The Double Bind of the Intellectual: Toward a Hermeneutics of Skepticism

  • Zahi Zalloua


Like the just judge—whose legal judgment, as Jacques Derrida points out, does not simply consist of “applying the law” like “a calculating machine”1 but requires that each decision be the result of an invention—the public intellectual is often confronted with competing or conflicting injunctions, that is, a double bind: the ethical scene of undecidability. The Derridean intellectual confronts, and returns to, each event as a singularity, answering its interpellation as reader-judge, its call for “an absolutely unique interpretation.”2 In formulating this understanding of the intellectual, I put it in critical dialogue with Paul Ricoeur’s notion of a “hermeneutics of suspicion.” For Ricoeur, a “hermeneutics of suspicion” stands in opposition to a “hermeneutics of faith”; it contests the legitimacy of consciousness and its production of meaning: “After the doubt about things, we have started to doubt consciousness,” he writes.3 Ricoeur warns however that a hermeneutics of suspicion should not be conflated with the less desirable form of nihilistic skepticism:

These three masters of suspicion [Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud] are not to be misunderstood, however, as three masters of skepticism. They are, assuredly, three great “destroyers.” But that of itself should not mislead us … All three clear the horizon for a more authentic word, for a new reign of Truth, not only by means of a “destructive” critique, but by the invention of an art of interpreting.4


Public Intellectual State Terrorism Double Bind Legal Judgment Willful Ignorance 
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© Zahi Zalloua 2016

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  • Zahi Zalloua

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