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Derrida: Nietzsche and the machine

recall that in Of Spirit, in what is an extremely dense and complex passage,
you criticize virulently the effects of Heidegger's founding 'spiritualisation'
of biological racism. Whereas elsewhere (Spurs) you have recognized a certain
necessity to Heidegger's philosophising gesture - at least concerning
Nietzsche's empiricism - here the problems of this gesture - as one which
spiritualizes biologism - is explicitly analysed within the political context
of Heidegger's engagement with Nazism. Let me quote the passage in full:
one cannot demarcate oneself from biologism, from naturalism, from racism in
its genetic form, one cannot be opposed to them except by re-inscribing spirit
in an oppositional determination, by once again making it a unilaterality of
subjectivity, even if in its voluntarist form. The constraint of this program
remains very strong, it reigns over the majority of discourses which, today and
for a long time to come, state their opposition to racism, to totalitarianism,
to nazism, to fascism etc., and do this in the name of spirit, and even of the
freedom of the spirit in the name of an axiomatic, for example, that of
democracy or 'human rights' - which, directly or not, comes back to this
metaphysics of subjectivity. All the pitfalls of the strategy of establishing
demarcations belong to this program, whatever place one occupies in it. The
only choice is the choice between the terrifying contaminations it asssigns.
Even if all the forms of complicity are not equivalent, they are irreducible.
The question of knowing which is the least grave of these forms of complicity
is always there - its urgency and its seriousness could not be over-stressed -
but it will never dissolve the irreducibility of this fact. This fact, of
course, is not simply a fact. First, and at least, because it is not yet done,
not altogether: it calls more than ever, as for what in it remains to come
after the disasters that have happened, for absolutely unprecedented
responsibilities of 'thought' and 'action'... In the rectorship address, this
risk is not just a risk run. If its program seems diabolical, it is because,
without there being anything fortuitous in this, it capitalizes on the worst,
that is on both evils at once: the sanctioning of nazism, and the gesture that
is still metaphysical. (Of Spirit. Heidegger and the Question, Chicago 1989, p.
39-40) As Dominique Janicaud has noted in his L'Ombre de cette pensée.
Heidegger et la question politique (Grenoble 1990), it would be difficult to
find a greater accusation of Heidegger. My question concerns, however, the
so-called 'programme' of logics which you allude to in this passage. I note
that you make a similar, if more local, intellectual gesture in Otobiographies
concerning the necessary contamination of Nietzsche's text by Nazi ideology.
There it is a question of a 'powerful programming machine' which relates,
before any human intention or will, the two contrary forces of regeneration and
degeneracy in Nietzsche's early "On the Future of Our Educational
Establishments", dtermining in advance, before any historical eventuality,
that each force reflects, and passes into, into its other. We are here,
perhaps, at something like the 'heart' of deconstruction given its concern with
what you call in 'Violence and Metaphysics' "the lesser violence"
(Writing and Difference, note 21, p. 313)

question, after this necessary preamble, is short: in what sense have, for you,
all thought and all action up to today been inscribed within this machine? And,
how do you understand those enigmatic words 'absolutely unprecedented
responsibilities' of thought and action? In what sense, 'absolutely'?

First, I certainly believe that the contaminations discussed in this passage
are absolutely undeniable. I defy anyone to show a political discourse or posture
today which escapes this law of contamination. The only way to do so is in the
form of (de)negation (Verneinung), the law of contamination can only be
(de)negated. If it is true that these contaminations are inevitable, that one
cannot side-step its law whatever one attempts to do, then responsibility
cannot consist in denying or (de)negating contamination, in trying to 'save' a
line of thought or action from it. On the contrary, it must consist in assuming
this law, in recognizing its necessity, in working from within the machine, by
formalizing how contamination works and by attempting to act accordingly. Our
very first responsibility is to recognize that this terrifying programme is at
work everywhere and to confront the problem head-on; not to flee it by denying
its complexity, but to think it as such.

this means that the political gestures which one will make will, like all
political gestures, be accompanied necessarily by discourse. Discursivity takes
time, it implies several sentences, it cannot be reduced to a single moment or
point. On each occasion one will have to make complex gestures to explain that
one is acting, despite contamination, in this particular way, because one
believes that it is better to do this rather than that, that a particular act
chosen is in such and such a situation more likely to do such and such than
another possible act. These gestures are anything but pragmatic, they are
strategic evaluations which attempt to measure up to the formalisation of the
machine. To make such evaluations, one has to pass through thought - there is
no distinction here between thought and action, these evaluations are actions
of thought. Whoever attempts to justify his political choice or pursue a
political line without thought - in the sense of a thinking which exceeds
science, philosophy and technics - without thinking what calls for thinking in
this machine, this person isn't being, in my eyes, politically responsible.
Hence one needs thought, one needs to think more than ever. Thinking's task
today is to tackle, to measure itself against, everything making up this
programme of contamination. This programme forms the history of metaphysics, it
informs the whole history of political determination, of politics as it was
constituted in Ancient Greece, disseminated throughout the West and finally
exported to the East and South. If the political isn't thought in this radical
sense, political responsibility will disappear. I wouldn't go so far as to say
that this thought has become necessary only today; rather, today more than
ever, one must think this machine in order to prepare for a political decision,
if there is such a thing, within this contamination. Very simply, then, what
I'm trying to do is to prepare for such a decision by tackling the machine or
law of contamination. For reasons that should now be clear, what I say is
always going to run the risk of being taken in an unfavourable light, it cannot
fail to lead to misunderstandings, according to the very same law of
contamination. There's no way out. As to the criticisms of deconstruction
brought up earlier, one has indeed to assume the risk of being misunderstood,
continuing to think in modest terms what is after all exceedingly ambitious, in
order to prepare for these responsibilities - if they exist.

In the
passage you quote I call these responsibilities "unprecedented"
(inédites). What does this term mean? In your terms, what is their 'time'?
Rather than implying a heroic pathos of originality, the term testifies to the
fact that we find ourselves in an unprecedented situation. After recent events
- whether one gives them the name of Nietzsche, of Heidegger, of the Second
World War, of the Holocaust, of the destructibility of humanity by its own
technical resources - it is clear that we find ourselves in an absolutely
unprecedented space. For this space one needs equally unprecedented reflections
on responsibility, on the problematics of decision and action. To say this is
not a piece of speculative hubris. It simply acknowledges where we are. We need
the unprecedented; otherwise there will be nothing, pure repetition... The
unprecedented is, of course, very dangerous. Once on these paths of thought,
one is liable to get shot at by people who are in a hurry to interpret texts,
who call you a neo-Nazi, a nihilist, a relativist, a mysticist, or whatever.
But if one doesn't take such risks, then one does nothing, and nothing happens.
What I'm saying is very modest: without risk, there is nothing.

RB: Why
did you write "absolutely unprecedented"?

JD: It
was just a form of emphasis. Of course, the unprecedented is never possible
without repetition, there is never something absolutely unprecedented, totally
original or new; or rather, the new can only be new, radically new, to the
extent that something new is produced, that is, where there is memory and
repetition. The new cannot be invented without memory or repetition. So, two
things: first, there can be no break, no experience of the break which does not
presuppose a non-break, which does not presuppose memory. Second, contamination
follows from this iterability which is constitutive of the unprecedented.
Contamination happens because iterability inhabits from the very first what is
not yet thought. One has to confront this paradoxical logic to be able to think
the unthought.

R.B.: How
does a certain affirmation of technology relate to what you have called in The
Other Heading: Reflections on Today's Europe "the promise of
democracy"? I recall that for Nietzsche democracy is the modern reactive
fate of calculative reason and that for Heidegger (both 'early' and 'late'
Heidegger) democracy is "inadequate to confront the challenges of our
technological age" (Spiegel interview of 1966). In distinction, and
differently, to both Nietzsche and Heidegger, your work can be seen to affirm
both technology and democracy. Although the promise of democracy is not the
same as either the fact of democracy or the regulative idea (in the Kantian
sense) of democracy, deconstruction does "hear" differance more in a
democratic organisation of government than in any other political model; and
there are no new models to be invented. If I understand you correctly, your
affirmation of democracy is, in this respect, a demand for the sophistication
of democracy, such a refinement taking advantage, in turn, of the increasingly
sophisticated effects of technology. I pose the above question, then, with the
following points in mind. First of all, democratic institutions are becoming
more and more unrepresentative in our increasingly technicised world - hence,
in part, recent rejections of "la classe politique", not only in
France and the United States; the anxieties which the question of a centralised
European government raise form part of the same rejection. Then, in the second
place, the media are swallowing up the constitutional machinery of democratic
institutions, furthering thereby the de-politicisation of society and the
possibility of populist demagogy. Thirdly, resistance to this process of
technicisation is at the same time leading to virulent forms of nationalism and
demagogy in the former Soviet empire, forms which are exploiting technology in
the domains of the media, telecommunications and arms, whilst denying the
de-localising effects of technology, culturally, in the domain of ideology.
And, finally, the rights of man would seem an increasingly ineffective set of
criteria to resist this process of technicisation (together with its possible
fascistic effects) given this process's gradual effacement of the normative and
metaphysical limit between the human and the inorganic.

Your question concerns the contemporary acceleration of technicisation, the
relation between technical acceleration (acceleration through, and of,
technics) and politico-economic processes. It concerns in fact the very concept
of acceleration. First, it's more than clear the idea of the acceleration of
history is no longer today a topos. If it's often said that history is going
quicker than in the past, that it is now going too quickly, at the same time
it's well-known today that acceleration - a question of rhythm and of changes
of rhythm - doesn't simply affect an objective speed which is continuous and
which gets progressively faster. On the contrary, acceleration is made up of
differences of rhythm, heterogeneous accelerations which are closely related to
the technical and technological developments you are alluding to. So, it makes
no sense to "fetishise" the concept of acceleration: there isn't a
single acceleration. There are in fact two laws of acceleration: one derives
from the technosciences, it concerns speed, the prodigious increase in speed,
the unprecedenced rhythms which speed is assuming and of which we are daily
feeling the effect. The political issues which you evoke bear the stamp of this
form of acceleration. The second is of a quite different order and belongs to
the structure of decision. Everything that I was saying earlier can now be said
in these terms: a decision is taken in a process of infinite acceleration.

taking into account these two laws of acceleration which are heterogeneous and
which capitalise on each other, what's the situation today of democracy?
"Progress" in arms-technologies and media-technologies is
incontestably causing the disappearance of the site on which the democratic
used to be situated. The site of representation and the stability of the
location which make up parliament or assembly, the territorialisation of power,
the rooting of power to a particular place, if not to the ground as such - all
this is over. The notion of politics dependent on this relation between power
and space is over as well, although its end must be negotiated with. I am not
just thinking here of the present forms of nationalism and fundamentalism.
Technoscientific acceleration poses an absolute threat to Western-style
democracy as well, following its radical undermining of locality. Since there
can be no question of interrupting science of the technosciences, it's a matter
of knowing how a democratic response can be made to what is happening. This
response must not, for obvious reasons, try to maintain at all costs the life
of a democratic model of government which is rapidly being made redundant. If
technics now exceeds democratic forms of government, it's not only because
assembly or parliament is being swallowed up by the media. This was already the
case after the First World War. It was already being argued then that the media
(then the radio) were forming public opinion so much that public deliberation and
parliamentary discussion no longer determined the life of a democracy. And so,
we need a historical perspective. What the acceleration of technicisation
concerns today is the frontiers of the nation-state, the traffic of arms and
drugs, everything that has to do with inter-nationality. It is these issue
which need to be completely reconsidered, not in order to sound the death-knell
of democracy, but in order to rethink democracy from within these conditions.
This rethinking, as you rightly suggested earlier, must not be postponed, it is
immediate and urgent. For what is specific to these threats, what constitutes
the specificity of their time or temporality, is that they are not going to
wait. Let's take one example from a thousand.

It is
quite possible that what is happening at present in former Yugoslavia is going
to take place in the Ukraine: a part of the Ukrainian Russians are going to be
re-attached to Russia, the other part refusing. As a consequence, everything
decided up to now as to the site and control of the former Soviet Empire's
nuclear arms will be cast in doubt. The relative peace of the world could be
severely endangered. As to a response, one that is so urgently needed, that's
obviously what we've been talking about all along. And yet, it's hardly in an
interview that one can say what needs to be done. Despite what l've just said -
even if it is true that the former polarity of power is over with the end of
the Cold War, and that its end has made the world a much more endangered place
- the powers of decision in today's world are still highly structured; there
are still important nations and superpowers, there are still powerful
economies, and so forth.

this and given the fact that, as l've said, a statement specific to an
interview cannot measure up to the complexity of the situation, I would venture
somewhat abstractly the following points. Note, firstly, that I was referring
with the example of the Ukraine to world peace, I was not talking in local
terms. Since no locality remains, democracy must be thought today globally (de
facon mondiale), if it is to have a future. In the past one could always say
that democracy was to be saved in this or that country. Today, however, if one
claims to be a democrat, one cannot be a democrat "at home" and wait
to see what happens "abroad". Everything that is happening today -
whether it be about Europe, the GATT, the Mafia, drugs, or arms - engages the
future of democracy in the world in general. If this seems an obvious thing to
say, one must nevertheless say it.

in the determination or behaviour of each citizen or singularity there should
be present, in some form or other, the call to a world democracy to come, each
singularity should determine itself with the sense of the stakes of a democracy
which can no longer be contained within frontiers, which can no longer be
localised, which can no longer depend on the decisions of a specific group of
citizens, a nation or even of a continent. This determination means that one
must both think, and think democracy, globally. This may be something
completely new, something that has never been done, for we're here talking of
something much more complex, much more modest and yet much more ambitious than
any notion of the universal, cosmopolitan or human. I realise that there is so
much rhetoric today - obvious, conventional, reassuring, determined in the
sense of without risk - which resembles what l'm saying. When, for example, one
speaks of the United Nations, when one speaks in the name of a politics that
transcends national borders, one can always do so in the name of democracy. One
has to make the difference clear, then, between democracy in this rhetorical
sense and what l'm calling a "democracy to come". The difference
shows, for example, that all decisions made in the name of the Rights of Man
are at the same time alibis for the continued inequality between singularities,
and that we need to invent other concepts than state, superstate, citizen, and
so forth for this new International. The democracy to come obliges one to
challenge instituted law in the name of an indefinitely unsatisfied justice,
thereby revealing the injustice of calculating justice whether this be in the
name of a particular form of democracy or of the concept of humanity. This
democracy to come is marked in the movement that has always carried a present
beyond itself, makes it inadequate to itself, "out of joint"
(Hamlet); as I argue in Specters of Marx, it obliges us to work with the
spectrality in any moment of apparent presence. This spectrality is very weak;
it is the weakness of the powerless, who, in being powerless, resist the
greatest strength.

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