I just returned to Heraklion from several days driving around Crete. I’m particularly impressed by how little the Olympian gods are on display here. The Minoans, as we learned at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, worshipped the snake goddess. The same snake goddess who is defeated by Apollo to establish himself at Delphi. And yet, Zeus nonetheless is part of the story on Crete, particularly as situating himself as the beast and the sovereign, a theme I keep returning to in light of my summer reading of Derrida. For Derrida, the relation of the beast and the sovereign is peculiar because the sovereign is both what is most separated, other than, the beast and what becomes beastly in order to maintain, enforce or display sovereignty. Hobbes’ Leviathan is the sovereign who must be a beast to maintain power. Rousseau’s sovereign must be a wolf. Machiavelli’s a lion and a fox. For Derrida, the effort to drive out the beastly appears to produce the beastly in what attempts to drive it out. Thus, at the heart of the logic of sovereignty, even in human sovereign rationality, there lurks a beast. I can’t help but see this beastly sovereign in all the stories on Crete where Zeus, the sovereign Olympian appears.
Posts tagged ‘Derrida’
Today, I travel to Crete, an island in Greece where evidence of human occupation dates back to the beginning of Neolithic Period (c. 7000 BCE). Returning to Greece metaphorically is a return to those things I take to be fundamental: democracy, equality, justice, philosophy, eros. But it’s a strange time to be traveling to Greece. On Sunday, the Greek people voted to reject the plan presented by the Eurozone powers, the Troika (the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank), which would have rejected the democratically-elected Prime Minister Tsipras’s plan to fund the debt by taxing corporations and rich people and required the debt be funded by taxes on middle and working class Greeks. As Slavoj Žižek said of the “Oxi” (No) vote:
The No in the Greek referendum was thus much more than a simple choice between two different approaches to economic crisis. The Greek people have heroically resisted the despicable campaign of fear that mobilised the lowest instincts of self-preservation. They have seen through the brutal manipulation of their opponents who falsely presented the referendum as a choice between euro and drachma, between Greece in Europe and “Grexit”.
Their No was a No to the eurocrats who prove daily that they are unable to drag Europe out of its inertia. It was a No to the continuation of business as usual; a desperate cry telling us all that things cannot go on the usual way. It was a decision for authentic political vision against the strange combination of cold technocracy and hot racist clichés about the lazy, free-spending Greeks. It was a rare victory of principles against egotist and ultimately self-destructive opportunism. The No that won was a Yes to full awareness of the crisis in Europe; a Yes to the need to enact a new beginning.
It is to this Greece that I am returning. As I plan, people have told me to bring American dollars, to be sure to get plenty of Euros. I’m reminded of what one of our friend’s friends said to him last summer when we were visiting and they were trying to coordinate plans. As they were talking on the phone, the friend’s friend said, “Are you with the agents of imperialism?” I’ve been thinking about how not to be an agent of imperialism. I’m not sure it’s something I can accomplish by acting in a particularly non-imperialist way, though I can of course do that. In a real sense as an American traveling to Crete to learn and to enjoy and to accrue further credibility as a Greek scholar for the time I’ve spent there, I am an agent of imperialism. I carry it around in my being, just as I carry whiteness around in my being. I’m hoping at the least to be reflective of that too, especially in this time.
I’ll be traveling through Crete for five days and then to Naxos from which I will take a day trip to Delos and Mykonos. I’ll try to blog as often as I can. From Naxos, I’ll return to Crete for one more night before flying to Italy. In Umbria, Italy, I’ll be attending the Collegium Phaenomelogicum where I will facilitate a text seminar for a week-long lecture course on Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign lectures. Derrida’s remarks on Carl Schmitt’s critique of globalization seem relevant to this moment in Greece:
The world of globalization would then be a strategem, a false concept or a concept forged in order to pass off some particular interest as a worldwide or universal interest, pass off the interest of one nation-state or a restricted group of nation-states as the world, as the universal interest of humanity in general, as the interest of the proper of man in general. After having asserted that “humanity as such…cannot wage war because it has no enemy, at least on this planet…The concept of humanity excludes the concept of enemy, because the enemy does not cease to be human being–and hence there is no specific differentiation in that concept”–after having asserted this, i.e. that the concept of humanity cannot be a political concept or the basis for a politics, Schmitt goes on to try to show that in fact, wherever this concept is put forward in the pursuit of war (and there would be so many examples today), it is a lying rhetoric, an ideological disguise tending to mask and smuggle in nation-state interests, and therefore those of a determinate sovereignty. (The Beast and the Sovereign, Vol. 1, 71-72)
…What is terrifying, according to him, what is to be feared or dreaded, what is schrecklick, scary, what inspires terror, because it acts through fear and terror, is that this humanitarian pretension, when it goes off to war, treats its enemies as “hors la loi [outside the law] and “hors l’humanities [outside humanity]” (in French in Schmitt’s text), i.e. like beasts: in the name of the human, of human rights and humanitarianism, other men are then treated like beasts, and consequently one becomes oneself inhuman, cruel and bestial. One becomes stupid [bête], bestial and cruel, fearsome, doing everything to inspire fear, one begins to take on the features of the most fearsome werewolf (let’s not forget the wolves), because one is claiming to be human and worthy of the dignity of man. Nothing, on this view, would be less human than this imperialism, which, acting in the name of human rights and the humanity of man, excludes men and humanity and imposes on men inhuman treatments. Treats them like beasts. (73)
Crete, the land of bulls, bull-men, gods, and trickster women, seems like a good place to think on these things.
Cross-posted from Genetic Method.
In my last post on friendship, I responded to my friend Ashley Vaught’s questions about the role of proximity in friendship in Aristotle. I consider some questions there about whether virtue friendship is possible when we are still on the way to becoming completely virtuous. I was left wondering how we can ever become virtuous if we need friends to become virtuous but we can’t be virtue friends before we are completely virtuous. Perhaps it isn’t just that friendship is impossible, but rather that our friends who help us become virtuous must be more virtuous than we are. One possibility is that virtue in Aristotle unlike in Plato can be partial and always underway since virtue is practiced and requires a practice of ethical perception which is then limited based on our individual habits of seeing. Against the view that friends become virtuous and then become capable of having complete and virtuous friendships with us, I think that Aristotelian virtue friends make us have more complete virtue because together we can see better, ethically speaking. It is not lost on me that my exchange with Ashley over friendship in Aristotle illustrates how friends help us see more and better. I appreciate the meta-ness of that more and better being about how friends help us see more and better.
It’s been a hectic couple weeks in the various institutions that concern my life. The discipline of philosophy reached a boiling point and some well-respected important philosophers finally said enough is enough and organized some collective action to put a stop to some pretty unethical behavior. Leigh Johnson has blogged an Archive of the Meltdown if you want to read more about it. And Wabash has been actively responding to some pretty serious issues that needed to be addressed at the same time.
I’m glad for these actions, but I’m worried, too. I think there is a danger when we do what is just to congratulate ourselves a little too excitedly and to let that congratulations become an avenue for contentment and self-satisfaction. I was reminded yesterday of a point Jacques Derrida makes about how our acts of hospitality and justice are–I want to go further and say must be–accompanied by a bad conscience. Derrida recognizes that when he feeds the poor or gives a place to stay to someone in need he is leaving out all the other hungry and all the others with no place to lay their heads. Responding to one Other gives that Other precedence over all the other equally demanding Others to whom we are responsible. To suppose that we are good in these moments leaves out two important things: a) that our act was too little too late, almost inevitably and b) that there is still more to be done. Read more
When I was growing up in the PCA (one of the conservative evangelical – read: fundamentalist – Presbyterian denominations, stands for Presbyterian Church of America), there was a strong sense that thinking the right things about God and about your position in relationship to God was a critical part of being a Christian.