Derrida Contra Searle – Intentionality – Part 2…

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Part 1 is here

Another acerbic criticism by Searle concerns meaning as utterance meaning attributed to Derrida, where the positionality of intentions is confined to entities that are mysterious in nature and lying behind these utterances. The only way to smash this criticism is by showing that Derrida does respect the existence of distinction that mirrors Searle’s distinction between speaker’s utterance meaning and literal meaning. In accepting such a distinction, the seemingly apparent gulf becomes non-existent, and the irreducible polysemy or dissemination of Derrida lands on the same level as the literal ambiguity of Searle. Searle highlights the category mistake in underlying the supposition that the utterance of the token and the token are identical and the mistake only proliferates when the token acquires a different meaning from type in the case of utterance meaning as differing from sentence meaning. For him, excepting diachronic changes, special codes, and the like, the token’s meaning is always the same as the meaning of the type, and the only distinction worthy of name is the one between speaker’s utterance meaning from sentence meaning, type or token (John R. Searle – Expression and Meaning _ Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts). This can mean nothing more and nothing less than the fact that one’s use of token has no impact upon token’s type. Even if utterances and tokens are different from one another, utterances lose their existential status without tokens, implying that nothing rules out the possibility of utterances and token having different meanings, with the condition of utterance meaning as not affecting token’s literal meaning being strictly adhered to.1 In order to establish the nexus between literal meaning and the issue of intentionality, Searle takes a recourse to fungible intentionality that highlights the conventionality of intentionality when trying to connect to the notion of literal meaning. This introduces about-ness in intentions or intentional states. The word “fungible” is used to designate a literal meaning that can do the work of a state of mind that is about something. Searle’s vagaries are once again evident when he simply broaches this concept of fungible intentionality in his reply to Derrida, as the essay circulates around argument of the iterability of linguistic forms as facilitating a necessary condition for particular forms of intentionality as characterizing speech acts. This is so, primarily due to the status enjoyed by us human beings at mastering recursive rules that help in the proliferation of speech acts thus generating infinite number of new things, meanings in its wake. And this is true even in case of remainder or when the sentence gets alienated, weaned from its origin. As Searle points out,

There is no getting away from intentionality, because a meaningful sentence is just a standing possibility of the corresponding intentional speech act. To understand it, it is necessary to know that anyone who said it and meant it would be performing that speech act determined by the rules of the languages that give the sentence its meaning in the first place.

Another complication that surfaces in Searle is his insistence on the dissimilarity between utterance meaning’s context dependency vis-à-vis sentence meaning’s context dependency2, which incidentally is even accepted by Derrida. But, the problem lies in the non-clarity in Searle when he is trying his hand at distinguishing between meaning attached to the sentence and meaning attached to the utterance in his critique of Derrida in relation to Austin. To take an example, Derrida invokes a puzzling example from Nietzsche, “I forgot my umbrella”. This quote simply means ‘I forgot my umbrella’, even if one is unaware of the context underlying the remark. This quote also gives rise to a duality in that, on the one hand, one is aware of what is intended, whereas, on the other, one is not aware of the intention behind the statement. If this duality is considered, and if what Searle claims about intentionality as missing from writing holds true, then there is nothing that goes against Searle, for the consequence that a sentence would undergo would always be dictated by fungibility of intentions. But the point is missed for the thinker in question fails to apprehend what Derrida might have meant, that is, writer’s intention rather than fungible intention. The Derridean argument thereafter goes on to prove that intentions as such are never fully actualized. In a highly insightful passage, Derrida (Limited Inc 38) comments,

On the one hand, I am more or less in agreement with Sarl’s statement, “…there is no getting away from intentionality, because a meaningful statement is just a standing possibility of the corresponding intentional speech act”, I would, on the other hand, add, placing undue and artificial emphasis on -ful, that for reasons just stated, there cannot be a sentence that can be fully and actually meaningful and hence (or because) there can be no ‘corresponding (intentional) speech act’ that would be fulfilled, fully present, active and actual.

So, even if there are some traces of agreement between the two thinkers, Derrida rejects the thesis that intentions could be fully present within the text, thus proving his dissemination or irreducible polysemy as holding firm grounds. Moreover, his affirmation gets all the more strengthened because, iterability keeps account of dissemination, thus preventing intentions from ever getting actualized. Furthermore, if dissemination is to mark its presence, it is possible only with and within iterability. This goes on to prove the untenability of Searle’s “ideal hypothesis”, since the very structure of the mark excludes the hypothesis of idealization.

There is a nuance associated with irreducible polysemy, despite Searle’s thesis of vagueness and literal ambiguity that is no different than Derrida’s dissemination. Searle holds ambiguity to be finite, whereas, Derrida holds polysemy to be determinable, since irreducible polysemy never makes the arrogant claim on signs, words and sentences as having indeterminate meanings.3 Even a cursory look at the positions of the two thinkers  is enough to reach a conclusion that on the issue of meaning of sentences, these thinkers do not differ greatly, since both regard meaning as relatively contextual and meta- contextual, in addition to holding contexts as unchanging, and showing hardly any nuance amongst themselves in considering polysemy a characteristic feature of sentences. Well, this judgment appears to be slightly neutral laden or prejudiced with the usage of the word “nuance”, and could eventually mean as if the word is used rather strongly. But, this ain’t the sense in which it is employed here. There is a difference, and it lies in iterability, which, for Derrida, lends a polysemic status to sentential meanings, whereas the deviation wrought about by Searle lends legitimacy to the existence of univocal sentences.

Before getting into the discussion on parasitic discourses that formed a real contentious issue between Searle and Derrida, on the latter’s reading of Austin, it is necessary to provide a brief recapitulation. The major criticisms provided by Searle on Derrida’s take on Austin’s parasitic/normal/abnormal discourse are,

  1. a misplaced conflation of iterability, citationality and parasitism that slides into a misplaced accusation of Austin as implicitly denying quotability,
  2. a misplaced conflation of non-fiction/fiction distinction with speech/writing distinction as attributed to Austin,
  3. a mistaken understanding of Austin’s exclusion of parasitic discourse and,
  4. attaching an ethical status to this exclusion.

What is confounding for Searle is his understanding of Derrida, who according to former denies Austin any possible expressibility of quotations, since, Austin analyses serious speech acts before undertaking studies on parasitic ones. So, if Searle thinks of parasitism as not a matter of quotability on the one hand, he also considers Derrida’s position of commitment to parasitism as citationality on the other. Thus nothing differentiates citationality from quotability for Searle, whereas, for Derrida, quotation is just one aspect of citation. This Searlean argument falls flat on face, and a further decimation of it occurs, when one notes that Derridean parasitism is only an utterance, or a citation of an utterance in contexts that happen to be extraordinary. If non-serious citations were “the determined modification” of general citationality, it could only imply for non-serious utterances as a certain type of utterance in general4. One of the themes of Signature Event Context is to show that Austin excludes the determined modification of citationality, and with this exclusion, a successful performative misses its mark. So, it appears that there is a trade-off of exclusion for one type of citationality in favor of the other, viz, serious citation. This is a clear case of Searle misinterpreting citationality as mere quotability. Now, if there is a suggestion to the effect of non-serious citations as determined modifications of citationality, this could only be deciphered on the basis of conventionality, in that, whenever, these features are noticed, they should always be taken as utterances of a certain kind. If this is where Searle’s criticism aims at, Derrida takes a recourse to counter it by an augmented track to hit straight at former’s notions of idealization and semantic rules. This is to be accomplished in order to prove whether a distinction that is not sharp enough is a legitimate conceptual distinction in the first place. Derrida carries no qualms in admitting that it is not, whereas Searle insists on it being a legitimate conceptual distinction. The questions concerning the legitimate conceptual distinction is again a deviated path for the thinkers in question, since, both of them at least agree upon the premiss that a normal speech act is only comprehensible as a fiction following an aporetic situation in which a sharp distinction between normal and parasitic speech acts is encountered, thus considering these distinctions as nothing short of idealizations.

1 Kevin Halion correctly summarizes this with his reading of Searle as delineating two fundamental and separate distinctions viz, sentence/utterance and type/token. Speaker’s utterance meaning and sentence meaning are both context dependent. Over and above the context dependence of the utterance of ‘The cat is on the mat’ (where its indexicals are only determined relative to the context of utterance which decides which cat it is and where the mat is), there is a contextuality of its literal meaning. This dependence on contextual or background assumptions is easily shown. For instance, it would be problematic to speak of a cat’s being on a mat outside some gravitational field. However it might still be said and Searle gives an example to show this: looking from a space-ship window, mats float past with cats near them in such a relation that, relative to the ship, it can be said that in some cases the cat is on the mat and in the others the mat is on the cat. And there are innumerable other contexts to which the statement about the cat is also relative.

2 For to understand this opposition and differing kinds of context dependencies, it is worthwhile to have a look at the quote by Searle (Expression and Meaning 133f, linked above) below,

A … skeptical conclusion that I explicitly renounce is that the thesis of the relativity of literal meaning destroys or is in some way inconsistent with the system of distinctions … that centers around the distinction between the literal sentence meaning and the speaker’s utterance meaning, where the utterance meaning may depart in various ways from literal sentence meaning. …The modification that the thesis of relativity of meaning forces on that system of distinctions is that in the account of how context plays a role in the production and comprehension of metaphorical utterances, indirect speech acts, ironical utterances, and conversational implications, we will need to distinguish the special role of the context of utterance in these cases from the role that background assumptions play in the interpretation of literal meanings.

This clearly indicates the distinction made by Searle between utterance meaning and sentence meaning, even if they are both determined by context.

3 A couple of quotations from ‘Afterword: Toward an ethic Discussion’ (Limited Inc 115) lends legitimacy to Derrida’s views here.

I never proposed ‘a kind of “all or nothing” choice between pure realization of self-presence and complete freeplay or undecidability.’ I never believed in this and I never spoke of ‘complete freeeplay or undecidability’.

And again on page 148,

From the point of view of semantics…’deconstruction’ should never lead either to relativism or to any sort of indeterminism.

The quotations within the above quotes are from Searle (Caution: Subscribers’ only), that were reproduced by Gerald Graff in putting across his questions.

4 So it is not true that Derrida held that ‘the phenomenon of citationality’ (with citationality understood as quotability in the sense of mention but not of use) was ‘the same as the phenomenon of parasitic discourse’.

Derrida Contra Searle – Part 1…

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The three most essential features of writing for Derrida happen to be remainder, rupture and spacing, of which the first is mirrored in weaning of a text from its origin and the second finds its congruence in severance of expression from its meaning, and all of the three happen to be graphematic. Remainder could also be thought of as writing that absents itself from the original context, while rupture is to be seen primarily as the unlikelihood of a proper context that arrests it, or confines it. Even if weaning of a text from its origin fits the bill of being graphematic, Searle’s rejects rupture as being one. This implies that the status of permanence is accorded to writing, as unlike speech, it remains in its archival form even in the absence of speaker-writer. This position is non- Derridean, as it argues against all language use as characterized by the absence of the sender. Therefore, severance of meaning from the expression is denied any special status for writing by an advantageous denomination of quotability, which, even if, not a normal purpose of quotation1, could still be a possible one. Searle’s reading of severance of meaning from an expression or rupture goes for a tailspin here, for, rupture implies a signifier to be grafted onto innumerable contexts in which sense could be derived, rather than boundations imposed upon graphemes and phonemes as simple considerations of marks and sounds respectively, and alienated from any significations they might carry when considered as mere signifiers.

Derrida most patiently and appropriately, ironically launches into his own defense against these Searlean criticisms. Irony and/or mockery rules the roost in Limited Inc., for the style is a deliberate attempt to deal with the serious/non-serious distinction in response to Searle’s tone of high disdain. In the words of Spivak (Revolutions That As Yet Have No Model), Searle’s essay is brusque and all too brief, whereas, Derrida’s is long and parodistically courteous and painstaking.

Derrida in Signature Event Context thematically points out the exclusion of writing from speech act theory, and talks about the essential predicates that minimally determine the classical notion of writing. He does this through his reading of Husserl’s Logical Investigations and The Origin of Geometry, where Husserl had indicated a suspicion on speech as underlining certain of these predicates of writing, by supposing writing to imitate speech, but unable to share in the immediate link between speech and its context of production. Even if Signature Event Context considers every sign as cited without the quotation marks, a possibility of a break with every given context leading to illimitable new contexts cannot be ruled as a crisis ridden possibility in itself. Such a crisis has resolution in Husserl through his phenomenological reduction, and in Austin through a programmatic, initial, and initiating exclusion. For Searle, writing is nothing more than a transcription of speech, and his refutation of Derrida’s take on speech and writing is too quick a translation that finds its bottom in a standard and trivial idiom. For instance, Searle clearly misinterprets Derrida by noting some marks to be only iterable by citations exemplified in quotations. It is without any doubt that Derrida considers quotation as a form of iteration or citation, but is only one such form, since for him, use of any such mark is equally a case of/for citation and iteration.2

This is misinterpretation on Searle’s part primarily due to his treating/interpreting graphematic in the classical notion of writing.

When Searle reads Signature Event Context, he reads in it the absentia of intention from writing altogether, which he bases upon the mark as separated from its origin and context of production and is clearly stated in his reply to Derrida. He (Reiterating the Differences {linked in the footnotes}) says,

Intentionality plays exactly the same role in written as well as spoken communication. What differs in the two cases is not the intentions of the speaker but the role of the context of the utterance in the success of the communication.

So, if intentions are present in writing, and contexts differentiate themselves with respect to speech and writing, leading to speech as more implicit in its form as compared to writing that happens to be explicit, one can only adduce to the fact of Searle being caught up in the classical notion of writing, with writing relegated to a lower form of language vis-à-vis speech. This is despite the fact of classical notion holding writing as dependent on speech, with Searle breaking away from it marginally by holding this dependence to be a matter of contingency in the history of human languages, rather than construed as a logical matter, and simultaneously unsubscribing from the classical notion of intentions as somehow absent from writing. Derrida sees a problem with this particular take on intentions that have hitherto sought to actualize and totalize intentionality into self-presence and self-possession.3 One cannot miss the teleological overtones of classical notions of intentionality, and the resolution lies in problematizing this notion. One such solution lies in leveling the privileged status bestowed upon writer-reader’s presence brought about by deconstruction to call back to the center the necessary possibility of the absence of sender and receiver as the positive condition of possibility of communication.4 Such a critique should not be taken to mean in Searlean style that intentionality should be done away with, or effaced, but would only lay importance to its deployment as against disappearance. Intentions could very well themselves be the effects of a desire that lead to self-identical intentions in order to produce interpretations. A limit is imposed upon such desires to prevent it from being thought in terms of a fully intending subject. These limitations, however accentuate the very functionality of intentions, lest it should only focus on Derrida’s project as absurdly nihilist. According to Derrida (Limited Inc),

What is valid for intention, always differing, deferring, and without plenitude, is also valid correlatively, for the object (qua signified or referent) thus aimed at. However, this limit, I repeat (“without” plenitude), is also the (“positive”) condition of possibility of what is thus limited.

In short, in Derrida the originary self-division of intention “limits what it makes possible while rendering its rigor or purity impossible” (Revolutions that as yet have no model). Derrida sees intention as part of the total context5 that somehow carries the ability to intrinsically determine utterances, and is rigorously put forward, when he (Limited Inc) says,

Intention, itself marked by the context, is not foreign to the formation of the total context…to treat context as a factor from which one can abstract for the sake of refining one’s analysis, is to commit oneself to a description that cannot but miss the very contents and object it claims to isolate, for they are intrinsically determined by context.

This point of understanding intentionality is crucial here, for writer’s intending is bracketed by the same context as the actual production of graphemes, and Searle, who at times vehemently rejects any distinction between intention and context invokes it in his criticism of Derrida, thus exhibiting his own conflictual stance. To achieve explicitness, writing must be able to function without the presence of the writer, and the way this is attained is when something meaningful is being said, the intention behind it exhibits its non-presence. This helps clarifying the distinction between the intention to be meaningful and intention itself, or the intended meaning. The phrase “non-presence” is misleading however, and it is loaded with absence. In actuality, these are not to be employed synonymously.5 Non-presence entails intentions as never actualized, or made fully present in the language due to dissemination. Derrida (Limited Inc) explicitly never questions intentionality, but only its teleological aspirations through his text, since these aspirations orient the movements towards the possibility of fulfilling, realizing, and actualizing in a plenitude that would be present to and identical with itself. And this is precisely the reason why Derrida calls intention as not being present wholly. This position is bound to raise suspicion in Searle, when it is largely misinterpreted that radical absence of the receiver in general should connote the absence of trace of any sender. The confusion builds up around “radical absence”, as it is taken to mean the absence of intention, which, however, is not the case. What is really communicated here is the absence of consciousness of what one intended, as is clear from the fact that if a conscious act needs to be intentional, it does not assume intention as conscious.

Searle talks about the normal and the possible purpose of quotation in a note that follows his remark (Reiterating the Differences),

We can always consider words as just sounds and marks and we can always construe pictures as just material objects. But…this possibility of separating the sign from the signified is a feature of any system of representation whatever: there is nothing especially graphematic about it at all.

If every ark is iterable, then no mark belongs to language strictly speaking. Languages could be thought of as reifications, that for someone like Donald Davidson, help us construct theories of meaning, while at the same time engaging with consistent and idiomatic speech behaviors. This might seem like loose semantic conventions and habits, but nonetheless direct towards some sort of an engagement with the likes of Joyce and Mrs. Malaprop and inculcating in us the revisionary exercise towards the theory of what language our interlocutor is speaking in line with the principle of charity. 

This is one of the reasons why Derrida calls his critique as ethico-political in nature.

This is reviewed by Spivak (Revolutions that as yet have no model {linked above}), and she calls attention to an extensive quote attributed to Derrida on the same page, that I find very insightful and hence worth reproducing it here.

To affirm…that the receiver is present at the moment when I write a shopping list for myself, and , moreover, to turn this into an argument against the essential possibility of the receiver’s absence from every mark, is to settle for the shortest, most facile analysis. If both sender and receiver were entirely present when the mark was inscribed, and if they were thus present to themselves-since, by hypothesis, being present and being-present-to- oneself are here the same-how could they even be distinguished from one another? How could the message of the shopping list circulate among them? And the same hold force, a fortiori, for the other example, in which sender and receiver are hypothetically considered to be neighbors, it is true, but still as two separate persons occupying two different places, or seats…But these notes are only writable or legible to the extent that…these two possible absences construct the possibility of the message at the very instant of my writing or his reading.

This confusion is ameliorated when one sees non-presence as designating a less negated presence, rather than getting caught up in the principally binary presence/absence opposition that is usually interpreted.

Derrida Contra Austin – Irreducible Polysemy…

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The position of Austin seems to relegate writing vis-à-vis speech, even if he maintains that certain aspects of speech are imperfectly captured by writing. Even Searle joins his mentor in admitting the implicit context of speech when compared with the explicit context of writing. Another thematic insistence between speech and writing in Austin is an utterance that is tied to origin. When an utterance is not in the present indicative active, then the utterer is not typically referred to by name or personal pronoun ‘I’ but by the fact that it is he who is speaking and thus the origin of the utterance, and when he happens to be absent and does not use his name or the personal pronoun ‘I’, he will often indicate in the written document that it is he who is the origin by signing it with his name. Derrida voices his criticism on this position for the speaker’s intended meaning isn’t any more unequivocal, if he is present, than, if he would have written. This point is cogently argued by Derrida because for him the presence of the speaker is analogous to the one who signs. He says in Signature, Event, Context,

The signature also marks and retains [the writer’s] having-been present in a past now or present which will remain a future now or present…general maintenance is in some way inscribed, pinpointed in the always evident and singular present punctuality of the form of the signature…in order for the tethering to the source to occur, what must be retained is an absolute singularity of a signature-event and a signature-form: the pure reproducibility of a pure event.

One conclusion that could be favorably drawn from Derrida’s reading of Austin according to the above quote is that for the latter, a permanence is given to the signature that identifies the signer and his presence with/within the text. This also implies at the same time the reproducibility of the mark of signature to deduce that it is recognized as1 his signature , thus proving not only originality of signature but also its iterability. Derrida’s general criticism of Austin rest upon the latter’s failing to acknowledge the graphematic nature of locutions in addition to performative/constative and serious/parasitic distinctions not being able to fit in, when applied to locutions. This is deducible by arguments that run against the notion of proper contexts thereby hindering the discernment between speech acts that qualify as normal or parasitic and happy or unhappy. A careful reading of Austin’s How To Do Things With Words establishes a thematic rule of classifying and/or categorizing speech acts that are resistant to being unambiguously accounted for one way rather than other, or, in other words, the book’s primary aim is to root out the thesis that context is absolutely determinable, even if there is a recognition of serious and non-serious speech acts with the cautionary treatment of leaving out the non-serious acts during the examination of the serious ones. Derrida, on the contrary gives a lot of seriousness to the “non-serious/non-literal”’ linguistic use, as for him, they are determinate of meaning. This stand of Derrida goes opposite to Austin’s, for who, speech acts, even if they harbor felicities and infelicities, could only be investigated about within ordinary circumstances. In an amazing reading2 of Austin, Derrida claims non-serious citations of utterances qua citations, are nothing but instances of the iteration of the utterances that help determine its identity. Moreover, Derrida claims graphematic root of citationality as responsible for why Austin is unable to provide an exhaustive list of criteria to distinguish performatives with constatives, and also because Austin fails to take account of the structure of locution as already entailing predicates that blur the oppositions which are in turn unsuccessfully attempted to be established. Also, failure to recognize the necessity of impure performatives on Austin’s part made Derrida’s criticism more cogent, as for the latter, “impurities” are not just confined to performatives having a constative dimension, or constatives having a performative dimension, but, even normal and parasitic acts weren’t immune anymore to “impurities”. This criticism gains authority, since for Derrida, impurities are necessary and not any accidental facts, and in the absence of proper contexts, “hosts” maybe parasitic on “parasites” implying further that “normal” utterances are relatively normal and “parasitic” utterances are relatively parasitic, since the criterion invoked to differentiate them is the difference in contexts that is somehow missing or blurred in Austin. So, if the constative/performative distinction is an impure distinction in itself for Austin, then he is not successful in legitimizing the normal/parasitic distinction. Derrida claims that Austin’s work shows that the possibility of failure, or infelicity, is a permanent structural and/or necessary possibility of performative utterances, but Austin excludes the risk of such failures as accidental. In other words, Austin shows that performatives are characterized by an essential risk of failure and yet treats that risk as if it were accidental, which Derrida characterizes as a necessary impurity of performatives and constatives. Furthermore, Austin’s investigations of infelicities and total speech situations point to the fact that speakers and hearers can exercise control over speech situations in order to avoid infelicity and secure uptake, which meets its counter- argument in Derridean dissemination or irreducible polysemy by the establishing of locutions as graphematic, thus losing out on any such possibility of securing control on the speech act by either the speaker or the hearer.

In a nutshell, it is safe to say that Austin’s total speech act revolved around a dual notion of a possible elucidation within the total speech situations that left room for a generalized accountability for a formulation to comprehend parasitic deviations from the norm and speech acts construed as an exercise in exposing the lack of distinctions like parasitic/normal involved therein. Therefore, even if in his speech act theory, it is impossible for an utterance to take hold of normal and parasitic tones, it does not rule out the contingency of such distinctions from coming into being. The impossibility of distinctions for utterances in Austin’s case is what moves Searle away from his mentor, as for the latter, utterances could be tagged normal or parasitic due to his literal/utterance-meaning and representation/communication distinctions (his notion of intentionality achieves prominence here with the speaker-writer determining if her utterance is normal or parasitic). For Searle, sentences are loaded with literal ambiguities, since the possibilities of speaking literally or non-literally exist in some sort of a double bind, and this take of his has some parallels in Derrida’s citationality, iterability and dissemination. There is a difference though, in that, Derrida gives credence to the irreducible polysemy and parasitism and unhappiness as permanent and structural, that should in no way be counted as indeterminate or free play, but rather as mired in ambiguities, whereas Searle never thinks of all utterances as polysemic…

1 It should be noted that the ideal signature is one which can only be repeated by one individual, and for Derrida, it is the impossible ideal of something original that remains so even when it undergoes repetition. Effects of signature are the most common thing in the world, with the conditions of its possibility as simultaneously the conditions of its impossibility of a rigorous purity. Functionality is driven, when the signature enjoys repeatable, iterable and imitable forms, which is made possible, when a signature gets detached from its singular, intended production, or in other words, it is sameness which, by corrupting its identity and its singularity, divides its seal. 

2 This reading is evident in the quote (Derrida),

“..ultimately, isn’t it true that what Austin excludes as anomaly, exception, ‘non-serious’ citation (on stage, in a poem, or a soliloquy) is the determined modification of a general citationality- or rather, a general iterability – without which there would not even be a ‘successful’ performative? So that- a paradoxical but unavoidable conclusion – a successful performative is ‘necessarily’ an impure performative, to adopt the word advanced later on by Austin when he acknowledges that there is no pure performative.”

Žižek’s Dialectical Coincidentia Oppositorium. Thought of the 98.0

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Without doubt, the cogent interlacing of Lacanian theorization with Hegelianism manifests Žižek’s prowess in articulating a highly pertinent critique of ideology for our epoch, but whether this comes from a position of Marxist orthodoxy or a position of a Lacanian doctrinaire who monitors Marxist politics is an open question.

Through this Lacanian prism, Žižek sees subjectivity as fragmented and decentred, considering its subordinate status to the unsurpassable realm of the signifiers. The acquisition of a consummate identity dwells in impossibility, in as much as it is bound to desire, provoked by a lacuna which is impossible to fill up. Thus, for Žižek, socio-political relations evolve from states of lack, linguistic fluidity, and contingency. What temporarily arrests this fluid state of the subject’s slithering in the realm of the signifiers, giving rise to her self-identity, is what Lacan calls point de capiton. The term refers to certain fundamental “anchoring” points in the signifying chain where the signifier is tied to the signified, providing an illusionary stability in signification. Laclau and Mouffe (Hegemony and Socialist Strategy Towards a Radical Democratic Politics) were the first to make use of the idea of the point de capiton in relation to hegemony and the formation of identities. In this context, ideology is conceptualized as a terrain of firm meanings, determined and comprised by numerous points de capiton (Zizek The Sublime Object of Ideology).

The real is the central Lacanian concept that Žižek implements in his rhetoric. He associates the real with antagonism (e.g., class conflict) as the unsymbolizable and irreducible gap that lies in the heart of the socio-symbolic order and around which society is formed. As Žižek argues, “class struggle designates the very antagonism that prevents the objective (social) reality from constituting itself as a self-enclosed whole” (Renata Salecl, Slavoj Zizek-Gaze and Voice As Love Objects). This logic is indebted to Laclau and Mouffe, who were the first to postulate that social antagonism is what impedes the closure of society, marking thus its impossibility. Žižek expanded this view and associated antagonism with the notion of the real.

Functioning as a hegemonic fantasmatic veil, ideology covers the lacuna of the symbolic, in the form of a fantasy, so that it protracts desire and hence subjectivity. On the imaginary level, ideology functions as the “mirror” that reflects antagonisms, that is to say, the real unrepresentable kernel that undermines the political. Around this emptiness of representation, the fictional narrative of ideology, its meaning, is to unfurl. The role of socio-ideological fantasy is to provide consistency to the symbolic order by veiling its void, and to foster the illusion of a coherent social unity.

Nevertheless, fantasy has both unifying and disjunctive features, as its role is to fill the void of the symbolic, but also to circumscribe this void. According to Žižek, “the notion of fantasy offers an exemplary case of the dialectical coincidentia oppositorium”. On the one side, it provides a “hallucinatory realisation of desire” and on the other side, it evokes disturbing images about the Other’s jouissance to which the subject has no (symbolic or imaginary) access. In so reasoning, ideology promises unity and, at the same time, creates another fantasy, where the failure of acquiring the anticipated ideological unity is ascribed.

Pertaining to Jacques Derrida’s work Specters of Marx (Specters of Marx The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning; the New International), where the typical ontological conception of the living is seen to be incomplete and inseparable from the spectre, namely, a ghostly embodiment that haunts the living present (Derrida introduces the notion of hauntology to refer to this pseudo-material incarnation of the spirit that haunts and challenges ontological present), Žižek elaborates the spectral apparitions of the real in the politico–ideological domain. He makes a distinction between this “spectre” and “symbolic fiction”, that is, reality per se. Both have a common fantasmatic hypostasis, yet they perform antithetical functions. Symbolic fiction forecloses the real antagonism at the crux of reality, only to return as a spectre, as another fantasy.

Is Depeche Mode an Alt-Right Band?

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The members of Mode all emerged from fashy signalling New Romantic and avant grade electronic milieu. The band’s first album, mainly written by the synth pop guru and genius Vince Clarke of later Yazoo (Yaz in the U.S) and Erasure fame, launched the band with their first album Speak and Spell.  Politics was not so present on the first album, but was more reflected the band’s name a reference to Fast Fashion and New Romance – a pre-Bret-Easton-Ellis type notion that celebrated the decadent 80s love of surface, fast living, young love, good looks, and high times. But, as soon as Vince Clarke left the band and Martin Gore took over the songwriting slot, they began signalling political ideas of both the Left and Right.

This Left and Right synthesis was both progressive and forward-looking for the era, and really added to the band’s power level, intellectual weight, longevity, and the ability of their work to sound as relevant today as ever. A Broken Frame, their second LP, featured a Neo-Realist folk type cover, reminiscent of both Nazi art and the Communist “Realism” that was favoured by the Stalin and subsequently China and North Korea. The follow up Construction Time Again was an open rebellion to Jacques Derrida’s openly nihilistic and destructive deconstructionism that was all the rage in the 80s intellectual scene. It also featured a fascistic cover of an Aryan man smashing down a hammer. From that image alone the Alt-Right could have been born. Again, the Left and Right symbolism were being mixed together. The album Music for the Masses featured a kind of overarching, fashy motif of a loudspeaker in the wilderness on the cover and an anthem and theme song on the record, Pimpf, given visual expression with the help of the wonderful Anton Corbijn. This was quite openly the most fascist reference in their whole oeuvre. Pimpf was named after a Nazi Youth Movement, and at this time Martin Gore began making his most fashy statements in the media about politics. Gore, the rumour goes, was getting into fascist aesthetics, fashion, and ideas from the mid to late 80s until the early 90s, until he discovered his real father was of mixed race, or something along those lines. Then he went silent on the issue. But he still continued to signal these ideas in his art, albeit in a slightly more diffused and subterranean way. But he was also signalling some left-wing Socialist ideas. With him, it seems, there’s always been a kind of dialectic at play.

Exceprted from and denials here, here against the claim by Richard Spencer.

           

Triangulations on Linguistic Phenomenology: Austin, Seattle and Derrida

Even if the main motive behind How to do Things With Words is a description of total speech situations, Austin admits to his work as linguistic phenomenology in order to investigate the uses of everyday linguistic practices in situations where for some reasons, these practices could prove defective. This stance only opens up Austin’s position to re-description of total speech situations if any implausibility sets in.

A speech act could be infelicitous, happy or unhappy, and Austin attaches a parasitic tag to the speech act, when it can mean either non-serious usage falling outside the proper context of linguistic use, or an abnormal placement within the context of linguistic use. Searle wholeheartedly agrees with the parasitic tag when it is employed within language in a facetious manner. Parasitic feeding upon the speech acts could either be pretentious or metaphorical, yet real illocutionary acts. In short, a status of dependency is accorded to such parasitic acts. If one looks at the fictional discourse, it is the reference that becomes parasitic, for even if the failure of the reference happens to be error prone, in case of pretentious speech acts, this error is simply replaced by a parasitic reference. If for Austin, non-serious utterances infect the speech acts, thus impacting its normal use on the way, and thereby falling under the doctrine of etiolations (to cause, make pale) of language, then this clearly entails Austin’s faith in the theory of performative utterances that include non-serious, abnormal utterances that impact the normal usage of speech act. Now in order to discover any nexus between these non-serious, abnormal discursive practices with infelicities, even if abnormalities are culpable of misinvoking conventional references and commands/orders, one has to fall back onto Searle’s invocation of intentionality of the speaker to sort out the said connection. The problem, however, in Austin lies in the derogatory sense attached to these abnormalities with the use of the word ‘infection’, thus aligning these pejorative senses even to the parasitic instances of speech acts. Searle breaks free from this pejorative sense, and even argued that Austin himself never meant any derogatory sense for ‘parasitic’ manner.

Derrida criticizes this positionality of Austin’s parasitic discourses, while Searle comes to Austin’s defense, in turn opening up the gates for Derrida criticizing Searle’s more refined theory of parasitic discourse. Derrida’s criticism of Austin rests on the former’s use of iterability, dissemination and citationality. Even if utterances are repeatable, they carry seeds of alterations, and hence iterability. Derrida’s analysis of speech and writing clearly exhibits that utterances are irreducibly polysemic thus underlining any particular/singular/univocal meaning attached with them, and hence dissemination. Citationality refers to every utterance being called upon during repetition to unveil sameness and difference with the previous such utterance thus throwing open the field for further modification. Derrida’s reading of Austin takes on two implications, a principle of citationality in Austin, and an impossibility of determining the performative act that is either normal or parasitic. In other words, Derrida criticizes the notion of felicity conditions, even if he holds true beliefs towards the potency of illocutionary acts to enable language undergo transformations. He never believes in the success of a performative utterances as rule-based upon conventions.

The real problem begins with Searle’s understanding of Derrida, which is nothing short of poor interpretation. Searle’s type/token distinction gets muddled up in Derrida’s iterability. For the former, when one says that an element in linguistics is iterable, is just to say that logicians’ type-token distinction must apply to all rule-governed elements of language in order that the rules can be applied to new occurrences of phenomenon specified by the rules. Without this feature of iterability, there could not be the possibility of producing an infinite number of sentences with a finite list of elements. A cursory reading is enough to show the paucity of this logic.

Oncontology

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In conventional oncological terms, the process of metastasis is the wild overgrowth of cells to the detriment of the body, resulting in either growths that are benign or malignant. Apoptosis (PCD) is the process by which the cell receives a signal to stop production at a previously prescribed genetic point. The process is twofold: to retain proper cell function integral to the organism, and to remove potentially harmful or lethal elements in the cell which could endanger the organism as a whole. There are only two ways by which cells perish: either by some external agent (e.g. toxic chemicals, fire, removal) or by being induced to perish (i.e. apoptosis). Firstly, apoptosis is necessary in the organism; for instance, the uterine wall sheds during menstruation; the surplus “webbed” tissue between the fingers and toes on the fetus; the fusing of bone plates when the growth period is at an end; the resorption of the tadpole tail in the development of a frog; and so on. Secondly, apoptosis is necessary for the destruction of cells injurious to the organism such as virally infected cells, cells with corrupt DNA, or damaged or cancerous cells. Apoptosis occurs in two ways: removing or blocking all positive stimulus to the cell necessary for the cell’s continuance (one can envision that apoptosis is a kind of siege-craft, cutting all supply lines to the cellular castle), and the inducement of negative signals such as increased oxidation in the cell, aberrant absorption of proteins, the release of particular molecules that bind to the receptors of the cell’s surface which activate the apoptotic process.

Metastasis and apoptosis do not exhaust one another in some sort of dialectical exchange toward finality. They are not a coupling unit, but processes by which we may name desire or ontology. To assert that they cancel one another out in equilibrium is to “gorgonify” the “cacophysical” reality of Being. In the realm of biological science, there is a moment of equilibrium in the body: a certain quantity of cells will match the creation and destruction ratio to achieve a brief period of “plateau” called homeostasis, but this is hardly measurable or significant, since it may last a matter of seconds in the life of any body, the duration of this perhaps inconsequential or even impossible. This is an abstract idealization issued from the laboratories of biological science that may be able to measure such equal ratios in the simplest of organisms and assume that more complex bodies will also follow the same rule, or to simplify the results according to approximations of equilibrium. But our notion of bodies is much more extensive and intensive – we include more than just the life of an “organism”; we include everything that can be said has being. This includes books, plants, rocks, radios, and  even cities. Metastasis and apoptosis are derelict forces, two faces of desire. It is not a measure of zombifying ontology with a series of empty concepts. Immobility is effaced by perpetual be-comings, announced by the manifest process of unlimited production and unlimited expiration, both what Spinoza would call “potentia” and Nietzsche would call “will to power” as the constant mobilization of differences. Thought crudely apopticizes bodies, whereas bodies succumb to a biological apoptosis. Thought thinks it hypostasizes being, but the true process underlying being is metastasis. These processes strafe through being and it is our thought that attempts to transcendentally retrofit being through clumsy and ashen installations meant to prolong the tradition of thinking through as many ages and bodies as “humanly” possible. We know all too well the DeleuzoGuattarian de/re-territorializations, and how Pynchon’s Pirate could do as such to the cuisine attached to the banana. We know the real rhapsodic geometries (a rhapsoid?) that inhere within phylo- and ontogenetics. But, in the end, as it functions for Derrida in the domain of language-meaning to which we are all condemned to pursue like the ever-reticent horizon, the law of necessarily probable failure inheres in ontology as well, and what remains is to commit considerable study to the mechanics of this “failure”. Even the functions of symbiosis (not to be confused with equilibrium) where bacteria provides a benefit to the body does not endanger what we say here about metastasis since we are considering the metastasis-apoptosis phenomenon without demonstrating a prejudice in favour of the sustainable functions of the body, but rather isolating the principle of metastasis as descriptive of the troubling philosophical concept of becoming.

Oncontology

Could Complexity Rehabilitate Mo/PoMo Ethics?

A well known passage from Marie Fleming could be invoked here to acquit complexity from the charges and accusation pertaining to relativism. He says,

Anyone who argues against reason is necessarily caught up in a contradiction: she asserts at the locutionary level that reason does not exist, while demonstrating by way of her performance in argumentative processes that such reason does in fact exist.

Such an absolute statement about complexity would similarly be eaten along its way.

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Taking the locutionary from the above quote, it could be used to adequately distinguish from performative, or logic versus rhetoric. Such a distinction gains credibility, if one is able to locate an Archimedean point to share discourse/s, which, from the point of view of complexity theory would be a space outside the autopoietic system, or, in other words, would be a meta-theoretical framework. Such a framework is skeptically looked upon/at by complexity, which has no qualms in exhibiting an acknowledgement towards performative tensions at work. Such tensions are generative of ethical choices and consequences, since any accessibility to the finality of knowledge is built upon the denial of critical perspective/s, thus shrouding the entire exercise in either a veil of ignorance, or a hubristic pride, or illusory at best.

Morality gains significance, since its formulations is often ruptured for want of secure, and certain knowledge, and both of which are not provided for by complexity theory and French theory, according to the accusations labeled against them. Even if, in making choices that are normative in nature, a clear formulation of the ethical is obligated. Lyotard’s underlining conditions of knowledge is often considered unethical, as he admits to the desire for justice to be shrouded in an unknown intellectual territory. Lyotard has Habermas in mind in dealing with this, since for the latter’s communication therapy, what is mandated is clearly consensual agreement on the part of the public to seek out these metaprescriptions as universally valid and as spanning all language games. Habermas is targeted here for deliberately ignoring the diversity inherent in the post-modern society. For Lyotard,

It is the monster formed by the interweaving of various networks of heteromorphous classes of utterances (denotative, prescriptive, performative, technical, evaluative, etc.). there is no reason to think that it could be possible to determine metaprescriptive common to all of these language games or like the revisable consensus like the one in force at a given moment in the scientific community could embrace the totality of metaprescriptions regulating the totality of statements circulating in the social collectivity. As a matter of fact, the contemporary decline of narratives of legitimization – be they traditional or ‘modern’ (the emancipation of humanity, the realization of the idea) – is tied to the abandonment of this belief.

The fight over consensus, if it could be achieved at all, is contentious between Lyotard and Habermas. Obviously, it could be attained, but only locally and should not even vie for universal validity. Lyotard scores a point over Habermas here, because of his emphasis on the permeability of discursive practices dressed with paralogy. Justice, as a subset of ethics in the post-modern society, in order to overcome its status as a problematic, must recognize the heteromorphous nature of language games or phase regimens on the one hand, and consensus as reached must have a local space-time valuation contingently subject to refutation or nullification on the other. Such a diagnosis goes against the crux of modernism’s idea of ethics as founded upon foundational and universal set of rules, and maybe imperatives. Modernism’s idea of ethics is no different, at least in the formative structure from the rule-based analysis, since both demand a strict adherence to the dictates of rules and guidelines. A liberation comes in the form of post-modernism. Bauman sees the post-modern society as not only setting us free, but also pushing us towards a paradoxical situation, where agents have the fullness of moral choice and responsibility, while simultaneously depriving them of the comfort of the universal guidance as promised by modernism. Moral responsibility comes with the loneliness of moral choice. Such paradoxical events or situations facing man in the post-modern society only reinvests faith in agonistics of the network. At the same time, such an aporetic position is too paradoxical to satisfy many. Taking cues from the field of jurisprudence, the works of Druscilla Cornell could help clear the muddy waters here to an extent of a satisfactory resolution. Cornell aims to establish the relationship of the philosophy of the limit, or what she calls the post-structural theory of Derrida in principle, to questions of ethics, law and justice. Cornell shows no inhibitions towards accepting the complexity of relationships governing humans, and in the process accepts Hegel as the vantage point. Hegel criticizes Kant for his abstract idealism, and admits to our constitution within a social structure, which is teleologically headed for perfection. In short, the dialectical process is convergent for Hegel, since it is operative within a social/historical system aiming towards organization. Adorno differs here, since, for him dialectics is always divergent, with stress laid upon differences that characterize between humans as always irreducible to a totalizing organized system. This position of Adorno with its sympathy for difference is much closer to complexity, that at first would seem. Cornell carries further on from there and introduces the work of Luhmann, who is a towering figure in sociology, when it comes to bringing in autopoiesis within the fold. Humans are never allowed to stand outside the system that Luhmann thinks is not only complex, but autopoietic as well. Therefore, on an individual level, the choice element has no role to play, except, accepting the system that would undergo an organization to best suit its survival through a process of evolution, and not transformation. Luhmann’s understanding still prioritizes the present, and has no place for the past or the uncertain future. Cornell considers this a drawback, and makes past as an ingredient in understanding the meaning of an event, on the one hand, and following Derrida, wants to take up responsibility for the future, even if it is unknown. With a structure like this in place, it is possible to evade the rigidity of modernist claims on ethics on the one hand, and fluidity of evasive tendencies towards responsibility on the other. Instead, what Cornell calls for is an acceptance of the present ethical principles in all seriousness. That is to be resistant to change, and awareness of applications of the principles is what is called for. Ethics involves calculation in a responsible manner. In a similar vein, complexity entails irreducibility to calculation, in the sense of coming out with novelistic tendencies involving creativity that is not simply a flight of fancy, but an imagination laden with responsibility. Only, in this regard, could ethics mean not subjecting to any normativity. And, one of the ways to achieve this to obviously shy away from intellectual arrogance.

Rancière an OOOist? What about Derrida then? Drag the Waters some more. Drunken Risibility

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I have always wondered why the English translation of l’imaginaire is imaginary and not imagery, since imagery is less confusing as compared to the former. Anyways, Reality is the gamut of the given, of the posited, of the what cannot be contorted and twisted, of the politics of administration. Real, on the other hand is the striving for…, the impossible to find its genuineness within the spectrum of the Reality.

As Levi Bryant puts it,

The real is that which is without place (his emphasis) in reality. It is a strange sort of placelessness, for it simultaneously 1) is invisible from the standpoint of reality, yet nonetheless 2) the “system of reality” strives to gentrify and eradicate the real (in Television Lacan will cryptically pronounce that “reality is the grimace of the real”), and 3) the real, despite being invisible, nonetheless appears but in a way inimical to the vector body-object system of the Imaginary and the sorting-organizing system of the symbolic. The real is a placeless appearance.

From here, it is all the way to Harman and co. and their take on OOO as representative (if I may use this word) of the Real rather than the Reality. This flows quite systematically and logically, until Ranciere gets dragged (not to be connoted pejoratively) into the camp of OOO.

For Levi says (and Rancière is truly and rightly echoed here),

Political realism’s thesis is always that 1) all entities involved are counted and accounted for, and 2) that no other order is possible. Of course, this order also disguises the fact that the interests it claims to be in everyone’s interests are really the interests of a few. In repressing this anarchic and contingent ground of the reality system, political realism thereby promotes the lie that such and such a course of action is the only possible course of action, the only thing that can be done.

He (Rancière) is here with his refusal to closure of political reality, harboring new possibilities in its wake. Now, I really would wonder where would Derrida be camping, if the situation of the Real could be taken to extremes with him, the situation of yet to come…the openings of possibilities…, or the potentialities…..

Can Derrida ever be an OOOist himself in one of its strands?

Metaphysical Exclusions…Speech Act…

….the axiology involved in this analysis is not intrinsically determined by considerations that are merely logical. What logician, what theoretician in general, would have dared to say: B depends logically on A, therefore B is parasitic, nonserious, abnormal, etc.?…All of [those attributes] mark a decline or a pathology, an ethical-ontological determination: i.e. more or less than a mere logical derivation.

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What is it, if not an Austinian invocation of Derrida against Searle in trying to portray adjectives like non-serious and abnormal as pathological of language. This is all the more implicated in the language of aetiolation and contagion as pathological in nature. Setting aside the question of logicality, what bothers is the status of ontological-metaphysical questions concerning strategical or methodological operations on a discourse. Derrida answers in the affirmative regarding such a status, for he is firm on the argument of such methodological operations involving decisions as necessarily metaphysical. If this is a metaphysical concern, then it obviously follows that such an exclusion happens to be ontological. This is further criticized by Derrida in terms of a binary of concepts, where invariably one term of the binary gets a higher prerogative, and also in terms of a positive, ideal sense attached to these metaphysical binary oppositions that are regarded as simple, pure, normal and self-identical in themselves. Clearly, the serious/parasitic distinction wrought by Austin is descriptive. But is it axiological and/or evaluative? Yes, since adjectives like aetiolated are rarely used without any evaluative components. Now, if Austin is culpable of metaphysical exclusion, so is Searle, for he fails to expound a general theory of speech acts that would be inclusive of parasitic utterances.