Adorno s Other Son

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  Adorno’s Other Son: Derridaand the Future of CriticalTheory  Jean-Philippe Deranty  Fichus  published as a book the speech that Jacques Derrida delivered in Frankfurtin September 2001 in acceptance of the Theodor-W.-Adorno Prize. This littleautobiographical text might seem to be of interest only for those who care aboutDerrida’s person. Notably, it can be read as a surreptitious announcement by thephilosopher of his imminent death. However, Derrida made this announcementthrough a complex discursive strategy that suggested a strong identification withthe individual destinies and intellectual projects of Adorno and Benjamin. Thepersonal turns out to have tremendous philosophical importance as it givesDerrida the opportunity to engage in an astonishing reassessment of therelationship between deconstruction and Critical Theory. Keywords  Derrida; Adorno; Benjamin; Habermas; deconstruction; criticaltheory Can the personal be philosophical? Can an autobiographical anecdote, a personalmemory, the statement of a subjective preference, count as philosophicalarguments, as having philosophical worth? In the last years of his life, JacquesDerrida more and more frequently talked in the first person, talked about his ownperson to discuss philosophical problems. What was the philosophical reasonbehind this apparent breach of one of philosophy’s most basic rules?There are of course good Derridean reasons for this autobiographical turn. Ifthere is no metalanguage, if any particular discourse, including one belonging tothe philosophical genre, resonates with all other discourses in an infinite numberof ways, through an indefinite regress of correspondences, reminiscences,equivocations and connotations, then no hard distinction can be drawn betweenthe universal and the individual, the global and the local. Personal events,individual histories, have a significance beyond their idiosyncrasy when it can beshown how they intersect with other individual events and stories and with moregeneral forms of discourse, and thus reveal, from a specific perspective  * / butthere are only specific perspectives  * / something that is shared by more than one. ISSN 1035-0330 print/1470-1219 online/06/030421-13 # 2006 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/10350330600824011SOCIAL SEMIOTICS VOLUME 16 NUMBER 3 (SEPTEMBER 2006)  The erasing of the hard dichotomy between the personal and the universalbecomes even more pressing if one adds that the personal enounces itself in alanguage that is shared by many, that the individual voice would not be heard if itdid not speak the words of the others, and the language that is used by the manycan be a language only when it is used by individual voices. As a consequencealso, philosophy cannot isolate itself from other types of discourse that appearless bent on reaching universal truths via objective modes of argumentation.Derrida has always confronted philosophy to other forms of discourse. His lateautobiographical turn is just one among many other strategies to do philosophydifferently, as he was convinced that the ethical and political challenges of thetime demanded a deconstruction of metaphysical frameworks that could notleave untouched the way philosophy is concretely done.The following article verifies these Derridean strategies by reading ananecdotal piece as providing crucial philosophical information. The piece inquestion is the text of the speech that Derrida delivered in Frankfurt on 22September 2001 when he was granted the prestigious Theodor-Adorno Prize ofthe city of Frankfurt. The prize was founded in 1977 and is awarded every threeyears. Ju¨rgen Habermas was a recipient in 1980. Derrida’s speech was firstpublished in  Le Monde diplomatique , under the title ‘‘ La langue de l’e´tranger  ’’(‘‘The Language of the Stranger’’), and later on as a book under the title  Fichus (Derrida 2002). It is crucial to note at the outset that ‘‘  fichu ’’ has a number ofdifferent meanings in French: as an object, it designates a small female scarf(smaller than that other infamous scarf, the ‘‘foulard’’); but as a colloquialadjective, it means ‘‘  foutu ’’ (f***, but also ‘‘finished’’, as in ‘‘broken’’, ‘‘dead’’,‘‘gone’’, ‘‘condemned’’, etc.). Finally, in the past tense of the reflexive verb, itmeans that someone has made fun of someone else. All these meanings are atstake in Derrida’s speech.I focus on this text because it seems to me to provide a remarkableopportunity to celebrate Derrida’s  oeuvre  at the moment of his death. This isa most appropriate text to enable us to do this, because in it Derrida himself tooka mournful yet future-oriented stance towards himself and his own work. In twoeloquent passages, we now retrospectively hear him announce the imminence ofhis death to come. In a sense, in this speech Derrida wrote the contribution hemight have made to all the events that were to celebrate his work, in nostalgicyet hopeful fashion.Beyond the retrospective glance over his whole career, a turn to theautobiographical that is warranted and indeed expected at an acceptanceceremony, Derrida launched also, as in all the texts of his last decade (Derrida2004a), into a passionate exhortation to confront in common, both theoreticallyand politically, the emerging forms social and political violence. And it turns outthat, speaking in Frankfurt in front of the most famous representatives of theFrankfurt School, he revisited his work and envisioned the future of politics byrephrasing them within the framework of Critical Theory, more specifically bystating his closeness with two of its prominent thinkers, Adorno and Benjamin.The more obviously philosophical intention behind this article is to highlight the422 J.-P. DERANTY  proximity that Derrida, in one of his last published texts, thus revealed betweenhis thought and Critical Theory. In this anecdotal, autobiographical piece,Derrida presents himself as one of Adorno’s sons, or rather he presents Adornoas an ‘‘adopted father’’. This revelation obviously has important philosophicalramifications. An Adornian Epitaph In the beginning of his speech, Derrida covertly announces his near disappear-ance, and announces to his listeners one of his possible epitaphs: Iaddressmyselftoyouinthenightasifinthebeginningwasthedream.Whatisthedream? And the thought of the dream? And the language of the dream? Is there anethics or a politics of the dream which does not end up in the imaginary and theutopian, which in other words neither gives up nor is irresponsible or indecisive? Iuse Adorno’s authority to start in this way, and more specifically I use a phrase byAdorno which touches me all the more since, as I do myself more and more often,too often perhaps, Adorno talks literally about the possibility of the impossible, ofthe‘‘paradoxofthepossibilityoftheimpossible’’( vomParadoxonderMo¨glichkeitdes Unmo¨glichen ). In  Prismen , at the end of his ‘‘Portrait of Walter Benjamin’’, in1955, Adorno writes this, which I would like to make a motto, at least for all the‘‘last times’’ of my life: ‘‘In the form of the paradox of the possibility ofthe impossible, he (Benjamin) unites for the last time mystique and  Aufkla¨rung ,the emancipatory rationalism. He banished the dream without betraying it andwithout making himself the accomplice of the permanent unanimity of thephilosophers, without which this is impossible.’’ (Derrida 2002, 18) We now ponder this ‘‘for all the last times of my life’’. As we recall, theparadox of the possibility of the impossible, the possibility that there might nolonger be a being that ‘‘can’’, is one of  Being and Time ’s formulations to describethe ontological precondition for an authentic being-towards-death. WhenDerrida said to his listeners in Germany and gave to read in French  * / that, likeAdorno, he himself, ‘‘more and more often’’, at ‘‘all the last times of his life’’,talked about the possibility of the impossible  * / it is clear that he was preparinghimself and us with him, to the approaching event of his no longer being there. Atthe same time, of course, the aporetical scheme of the possibility of theimpossible captures more generally the specificity of Derrida’s understanding ofdialectic; it encapsulates the driving ‘‘logical’’ inspiration behind all his writings,from the grammatological period until the last ethical and political interven-tions. It is the logical name of deconstruction itself: ‘‘deconstruction [ . . . ] ispossible as an experience of the impossible’’ (Derrida 1992a, 15).In Frankfurt, it is as if Derrida chose his own epitaph. It was to be a quote, butinterestingly enough a quote by Adorno; more precisely, in a textual complicationequally symbolic of Derrida’s  oeuvre , a quote from a text that Adorno wroteabout Benjamin. Further below, we will come across another passage whereDerrida’s announcement of his own death is more explicit. In this next passage,FUTURE OF CRITICAL THEORY 423  Derrida unmistakably identifies, personally and philosophically, with WalterBenjamin. But already in the passage just quoted, it is clear that Derrida takesfor himself what Adorno writes of Benjamin. He himself could be described as anheir of ‘‘emancipatory rationalism’’, a mystic and  Aufkla¨rer  , someone who triedto banish the dream without betraying it, someone finally who all his life refusedto make himself the accomplice of the permanent unanimity of the philosophers.There would be quite a few other similarities between Benjamin’s and Derrida’spersonalities and destinies. Adorno’s Other Son If Derrida identifies with Benjamin, this means that he somehow also identifieswith being Adorno’s son. Later on in his speech, Derrida asks the followingrhetorical questions: For decades now, I hear voices, as in a dream, as one says. [ . . . ] They all seem tosay to me: why don’t you recognise, clearly and publicly, once and for all, theaffinities of your work with that of Adorno, in truth your debt towards Adorno?Are you not an heir of the Frankfurt School? (Derrida 2002, 43) The first ‘‘debt’’ (Derrida 2002, 44) is the one created at and by birth. Derridaasks himself in Frankfurt to publicly and clearly state that he is an heir ofAdorno’s, or rather that Adorno is a ‘‘  pe`re d’adoption ’’, not a natural father, buta father who had been adopted by a later generation (Derrida 2002, 36).There is a parallel with Foucault’s trajectory. In the last years before hisdeath, besides all the reciprocal conciliatory gestures between Habermas andhimself, Foucault more profoundly made an important rediscovery of the firstgeneration of Critical Theory (Foucault 1988, 26). This is true of the other greatcontemporary French theorists of the time: Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard  * / eachin their own retraced, in the last years of their lives, the long ignoredgenealogical line that linked their works to Adorno.The different steps of Derrida’s reconciliation with Habermas are welldocumented (Derrida 2002, 35; 2004b). This  rapprochement  was initiated bythe joint efforts of Simon Critchley and Axel Honneth, who wanted to establish abridge between their traditions out of the conviction that each needs the other inthe face of contemporary ethical and political challenges (Critchley 1992;Honneth 1995). When the war started in Iraq in 2003, Derrida and Habermaswere both in New York and met (Borradori 2003). Derrida added his signature toone of Habermas’ interventions condemning the war and wrote the introductoryparagraph (Derrida and Habermas 2003). In it we read some of the themes that hehad broached in Frankfurt a year earlier, in particular the political call toresistance. After his death, Habermas’s and Honneth’s thoughtful reflections onDerrida’s life and work were testimonies to the respectful dialogue that had beenestablished between them. Interestingly, the two German philosophers both424 J.-P. DERANTY
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