The Absolute

Apocalypse: Epistemological Exile vis-a-vis Truth
  • Martin C. Srajek
Part of the Contributions To Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 32)


The essay “D‘un tone apocalyptique adopté naguère en philosophie” (Of a Recently Adopted Apocalyptic Tone in Philosophy) published in 1983 belongs to a set of papers first read at a conference apropos the work of Derrida.1 The title of the conference was “Les Fins de l’homme (A Partir du Travail de Jacques Derrida)”. It repeated the title of an earlier essay by Derrida in which he analyzes Heidegger’s essay “On Humanism”. He shows in it how the phenomenological project moves away from a description of the empirical ends of humanity to those that it calls transcendental. ‘Transcendental phenomenology is in this sense the ultimate achievement of the teleology of reason that traverses humanity.”2 The consequence is that transcendental thinking is contingent upon “mortality, of a relation to finitude as the origin of ideality … The name of man … has meaning only in this eschato-teleological situation.”3 The theme of the conference that the latter essay was first presented at was “Philosophy and Anthropology.”


Absolute Truth Jewish People Transcendental Phenomenology Epistemological Condition Negative Theology 
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  1. 1.
    Jacques Derrida, D’un Tone Apocalyptique adopté Naguère en Philosophie; “Of an Apoclyptic Tone Recently Adopted in Philosophy,” The Oxford Literary Review, pp. 3–37; henceforth referred to as “Apocalyptic Tone, p. French/ English.”Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Margins, p. 123.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
  4. 4.
    Ibid, p. 133.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ibid, p. 134.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid, p. 134.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid, p. 134.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid, p. 135.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ibid, p. 135.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    For this cf. Gregory Dean Meyerson, “The Dialectic of Defeat: Domination and Liberation in Contemporary Critical Theory,” p. 181: “[There is] no need for an apocalyptic break with the past since the apocalypse is always already at work, from the start. The apocalypse of the apocalyptic is that the apocalypse never comes.” Although Meyerson is interpreting Derrida correctly on the infinite non-coming of the apocalypse, he fails to recognize that Derrida is attempting to show how the apocalypse precisely is something that does not come, that cannot come but instead announces a coming. This coming is both an imperative that demands “Come!”, as well as the movement of something that is coming towards me. In general Meyerson’s study remains fairly superficial to Derrida’s project (despite the analyses of many of Derrida’s texts). Meyerson’s main complaint about the writings of Derrida is that of perpetual contradiction. Sometimes, he charges, Derrida says “a” about a certain topic and then in his next essay he says “non-a” about it. What Meyerson is missing is that contradictions are only possible as part of the logic of binary oppositions which is precisely what Derrida is trying to undermine as an effect of logocentrism. In Derrida’s thinking it has simply become impossible to say one thing about something while excluding the other as if it belonged to another realm, “a” and “non-a” belong to the same logical level and cannot be extricated from each other the way Meyerson would like to do it. Similarly, Meyerson complains about Derrida’s constant use of the expression “il faut” (it is necessary; one must). Derrida’s reflections regarding this topic can be read in the essay on the apocalyptic tone as well as in his essay on negative theology, “How not to speak.” Derrida’s point here is that no matter what is attempted to avoid the connection with essence, or else even if one deliberates on how not to speak, one has already begun to speak. This inevitable move, he says, is like a promise that was given before we had a chance to resist it. It is the promise given to the other to whom we will speak. Even remaining silent would just be another instance of such speaking. Différence, and we have seen this before, operates on the edge, between speaking and not speaking. Is there something between those two terms? The answer must be no, since from the stand-point of Being nothing can be found. But if we imagine speaking and notspeaking as two contiguous squares then the difference between them, right where they touch each other, becomes non-conceptualizable. Yet, and this is Derrida’s point, it, albeit unavailable, first produces the possibility of the two squares, i.e. of speaking and non-speaking. Viewed from this perspective, then, speaking and non-speaking belong together as the product of a productive agent infinitely withdrawn. Also cf. Michael Ryan, Marxism, and Deconstruction: A Critical Articulation, p. 9ff.: “[In a binary] the second term in each case is inevitably made out to be external, derivative and accidental in relationship to the first, which is either an ideal limit or the central term of the metaphysical system. The reason why this is so, according to Derrida, is that the second term in each case usually connotes something that endangers the values the first term assures, values that connote presence, proximity, ownership, property, identity, truth conceived as conscious mastery, living experience, and a plenitude of meaning. The second term usually suggests the breakup of all these reassuring and empowering values, such terms as difference, absence, alteration, history, repetition, substitution, undecidability, and so on.” Meyserson’s remark is that such logic makes action impossible, because now oppositions have become impossible. However, Derrida is not saying that oppositions are impossible. Obviously in the case of speaking and non-speaking we are in fact dealing with one. What is at stake is how the two sides of an opposition relate to each other. Whereas traditionally Western philosophy has considered opposites in terms of their mutual exclusiveness, his claim is that what seems mutually exclusive does, in fact, relate in a way that suggests that the allegedly oppositional terms derive from the same root. This can only be valuable for a philosophy that emphasizes ethics and action. The conjuring up of ethics’ impossibility, in Meyerson’s case as well in that of Derrida, is, simultaneously, an affirmation of ethics’ relentless possibility.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translation and foreword by Brian Massumi. The authors assume that history, philosophy, the history of truth, etc. all proceed in a fashion they call rhizomatic. Rhizoms are small roots with extremely erratic growth patterns. They grow for some time then die off and start growing again elsewhere.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Arnold Eisen, “Exile,” Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought: Original Essays on Critical Concepts, Movements and Thoughts, ed. by Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Eisen, Exile, p. 225.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Jacques Derrida, Edmond Jabès et la question du livre, “ L’écriture et la différence,” pp. 99–117; “Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book,” Writing and Difference, pp. 64-78, (henceforth referred to as “Writing and Difference, French/English”).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Writing and Difference, p. 103/67.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ibid, p. 111/74.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Ibid, p. 104/68.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Ibid, p. 107/70.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Ibid, p. 101/66.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Ibid, p. 104/69.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Ibid, p. 102/67.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Ibid, p. 105/69.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Ibid, p. 104/68.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Immanuel Kant, “Von einem neuerdings in der Philosophie erhobenen vornehmen Ton,” Immanuel Kant: Werke in Zehn Bänden, (henceforth referred to as “Von einem vornehmen Ton”).Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    In a conversation with Bob Gibbs about this particular feature of Kant’s argumentation it became clear that he later reinstates the aesthetic personification of the moral law in his philosophy of religion. What he once rejected as “Isis” he here affirms as “Jesus.”Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    In the original text this quote can be found in footnote A399: “wozu auch die Versicherung kommt, daß es mit der Philosophie seit schon zweitausend Jahren ein Ende habe, weil ‘der Stagirit für die Wissenschaft soviel erobert habe, daß er wenig Erhebliches mehr den Nachfolgern tu erspähen überlassen hat. ”’Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Von einem vomehemen Ton, p. 389.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    The German translation of Derrida’s “Apocalyptic Tone” (“Von einem neuerdings erhobenen apokalyptischen Ton in der Philosophie,” Apokalypse, trsl. by Michael Wetzel, pp. 9-91) reveals a misreading on Derrida’s part concerning the concept of “Entmannung.” Derrida writes: “Bedenken Sie nun, daß Kant das Wort oder das Bild der Kastration oder genauer der ‘Entmannung’ zuvor als ein Beispiel für diese ‘Analogien’ und ‘Wahrscheinlichkeiten’ hinstellt, mit denen jene ‘neuere mystischplatonische Sprache’ zum Zwecke der Manipulation Mißbrauch treibt” [my italics]. Derrida’s explanation hinges on the word “Beispiel” (“example”) He seems to think that it is Kant’s intention to use the image of castration as an example for the ways of mystagogical thinking. However, the German original of the Kant text makes it clear that it is the mystagogues themselves who fear truth’s fate of castration in the case it is being deprived of its presentimental aspect.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Derrida argues that Kant’s underlying assumption is that, similar to Freud’s “Bemächtigungstrieb,” (the drive to appropriate) the mystagogues are trying to appropriate philosophy, i.e., the discourse on truth, for themselves. Kant actually specifically refers to the alchemists and the masons as some of the groups responsible for the confusion. He thereby corroborates a theme on which Umberto Eco picks up in his Foucault’s Pendulum. The book entertains the suspicion that, for the last two-thousand years, certain groups, sometimes in the guise of alchemists, sometimes in the guise of the Masons, have attempted to take over the world by gaining access to a certain truth that would allow them to rule the world.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Cf. Apocalyptic Tone, p. 54/19.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
  32. 32.
    Ibid, pp. 77-78/27.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ibid, p. 71/23.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Apocalypse of John, 3:1–3.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    It is interesting to remember in this context that Levinas as well uses the image of wakefulness to describe the disturbing impact that the other has on the the subject. In the case of insomnia, for example, which already expresses chronic wakefulness, the other is still actively awakening and disturbing the threatening monotony and sameness that accompanies insomnia. Levinas points to a being more awake than just being awake. The latter is a kind of being awake that, as he puts it, “is disturbed in the core of its formal or categorical sameness by the other, which tears away at whatever forms a nucleus, a substance of the same, identity, a rest, a presence, a sleep.” (“Reading and Revelation,” p. 170).Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    The term “absent,” of course, derives from the Latin “ab(s)esse” which means “off/away from being.” I employ the term in this context, precisely to bring out the peculiar non-being structure that is implied in the issue of venience.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    F. Rosenzweig, Stern, employs a similar constellation of language, primordial, holy-language, and silence (“Schweigen”). “Schweigen” constitutes the beginning as well as the end; cp. pp. 124/112 and 426/382. In the section on the holy language (pp. 334-336/301-302) he precisely interprets Schweigen as the other, the Ur-language, the lost old-holy language (“verlorene altheilige Sprache”) which does not only signify the new linguistic situation of the Jew today but also points towards the disunity that has emerged between the Jew and his/her culture. In short, Rosenzweig, like Derrida, invokes the issue of exile, the wandering/erring Jew, who is to be displaced forever. Cf. also E. Wyschogrod, “Emmanuel Levinas and the Problem of Religious Language,” The Thomist: A Speculative Qarterly Review of Theology and Philosophy, pp. 1-38, esp. p. 37 where she makes a similar claim about silence with reference to Levinas: “Thus, [for Levinas,] the telos of language would not lie in its very upsurge which is an act of violence but in something other than itself, in silence.”Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Cf. How not to Speak, pp. 559–561/28, 30.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Edmond Jabès, p. 116/78.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Ibid, pp. 107-108/71.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin C. Srajek
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignIllinoisUSA

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