Deconstruction, Philosophy, Education
- 1.The first concerns the post-metaphysical horizons of community, both public and academic. It is not a simple matter of fighting against the pronouncement of the death of philosophy, even though it may be a premature burial. Or so we would like to, and have to, think. To try to resist what is posed as the end of metaphysics by mounting arguments against the finality of this perspective in the tradition of a “critique” or negative determination that seeks its own affirmation through the violence of opposition is a wasted effort. “A philosopher is always someone for whom philosophy is not given, someone who in essence must question himself or herself about the essence and destination of philosophy (Derrida 1994).” Which is to say that the alterity of metaphysics as well as the power of its teleology is always close at hand, whether or not a transcendence of its logic ever takes place or can even happen, essentially, whether or not it is possible. Questions about the end of philosophy, and thus of the end of the historicity of history, still abound. Some pose more productive challenges to the thinking of “what, if anything, comes next?” than others do. Nevertheless, a sense of community is (oddly enough, some may say) formed around the asking of the question of the end or the death of philosophy. And this is to be expected, when the point is just to a Heideggerian overcoming (Überwindung) of metaphysics. It is the responsibility of each individual to interrogate the limits of “a sort of axiomatic, a system of values, norms and regulating principles” (Derrida, 1994, p. 2.) that justify “the existence then of a properly philosophical space like UNESCO.” (Derrida, 1994, p. 2.) “For,” Jacques Derrida warns, “such a situation and such a duty are more particular than it seems. And this can lead to fearsome practical consequences.” (Derrida, 1994, p. 3.) Such as the temptation to take a stance on one side or the other of philosophy, with or against those who desire to remember and keep alive its memory or those who choose to forget the historicity of metaphysics and forswear the finality of its death. “A community of the question about the possibility of the question” is what Derrida calls the publicly academic space of a more productive ground of inquiry into the right to philosophy than one of either support or diffidence. (Derrida, “Violence and Metaphysics,” p. 80.) It would neither reject nor embrace the Eurocentric historicity of the Western thinking and its epistemico-cultural specificity that is articulated via humanism as the infinite perfectability of subjective being: the finding of the nature of the self and its center at the cost of losing affinity with the other. It could not, because it is a “community of the question” – a community wrought of dissensus and not of consensus. Its potential lies in the openness of its capacity to honor and respect the value of difference, to welcome the impossibility of alterity, but not to dismiss or celebrate the ground of au courant memory for its own sake, over the unfamiliar archive of another. So, rather than dismantling the arguments of those who would like to see the demise of the right to philosophy and its Eurocentric historicity, Derrida has attempted to answer and is continuing to address the larger question of the death of metaphysics, its future, both directly and obliquely, because none of the answers posited are as yet satisfying enough to do justice to the persistent problem of finding a way out of philosophy. Certainly, there is an aporia at work here that seeks refuge in its displacement. And Derrida construes its difficulty in the following way:
This Eurocentric discourse forces us to ask ourselves . . . whether today [referring both to the context of the lecture and to the epochal dimension of empirical time] our reflection concerning the unlimited extension and the reaffirmation of a right to philosophy should not both take into account and de-limit the assignation of philosophy to its Greco-European origin or memory. At stake is neither contenting oneself with reaffirming a certain history, a certain memory of origins or of the Western history (Mediterranean or Central European, Greco-Roman-Arab or Germanic) of philosophy, nor contenting oneself with being opposed to, or opposing denial to, this memory and to these languages, but rather trying to displace the fundamental schema of this problematic by going beyond the old, tiresome, worn-out and wearisome opposition between Eurocentrism and anti-Eurocentrism. One of the conditions for getting there – and one won’t get there all of a sudden in one try, it will be the effect of a long and slow historical labor that is under way – is the active becoming-aware that philosophy is no longer determined by a program, an originary language or tongue whose memory it would suffice to recover so as to discover its destination, that philosophy is no more assigned to its origin or by its origin, than it is simply, spontaneously or abstractly cosmopolitical or universal. What we have lived and what we are more and more aiming for are modes of appropriation and transformation of the philosophical in non-European languages and cultures. Such modes of appropriation and transformation amount neither to the classical mode of appropriation that consists in making one’s own what belongs to the other (here, in interiorizing the Western memory of philosophy and assimilating it in one’s own language) nor to the invention of new modes of thought which, as alien to all appropriation, would no longer have any relation to what one believes one recognizes under the name of philosophy. Derrida, 1994, p. 3
No discourse “disciplined” body of knowledge claiming epistemic status, such as philosophy is and does, self-consciously undermines its grounding conceits in both methodology and content. The principle of noncontradiction forbids it. What governs the institutional legitimacy of philosophy as a scientific endeavor is its ability to render the logic of its conclusions accountable to and for the provisions of episteme laid out by the historicity of its own doctrines of self-evident truth and the generalizability of conclusions regarding the study of empirical phenomena: what its discourse says and reveals, confirms and proves by way of an experiential facticity, about being-in-the-world. In this respect, an ethical moment attends the academic pursuit of knowledge. It occurs when thinking becomes like a science, becomes “philosophy,” is conceived as a universal project, inaugurates a discipline replete with models of practice to be guarded, and is not defined idiosyncratically as the general process of thought. This distinction, besides giving credence to the institutional and pedagogical formalization and formulizability of the human intellect for and within the structures of the modern university, remains highly problematic. The division between “philosophy and Denken, thinking,” reenforces the ethico-epistemic specificity of academic responsibility in this manner by setting down the template for marking out the limits of the paragon of a community (to be) instituted, whereby the laws it creates ultimately support and mobilize a divining line that distinguishes those “who belong” to it from those “who do not” and, in all probability, never will. (The “Roundtable Discussion” on Jacques Derrida’s “Des humanités et de la discipline philosophiques”/“Of the Humanities and Philosophical Disciplines” in Surfaces Vol. VI.108 (v.1.0A-16/08/1996), p. 2.) The partisanship of discipline and disciplinarity plays upon the need for philosophy to be affiliated with the historicity of a “culture.” Here we must give way to caution, though, not to presume to know too much. “There are cultural aspects of philosophy,” Derrida maintains, “but philosophy is not a cultural phenomenon.” What does this mean, exactly, in both the narrow and broader sense of a community of shared and differing interests?
- 2.This brings us to the second point. To say that philosophy is a cultural phenomenon would be to universalize it and to deny “the relationship between philosophy and natural languages, European languages,” (Derrida, 1994, p. 2.) living and breathing languages, that are proper to and establish the propriety of philosophy as a Western invention of the consciousness of the West and the articulation of its archive And Derrida is sufficiently clear about this undeniable linguistic historicity, while attempting “to avoid the opposition between two symmetrical temptations, one being to say that philosophy is universal”: (Derrida, 1994, p. 2.)
Today it’s a well-known phenomenon – there is a Chinese philosophy, a Japanese philosophy, and so on and so forth. That’s a contention I would resist. I think there is something specifically European, specifically Greek in philosophy to say that philosophy is something universal. . . . Philosophy is a way of thinking. It’s not science. It’s not thinking in general. So when I say, well, philosophy has some privileged relationship with Europe, I don’t say this European-centrically but to take seriously history. That’s one temptation, to say philosophy is universal. (Derrida, 1994, p. 2)The closure of philosophy does not mean a gathering together of the Greco-European reality of its roots and forcefully bringing them to an end that would, for all intents and purposes, lack any semblance of historicity and is then without a future. The breakthrough of what-is-to-come must always arise out of the resources of a past thinking that cannot be effectively renounced. The trace of Greco-European cultural memory in philosophy will neither allow itself to be eradicated nor to be abandoned at the limit of the archive of knowledge it is and represents in method, form, and content. The first “temptation” leads to the second, both contrary and complementary, one Derrida warns us about – the desire to say:
well philosophy has only one origin, a single pure origin that is its foundation, its institution, through a number of grounding concepts which are linked to Greek language, and we have to keep this in memory and constantly go back to Greece and back to this Greek origin, European, through anamnesis, through memory, to what philosophy is. This is a symmetrical temptation which I would like to avoid. Derrida, “Des humanités,” p. 2.The Eurocentric myopia of this monocultural view of the archive of the Western episteme is another peril of taking sides without actualizing sufficient precautions against the irresponsibility of academic solipsism. Magnifying the question of the historicity of philosophy and of the purity of its Greek origins, the example foreshadows the necessity of moving beyond the concept of a universal thought and recognizing the rise of the cosmopolitical condition that Kant predicted as a moment in the infinite process of eternal becoming, or the point in history where a giant step in the progress of humanity can be seen resulting from an outgrowth of the global self-awareness and situatedness of human being. Derrida stresses the virtues of “another model” (Derrida, 1994, p. 2.) whose approach to truth cannot be distilled quite so easily into a program of “Eurocentrism and a simpleminded anti-Eurocentrism.”: (Derrida, 1994, p. 2.)
that is, while keeping in memory this European, Greek origin of philosophy, and the European history of philosophy, take into account that there are events, philosophical events, which cannot be reduced to this single origin, and which meant that the origin itself was not simple, that the phenomena of hybridization, of graft, or translation, was there from the beginning, so we have to analyze the different philosophical events today, in Europe and outside of Europe. (Derrida, 1994, p. 2.)
In essence, the attempt to make philosophy live out its future after the historicity of its Greco-European past requires the space of an aporia “that cannot be locked into this fundamentally cultural, colonial, or neo-colonial dialect of appropriation and alienation.” (Derrida, 1994, p. 4.) There must be more. “There are other ways for philosophy than those of appropriation as expropriation (to lose one’s memory by assimilating the memory of the other, the one being opposed to the other, as if an ex-appropriation was not possible, indeed the only possible chance).”3 Derrida is right. The testimony of memory and its reaffirming of an ethical response and responsibility to the historicity of the past are important for inscribing and building the “horizon of a new community.” (Derrida, 1994, p. 3.) It is not a matter of reasonable speculation: as the “speculative moment within the academy”8 will not do justice to rethinking the new situation of nations and States, of peoples, that must “transform their assumptions” (Derrida, 1994, p. 3.) (discussion 3) in relation to what we now know is the urgent necessity of “displacing some concepts which are absolutely essential to th[e] constitutions” (Derrida, 1994, p. 3.) of international institutions like the United Nations and UNESCO. The cosmopolitical hybridization of empirical and epistemic identity Derrida speaks of does not involve trying to erase the history of one’s own memory by working (in vain) to appropriate the effects and affectivity of another archive – the archive of the “other” – whose expropriation would be causally determined via the need for a political maneuvering or strategically motivated as the willful adoption of its tenets would just happen to jibe with the dominant ideology of the day. Nor does it imply making an attempt to start over without history by pursuing misguided efforts to efface the contextual and institutional specificity of subjectivity through a haphazard rejection of the philosophical grounding of one’s sense of being-in-the-world. On the one hand, a rethinking of “Eurocentrism and anti-colonialism” (Derrida, 1994, p. 4). as “symptoms of a colonial and missionary culture” (Derrida, 1994, p. 4.) would facilitate other beginnings and other directions for the infinite progress of human being. On the other hand, “a concept of the cosmopolitical that would still be determined by such opposition would not only still concretely limit the development of the right to philosophy but also would not even account for what happens in philosophy.” (Derrida, 1994, p. 4.) Do we have any chance of surpassing the hindrances and obstacles of respecting a desire to promote and protect the call for either the appropriation (expropriation) or ex-appropriation of Western metaphysics on a global and international scale?
If philosophy could ever hope to overcome the impossible dream of achieving its own end, it would be precisely from a curious rupturing of the idea of its historicity, the memory of its being-past, which, of course, could and would never happen. And we should not want an expunging of the history of philosophy to occur, if it were even possible. Metaphysics does not have to be forcefully sedated, sanitized, and subdued. Also, we do not have to issue a proclamation that would render it alive or sentence it to death. Derrida explains, “Not only are there other ways for philosophy, but philosophy, if there is any such thing, is the other way. And it has always been the other way (Derrida, 1994, p. 4.) To be unequivocal, philosophy “has always been bastard, hybrid, grafted, multilinear, and polyglot.” (Derrida, 1994, p. 4.) The teaching body of the discipline has always known this fact to be true. Pedagogical systems highlighting methods of recitation and repetition in the delivery of its curriculum were designed as a defense against a mnemonic underdetermination of the totality and authenticity of philosophical archive. By this I mean the competing models and systems of the reason of Western episteme that explicate the ontico-ontological sources of human consciousness and being. What signals the “crisis of philosophy” and leads to a questioning of the value of its teaching and learning – thereby feeding the naive illusion of its untimely demise – are the meta-conditional links of possibility, to be more specific, the conditions of impossibility within its complex lineage that work to destabilize the history of philosophy and, consequently, open up the concept of philosophy to what is not “philosophy proper” or “proper to philosophy.” It is this realization of an originary difference always already present within the writing of its archive that displaces and dislocates the authority of its power to signify and speak for the truth of itself. The violence of alterity as the immutable trace of the difference of another thoroughly permeates the historicity of Western knowledge. For “philosophy has never been the unfolding responsible for a unique, originary assignation linked to a unique language or to the place of a sole people. Philosophy does not have a sole memory.”
We will now consider the third point. The working within and against a tradition of canonical associations wrought by the instauration of memory and the limitations of its capacity exemplified in the act of forgetting (lethe) brings out the tensions of disassociation and dissonance that redefine the path of metaphysics. To achieve a spatial and temporal closure of “first philosophy” involves a segue to something other than philosophy, a thinking of philosophy lacking philosophy, where “we must adjust our practice of the history of philosophy, our practice of history and of philosophy, to this reality which was also a chance and which more than ever remains a chance” (Derrida, 1994, p. 4.) for the impossibility of realizing the headings of a philosophy is yet to come. Derrida anticipates the future after metaphysics taking place along these lines of a debt and duty to the tradition of the past traced out by the limitations of memory and its openness to an expansion of the difference of itself as the khora of the other. It is not only a matter of affirming the existence of philosophy, but of recognizing and acknowledging its natural right to determine the grounds for asking the questions about its sources, its limits (peras, linea), and its future, if only to establish the boundaries of debt and duty that would serve to prepare us for a thinking of what comes next from what came before. Derrida is quite clear on this: “Philosophy has always insisted upon this: thinking its other. Its other: that which limits it, and from which it derives its essence, its definition, its production.” (Derrida, 1982) One cannot beat the anti-metaphysical drum (tympan) too loudly and still expect to hear the echoes of a timelessness that reserved the task of thinking. Indeed, it would be unwise to “philosophize with a hammer”, (Derrida, 1982, p. xiii.) like Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, and ponder on how best to go about the mobilization of a “noisy pedagogy” that would displace the internal sound of seeming truth in the ears of those who enjoin a claim to knowledge with the light of a sagacity drawn from the premises of what is a risky (re)visioning of epistemology poised “to transform what one decries” (Derrida, 1982, p. xiii.) in metaphysics. The danger is that, as Derrida has warned, “in taking this risk, one risks nothing at all,” for what is unthought and therefore untaught always already opens the future of a history of thinking and directions of teaching that are “yet to come” (à-venir, Zu-kunft).
- Derrida, J. (1982). Tympan (trans: Bass, A.). In Margins of philosophy (p. x). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Derrida, J. (1994). Of the humanities and the philosophical discipline: The right to philosophy from the cosmopolitical point of view (the example of an international institution) (trans: Dutoit, T.). In Surfaces (Vol. IV, p. 2). 310 Folio I.Google Scholar