Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Temporal Exile in the Time of Fiction: Reading Derrida Reading Blanchot's the Instant of My Death

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Temporal Exile in the Time of Fiction: Reading Derrida Reading Blanchot's the Instant of My Death

Article excerpt

This essay asks whether or not Martin Hagglund's reassessment of the Derridean project of deconstruction as a project defending diachronic temporality is amenable to thinking the peculiar temporalities of literature and fiction that Derrida, in "Demeure: Fiction and Testimony," detects in Maurice Blanchot's The Instant of My Death.

One of the tasks that Martin Hagglund sets out to accomplish in his highly influential publication Radical Atheism is to rescue the Derridean deconstructive relation to justice and alterity from being conceptually perverted by ethical metaphysicians like Robert Bernasconi, Drucilla Cornell, and Simon Critchley. Hagglund is particularly hostile toward attempts in the secondary literature of deconstruction to align Derrida's writing with the transcendental ethics of Emmanuel Levinas. What such attempts fail to appreciate is that nowhere does Derrida's thinking pursue the "ideal justice" embedded in what Hagglund severely criticizes as a Levinasian pre-temporal economy of alterity, ethics as metaphysical "first philosophy," that naively (and perhaps dangerously) privileges good over evil, the other over the same, speech over writing, peace over violence, and life over death. The Derridean relation with alterity, ethics, justice, and life, Hagglund rightly claims, is distributed much more aporetically (autoimmunitarily) than readers like Critchley, Cornell, and Bernasconi are willing to concede. In Hagglund's reading of Derrida, justice always already betrays injustice, the alterity of the other is always already violated by the identity of the same, life is always already implicated in death, and peace always already presupposes violence. The sole culprit behind these relations of autoimmunity in the Derridean project of deconstruction is for Hagglund "the 'ultratranscendental' condition" of temporality "from which nothing can be exempt" (10). Deconstruction is nothing, in other words, if not a sustained critique of temporality, and we fundamentally misunderstand the movement and space of differance if we do not appreciate it as the instantiation of the ontological violence that temporality constitutively commits. "Thus, a rigorous deconstructive thinking," Hagglund explains, "maintains that we are always already inscribed in a temporal 'economy of violence,' where we are both excluding and being excluded" (82).

Because Derrida was not always consistent in emphasizing the degree to which deconstruction is first and foremost a project of temporality (or so Hagglund wants us to believe), it is hardly surprising that Derrida's thinking has so easily been co-opted by such (albeit closeted) metaphysical and ethical thinkers like those mentioned above, or, more recently, by theological apologists of deconstruction like Hent de Vries, Richard Kearney, and John Caputo, who continue to work at the vanguard of the "theological turn" in contemporary critical theory. What each of these camps exclude, or at the very least suspend, is the incessantness of the logic of autoimmunity that infects each and every concept and image of philosophical ways of thinking that rely on a metaphysical logic of temporal presence (which is to say, temporal transcendence) for value and verification. What is so radically atheist about deconstruction, in short, is that it precludes both the possibility (from ontological and epistemological perspectives) and the desire (from ethical and political perspectives) for the fulfillment of promises of metaphysical or theological transcendence in the temporal space of finitude that living, thinking, and desiring humanity solely inhabits. As it relates to the theological front of Hagglund's reassessment of what Derrida's thinking entails, the autoimmunitary logic of deconstruction means that "messianic hope is for Derrida a hope for temporal survival, faith is always faith in the finite, and the desire for God is a desire for the mortal, like every other desire" (120, emph. …

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