Losing Face Richard Rorty’s Last Words

  • Rudi Visker
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 155)


I recently overheard the announcer of one of those multi-cultural radio programmes reading between the musical interludes excerpts from a book in which she found a variety of amusing anecdotes on the subject of kissing as it is encountered in the four corners of our planet. I vaguely remember from her presentation that the phenomenon was to be found more or less everywhere, although not always in the same fashion or between the same people or with the same meaning. The entire matter was presented with that light mixture of amazement and irony which we often recognize in ourselves when we stop for a moment to reflect on the colourful variety which distinguishes us from the rest of humanity without at the same time making us feel in any way separate from them. What tends to stimulate our sense of ’belonging’at such moments — like a patch‘belongs’in a patchwork quilt — appears to be the realization that the very differences in question do not stand in the way of our solidarity with the rest of humanity but constitute, rather, a sign of solidarity and perhaps even a prerequisite thereof. We suddenly begin to reflect on the ways and times (and, of course, people) we ourselves are in the habit of kissing and something of the tenderness with which we gazed on that colourful collection of slightly differing customs from around the globe begins to reflect on us too. As if the innocent contingency which is at work in such diversity, also casts a particular glow on it, the rays of which somehow manage to bring us closer to one another.


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  1. 1.
    Contingency, Irony, and Solidarityis, of course, the title of Richard Rorty’s book (Cambridge, Cambridge U.P., 1989) with which I try to discuss in the present chapter. I will refer to it as CIS. Other abbreviations for Rorty: Essays on Heidegger and Others.Cambridge U.P., 1991 (= EH); Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth.Cambridge U.P., 1991 (= ORT).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    S. Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates(transi. H.V. Hong & E.H. Hong), Princeton 1989, p. 283. Cited in the text as CI.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cf. my ‘Transcultural Vibrations’, Ethical Perspectives,1994 (1:2), pp. 89-100.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    As I argued elsewhere there is a considerable confusion in both Rorty himself and his readers as to who is the “true heroine” (as Rorty puts it somewhere) of CIS: the ethnocentrist or the ironist; a confusion which I believe to be the symptom of a certain undecidedness in CIS which I am trying to further interpret in this chapter (see my ‘“Hold the Being.” How to split Rorty between irony and finitude’, Philosophy & Social Criticism,1999 (25:2), pp. 27-45).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    I owe this expression to a discussion with my colleague André Van de Putte who pointed to a similar problem in his ‘Rawls’s Political Liberalism. Foundations and Principles’, Ethical Perspectives, 1995 (2:3), pp. 107-29.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    H. Arendt, Qu’est-ce que la politique, Paris, Seuil, 1995, pp. 54 ff. And, of course, The Human Condition, Chicago/London, The University of Chicago Press, 1958.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    H. Arendt, ‘What is freedom?’, in ID., Between Past and Future. Eight Exercices in Political Thought, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1993, p. 156.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Cf. Cl. Lefort, Essais sur le politique: XIXième-XXième siècle, Paris, Seuil, 1986.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

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  • Rudi Visker

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