Friday, April 24, 2009

Sojhi's Philosophical Prejudices

Randeep Singh Hothi

Professor Sahib I.J. Singh has produced some comments on the Sikh Research Institute’s Sojhi curriculum claiming that the forceful concerns raised in the face of Sojhi beg straightforward explanation — those questioning Sojhi are simply angry and cannot channel their emotions into efficiency. However, several deep and manifest concerns become apparent upon a study of the Sojhi syllabus for which mere “anger in the streets” cannot be an explanans.

Because Prof. I.J. Singh’s article brings not to the fore those very issues at stake motivating his article, an effort will be made to present some of what’s at stake with the Sojhi syllabus. We should be concerned with the substance at hand rather than ad hominem claims about people’s psychology.

At the beginning of his article, professor sahib says, “Now, critics are surfacing who are pointing to what they see as missteps and inaccuracies in the Sojhi offerings,” suggesting that some relatively minor mistakes were committed in the process of accomplishing some monumental task — as if those designing the syllabus merely slipped in a couple of places having valiantly climbed the summit of Mount Everest. But this isn’t the case. Because professor sahib does not discuss any of the issues that are at hand, they must be introduced.

One of the many theses of the Sojhi syllabus that stray far from gurmat is Sikh Research Institute’s rejection of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib’s deh saroop.

For instance, the second-grade syllabus includes a poem about Sri Guru Granth Sahib that says such indefensible remarks as, “The Book itself is not my king.” Another is, “Mere print removes not anger, lust, nor pride, But the ESSENCE that is found inside.” Another is, “Not a chaur waved in an arc, Has placed upon my soul mark.” Several of these lines are presented in the syllabus. For one more, Sojhi goes as far as to write in bold font, “No mere book with pagination, Inspires my soul to contemplation.”

Let us reflect here. Sikh Research Institute sells a syllabus to gurudwara sahibs that speaks of the deh saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib as a “mere book with pagination.” This is no mere “misstep” or “inaccuracy” as professor sahib says. Recall that it is in the second-grade syllabus that we find this poem.

If there is doubt as to whether this vicious language is an isolated incident, then please consider Sojhi’s proposal that the Dohra sung before Ardaas is wrong. According to SRI, the Dohra we sing:

is “inaccurate” or “wrong” because, as justified in the syllabus, “It dangerously brings us closer to becoming idol worshipers rather than keeping us away from it.”

As we can see, this rejection of Dohra works in parallel with the aforementioned poem in rejection of the deh saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

This goes to show that SRI has systematically thought out a philosophy and justification for its rejection of Sri Guru Granth Sahib’s deh saroop, in a method that pervades throughout the SRI syllabus. These aren’t just accidents, but systematic philosophic stances pervading the syllabus.

Instead of studying the Sikh vision and conception of idolatry, SRI has imposed its own philosophical prejudices that are not of the Sikh tradition, but within the tensions of the Western tradition of philosophical theology.

SRI shows itself to be working within a mode of philosophical discourse grounded in the tradition of rationalist metaphysics articulated in its premier form in Descartes’ Meditations. In this face of the Aristotelian scholastic philosophers’ failure procuring a wholly successful methodological approach to the sciences, we see Descartes embark on a new project to determine the possibility of establishing scientific knowledge on new grounds. However, instead of grounding knowledge on the basis of a teleological metaphysics grounded in the Being of God as per Scholasticism, Descartes grounded the possibility for scientific knowledge on the cogito — the thinking substance. This is, what we nowadays call, the mind. The ontological distinction between mind and body ever since has become a chasm in large part due to Cartesian metaphysics.

Sojhi’s translation of jot within the confines of Cartesian metaphysics leads to a rejection of the deh saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which is seen as merely contingent and finite — what Sojhi calls “idol worship.”

Of course, the effects of Sojhi’s approach pervade its contents. We can see the effects of SRI’s rejection of the Guru Sahib’s deh saroop in the extremely disrespectful language used for the Guru Sahiban. It would break any Sikh’s heart that such language should be used to describe Guru Arjan Sahib’s shahadat, so it will be located in the endnotes for those who must know (ii).

The pervasiveness of the Western metaphysical edifice in nearly all facets of the West including art, philosophy, pop culture, and politics cannot be overemphasized. We ought study those philosophical assumptions manifest in methodology that have resulted in such false scholarship, instead of mechanically imposing such assumptions on Khalsa school syllabi.

But, ultimately, what’s most important here is not only that Sojhi is inherently flawed, but also that individual-centric interpretations should not determine the course of study for little children. If one has peculiar thoughts about Sri Guru Granth Sahib, one may consult panthic scholars to correct one’s views. However, for SRI to publish its peculiar thoughts in the form of a syllabus, to slip into the minds of children under the radar, is not right.

(i) SRI must have meant to write “revered” here, as “reverend” does not make much sense. Typographical errors of this kind are common throughout the SRI syllabus.
(ii) Describing Guru Arjan Sahib’s shahadat, Sojhi says, “He was, therefore, deprived of food and water and put into hot blazing sand and stoned, which caused blood to ooze out of his head.” [emphasis mine].

Note: The author, Randeep Singh, is a student at the University of California at Berkeley. He will graduate with a bachelor's degree in philosophy in Spring 2009.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Guardian of Language: An Interview with Hélène Cixous

Kathleen O'Grady

Introducing the work of Hélène Cixous is not an easy task; it involves describing several lifetimes of achievement.

I could describe the early Cixous who earned her doctorate for a thesis on the literature of James Joyce and was soon after awarded the prestigious appointment at the University of Paris VIII as Chair for the department of English literature. This Cixous has written a number of articles and books in both literary criticism and philosophy. Or I could describe the Cixous who discovered the world of creative writing, where she initiated a kind of fictional autobiographical style that has inspired writers, philosophers, and literary critics alike. Then there is Cixous the playwright. Her numerous plays, screenplays and even an opera libretto have been both popularly and critically acclaimed. But perhaps the personage that is best known internationally is Cixous the feminist. In 1974 she created the Centre d'Etudes Féminines at the University of Paris VIII which offered the first doctoral program in women's studies in Europe. This Cixous celebrates a theory of écriture féminine -- an ethical writing style (which women in particular can access) that is able, through a phonetic inscription of the feminine body, its pulsions and flows, to open up and embrace the difference of the other.

Combined, Cixous the literary critic, philosopher, playwright, and feminist has produced well over 40 books and more than 100 articles. This is not the accomplishment of a lifetime, but the culmination of several lifetimes, each united and infused by the solitary voice of a poet. As Cixous states herself, "I give myself a poet's right, otherwise I would not dare to speak."

Continue reading...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Interview with Julia Kristeva

by Nina Zivancevici

Parisian intellectual avant-garde to which she has belonged ever since. And though psychoanalysis remains one of the major orienting and formativedimensions of her work, especially as regards her reflections upon the nature of the feminine, she has also continued her research on the nature of language and examined the processes leading to the emergence of the work of art. As the theorist John Lechte points out, " because of the intimate link between art and the formation of subjectivity, Kristeva has always found art to be a particularly fruitful basis for analysis. " Since the 1960s, she has been a leading force in the critique of representation and her most recent book is a critical study of Colette's work and life, that is to say, one of the numerous projects that she has been energetically working on.

Q: When did you start getting interested in the notion of the "feminine"? Was it with the exploration of the notion of ÒchoraÓor the female voice in linguistics and semiology? Or rather, from that point on how have you arrived at the so-called feminist studies and writing understood in terms of their sociological and/or aesthetic significance?

J. Kristeva: It is very difficult to trace back my interest in the "feminine". I suppose that at the very moment in which I started asking questions about myself the question of the ÒfeminineÓ had already been formulated in my mind, so one could say perhaps it started in the period of my adolescence when I became interested in literature which necessarily asks questions about the sexual differences. But, you are right, in my theoretical work, this question is raised in a more succinct manner, perhaps also more discreet one, but which was nevertheless very intense

It must be said that this question is related to the notion of "chora" which directs us back to the archaic state of language . This state is known to a child who is in a state of osmosis with his/her mother during which language manifests itself as co-lalia , a melodic alliteration that precedes the introduction of signs within a syntactic order. The period during which I started developing this notion was that of the writing of my Ph. D on the avant-garde of the 19th century (Mallarmè and Lautreeamont) and I had understood how much of that, what we call hermiticism in literature, is connected to the rehabilitation, more or less conscious, of that archaic language. By the way, I was also at that time undergoing an analysis myself, and so became convinced that what we have discussed was really true.

Q: Is it difficult to "abandon" or at least to set aside one's mother tongue and write in another language ?

Kristeva: No, I haven't had the impression that I had abandoned my mother tongue by coming to France because I had learnt French when I was four or five and had been bilingual. It is true though that the transition from one mother tongue to the other is a real matricide particularly when one ends up expressing himself only in this second language and oneÕs rapport to the first one remains extremely limited, which is my case, but it didnÕt happen with me in that era (of coming to France). It was quite a gradual change.

Q: Given the fact that you have written a lot about the importance of the so-called "sick" states of mind, could you tell us whether they are related in any way to Art ? Would you see Art as the means of healing them or do you see it as an independent entity? Is Art a sort of "love" for you (the way Freud would have it) and a sort of human cure?

Kristeva: It has always shocked commentators when I affirm my agreement with the ancient Greeks who viewed art as catharsis or purification and I would add that it is a sort of sublimation for the "borderline" states, in the broadest sense of the term, that is, it comprises those characterized by fragility. If we analyze contemporary art, we get the impression that two types of fragility are examined by contemporary artists. On one hand, we have perversion, that is, all sorts of sexual transgressions. To this effect, it is enough to just browse through contemporary books or simply look at the "culture" pages of "Libèration" which review exhibitions to see that the form and the content of the experience serve as means of overcoming these states. They testify to the existence of these states, as well as that of a certain desire to make them public, or even share them with others, that is, to take them out of their closet which is a soothing action after all despite its commercial aspect since one turns a "shameful thing" into something positive. So you see, here we have something that transcends the notion of "cure" and is at times something gratifying.

Some think that these works are scandal-oriented, others think that they rejoice in ugliness , yes, certainly there are elements of such orientations in them, but, on the other hand, the existence of these works is also a research -- often in a very specific manner -- on the anticipation of difficulty of living.

Q: Does contemporary art have to do with Voyeurism, as is the case with the most recent literature nowadays which purports to describe the most intimate states of the body and the soul ?

Kristeva: Absolutely! This is ever the case with literature and when it does not try to treat perversion, it is deals with psychotic states, that is, the states of identity loss, the loss of language, the borderline cases which cohabit and coexist with delirium and violence, but all of this does not have to bear the imprint of something negative. Some think that these works are scandal-oriented, others think that they rejoice in ugliness , yes, certainly there are elements of such orientations in them, but, on the other hand, the existence of these works is also a research -- often in a very specific manner -- on the anticipation of difficulty of living. And Art can play an important role here since it can contribute to a certain creative assumption of such a difficulty. Nevertheless, I personally remain a bit skeptical of a certain drift or tendency of contemporary art to content itself with such, so I believe, feeble appropriations of these traumatic states. We remain here at the level of the statement of the clinical cases with an almost documentary style photography of these cases wherein the investment and the effort made in the exploration of new forms or new thoughts remains less visible. So, it is something regrettable which every so often leaves me with the impression that when I visit museums or read certain art books, I am looking into psychoanalytic or even psychiatric archives. But, perhaps this is an indispensable experience.

Q: But you haven't always felt this way- we remember the time when you wrote about BelliniÉ

Kristeva: That's right, I haven't always felt this way -- this is a very particular moment in art history which deepened and probed a certain aspect of a widespread existential malaise and discontent while neglecting the possibility of its overcoming.

Q: Well, along this line, you wrote in "Tales of Love" that "the psychoanalytic couch is the only place where the social contract authorizes explicitly psychoanalytic investigation, but "leaves Love out of it." However, we find this type of investigation in literature and art as well. You have recently analyzed the "investigation" of the writer Colette whose work deals extensively with love and emotions. Why Colette ?

Kristeva: Why Colette? Because in my trilogy on the feminine genius I tried to analyze the works of two dramatic women who represent the tragic aspect of our (20th) century, Hanna Arendt's on "Totalitarianism" and Melanie Klein's on psychosis, especially children's psychosis, and it seemed to me important (not only to me personally but also for the sake of objectivity) to pay homage to the other aspect of our civilization which is notably our century's source of joy, that is, the feminist liberation and "joie de vivre". And Colette excels in that appropriation of the national language in which she delights and leads to paroxysms of beauty that trace a path which goes beyond the scandal of a woman who asserts her liberty and authority. So, for me, she has become indispensable.

Q: In your novel "Les Samoura•s" you have shown a great literary talent and a certain sense of humor which is certainly lacking in your analytic work. Why have you stopped your literary production, that is to say, writing of novels ?

Kristeva: Oh, I haven't stopped it for after "Les Samoura•s" I wrote "The old man the wolves," then "Possesions," and now I am going to write yet another thriller which will be called, as it seems now, "Our Byzantium". IÕd like to continue writing in this polar style and with a certain political motivation. It will be concerned with the possibility -- or the impossibility -- of unifying Eastern Europe with Western Europe. It will deal with the Crusades and in it the modern characters would reveal their ancestors who had been in the Crusades, a catastrophic enterprise which eventually failed as you know, but which has been in its essence an attempt at unifying Europe, an unhappy attempt though. So, I am going to ask a question about the tragedy of this Europe which is now divided, and also this would be a way for me to visit my orthodox origins where I'd also attempt to revive some of my childhood souvenirs.

Q: That's right, the area of Eastern or Central Europe really belongs to "Byzantium".

Kristeva: Yes, we are Byzantium, that is, the Balkans, and I am very proud of the fact that I come from that region. And that's something which is unknown to the West. While it is true that what has survived of Byzantium is in a state of cultural decadence and terrible economic poverty with nothing in it that could seduce the Westerners, it is indisputably the treasure of our rich historical memory that is reflected, as far as I can see, in the dignified sensitivity of people who donÕt ask for anything but the minimum allowing them to continue living as the well-educated and highly intelligent men and women who should be less exposed to mentally exhausting pangs of melancholy and the socially debilitating impact of the economic predominance of the mafia that is the case nowadays.

Q: In your novel "Possesions" you started something quite interesting, something that you stopped pursuing after having written the first chapter though, and that particular thing is the psychoanalysis of art which also includes that of the artists and their respective works. Would it be possible to pursue research in this particular field, namely, an analysis of the history of art by following different works of art from different epochs?

Kristeva: I have really enjoyed myself writing about these different works of art, notably, on representations of decapitation, and I believe that the novel as genre, especially thriller which is an open genre and completely renewable allows for this type of digression in writing. But they have severely criticized me for it and told me that the book was too intellectual, very brainy and that the reader who wanted to know how the crime was being developed and the murder had to suffer by having had to wait. That was the malevolent reaction of those who have known me as an intellectual and who did not like the fact that I was going to write novels. So, there is a certain tendency in France, or perhaps elsewhere too, to put labels on people- if you are a teacher, remain a teacher, and if you are a writer, remain a writer, but the two of them at the same time- that you cannot be! So, perhaps I will continue in that direction , that of novel writing, I don't know. I have just finished the book about Colette, and my new thriller is still in notes and scratches, it is not articulated yet, but I am not sure that the fragments which deal with the so-called esthetic problems are excluded from it. It is true we cannot insert a dissertation in a novel, but perhaps we could set a basis there for it.

Q: I believe that one could read your book "The Intimate Revolt" in the light of your dialogue with Hannah Arendt. In fact, she was the one who has spoken of the misery of human beings who are not allowed to have "contemplative" ( read creative) life and who are thus condemned to lead an "active" life, that is, to have a miserable job. Is it the problem of our times that there exist such individuals who revolt against the fact that they cannot realize themselves? That is, who are angst-ridden and end up revolting against themselves?

Kristeva: I believe that you were right to make such assumptions about my eventual dialogue with Hannah Arendt -- I have been reading her work for quite a while and I'd say, in all modesty, that a lot of my writing, consciously or unconsciously, is tied to her thought . The idea of "revolt" was an effort to put myself in relationship with what we hear as "her own thinking" which, following Heidegger's, opposes and relativizes calculative reasoning. As she was very attentive to the work of Heidegger, she conceived of thinking as an inquiry, as an interrogatory process and opposed herself to the calculative framework which structures and characterizes contemporary behavior. My work has found itself a bit within this horizon but I also derived my experience from the psychoanalytical approach which relativizes everyone's identity as well as his/her past. Moreover, I derived my experience from literary works, such as Proust's "Recherche de temps perdu;" for instance, from his flexing of language, metaphors and the syntax. I tried to rethink the mental disposition which helps us carry on, the one which is not a mere repetition of a cliche, something which is like an act of rebirth, that is, rebirth which our thinking re-examines together with our interior life as well as the very opening of the inquiry. This is what I take "revolt" to be. So, it is neither an expression of simple existential anguish nor contesting a socio-political order, but re-establishment of things which we start again. And, in this sense, revolt which engulfs the psychic space is a form of life, be it the state of being in love, or an act of aesthetic creation or a project that could imply a very modest activity but which allows you to re-examine your past, that is, to interrogate it and renew it. And I believe that we have very few occasions in our daily lives which are quite standardized and banalized to work in that direction. The work that we do implies usually a repetition, the accomplishment of a given task. The type of mental functioning which I call "revolt" is something that we lack and it is very dangerous because if it is lacking, we risk confronting two prospective pitfalls: one of them is 'somatization' when the psychic space closes itself off and the conflict manifests itself as bodily illness or, in the other situation, we get into violence, vandalism and wars. So, Vive la Rèvolte !

Friday, April 17, 2009

Nietzsche and the Machine

Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida

Journal of Nietzsche Studies 7 (1994), 7-66

RB: I recall that in Of Spirit, in what is an extremely dense and complex passage, you criticize virulently the effects of Heidegger’s founding ’spiritualisation’ of biological racism. Whereas elsewhere (Spurs) you have recognized a certain necessity to Heidegger’s philosophising gesture - at least concerning Nietzsche’s empiricism - here the problems of this gesture - as one which spiritualizes biologism - is explicitly analysed within the political context of Heidegger’s engagement with Nazism. Let me quote the passage in full:

Because one cannot demarcate oneself from biologism, from naturalism, from racism in its genetic form, one cannot be opposed to them except by re-inscribing spirit in an oppositional determination, by once again making it a unilaterality of subjectivity, even if in its voluntarist form. The constraint of this program remains very strong, it reigns over the majority of discourses which, today and for a long time to come, state their opposition to racism, to totalitarianism, to nazism, to fascism etc., and do this in the name of spirit, and even of the freedom of the spirit in the name of an axiomatic, for example, that of democracy or ‘human rights’ - which, directly or not, comes back to this metaphysics of subjectivity. All the pitfalls of the strategy of establishing demarcations belong to this program, whatever place one occupies in it. The only choice is the choice between the terrifying contaminations it asssigns. Even if all the forms of complicity are not equivalent, they are irreducible. The question of knowing which is the least grave of these forms of complicity is always there - its urgency and its seriousness could not be over-stressed - but it will never dissolve the irreducibility of this fact. This fact, of course, is not simply a fact. First, and at least, because it is not yet done, not altogether: it calls more than ever, as for what in it remains to come after the disasters that have happened, for absolutely unprecedented responsibilities of ‘thought’ and ‘action’… In the rectorship address, this risk is not just a risk run. If its program seems diabolical, it is because, without there being anything fortuitous in this, it capitalizes on the worst, that is on both evils at once: the sanctioning of nazism, and the gesture that is still metaphysical. (Of Spirit. Heidegger and the Question, Chicago 1989, p. 39-40)

As Dominique Janicaud has noted in his L’Ombre de cette pensée. Heidegger et la question politique (Grenoble 1990), it would be difficult to find a greater accusation of Heidegger. My question concerns, however, the so-called ‘programme’ of logics which you allude to in this passage. I note that you make a similar, if more local, intellectual gesture in Otobiographies concerning the necessary contamination of Nietzsche’s text by Nazi ideology. There it is a question of a ‘powerful programming machine’ which relates, before any human intention or will, the two contrary forces of regeneration and degeneracy in Nietzsche’s early “On the Future of Our Educational Establishments”, dtermining in advance, before any historical eventuality, that each force reflects, and passes into, into its other. We are here, perhaps, at something like the ‘heart’ of deconstruction given its concern with what you call in ‘Violence and Metaphysics’ “the lesser violence” (Writing and Difference, note 21, p. 313)

My question, after this necessary preamble, is short: in what sense have, for you, all thought and all action up to today been inscribed within this machine? And, how do you understand those enigmatic words ‘absolutely unprecedented responsibilities’ of thought and action? In what sense, ‘absolutely’?

JD: First, I certainly believe that the contaminations discussed in this passage are absolutely undeniable. I defy anyone to show a political discourse or posture today which escapes this law of contamination. The only way to do so is in the form of (de)negation (Verneinung), the law of contamination can only be (de)negated. If it is true that these contaminations are inevitable, that one cannot side-step its law whatever one attempts to do, then responsibility cannot consist in denying or (de)negating contamination, in trying to ’save’ a line of thought or action from it. On the contrary, it must consist in assuming this law, in recognizing its necessity, in working from within the machine, by formalizing how contamination works and by attempting to act accordingly. Our very first responsibility is to recognize that this terrifying programme is at work everywhere and to confront the problem head-on; not to flee it by denying its complexity, but to think it as such.

Second, this means that the political gestures which one will make will, like all political gestures, be accompanied necessarily by discourse. Discursivity takes time, it implies several sentences, it cannot be reduced to a single moment or point. On each occasion one will have to make complex gestures to explain that one is acting, despite contamination, in this particular way, because one believes that it is better to do this rather than that, that a particular act chosen is in such and such a situation more likely to do such and such than another possible act. These gestures are anything but pragmatic, they are strategic evaluations which attempt to measure up to the formalisation of the machine. To make such evaluations, one has to pass through thought - there is no distinction here between thought and action, these evaluations are actions of thought. Whoever attempts to justify his political choice or pursue a political line without thought - in the sense of a thinking which exceeds science, philosophy and technics - without thinking what calls for thinking in this machine, this person isn’t being, in my eyes, politically responsible. Hence one needs thought, one needs to think more than ever. Thinking’s task today is to tackle, to measure itself against, everything making up this programme of contamination. This programme forms the history of metaphysics, it informs the whole history of political determination, of politics as it was constituted in Ancient Greece, disseminated throughout the West and finally exported to the East and South. If the political isn’t thought in this radical sense, political responsibility will disappear. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this thought has become necessary only today; rather, today more than ever, one must think this machine in order to prepare for a political decision, if there is such a thing, within this contamination. Very simply, then, what I’m trying to do is to prepare for such a decision by tackling the machine or law of contamination. For reasons that should now be clear, what I say is always going to run the risk of being taken in an unfavourable light, it cannot fail to lead to misunderstandings, according to the very same law of contamination. There’s no way out. As to the criticisms of deconstruction brought up earlier, one has indeed to assume the risk of being misunderstood, continuing to think in modest terms what is after all exceedingly ambitious, in order to prepare for these responsibilities - if they exist.

In the passage you quote I call these responsibilities “unprecedented” (inédites). What does this term mean? In your terms, what is their ‘time’? Rather than implying a heroic pathos of originality, the term testifies to the fact that we find ourselves in an unprecedented situation. After recent events - whether one gives them the name of Nietzsche, of Heidegger, of the Second World War, of the Holocaust, of the destructibility of humanity by its own technical resources - it is clear that we find ourselves in an absolutely unprecedented space. For this space one needs equally unprecedented reflections on responsibility, on the problematics of decision and action. To say this is not a piece of speculative hubris. It simply acknowledges where we are. We need the unprecedented; otherwise there will be nothing, pure repetition… The unprecedented is, of course, very dangerous. Once on these paths of thought, one is liable to get shot at by people who are in a hurry to interpret texts, who call you a neo-Nazi, a nihilist, a relativist, a mysticist, or whatever. But if one doesn’t take such risks, then one does nothing, and nothing happens. What I’m saying is very modest: without risk, there is nothing.

RB: Why did you write “absolutely unprecedented”?

JD: It was just a form of emphasis. Of course, the unprecedented is never possible without repetition, there is never something absolutely unprecedented, totally original or new; or rather, the new can only be new, radically new, to the extent that something new is produced, that is, where there is memory and repetition. The new cannot be invented without memory or repetition. So, two things: first, there can be no break, no experience of the break which does not presuppose a non-break, which does not presuppose memory. Second, contamination follows from this iterability which is constitutive of the unprecedented. Contamination happens because iterability inhabits from the very first what is not yet thought. One has to confront this paradoxical logic to be able to think the unthought.

R.B.: How does a certain affirmation of technology relate to what you have called in The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe “the promise of democracy”? I recall that for Nietzsche democracy is the modern reactive fate of calculative reason and that for Heidegger (both ‘early’ and ‘late’ Heidegger) democracy is “inadequate to confront the challenges of our technological age” (Spiegel interview of 1966). In distinction, and differently, to both Nietzsche and Heidegger, your work can be seen to affirm both technology and democracy. Although the promise of democracy is not the same as either the fact of democracy or the regulative idea (in the Kantian sense) of democracy, deconstruction does “hear” differance more in a democratic organisation of government than in any other political model; and there are no new models to be invented. If I understand you correctly, your affirmation of democracy is, in this respect, a demand for the sophistication of democracy, such a refinement taking advantage, in turn, of the increasingly sophisticated effects of technology. I pose the above question, then, with the following points in mind. First of all, democratic institutions are becoming more and more unrepresentative in our increasingly technicised world - hence, in part, recent rejections of “la classe politique”, not only in France and the United States; the anxieties which the question of a centralised European government raise form part of the same rejection. Then, in the second place, the media are swallowing up the constitutional machinery of democratic institutions, furthering thereby the de-politicisation of society and the possibility of populist demagogy. Thirdly, resistance to this process of technicisation is at the same time leading to virulent forms of nationalism and demagogy in the former Soviet empire, forms which are exploiting technology in the domains of the media, telecommunications and arms, whilst denying the de-localising effects of technology, culturally, in the domain of ideology. And, finally, the rights of man would seem an increasingly ineffective set of criteria to resist this process of technicisation (together with its possible fascistic effects) given this process’s gradual effacement of the normative and metaphysical limit between the human and the inorganic.

J.D.: Your question concerns the contemporary acceleration of technicisation, the relation between technical acceleration (acceleration through, and of, technics) and politico-economic processes. It concerns in fact the very concept of acceleration. First, it’s more than clear the idea of the acceleration of history is no longer today a topos. If it’s often said that history is going quicker than in the past, that it is now going too quickly, at the same time it’s well-known today that acceleration - a question of rhythm and of changes of rhythm - doesn’t simply affect an objective speed which is continuous and which gets progressively faster. On the contrary, acceleration is made up of differences of rhythm, heterogeneous accelerations which are closely related to the technical and technological developments you are alluding to. So, it makes no sense to “fetishise” the concept of acceleration: there isn’t a single acceleration. There are in fact two laws of acceleration: one derives from the technosciences, it concerns speed, the prodigious increase in speed, the unprecedenced rhythms which speed is assuming and of which we are daily feeling the effect. The political issues which you evoke bear the stamp of this form of acceleration. The second is of a quite different order and belongs to the structure of decision. Everything that I was saying earlier can now be said in these terms: a decision is taken in a process of infinite acceleration.

Second, taking into account these two laws of acceleration which are heterogeneous and which capitalise on each other, what’s the situation today of democracy? “Progress” in arms-technologies and media-technologies is incontestably causing the disappearance of the site on which the democratic used to be situated. The site of representation and the stability of the location which make up parliament or assembly, the territorialisation of power, the rooting of power to a particular place, if not to the ground as such - all this is over. The notion of politics dependent on this relation between power and space is over as well, although its end must be negotiated with. I am not just thinking here of the present forms of nationalism and fundamentalism. Technoscientific acceleration poses an absolute threat to Western-style democracy as well, following its radical undermining of locality. Since there can be no question of interrupting science of the technosciences, it’s a matter of knowing how a democratic response can be made to what is happening. This response must not, for obvious reasons, try to maintain at all costs the life of a democratic model of government which is rapidly being made redundant. If technics now exceeds democratic forms of government, it’s not only because assembly or parliament is being swallowed up by the media. This was already the case after the First World War. It was already being argued then that the media (then the radio) were forming public opinion so much that public deliberation and parliamentary discussion no longer determined the life of a democracy. And so, we need a historical perspective. What the acceleration of technicisation concerns today is the frontiers of the nation-state, the traffic of arms and drugs, everything that has to do with inter-nationality. It is these issue which need to be completely reconsidered, not in order to sound the death-knell of democracy, but in order to rethink democracy from within these conditions. This rethinking, as you rightly suggested earlier, must not be postponed, it is immediate and urgent. For what is specific to these threats, what constitutes the specificity of their time or temporality, is that they are not going to wait. Let’s take one example from a thousand.

It is quite possible that what is happening at present in former Yugoslavia is going to take place in the Ukraine: a part of the Ukrainian Russians are going to be re-attached to Russia, the other part refusing. As a consequence, everything decided up to now as to the site and control of the former Soviet Empire’s nuclear arms will be cast in doubt. The relative peace of the world could be severely endangered. As to a response, one that is so urgently needed, that’s obviously what we’ve been talking about all along. And yet, it’s hardly in an interview that one can say what needs to be done. Despite what l’ve just said - even if it is true that the former polarity of power is over with the end of the Cold War, and that its end has made the world a much more endangered place - the powers of decision in today’s world are still highly structured; there are still important nations and superpowers, there are still powerful economies, and so forth.

Given this and given the fact that, as l’ve said, a statement specific to an interview cannot measure up to the complexity of the situation, I would venture somewhat abstractly the following points. Note, firstly, that I was referring with the example of the Ukraine to world peace, I was not talking in local terms. Since no locality remains, democracy must be thought today globally (de facon mondiale), if it is to have a future. In the past one could always say that democracy was to be saved in this or that country. Today, however, if one claims to be a democrat, one cannot be a democrat “at home” and wait to see what happens “abroad”. Everything that is happening today - whether it be about Europe, the GATT, the Mafia, drugs, or arms - engages the future of democracy in the world in general. If this seems an obvious thing to say, one must nevertheless say it.

Second, in the determination or behaviour of each citizen or singularity there should be present, in some form or other, the call to a world democracy to come, each singularity should determine itself with the sense of the stakes of a democracy which can no longer be contained within frontiers, which can no longer be localised, which can no longer depend on the decisions of a specific group of citizens, a nation or even of a continent. This determination means that one must both think, and think democracy, globally. This may be something completely new, something that has never been done, for we’re here talking of something much more complex, much more modest and yet much more ambitious than any notion of the universal, cosmopolitan or human. I realise that there is so much rhetoric today - obvious, conventional, reassuring, determined in the sense of without risk - which resembles what l’m saying. When, for example, one speaks of the United Nations, when one speaks in the name of a politics that transcends national borders, one can always do so in the name of democracy. One has to make the difference clear, then, between democracy in this rhetorical sense and what l’m calling a “democracy to come”. The difference shows, for example, that all decisions made in the name of the Rights of Man are at the same time alibis for the continued inequality between singularities, and that we need to invent other concepts than state, superstate, citizen, and so forth for this new International. The democracy to come obliges one to challenge instituted law in the name of an indefinitely unsatisfied justice, thereby revealing the injustice of calculating justice whether this be in the name of a particular form of democracy or of the concept of humanity. This democracy to come is marked in the movement that has always carried a present beyond itself, makes it inadequate to itself, “out of joint” (Hamlet); as I argue in Specters of Marx, it obliges us to work with the spectrality in any moment of apparent presence. This spectrality is very weak; it is the weakness of the powerless, who, in being powerless, resist the greatest strength.