I. Mysticism, Democracy, and the Self-Same

For the article this week, I’m going to do something a bit unusual.  I’m going to post an old article of mine on Derrida’s conception of democracy written in 2008.

This is anomalous and shall remain so.

I have, however, found that my mind is a bit like a cat that keeps circling and circling and circling and just can’t find the right position to rest.  The Hermit card comes to mind.

I am ambivalent and uneasy, to say the least, about more normative, feel-good, metaphysical talk.  This is exacerbated by the fact that I see the practice of Tarot as necessarily political, necessarily mystical, and both politics and mysticism to be necessarily concerned with bodies, with an almost superfluous corporeality.

There’s a reason why the Book of Revelation sees the raising of the dead from their graves – a religious experience, be it heavenly or hellish (it really matters not), is unthinkable in the absence of a body and its infinitude of sense.  I received my first conscious intimation of this relation in the Vatican, if you can believe it, at the age of 13.  I was transfixed by Michelangelo’s Pietà for 40 minutes before my Fundamentalist Christian grandmother whisked me away from that silly statue, grumbling impatiently.


The combination of devout grandmother and dumb granddaughter seems a foreshadowing, too, of my studies of French literature, with me in the role of Felicité and my grandmother in the role of Mme Aubain in Un Coeur Simple.  The divine is found in the bestial and the Holy Ghost alights on me regularly as a dead, stuffed, very material pet parrot.  Evil, lower, animal nature!  I’m a materialist, not a fetishist, making my version of the divine a wee bit pantheistic and a wee bit hedonistic, but most definitely poly-, most definitely unruly.  And the worst of it is: I’m proud of my unabashed non-savoir.  It is the only religiosity that I have ever experienced.

This mystical materialism is reflected in the article I’m about to post, of which I still mean every word.  It’s political.  My sense is that those who actually take the time to read it might come to understand the innate mysticism that is embedded within democracy as a political concept and as an ideal of practice.  Democracy is at once agonistic and open to its own death.  It is entirely future-based, too.  It’s never quite here, but rather always deferred, making it a lot like Tarot practice from a psychological standpoint.  It anticipates itself and its own becoming.

Next Friday, I’ll unpack the article a smidge and discuss vulnerability, futurity, and the Death Drive in relation to Tarot practice.  The week after, I’ll share my interpretation of Christ and his relation to Civil Rights struggles (very much related to vulnerability and the Death Drive – there’s a narrative at work here).  And finally, at least provisionally, I’ll tackle difference, sex, and evolution (Darwin).

This will then be four parts in succession that I may later return to when I am so moved, with the hope being that cat in my head stops circling.  The page length of the other parts will be of the usual 2-4 pages and not nearly so ungainly, however the freakishness of this post could be considered an instantiation of the topics to be discussed. ;)

And finally, for those of you put off by philosophical discourse or confused by it, I’d ask that you suspend the need to comprehend everything and give the text a whirl.  Good Tarot reading necessitates this tactic, at times.  Suspend.  Wait.  It’s OK to not understand (I don’t understand most the time) and often times the relevance of information, for me at least, only becomes clear much later.

This article presumes you have read a book and an article.  That’s probably rather intimidating, but just blow it off.  The only points that you really need are below.  If you have any specific questions you can always post a comment or email me in private.  I’ll respond.

Fast facts:

1.  The term “auto-immunity” as a philosophical trope is exactly what it sounds like.  This is a self whose defenses identify its own parts as a threat and begin to attack/destroy those parts under the pretense of self-protection.  Democracy, to the extent that a people can vote in a dictator (like a Republic with a dictator in perpetuity from the 10 of Swords post on Monday), is autoimmune.  It’s at risk from that which constitutes it.  Similarly, suspending elections for fear that a dictator is democratically elected – well, that’s autoimmune, too.  Tricky politics, no?  Mystical politics, as its vulnerability is its very constitution.

2.  I mention a Michael Naas essay, in passing at the start.  The essay concerns the religiosity of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, which kids are made to say in school each morning with their right hand on their heart.  It is as follows:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The “under God” was not in the original pledge but was only added in 1954 by an act of Congress.  It has been a bone of contention ever since…

3.  The fable of “The Wolf and the Lamb” can be found here.  Its application as to world politics should be pretty clear.

4.  And finally, the numbering of the Endnotes is imperfect, but the correspondence is correct.  Here we go!


“Why are you hitting yourself?”:  Trying to write responsibly on Autoimmunity

            Since winter of ‘07 I have read Rogues in full three times.  I have read Naas’ essay, “One Nation . . . Indivisible” twice.  However, such compulsive re-reading was not motivated by any one, single desire to comprehend, but rather by a dovetailing of my own initial interest with the observation over the past year-and-a-half that autoimmunity, as a philosophical trope, is used as a conversation killer, as a cop-out, as in the declaration: “Well, it’s all autoimmunity anyway; everything is autoimmune.”  Surely, I am not one to disagree with this, every living entity is autoimmune.  But such an assertion must not be deemed particularly insightful, as the term itself represents a rethinking of life and, I would argue, a reassertion that life is living and will thus die.  As such my rejoinder to this declarative cop-out has become a smiling: “And you will die,” at which point I make my exit.  This paper, then, must be understood as a modest attempt to save autoimmunity from its own self-declared demise, from itself, to refashion it as something, anything, other than an end point of thought.

I.  Law of the schoolyard: when persiflage is the point

            I, like Naas, grew up in America.  I, too, recall reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.  But I have other memories that pervert this “thoughtless” speech act, that color it a darker shade of comic.  I recall a friend of mine, a boy named Lewis, pledging allegiance to his butt in second grade, I recall all the lyrics to “On top of Old Smokey, all covered with blood,” and I recall the fallback of all bullying tactics, the standard, the “why are you hitting yourself?”  Should this ritual be specific to America, or an advent of the 1980s, I will recount it here: A child slightly larger than the victim grabs the victim’s wrist and forces him to hit himself, generally in the head, sometimes in the gut, always with an audience.  I hit you by way of you.  You hit me by way of me.  In this way we both become other than what we are.  And it is in turns.  But with the toughest of childish smiles.  For throughout this pre-pubescent rite the aggressor will ask his stooge: “Why are you hitting yourself?  Will you please stop that?  Don’t you like yourself?  Why are you hitting yourself?  I can’t understand why you’d do this to yourself.  What’s wrong with you?

Children deserve more philosophical credit.  I think that’s clear.  They also get points in my book for the nakedness of their jeers, their sneers, for their play at violence, their lack of apology and polish, for their capacity to subvert by way of laughter.  They know what they’re doing.  They do not recite as thoughtlessly as the grown-ups believe, and they innately intuit this grown-up world for what it is, sans politesse: law of the schoolyard.  Might makes right.  Or if you’d like some La Fontaine with that: “The strong are always best at proving they’re right.”  No pledge needed.  No pledge possible.  At least, not one made in good faith.  I should here slow down, back up, and explain myself a bit better.  I will do so.

Derrida prefaces Rogues with the aforementioned La Fontaine fable, The Wolf and the Lamb.  The moral alone would merit that we commence here.  However, the nature of the violence with which the fable is concerned is of a much more adult nature than the one on display in the elementary school rite that I cite above, for it seeks to justify itself, it relies upon law.  The Wolf is “ravenous.”  We are told that he is driven by his hunger when he stumbles upon the Lamb drinking from the brook.  And yet he fumbles angrily for an excuse to slay the Lamb, accusing him of mucking up his beverage, of speaking ill of him, of belonging to a spiteful clan, appearing all the more pathetic with each attempt.  Are we to understand this Wolf to be an example of the sovereign?  Certainly he does no worse, which is to say better, than the God of the Old Testament.  Nor for that matter does he differ from the wife beating husband, as he rationalizes his violence, conjures a justice, demanding of his victim: “Why’d you make me hit you/eat you/violate you?”  Derrida, for his part, asks:

Does this morality teach us, as is often believed, that force “trumps” law?

Or else, something quite different, that the very concept of law, that

juridical reason itself, includes a priori a possible recourse to constraint

or coercion and, thus, to a certain violence?  This second interpretation

was, for example, Kant’s, and it did not necessarily represent the point of

view of the wolf.  Nor, for that matter, that of the lamb.  (xi)

Taking the fable at face value, I would like to offer a different reading — it is violence that takes its recourse in law, as opposed to the inverse.  And as to sovereignty, as an identity, as with any identity, it is quite simply not.

Insofar as the Wolf is hungry, he needs no excuse to slay the Lamb.  Hunger is his (self/same) reason, his drive, and to the extent that he is driven, he is sovereign.  Sovereignty must here be delimited as a passing state, which is to say that the term itself at once indicates supremacy in relation to and independence from, a contradiction to be sure.   Bataille defines it more consistently as “life beyond utility,” in excess of an economy, and thus without relation, which must necessarily expend even itself.1

This is then a paradoxical superiority, for it is a superiority that exists by virtue of its being without relation, outside of rank, nonpareil.  It is in following this definition that I assert that the drive of hunger, raw need, is sovereign, for although it seemingly fits into the closed economy of the wage slave, of the man who works to eat and eats to work, the work-a-day man exists in a different temporal register, which is to say he exists within law, within meaning, and in anticipation, forestalling in lieu of experiencing.  To put it another way: he only knows hunger insofar as he fears it.

Hegel saw very well that, were it acquired in a thorough and definitive

way, knowledge is never given to us except by unfolding in time.  It is

not given in a sudden illumination of the mind but in a discourse, which

is necessarily deployed in duration. [...]

To know is always to strive, to work; it is always a servile operation,

indefinitely resumed, indefinitely repeated.  Knowledge is never

sovereign: to be sovereign it would have to occur in a moment.  But

the moment remains outside, short of or beyond, all knowledge.  We

know regular sequences in time, constants; we know nothing, absolutely,

of what is not in the image of an operation, a servile modality of being,

subordinate to the future, to its concatenation in time.2

But physical pain, the cramping and twisting of hunger, elongates time, creates a string of interminable moments that are experienced at the very moment that they are forgotten, each blistering second erupting into the next, annihilating that which preceded it, carrying off the body in quakes and spasms, fracturing the subject as a sensate dissolution.  Hunger is not to be explained but rather satisfied, by any means.  It promises its own exhaustion, heralds its end, in death, in a dead faint and a dry, gaping mouth, or in a greedy, grasping overindulgence, a devouring.  Hunger cries.  Hunger moans.  Hunger feeds.  But it does not speak; it cannot mean.

[S]overeignty is essentially indivisible and unspeakable.  In its essence

without essence, sovereignty must be unshareable, untransferrable, and

silent or it “is” not at all. [...] Time, space, language, and the other: this is

the fourfold over which sovereignty in its essence, in its unspeakable,

unavowable, unapparent, essence, has no authority.  Sovereignty “goes

without saying”…3

How is it then that the Wolf addresses the Lamb, that he says anything, that he speaks?  Is this a conscious trick or ploy, a joke, is this Wolf a coyote?  Or is he in fact a pitiable dog, groveling for permission before the Lamb, preferencing recognition in lieu of satisfaction, begging, stooping, scraping to be seen, to be constituted as subject by his prey?  I vote for the latter, for the trick he plays leaves only himself as the stooge in his very unwillingness to yield to his own proper dissolution and satisfaction, in his unwillingness to exhaust his sovereignty by way of its very constitution, to fully inhabit the limit that is the present.  In this sense then, the parable of The Wolf and the Lamb is the direct precursor to Hegel’s Master and Slave, with the latter being it’s philosophical reiteration; the same ruse applies to each and the punchline remains the same.  That is to say that the Wolf attempts to establish himself as “Wolf,” as sovereign (the lone wolf obviously comes to mind), by way of the Lamb’s recognition of him as such and the Lamb’s consequent submission to him before his law, a law that is in no way inherent, a law that he is rather seeking to establish.  This law is then not sovereign insofar as it is dependent on the Lamb’s recognition.  It is instead the law of Lordship – a law which seeks to perform the Wolf’s essentiality as Master by way of the Lamb.  This law is as all laws; law is a relation.  It creates its own subjects.

Let us look again at La Fontaine’s moral “the reason of the strongest is always the best.”  Naas, in his notes to his translation of Derrida’s Rogues states:

The phrase suggests that the reason, reasoning, or argumentation of the

strongest always wins out over or gets the best of those of its rivals and so,

as in the fable, is always “best,” meaning final, unimpeachable, sovereign.

Here [is one] additional English version[] of the opening lines of La

Fontaine’s fable: “Might is right: the verdict goes to the strong. / To prove

the point won’t take me very long” (La Fontaine: Selected Fables, trans.

James Michie [New York: Viking, 1979], 18)…4

In following Kant’s assessment of the fable, a law is good only to the extent that it is backed by force.  To apply this to the fable the law would then be: thou shalt not muddy beverages or speak ill of others or, for that matter, permit one’s siblings to speak ill of others.  However, this is not the structure of the parable itself.  These laws do not exist in isolation on the horizon that is before the encounter but rather follow the one after the other, as the encounter itself, in an anticipatory attempt on the part of the aggressor to explain and give meaning to the violence which is to come.  That’s to say: the Lamb is not penalized because he is guilty, but rather he is guilty because he is penalized.  The law is then the mask of reason worn by sovereign violence which, paradoxically, undoes its origin.  It’s function, it’s ruse of rationality, its “reason,” is to designate its lambs as other, to create, prime and position its victims: for what good is a slaughterhouse if you’ve no one to slaughter?  Posit law, posit generality, posit a slight, claim wrongful injury, pain, and make this pain mean.  Otherwise your lambs may vie for your position – alpha-dog status – or worse yet, turn into wolves, pledging nothing and undoing the law, the relation, the subjection that at once permits subjectivity and its constitutive object.

The law in this parable then functions as an exteriorization of the death drive.  Violence is posited, placed, localized, and then given a cause, which is to say, a frame.

Now, if sovereign force is silent, it is not for lack of speaking – it might

go on speaking endlessly – but for lack of meaning. [...] To confer sense

or meaning on sovereignty, to justify it, to find a reason for it, is already

to compromise its deciding exceptionality, to subject it to rules, to a code

of law, to some general law, to concepts.  It is thus to divide it, to subject

it to partitioning, to participation, to being shared.5

To confer sense or meaning to sovereignty is to constitute a subject, a self that is in no way same insofar as it abstracts its own negativity, its own violence, and posits it as exterior to itself, the meaningful result of an other.  The Lamb made the Wolf eat him insofar as he broke a law, a relation.  Relation is then posited so that there may be an othered position that defaults on the relation and thus earns his death.  In this way the Wolf need not accomplish what will kill him, and death respectfully stays within a restricted economy.6  “Burst of laughter from Bataille.  Through a ruse of life, that is, of reason, life has thus stayed alive.”7  The Wolf, like Hegel’s Master, is a slave to meaning.

To stay alive, to maintain oneself in life, to work, to defer pleasure, to

limit the stakes, to have respect for death at the very moment when one

looks directly at it––such is the servile condition of mastery and of the

entire history it makes possible.8

Such is the servile condition of the Wolf who enters a hierarchy so that his act of murder might be made to mean.  Such is the servile condition of the dog.

This burst of laughter from Bataille leads me back to my playground, and the cruel children who inhabit it.  For “law of the schoolyard” is “might makes right” – with a laugh – which undoes right’s claim and leaves only naked might.  There is in the elementary school rite of “why are you hitting yourself?” no claim to sovereignty but rather a cyclical, and violent, taking of turns wherein the bully forces the body of his victim to turn against itself, indeed seizing the fists, the offense and defense of the other, as the tools with which he will terrorize this other.  The violence that is visited on the victim is then mediated by his own body, making this body party to its own victimization, splitting its meaning and underscoring it’s potentiality, the pain that these fists can inflict on either the self or an other.  Likewise, they offer some proof of the lesson already learned by the child who now occupies the role of the bully, as this enactment is just that: a playground ritual that alternates from one child to the next, from one grade to the next.  I know my fists, do you know yours?  For just as I now hit you by way of you, someone once hit me by way of me.

Despite the seeming perversity of such a ritual, or perhaps because of it, “why are you hitting yourself” was much more of a taunt, a tease, a play at domination, than a true display of domination with the intent to inflict pain.  No one, to my knowledge, ever had to go to the school nurse after such an encounter.  And there was always  a certain camaraderie in the act that softened its publicity and sadism.  I know.  I was on both sides – of myself – many times.  The act demanded identification, empathy, and of course, a rather precocious understanding of grown-up violence.  “I can” by way of “you,” and only by way of “you.”  We mediate each other.  We grow up, become subjects, enter hierarchy, until we die.  Only as schoolyard enactment, a theater that hinges on persiflage and makes a mockery of blaming the victim, we undo the very seriousness, the meaning given, of this grown-up violence that we understand so well.  This is then the enactment of a knowledge that undoes that very knowledge, that parodies it, and reveals violence as sovereign by flouting the slavishness, the ridiculousness, indeed, the unknowing childishness, of its posited reasons and laws.

At the elusive extreme limit of my being, I am already dead, and I in this

growing state of death speak to the living: of death, of the extreme limit.

The most serious seem to me to be children, who don’t know that they are

children: they separate me from true children who know it and who laugh

at being.  But to be a child, one must know that the serious exists –

elsewhere and mattering little – if not, the child could no longer laugh nor

know anguish.9

II.  Self–same: Autoimmunity is for the dogs

The term “die-like-a-dog” appears only a few times throughout Inner Experience.  However, it is a trope that I will now preference insofar as it represents the very undoing of autoimmunity as Derrida at times, and in relation to the nation-state, defines it.  Bataille states that:

it has no application in a world from which it turns away.

But, in the distant possibility, this purity of the formulation

“die-like-a-dog” responds to the demands of passion of one lover for

another; in it angry jealousy is a factor at work, but never “authority”.10

We can see this formulation as sovereignty, in the hunger that devours itself in satiety, the life that ravages itself in death, in all states that exhaust themselves, as two lovers, in their very consummation and coming into being.  Structurally it appears to be no different than autoimmunity in the scientific sense, no different than a defense system which turns against its own being or ground and attacks it as alien.  However when defense goes on the offense, the status of defense is necessarily called into question, and ultimately undone.  The meaning dissolves.  The sovereign has no meaning, it does not constitute itself by way of language, and thus it has no defense: that is to say it is at no time exterior to itself, it cannot properly be said to have a “self,” it is rather a shattering of “self”. It is pure verb.12  It is the attack.  In this way I can think my immune system, as a meaning, as given a charge to keep my subjectivity safe from infection, but my immune system is me, as verb – it is “same” but not “self.”  The adjectives “defensive” and “offensive,” the two who’s of the attack, are then after/thoughts as they offer a meaning or knowledge “which is necessarily deployed in duration”13 and allows for the reification of the subjection, the slavishness, that is subjecthood and the meaning it seeks to establish.

To reiterate: the after/thought is not the “same.”  It is “self.”  For where “die-like-a-dog” is clearly the dissolution of identity by way of its ground or “same,” where “die-like-a-dog” is the turning of the “self” towards death and its consequent shattering, the autoimmunity of the nation-state destroys the “same” so as to posit a unified “self.”  Autoimmunity, as the articulation of contemporary “democracy,” cannot exist in the absence of meaning but rather marks the attempt to define the parameters of an identity, a self, a “people,” to posit a “people” and plan for its corresponding self by eradicating or silencing that which lies within its body, but does not identify with and does not work to constitute, this self.   We see this regularly within America, in the Seditions and Espionage Acts of Red Scare #1, in COINTELPRO, in the Patriot Act, and indeed, in every invocation of the “American taxpayer,” in the reportage of statistics that constitutes this fictional taxpayer and the “national people” he is said to represent, in Palin’s address to Joe Six-Pack, or McCain’s metonym of Joe the Plumber, in any positing of “americanism.”  Americanism?  In a democracy?  No such animal.  Or should I say animals?  Concerning this impossibility Derrida is acutely aware, stating:

Democracy is the only system, the only constitutional paradigm, in which,

in principle, one has or assumes the right to criticize everything publicly,

including the idea of democracy, its concept, its history, its name.

Including the idea of the constitutional paradigm and the absolute authority

of law.  It is thus the only paradigm that is univeralizable, whence its

chance and its fragility.  But in order for this historicity – unique among all

political systems – to be complete, it must be freed not only from the Idea

in the Kantian sense but from all teleology, all onto-theo-teleology.14

Democracy is delimited from other forms of government insofar as it’s one defining principle is to function as a polyseme.  Its very essence is not only the preservation of a multiplicity of meanings (giving it its historicity) but, by way of free speech, the limitless proliferation of ever more meanings.  Such polysemy must necessarily be madness, an infinite interruption of meaning with ever more meaning that must degrade itself into a schizophrenia, into non-meaning, into death, into a sovereign.  Whence Aristotle’s disdain.  Whence Derrida’s “democracy to come,” a trope which, after three readings of Rogues, I have come to consider useful both as ideal – a necessarily suicidal and hospitable horizon towards which one may continue to strive – and as distinction from the other side of democratic autoimmunity, the autoimmunity of the nation-state to which I refer in the preceding page.  For if democracy is to mean anything, it must mean its sovereignty, its too-much-meaning that degrades into non-meaning and non-knowledge, its embrace of that which destroys it through its behavior as incurable wound, as an opening that can never be foreclosed, which is to say, identified.

So why commence this section with the assertion that autoimmunity is for the dogs?  Why the derision?   Precisely because Derrida, rogue that he is, does not strongly distinguish these two autoimmunities the one from the other.  The one being the state apparatus, the dead articulation of life, that which seeks to posit a subject, a “people,” and excise its internal “same” for fear of dying like a dog, for fear of its other autoimmunity, its essence without essence, the innate suicidism that is the living articulation of death, that opens itself as a wound to its own futurity and indecidability.  I have therefore delimited autoimmunity to signify, counter to Derrida, the attack (institutional) on democracy in the name of democracy (as institution), and nothing more.  That’s to say, it is the rather futile, dog-like attempt to not “die-like-a-dog.”  In its suspension of free speech, of elections, of protest, of democratic procedures generally, it undoes its incarnation and affect, its sovereignty, in the name of sovereignty, in the name of a prolonged, univocal meaning which a “democracy to come” can never be.

This is not the way Derrida intended autoimmunity to be used, I know.  But to his credit, or discredit, he left this opening.  For sovereignty cannot be a knowledge, cannot have a meaning or function, and thus cannot be autoimmune insofar as it has no self to destroy.  Nor for that matter can democracy insofar as it acts as a polyseme, insofar as it must necessarily be a horizon, a limit, a “democracy to come.”  Derrida thus failed to clearly distinguish between two very different autoimmunities, between two very different ethical positionings in relation to the life that is living and thus must die, between two opposite modes of engaging the polysemy that is inherent in the ideal of democracy.  For in declaring that the people are sovereign, what do we wish to say?  Which noun do we wish to stress?  The people?  The sovereign?  Or do we affirm that the two collude?  I’m inclined to believe the latter, but taken to its extreme.  They collide.  They are indistinguishable.  And they are impermanent.  The one is the other – only momentarily, as pure verb, as a driven body or a flood or a hungry wolf, animated as a rippling surface at the limit that is the present – before it disintegrates back into the subjectivity and subjection of its isolated identities.

[The people’s] face is as if dissimulated and absorbed by what it expresses.

Understood in this manner, the people is not simply a political subject, but

also a quality of social life: the people is always the emblem and the name

of a collectivity redeemed from appearances, saved from all determination,

and isolated in its original principle.16

In following Derrida’s preface to Chaque fois unique, la fin du monde (a text I have not yet read), Naas argues that Derrida’s lifelong project was “trying to think a notion of living-on without sovereignty, a living on, so to speak, ‘without me,’ and thus without the world.”17  The sovereignty of the people en masse, as opposed to the posited “people” of the nation-state, is, however, just that.  And what’s more, it is the only sovereign that can be experienced democratically.  That’s to say that there must here be a distinction between Lordship and the sovereign moment, and that the task is now to unthink the god, the king, the pope, and the aristocracy as past sovereigns presently replaced by the image-making machine of the nation-state.  For the sovereign was only ever a “can” that destablized its “I” and, as a consequence, any “you.”  This destabilisation, this sovereign death of the subject, is political.  For contrary to the numerous thinkers who rail against its seeming lack of agency, it rather marks the awakening of an agency in its status as pure verb and its shattering of the self, a self that must first recognize itself as given a for-others, a for-the-few, as “lamb.”  It marks the awakening of an agency not premised upon Lordship and its hierarchy, not based upon old forms, but upon possibilities of action and the multiplicity of their meanings.  This was the self-recognition and attempt at destabilisation that occurred in the protests against the last invasion of Iraq – which of course failed.  But in the wake of this failure we are left with possibilities, possibilities that are indistinguishable from our very status as subjects before the nation-state, which is to say, our status as failed subjects, as ignored subjects.

[T]he multitude took shape and the leaders of the world ignored it: that

is the point.  The multitude as a political force was born into – out of –

the experience of defeat.  The very moment at which its virtuality became

– or sketched out – an agency in the chaos of statecraft was also the one

in which it saw how little it could do.  Or perhaps [...] it was in defeat that

the marchers gained a first intimation of how much it would take – what

work of questioning and organizing, what constructing and discarding of

new forms of action, forms of understanding, forms of alternative speech –

for the “multitude” to be more than just another image-moment in a world

of mirages.18

Contrarily, those alpha-dogs we call “wolves,” those dogs we deign to address, that we constitute at the moment of address, that we permit to represent us as a mirror under the guise of a given collective sovereignty, with whom we claim to reason as though with ourselves, must prove their reasonability.  Or to quote Derrida’s final sentence to Rogues: “A reason must let itself be reasoned with.”19  Which is to say, if a “self” is to be posited, it must embrace its “same,” must experience its instability and must open itself to its infinite finitude as the children from my playground.  It must recognize itself in its other and thereby achieve that which will kill it.  It must be willing to be sovereign.  If it cannot, then it is for the dogs.  If it posits a law, a relation, a hierarchy so as to designate its lambs and its rogues, if its reason is invoked only in the service of its violence as an after/thought, if it only knows insofar as it fears, then it must contend with itself, that is: with the endless nonmeaning that has served as its most violent and ceaseless litany, which in its very meaninglessness it has called reason.


1.         Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share: volumes II & III.  Trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Zone, 1993), 198-9.

2.         Ibid., 202.

3.         Michael Naas, “One Nation…Indivisible”: Jacques Derrida on the Autoimmunity of Democracy and the Sovereignty of God, 9-10.

4.         Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason.  Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Stanford: Stanford University, 2005), 161.

5.         Ibid., 101.

6.         Jacques Derrida, “From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve.” Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1978), 257-8.

7.         Ibid.,, 255.

8.         Ibid.

9.         Georges Bataille, Inner Experience.  Trans. Leslie Anne Boldt (Albany: State University of New York, 1988), 44.

10.       Ibid., 72.

12.       This is a recurring preoccupation in my own work that I’ve no time to treat in full here.  I refer the reader to page 14, second paragraph, of Laplanche and Pontalis’ “Fantasy and the Origins of Sexuality” which discusses the multiple entries within the fantasy “A father seduces a daughter,” the most interesting (and fruitful) of which is “seduces,” the act between two subjects which must necessarily constitute them as such.

13.       Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share: volumes II & III.  Trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Zone, 1993), 202.

14.       Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason.  Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Stanford: Stanford University, 2005), 87.

16.       Pierre Rosanvallon, Democracy Past and Future. Ed. Samuel Moyn (New York: Columbia University, 2006), 82.

17.       Michael Naas, “One Nation…Indivisible”: Jacques Derrida on the Autoimmunity of Democracy and the Sovereignty of God, 36.

18.       RETORT: Iain Boal, T.J. Clark, Joseph Matthews, Michael Watts, Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War. (New York: Verso, 2005),4-5.

19.       Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason.  Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Stanford: Stanford University, 2005), 159.

Related Posts:

To the Left: Mysticism, Evolution, and Politics, part 2 – Tarot, Transformation, and the Death Drive

To the Left: Mysticism, Evolution, and Politics, part 4 – Plurality, Evolution, and the Other

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