Apropos of Nothing

But since I’m reading it:

“We should never be content to say, in spit of temptations, something like: the social, the political, and in them the value or exercise of sovereignty are merely disguised manifestations of animal force, or conflicts of pure force, the truth of which is given to us by zoology, that is to say, at bottom bestiality or inhuman cruelty. It would will be possible to quote a thousand and one statements that rely on this schema [n.b. and these 1001 would always animalize or naturalize or put outside of politics a certain number of so-called human beings–PG]. We could also invert the sense of analogy and recognize, on the contrary, not that political man is still animal, but that the animal is already political, and exhibit, as is easy to do, in many examples of what are called animal societies, that appearance of refined, complicated organizations with hierarchical structures, attributes of authority that are so often attributed to and so naively reserved for so-called human culture, in opposition to nature….The only rule that for the moment I believe we should give ourselves in this seminar is no more to rely on commonly accredited oppositional limits between what is called nature and culture, nature/law, physis/nomos, God, man, and animal or concerning what is “proper to man.” —Derrida, The Beast and the Sovereign, pp 15-16/36-7.

Obviously, this is not apropos of nothing: I’m reading it to take notes for my course, for final revisions to an MS (I need to use the English translations), and because I’m giving a paper on the seminar at the December APA. This set of assertions above are nothing new in Derrida, but it does fit somewhat with the discussion tonight around Morton’s book.

But I wanted to flesh out something else that needs highlighting: too many thinkers after Derrida (in all the senses) confuse distinctions as a method: the point in Stiegler and Agamben (his “zones of indistinction”) is to bring together certain oppositions and then mark out a homogeneous field: thus one can read in Homo Sacer about the dissolution of fact and right, nomos and physis, etc., in the state of exception. Or, conversely, you might just delete any distinctions at all (say between nature and culture). But the point is not to make them indistinguable, but to show how the “unnatural” difference instantiates itself, what its history is, etc. But here, as elsewhere, Derrida makes distinctions: zoology is not bestial is not animal is not biological, and he thinks each term has its own separable and important genealogy: he doesn’t slop them up into one and then use them interchangeably. Now one can say, ok, he’s lost in signs again, but that’s another matter…

In other words, I think somewhere along the way—I won’t offer examples—the so-called Derridean move was taken to mean to render inoperative difference, to make it all a muddle, and then devilishly claim, for example, there is no “animal”/”human” difference. That’s not to say that we should be reifying those differences: there’s a reason why his work on animality is never far from his discussions of sovereignty.

He writes, “we must multiply attention to differences,” and thus the ultimate indecidability of certain concepts is not indifference. Or, to put it another way: one way to read Tim Morton’s “mesh” is as a homogeneous field in which there is an implicit sameness across the field, on all sides of certain overused oppositions. But what makes the “mesh” such a disturbing concept (Tim, correct me if I’m wrong) is that it “multiplies attention to differences,” and does not simply say, insipidly, “I’ve just shown how there is no human/animal difference, or octopi are just like us, etc.” That’s the “strange stranger” aspect of his work. In short, Morton’s work is disturbing. And yes, I think he should have that on the back of the paperback edition.

One comment

  1. I agree with this assessment of Morton’s book. He’s definitely making the point that mesh and the strange strangers heighten our attention to difference. His Levinasian orientation implies this as well. He’s writing against the notion of the Same, which Levinas, as well as Morton, equates with Heidegger’s Mitsein. Mitsein does not accentuate an awareness of difference but rather reduces humans to beings that are the same. It’s a nice move but I suppose some would argue that Levinas still amounts to this same position whereas Derrida does not. Hillis Miller for one argues this.

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