in hiding (from language)

July 6th, 2011 | 3 comments

05 july 2011

To return to Los Angeles [following the Rodney King beatings in 1991], some people have demanded that henceforth all police activity be monitored by video, that everything be filmed, in order to submit police surveillance itself to surveillance. There would thus be “black boxes” recording the police, their movements, their actions and gestures, a constant recording and an immediate archiving of police activity, which itself consists in attempting a panoptikon of civic space—of the political, and of political space itself. If all this in turn is under surveillance by satellite, we would then see the determination of an optimal optification of what could be called the ontopolitological: the totality of what binds the political to the topological and politics to space in the present (on, ontos) would be gathered together in the present, devoid of any shadow, beneath the gaze, exposed to an all-powerful photographic apparatus: no more secret, no more private life, instantaneous totalization: the totalitarian itself, etc. —Jacques Derrida (Copy, Archive, Signature 47)

Had I know of this quote, excerpted from a short interview conducted in 1991, I would’ve included it, and a discussion of its terms, in “No More Pirate Islands! Media Ecology and Autonomy” (Interculture 6:1, 2009). At the time, I viewed the earth-orbiting eye as the ascendance of an ecotechnics, an entire surveillance apparatus, and mark the dates of Sputnik (4th October 1957) as well as Google Earth (February 8th, 2005—Derrida did not live to see the watched watch the watchers, into infinite regress, filtered and selected, ad infinitum).

Even with the possibility of totalization of the eye, from above, I retain the following possibility of the gap or glitch between map and territory, the delay or deferral between the point of the image and its taking-place, also the inherent possibilities of subterfuge, camouflage, encryption, withdrawal, exodus, hiding, etc.,  as I would, I think, Derrida—that “the TAZ [Temporary Autonomous Zone] is an event born among technics that undermines if not counters the eschatology of collapse for it demonstrates the possibilility of heterotopic autonomy within a technical worlding” (62).

Whomsoever suggests that Derrida was only concerned with “language” in the narrow sense (I’m looking at you, Harman, and your strange avoidance in tackling the hard problematic of arkhe-writing in Tool-Being) has evidently never (a) read carefully his thetic assertions concerning the autonomy, alterity, and “expansion” of writing-in-general nor (b) taken seriously the thetic possibilities put forward by the undertaking of deconstruction as applicable everywhere, as an analysis of the technics of différance, which is to say, its effects and force(s).

We can no longer oppose perception and technics; there is no perception before the possibility of prosthetic iterability; and this mere possibility marks, in advance, both perception and phenomenology of perception. In perception there are already operations of selection, of exposure time, of filtering, of development; the psychic apparatus functions also like, or as, an apparatus of inscription and of the photographic archive. —Derrida (Copy, Archive, Signature 15)

—Which is Derrida reiterating much of his work on Freud’s Wunderblock, the “mystic writing pad.” But this is not only about human perception, and the alter-logic of arkhe-writing, the trace of différance, extends beyond the human per se. In fact, as Derrida writes in Of Grammatology, consciousness is but an effect of différance (166). Indeed, language is alien. The consequences of this alterity to language in relation to Harman’s narrow insistence that language is irrevocably human will have to be dealt with improperly, insofar as it complicates Harman’s negation of all differences marked in Heidegger, and the reduction of difference itself, to the opposition between Vorhandenheit and Zuhandenheit. Insofar as the trace does not exist (OG 167), it suggests something other than the totality of Being that Harman adheres to, wherein Zuhanden/Vorhanden is taken as a difference between two modes of being.

The hard argument from Derrida is, in part, this: that language, taken as arkhe-writing, as the technics of the trace, is precisely that which articulates cucumbers, dust, and blades of grass, in which all Things speak. The nature of this articulation is that of “prosthetic iterability,” or “supplementarity as structure” (OG 167). Harman’s  desire to elevate the primacy of one difference above all others—objects and tools as first philosophy—needs to be critiqued for the dogmatic return it is to precisely the logic of a transcendental signified (“we cannot know Zuhandenheit; thus it is First, to which everything else is Second”) he elsewhere wishes to subject to an intriguing, refreshing and stimulating speculative realism. In short, Harman’s conception of the radical difference of Zuhandenheit is impoverished, and it is strange indeed that he draws so much from Levinas—who requires God to hold steady—and not Derrida, who delves much farther into the “infinite regress” to which Harman admits to (in his passage on Rorty in TB), yet with much more interesting result, namely, the thesis of supplementarity at the origin and the origin as the effect of prosthetic iterability. (Yet perhaps not so strange that Harman prefers Levinas, insofar as, in Tool-Being, Harman retains the pyramid of power in which some binary needs to occupy the top spot.)

So the second thetic effect of Derrida’s hard argument is this: language-objects-tools-etc. constitute a string of substitutions, not a hierarchy of precedence in which all differences ought to be submitted to the authoritarian pair of Tool Beings. Will Harman be able to contend with the hard arguments from Derrida, and not just the soft “linguistic turn” he posits, in the narrow sense of a consideration of language only as equivalent to human speech? Can Harman handle the trace and how its inexistence nonetheless generates “real effects,” which is to say, the objects Harman loves to offer in nice, contrasting lists, but so far in Tool-Being, has nothing to say of? (I will grant him this chance in his later work.)

If the thought of différance can be introduced into speculative realism, it offers a fascinating bridge between the media ecology of technics, and media studies in general, and that of object-oriented philosophy. Why? Because différance, as in my essay above and Derrida’s work on photography, has offered an interesting way to take apart and rethink all kinds of fields, from photography to art, physics to architecture, politics and the political to gender; it has proven incredibly fruitful, not to introduce “language” in some narrow sense but to focus on the technical specificity of substituting difference—which is where Kittler and media theory comes in, as well as Latour, for that matter (I have yet to pick up Harman’s earlier essay and newish book on Latour).

A philosophically robust concept of timing-spacing-difference—différance—also offers a bridge between physics and other sciences of time, space, the universe, and so on. But if Harman rejects différance as “language”, then he also tosses out the very interesting correlative work between this thinking of spacing-timing and that of Einstein’s general relativity and Bohr’s quantum physics (as writ explicitly by Arkady Plotnitsky in Complementarity). I need also mention the immense work done by Deleuze and the entire field of studies surrounding Deleuze and Guattari to think science and philosophy here. But perhaps Harman’s speculative realism has no interest in correlative work between science and object-oriented philosophy whatsoever? Is such science—the thinking of numerical logic and probabilities, constants of light and relatives of timing-spacing, for example—”merely” all Vorhandenheit? Indeed, how convenient that would be, being able to leave reality behind entirely, so that philosophy can once again ensure its complete seclusion from the world. A true philosophy of the Zuhanden! I would hope this is not the real effect of speculative realism.


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    3 Responses to “in hiding (from language)”

    1. in hiding (from language): speculative realism & #différance #speculativerealism #oop #Harman #Derrida

    2. @shaviro though strictly speaking, all objects are actors in #Harman's #OOO, yes? |