal indices). Such was no doubt the element in which what is called deconstruction developed – and one can understand nothing of this period of deconstruction, notably in France, unless one takes this historical entanglement into account. Thus, for those with experience (both philosophical and political), for us, I venture to say, the media parade of the current discourse on the end of history and the last man looks most often like a tiresome anachronism. At least up to a certain point that will have to be specified later  on. Something of this tiresomeness, moreover, comes across in the body of today’s most phenomenal culture: what one hears, reads, and sees, what is most mediatized in Western capitals. As for those who abandon themselves to that discourse with the jubilation of youthful enthusiasm, they look like late-comers, a little as if it were possible to take still the last train after the last train – and yet be late to an end of history.

How can one be late to the end of history? A question for today. It is serious because it obliges one to reflect again, as we have been doing since Hegel, on what happens and deserves the name of event, after history; in obliges one to wonder if the end of history is but the end of a certain concept of history. Here is perhaps one of the questions that should be asked of those who are not content just to arrive late to the apocalypse and to the last train of the end, if I can put it like that, without being out of breath, but who find the means to puff out their chests with the good conscience of capitalism, liberalism, and the virtues of parliamentary democracy – a term with which we designate not parliamentarism and political representation in general, but the present, which is to say in fact, past forms of electoral and parliamentary apparatus.

We are going to have to complicate this outline in a moment. We will have to put forward another reading of the media’s anachronism and of good conscience. But so that one might better appreciate the discouraging question of déjà vu, which risks causing us to drop all this literature on the end of history and other similar diagnosis, I will quote only (from so many other possible examples) an essay from 1959, whose author also published a fiction already entitled, in 1957, The Last Man. About thirty-five years ago, then, Maurice Blanchot devoted an article, “The End of Philosophy,” to a good half-dozen books from the ‘50s.  They were all testimonies from former Marxists or communists, and just in France. Blanchot would later write “On an Approach to Communism” and “Marx’s Three Voices.” With the sober brilliance of an incomparable density, in a manner that is at once discreet and dazzling, their utterances are less the full response to a question than the measure of that to which we must respond today, inheritors that we are of more than one form of speech, as well as of an injunction that is itself disjointed.

Let us consider first of all, the radical and necessary heterogeneity of an inheritance, the difference without opposition that has to mark it, a “disparate” and a quasi-juxtaposition without dialectic (the very plural of what we will later call Marx’s spirits). An inheritance is never gathered together, it is never one with itself. Its presumed unity, if there is one, can consist only in their injunction to reaffirm by choosing. “One must” means one must filter, sift, criticize, one must sort out different possibilities that inhabit the same injunction. And inhabit it in a contradictory fashion around a secret. If the readability of a legacy were given, natural, transparent, univocal, if it did not call for and at the same time defy interpretation, we would never have anything yo inherit from it. We would be affected by it as a cause – natural or genetic. One always inherits from a secret –which says “read me, will you ever be able to do so?’  The critical choice called for by any reaffirmation of the inheritance is also, like memory itself, a condition of finitude. The infinite does not inherit, it does not inherit (from) itself. The injunction itself( it always says “choose and decide from among what you inherit” can only be one by dividing itself, tearing itself apart, differing/deferring itself, by speaking at the same time several times- in several voices. For example:

In Marx, and always coming from Marx, we see three kinds of voices gathering force and taking form, all three of which are necessary, but separate and more than opposed, as if they were juxtaposed. The disparate that holds them together designates a plurality of demands to which, since Marx, everyone who speaks or writes can not fail to feel himself subjected, unless he is to feel himself failing in everything.

To fail in everything, it is true, will always remain possible. Nothing will ever give us any insurance against this risk, still less against this feeling. And a “since Marx” continues to designate the place of assignation from which we are pledged. But if there is a pledge or assignation, injunction or promise, if there has been this appeal beginning with a word that resounds before us, the “since” marks a place and a time that doubtless precedes us, but as to be as much in front of us as before us. Since the future, then, since the past as absolute future, since the non-knowledge and non-advent of an event, of what remains to be: to do and to decide (which is first of all, no doubt, the sense of the “to be or not to be” of Hamlet – and of any inheritor who, let us say, comes to swear before a ghost). If ‘Since Marx” names a future-to-come as much as a past, the past of a proper name, it is because the proper of a proper name will always remain to come. A secret. It will remain to come  not like the future now [maintenant] of that which “holds together” the “disparate” (and Blanchot says the impossible of a “disparate” that itself “holds together”;  it remains to be thought how a disparate could still, itself, hold together, and if one can even speak of the disparate itself, selfsame, of a sameness without property). What has been uttered “since Marx” can only promise or remind one to maintain together, in a speech that defers, deferring not what it affirms but deferring just so as to affirm, to affirm justly, so as to have the power (a power without power) to affirm the coming of the event, its future-to-come itself.

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