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‘Before, Across, and Beyond’: Derrida, Without National Community

  • Philip Leonard

Abstract

Community is where communication masquerades as communion, where artifice is disguised as essence, where the subject experiences ecstasy and death, and where theory fails. These are just some of the conclusions that Jean-Luc Nancy arrives at in The Inoperative Community. Principally concerned with how the roots of social and political systems have been conceived, Nancy argues that theories of culture’s origin gravitate towards the idea that the individual is an agent who creates social and cultural structures in its own image. Community, according to such an immanentist understanding of cultural foundations, represents the extension of a subject for whom association is a basic necessity. Nancy locates one such model of the community in Rousseau’s work: here community is seen as an authentic form of regional collectivity, one that binds together groups of people who possess shared characteristics and who live in close proximity with each other. For Rousseau, however, this local affiliation is increasingly threatened by modernity’s anonymous institutions: modern political systems interrupt neighbourly bonds between individuals, and the objective of political theory should therefore be to re-assert the intimacy of local association.

Keywords

National Identity Cultural Theory National Community International Terrorism National Particularity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community, trans. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland, and Simona Sawney (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), p. 9.Google Scholar
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    Of Grammatology provides one example that suggests that he has not experienced a sudden revelation about nationalism’s transformative capacity. Anticipating his later reading of national identity’s radical impropriety, Of Grammatology responds to Levi-Strauss’s ethnocentric anti-ethnocentrism by observing that for those in the nineteenth century ‘it is undoubtedly true that the progress of formal legality, the struggle against illiteracy, and the like, could have functioned as a mystifying force and an instrument consolidating the power of a class or state whose formaluniversal significance was confiscated by a particular empirical force’. Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 132. Of Grammatology is also anxious to point out that if L’evi-Strauss’s argument is followed in extenso, then ‘it must also be concluded that nonexploitation, liberty and the like “go hand in hand”… with illiteracy’. Derrida, OfGrammatology, p. 132. To this Derrida says ‘I shall not belabor the obvious’, though it is perhaps a pity that he finds the consequences of this extrapolation to be entirely self-evident. It is, of course, ‘obvious’ that there are problems with the idea that nonexploitation and liberty pre-date the violent introduction of European writing systems to non-European cultures. However, as much as precolonial speech (treated as illiteracy by ethnography and anthropology) guarantees neither non-exploitation nor liberty, Of Grammatology here suggests that the introduction of European writing systems to non-European cultures opens Western significations to transformative repetition and resignification, to resistant rearticulation and disarticulation; European representations, then, are dislocated or ‘confiscated by a particular empirical force’ at the very moment that they consolidate ‘the power of a class or state’.Google Scholar
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    Jacques Derrida, ‘Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides — A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida’, in Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), p. 103.Google Scholar
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    Derrida’s apparent willingness to speculate on what ‘the good’ might constitute, as well as the apocalyptic tone that is implicit his remarks on ‘bin Laden’s’ tactics, could leave some of his readers feeling a little baffled. See, for example, Ivan Callus and Stefan Herbrechter, ‘The Latecoming of the Posthuman, Or, Why “We” Do the Apocalypse Differently, “Now”’, Reconstruction 4: 3 (2004), pp. 19–20. Available at http://www.reconstruction.ws, accessed 19/8/04.Google Scholar
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    Derrida’s subsequent denunciation of ‘bin Laden’s’ fanaticism is remarkable, however. ‘In this unleashing of violence without name’, he writes, ‘if I had to take one of the two sides and choose in a binary situation, well, I would. Despite my very strong reservations about the American, indeed European, political posture, about the “international antiterrorist” coalition, despite all the de facto betrayals, all the failures to live up to democracy, international law, and the very international institutions that the states of this “coalition” themselves founded and supported up to a certain point, I would take the side of the camp that, in principle, by right of law, leaves a perspective open to perfectibility in the name of the “political”, democracy, international law, international institutions, and so on’. Derrida, ‘Autoimmunity’, pp. 113–14. Responses to this startlingly blunt declaration might ask Derrida why he feels such a compulsion to choose one of two positions, or why he is prepared here to reduce views on the current world order to two opposing positions, rather than unsettle the easy adversarialism that characterizes contemporary political discourse.Google Scholar
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© Philip Leonard 2005

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  • Philip Leonard

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