The following is the video and transcript of the third “Critical Conversation”, a monthly Zoom seminar with advance registration sponsored by The New Polis and Whitestone Publications and involving international scholars. The seminar took place on October 27, 2020.
Roger Green: Okay, welcome everybody. My name is Roger Green, I’m the general editor of The New Polis. Today we have a conversation titled “The Politics of Pause,” and our discussants are Benjamin Noys, who’s a professor of critical theory and coordinator of the M.A. English literature program at The University of Chichester. His research focuses on critical theory and literary theory with particular interests in the avant-garde, film, and cultural politics of theory. His recent work includes The Persistence of the Negative and Malign Velocities.
And then Sarah Pessin is a professor of philosophy and Jewish thought at The University of Denver. She works broadly in the areas of phenomenology and philosophy of religion, with areas of focus in late ancient and medieval Neoplatonisms and modern Jewish thought, with an emphasis on Levinas. She’s the author of Ibn Gabirol’s Theology of Desire and is currently finishing up two—I think it’s actually three books now—on Levinas, on pausality, pastness, and politics in Levinas. You can correct me if I’m wrong there, but from our recent discussions, you’re producing a lot.
So, welcome everybody. This is a really robust group of people, so thank you, people I haven’t seen here before, Robert Urquhart—thank you for being here—Tink Tinker. So, some usuals and some new folks, as well. I’ll let the discussants each present their talk and then we can let them interact with each other as they like and then we’ll just shift to Q&A. Feel free to chime in, just remember to keep your mic off if you’re not talking so that we don’t get ambient noise. Had you guys decided who would like to start? Okay Benjamin is going to start us off.
Benjamin Noys: Thank you Roger and thank you everyone who’s turned up and joined the conversation and thank you to Sarah for the original invitation. She suggested that my work might kind of resonate with what she’s doing, and I think it’s a kind of experiment. I’m sure it will but we’re going to kind of find out what will happen.
So, my talk goes first really just because I’m kind of trying to set the scene around some of the debates. So, I’ve written some kind of notes and reflections on accelerationism which I’ll explain in a moment. So, I guess I should start with the idea, which I think is fairly common, that we’re used to thinking that we live in a time that is accelerating. There’s the runaway processes of man-made climate change, the penetration of digital technology—I’m laughing because I’m on it—into our lives, we live the present as a speeding up. At least that’s how it often feels, and there’s debate about that.
We could also add that politics itself is often presented in the mode of speed or acceleration or urgency. We must do something, we must do something now, becomes a kind of political demand. And in response, of course, we’ve also seen various movements or claims to slow down. So, we’ve seen the Slow Food movement in Italy, recent arguments in academia for the slow professor, and more generally, of course, to bring these kinds of various processes of speed under control.
Finally, just because we’re all here in this form because of this, we could add that the global pandemic of 2020 has led us all to experience something of an enforced slowing down. Although we could also add, depending on what your experience has been like, of online work or hybrid teaching—I’m doing hybrid teaching—this slowing down might have been a not an unequivocal experience. So, it’s kind of interesting our own temporality at this moment.
Now having said all that, what I’ve been interested in critically are the people who say, what about speeding up more. Rather than either slowing down or staying where we’re at, maybe we need to accelerate the process? And this is what I called accelerationism, a term I think I first coined about 2008, on a blog if you remember blogs, those ancient things. Since then it formed part of my book The Persistence of the Negative and then got kind of turned around into something that people adopted as a positive.
So, I’ve always used accelerationism as a critical term but in an interesting twist of fate it’s being used as a positive. So just to briefly define, I guess, what contemporary accelerationists would say they are or what they do we, could argue that contemporary accelerationism is a claim to embrace technology and other forms of social abstraction to try and produce or develop a new post-capitalist future. So, that’s a kind of definition. In fact, as was briefly talked about before we kind of came online, there are various other definitions of accelerationism floating around the world and that may come into our discussion later.
But I think people who call themselves accelerationists are keen to say that what they mean by that is the embrace or use of technology particularly and other forms of abstraction to develop a post-capitalist future. Now, what I want to pick out about that is particularly this claim to the future. One of the key works by accelerationist thinkers is called Inventing the Future and you’ll find in accelerationist works and writings a relentless emphasis on the need to imagine, construct, produce, or invent the future. And the argument by accelerationists runs that if we can’t do that, then our politics will be retro, will be limited, will be a kind of folk politics.
They adopt this idea of folk-politics from neurophilosophy, where folk psychologies are the kind of intuitive beliefs, we have about ourselves and our place in the world and our sense of self that are not true. You know, we have self-perceptions about our biology as different, they call this folk-politics. So, what I want to suggest is that accelerationism is this thing and I’m trying to counter it, but what I want to suggest first is that the battle over the future that they’re proposing, and that’s being waged, is in fact a battle over the past.
I also want to suggest that this battle over the past in the name of the future suggests that we’ve lost faith in the present. And finally, I want to briefly consider two critical figures that I’ve used that might help us to come to grips with accelerationism. The first is the new idea of the emergency break proposed by Walter Benjamin and the second is the reworking of the figure of the katechon, which I’ll explain and come back to later in the paper, I think, as a way of thinking, about the presence between the past and a utopian or apocalyptic future.
So, first things first. Accelerationism, as I say, appears as a defiantly futurist politics not only in its concern with technology but also in its claim to have a monopoly on the future. And yet, I would suggest that accelerationism is a form of nostalgia, more precisely I call it capitalist ostalgie. So, ostalgie is a term used in Germany for those who are obsessed with the old communist regimes, particularly East Germany. So, it’s kind of east-algia, nostalgia for East Germany. It includes actual nostalgia or ironic things like city tours in the Trabants, the notoriously bad East German car—very anti-accelerationist East German car.
So, ostalgie gets used to referring to this longing for the old communist regime. What I say about accelerationism is that it is a capitalist ostalgie. It is a nostalgia for moments of capitalist acceleration, the moments of past social achievement and cultural innovation. So, this ranges from the kind of a nostalgia for the dynamism of capitalist development—what Marx says, “all that is solid melts into air”—and for the post-war glories—the 30 years or more of seeming capitalist production development.
And within accelerationism and accelerationist thinkers, these moments of nostalgia for the past
are quite specific they range from the cold war space programs to experiments in cybernetics in Allende’s Chile and in the Soviet Union in the 50s and 60s, the cultural advances of electronic dance music in the UK—we can actually have an entire debate about accelerationism solely through the medium of electronic music, which I’m quite happy to do because I think that’s quite interesting—cyberpunk science fiction, post punk music and Seventies experimental television.
So, they’re looking to the past for images of the future and this is a nostalgia not just for capitalism so much, but for kind of social democratic capitalism and particularly the cultural innovations of the 1970s before the emergence of what we tend to call neo-liberalism—we have a whole discussion about when that starts. The dream of the accelerationist is a dream of productive forces unleashed to global ends.
Now, before I go on, one thing that’s interesting is all these past moments are not, I would say, simply moments of acceleration. They’re all actually quite complex themselves, temporally. Post punk, for example, is not all music that comes after punk—there’s post punk before punk. So, it’s a little bit more complicated than that, but what we have here is a loop, a loop back to the past to jump ahead to the future, and obviously you might be familiar with this image of the loop from science fiction.
There is a film, not very good film in my opinion, called Looper and you’re all familiar with time travel paradoxes that emerge, Back to the Future. The Terminator would be the great film for accelerationists. This kind of movement back, in this case, to the future, literally. So, contemporary accelerationists, therefore, are making a move backwards to jump ahead. So, what I’m suggesting here is that accelerationism is not so much an argument about the future but an argument about the past that presents itself as an argument about the future, and that in doing so what goes missing is the present.
So, I think that’s one of its problems. Now I want to talk about these two moments or critical concepts or critical interruptions that I have briefly really suggested at a couple of points and when Sarah asked me, I realized that I haven’t really gone back to them or fleshed them out for, kind of, reasons. So, I think you’ll see that I have problems with my own critical concepts, but I think they’re worth mentioning because they’re kind of interesting ways to frame discussion.
The first figure I want to consider regarding a kind of anti-accelerationism is Walter Benjamin’s use of the concept of the emergency brake and this occurs in his notes to the 1940 essay “On the Concept of History” or sometimes known as “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” This is what he says “Marx says that revolutions are the locomotive of world history but perhaps it is quite otherwise. Perhaps revolutions are an attempt by the passengers on the train—namely the human race—to activate the emergency brake.” Now there’s a lot that you can say about this passage and in fact one of the chapters in my book—a short book—is on that, and I’ve written another essay on it because I’m also quite interested in trains. That’s one of the things I like.
But I want to just pick out a few things. The first as we were briefly discussing beforehand is that Benjamin himself is, we could argue, criticizing his own earlier accelerationism or at least qualifying his own earlier accelerationism. So, if you are familiar with Walter Benjamin you should, obviously, know “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” or “technological reproducibility.” That essay famously engages with capitalist technology, film, as a potential revolutionary moment. And as you’ll also know this is inspired by Benjamin’s friendship with Brecht and Brecht’s own kind of emphasis on production and productivism—which has been well brought out by Frederick Jameson—that’s kind of updated these sorts of arguments.
So, Benjamin, in the theses and in these comments, is not only responding to German social democracy—which he also is and its failures to confront fascism—he is responding if you like to his own past and his own thinking. The other thing to say about the emergency brake is that Benjamin also thinks about it in terms of interruption. Classless society, Benjamin notes, is not the final goal of historical progress but it’s finally achieved interruption. So, as you know “The Thesis on the Philosophy of History” are a questioning of the notion of historical progress and what Benjamin suggests in his notes is that in fact the classless society may be the interruption of historical progress rather than its fulfillment.
So, this, it seems to me, suggests that the emergency break is not just a way of avoiding disaster, not simply a coming to a halt, but a stopping or interruption that is both the goal and another way off the train. And certainly, it’s interesting that since Marx and Benjamin and in the 21st century—as I still have to remind myself we’re in—we’ve seen a recurrence of interest in the train as a metaphor for revolution and the break or interruption. So, I’m thinking here of China Miéville’s Iron Council or Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer will be another example. So, while the emergency brake is often presented as self-evident—just stop the train—I think we have to think here about a politics of interruption that obviously Benjamin’s death brought short.
Still on schedule, good. My other figure that I want to briefly talk about, to think about the notion of the pause that Sarah proposed, is the katechon and this is a biblical figure ascribed to Paul. It occurs in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7. I’m not a biblical scholar—just a warning here—but there is a debate about whether Paul wrote Thessalonians. I think it’s widely agreed that he did not, but this is what is said, “and you know what is now restraining him so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work but only until the one who now restrains it is removed.”
So, what’s kind of weird here—the katechon, I think, only really occurs in this passage—the katechon is the one who restrains the coming of the antichrist and it also restrains the eschatological enthusiasm of early Christian communities who so often thought or acted as if the moment of redemption had already arrived. If you’ve read Paul’s letters, they’re quite funny because they’re basically a series of moans like, stop acting as if the messiah has come, stop it, you know you can still sin, you know you have to behave yourselves. This is a kind of series of ill-tempered injunctions to various groups of Christians, often to realize it hasn’t arrived yet.
So, the katechon then is a figure of stability in the last days. It’s a highly ambiguous figure because it prevents disaster, it’s preventing the coming of the antichrist, but of course the coming of the antichrist is the condition of the coming of the messiah, so it’s delaying the messianic arrival as well. The katechon is not named in the passage, but it’s assumed that the early Christians know who it is—”and you know what is now restraining him”—and so it’s been commonly identified with the Roman Empire. We don’t actually know.
Also, of course, the katechon has been deployed in contemporary political debates by the reactionary legal theorist, Carl Schmidt. Schmidt identifies the katechon with the state. Here, as in Hobbes, who obviously influences Schmidt on this point, the katechon plays the role of that which restrains disorder and chaos, especially civil war. So, the state becomes the figure of the katechon, and of course, for Schmidt, particularly in his post-war work, this allows him to kind of “justify”—I put that in heavily inverted commas—his “choice”—in even more heavily inverted commas—of Nazism, because smith’s excuse, his self-exculpation for his embrace of Nazism is kind of, better the state than chaos—so better than Nazis than the Weimar Republic, in short.
This, of course, severely understates Schmidt’s enthusiasm for Nazism and his own anti-Semitism and everything else really. But the katechon is also, for Schmidt, an important principle of history because it explains the necessity of the Christian continuation of the Roman Empire—this is the problem of Christianity, if the messiah doesn’t turn up again, what do you do in the meantime? So, for Schmidt this kind of continuity of Christian faith is important for him for explaining a politics of the present.
So, obviously contemporary accelerationists are not keen on restraint and in favor of acceleration. In a sense, it’s a kind of welcoming of the antichrist, although this is in a more Nietzschean sense of the welcoming of a figure of apparent evil who would in fact herald the transcendence of the present, and this connects with other kind of understandings of accelerationism we could talk about. The Nietzschean drive of accelerationism to the future suggests the need for speed as abandoning restraint and redemption.
Now my invocation of the katechon is not the conservative figure of the state as in Schmidt. Instead, I want to suggest the katechon might be restraint suggested by past and present struggles that have tried to reform or rupture with an unrestrained capitalism. In a certain sense these delay the end the final conflict or redemptive moment of entry into post-capitalism. I would, however, suggest that there is not a simple choice here between reform or revolution. Instead past forms of reform, themselves often the results of revolutionary struggles, need defending and reactivating in the forms of struggles for the decommodification of life.
So, this, I just want to suggest, is a way of giving the pause that Sarah mentioned a kind of content or a form or substance rather than just a kind of negative—let’s stop—giving it some kind of content. The pause would be this focus on the present as a kind of moment of impasses and struggles.
Let me just conclude. So, what I’m trying to do here is, then, suggest that, rather than jumping to the past or to the future, we bring into focus the present and that something like the katechon as pause or the emergency brake might involve that bringing into focus. Obviously, that is rather typical of the tradition of Hegel and Marx. As you’ll know, the whole stress of Hegel and Marx is hic Rhodus, hic salta, here is Rhodes, jump here, or dance here, or here is the rose as a play on this little phrase, the rose in the cross of the present.
So, deal with now, deal with the present. And I think that’s interesting. Also, if we think about contemporary theory, which is also sort of divided by a turn to a deep ontological wounding or to a redemptive and utopian future, perhaps. I think of the work of Giorgio Agamben, which actually manages to combine both those figures in bear life and in the redemptive account of animal life. So, that’s what I’m suggesting now.
Obviously, the bleakness of the present might seem to demand that we turn away. And yet, just to finish, Seneca in his letters approves the maxim of the stoic Hecato, “cease to hope, and cease to fear.” Hope and fear go together, for Seneca like a prisoner and the escort he’s handcuffed to. It is our capacity for memory and for foresight that creates fear, creating situations of suspense and anxiety as we focus on past and future. Instead, it may be that a stoic practice, in which we confine our unhappiness to the present, might help us overcome that unhappiness.
And now I will pass over to Sarah. Thank you.
Sarah Pessin: That’s great, thank you so much. All right, this is great, thank you. So, as Ben mentioned this is an experiment to see what you all think about bringing together sort of a pausal element of Levinas that I’m working on, that when I was reading Ben’s work struck me as connected. So, I look forward to having this opportunity to talk in this context. And thank you to Carl and Roger for inviting me and thank you to Ben for participating and for that wonderful stage setting and content on the pausal.
So, I’ll just sort of back up and share a little bit, sort of broadly, about what my current projects—as Roger mentioned there’s three of them now—have in common, let’s just say, what I’ll focus on today is something—it’s a project on Levinas—that I call the phenomenology of pause, and it’s also ultimately a phenomenology of pardon and pause in a way that will hopefully become clear by the end, but obviously I won’t have a chance to sort of walk through all of the pieces of what that project is. Just to say, it’s a project on early Levinas. Why I emphasize that is that what I wind up doing in the project is develop a really new lexicon for talking about Levinas.
So, it’s up through the stuff in the Thirties and Forties and it even goes into Totality and Infinity but only the first part, like part two, not the sort of famous stuff about faith and responsibility and infinity and all of that. I’m not interested in that, even though I think that what I’m doing in the project is directly related to that. But I’m trying to sort of go to an earlier time, a much more, I would say, embodied and concrete Levinas. Levinas is always embodied and concrete but it’s more obvious in the lexicon that I’m helping him create for this earlier phase.
So, this is where I highlight out the language of pause and a phenomenology of pause, and for those, including Ben and others, who don’t normally go into phenomenology, and this might still apply to what I’m ultimately going to present today as at a disconnected perhaps from some of the elements of this project. But I will just sort of caution that Levinas in general isn’t a regular phenomenologist. So, if you don’t like phenomenology, give it a chance when it comes to Levinas.
But then, I would even go so far as to say that even if you’re like, yeah, yeah, Sarah I know about Levinas’s phenomenology, I also don’t like that, I would still say hang on for my project because my project is going on this earlier stuff which is so much more embodied—again, I don’t think it’s actually more embodied but it’s more clear how embodied it is—that you might like it. So, whatever you don’t like about phenomenology my project overcomes that, and if I don’t manage to convince you of that today it’s just because I don’t have enough time.
So, it’s a phenomenology of pause, it’s on stuff that’s not the regular Levinas stuff, and it also connects up with a couple of words in this lexicon that I will draw on today. But I want to just sort of highlight up front that they’re in this register together and they actually all start with the
letter p, which was not on purpose but when it happened, I was like, that’s an indicator that I’m on the right track. So, it’s pause, paradox, pardon, and passed and all of that towards politics. So, what are you going to do? That worked out perfectly—and my last name is Pessin, at this point
that’s all I need to say.
In addition to that, I’ll add that the phenomenological piece relates to a politics, which in the more popular Levinas lexicon that perhaps, if some of you have worked more in Levinas, you might know it under the header of ethics as an optics for politics. In my project, because I’m using a pre-ethics lexicon that has ethical implications, but we’ll leave that aside, or in his normal sense of ethics—again it’s not a different project but it’s a different lexicon. So, in the way I speak of it, it’s that his phenomenological construction of a subject inflects a politics.
What inflects means is something that we could talk about later and it obviously has a lot built into it and so I don’t want to just gloss past that, but I do want to highlight that out, that the project is ultimately what I emphasize as a two-tier project. Which is why, even though in a moment I’ll come to some pieces of connection with Benjamin and with Marx and with Derrida even, there’s ultimately always going to be, with Levinas, a sort of different something happening because of these two tiers, the phenomenological construction of a subject and how that inflects a politics. So, I just want to stage that out in that way. And in sum, the pausal element is my project is ultimately constructing or looking at how Levinas constructs a pausal subject that inflects a politics of pause.
So, that’s sort of like the overarching way, even if anything I say beyond this gets into weeds and you’re like, I don’t know what you’re talking about, that’s kind of like the overarching way that I see my project as connecting up to this. So, now let me just say, together with Ben’s work, I understand that the way Ben is presenting it, especially as he’s talking about further work, that it’s not so much, you know, anti-accelerationism and accelerationism, that one is for sure the good one and one is for sure the bad one.
Certainly in the spirit of Malign Velocities, I definitely enjoyed the anti-accelerationist impulse, and this is why in the project, to the extent that—even though obviously Ben isn’t doing phenomenology—the phenomenology in Levinas around a subject, whatever a subject is and whatever phenomenology is—which are all much more complicated than just something very clunky—whatever they’re really doing for Levinas, they’re designed and related to inflecting a politics. So, when I read about an anti-accelerationist politics, I feel like saying that whatever the Levinasian politics is, is anti-accelerationist.
So, that’s sort of one of the pieces of connection. The other pieces of connection, across Benjamin and Marx and Ben’s work, is sort of the emphasis on a kind of emancipatory space. And again, just on the level of the generation through struggle of the just society and as opposed to, in the accelerationist context as Ben describes it, a “disenchanted redemption” which simply emphasizes the violent moment of creative destruction. I’m looking, with, I believe, Ben’s project, as well as with Benjamin and Marx, at the just society that is generated through struggle.
And I like that Ben is here emphasizing it in terms of the present. So, I think those are connected. And then, lastly, I’ll just say that I think my project also has something in it which has a bit of that negative force. Maybe not only, but in that space of, obviously, Ben’s last book on The Persistence of the Negative, and Benjamin can be seen as giving a negative force to emancipation.
The way that Michael Löwy in his Fire Alarm book describes that in Benjamin is as sort of the negative force to a utopian emancipation, which is to say that there’s no allusion to an end to the conflict, so there’s no such illusion of an end to a conflict but rather a striving for something that we might call a “without-domination” space. So, those are just some of the broad ways that I wanted to connect my project to some of the work, how Ben connects with Benjamin and Benjamin to Marx, some of the overarching ways that I see my project in that space.
And now I’ll sort of go a little bit further into the details of my project which will obviously differ from these in some ways. So, one of the ways I describe my project is covenantal, or a term that I like to use is covenant evental. That is not a term in Levinas, it’s not even in the early Levinas, I mean, obviously covenant is a Jewish term so I’m sure you could find somewhere in Levinas but that’s not his main emphasis, he’s not calling it that, but I’m highlighting that language.
Part of what I mean by that … well actually part of why I do that, frankly, is because I find that in both Christian and post-Christian academic space it’s very jarring to hear words from sort of old testament stuff, so I do it on purpose because I think that’s helpful. But also, relatedly, it conjures up the notion of covenant, the sort of three main pieces that actually relate to the frame that I just provided, which is something to do with inter-human justice, right some kind of a covenantal space that signals that, and in all of that also related to something to do with the past. But interestingly, not in the sense of past that—I really like how Ben emphasizes that the accelerationist, for all their emphasis on the future, is kind of doing a nostalgia for the past—not that kind of sense of past, a different sense of past that actually is a past that is in the present.
So, with Ben’s emphasis on present, this is where I’m going to come to with Levinas. In other words, why am I using the word covenant? Sidebar, because I think the academy needs to hear a lot of Jewish words and other words from different positionalities. That’s one reason, honestly.
But the other reason—they’re not unrelated, actually, to the other point, but let me leave that aside for now—is because that conjures up something about some kind of a negotiation between the people in the past, or something, between you and God, but let’s just say between people. So, that’s why I use the notion of covenant because it’s going to be important for me to focus on inter-human justice. And I know that Ben in his work talks about not reverting to the human. I don’t know that I’m doing anything that is going to violate that, but I’d like to hear more about what he meant by that towards the end of the of the Malign Velocities book.
Whatever it is, it’s a kind of inter-human search for justice, related to something in the past, and related to a pause. Those are the three elements of what I mean by covenant eventality. And I actually contrast it in some of my work, specifically with what I’ll a kairotic eventality. I like that Ben is using the notion of a non-Schmidt sense of a katechon to talk about the present, I’m focusing on a sense of kairos which is very much future oriented in a kind of way that is perhaps, to Ben’s point, also nostalgic for a past—I haven’t thought about that yet—but it’s certainly future oriented full steam ahead, all at full frenzy.
So, the covenantal moment is a pausal moment, the covenant evental moment is a moment in contrast to that kairotic evental space. And again, I identify the kairotic evental, whether it’s in Deleuze, for whom we dive headfirst into capital’s deterritorialization lines of flight—again, it’s like a frantic, frenzied future—or whether it’s Žižek who, at least in the last election, I don’t know what he’s voting for this time, but was sort of super proud of voting for Trump to help break the thing down so we can get to the next phase—again, frantic, frenzied future—or even if we’re talking—and I don’t know if I can coin this term of ontological accelerationism to describe Heidegger, both in Being and Time and in his later work—of a kind of ontological acceleration in a Heidegger where, again, he is overtly engaging in a kairotic notion from his reading of Kierkegaard and Paul.
So, I mean that’s very explicitly kairotic where, again, I would identify that as an ontological acceleration which is, again, frantic, frenzied future of an authentic propulsion forward into possibility, in a way that even with facticity and historicity is nonetheless unmoored from a past and certainly unmoored from the inter-human element. So, those are all kinds of energies of the accelerationist kairotic, in the way that I’m talking about it, to which I contrast this covenant evental moment in Levinas.
And here, to start to get to the Levinas piece, let me first—kind of in contrast to that kairotic futural, speeding moment—look, as Ben did, at Benjamin and looking at the emergency break alongside a sense of pastness, which is not the nostalgic sense of pastness, where, in contrast to that kind of accelerationist impulse, we can look to Benjamin’s emergency break as a sort of interruption that prevents further loss of life, an interruptive politics that refuses to, as Noys says, treat capital on its own terms and is aware of the destructiveness of production.
So again, it’s a kind of interruption to prevent, I would say, loss of life related to his sense of pastness, which Löwy in his Fire Alarm book, which is a study of “On the Concept of History,” nicely describes, as Benjamin’s “appeal to see history from the standpoint of the victims.” So, really in Benjamin I see that there is a connection between the positive interruption and the inter-human justice and the past. So, in a way the covenantal elements that I just identified as past, inter-human, and pause are all also present in Benjamin. As it turns out, those three go together in his thinking.
And here I want to say, that’s interesting. And yet, what I want to do with Levinas, what a Levinasian politics opens to is completely consistent with what I just described in Benjamin, which, I take it, is consistent with Ben’s work as well. That kind of a space of a past, an inter-human, and a pause completely seems consistent in the Levinasian politics of pause I’m interested in. One might say that it is perfectly consistent with and supportive of that kind of politics.
And yet, what I’m going to now turn to for my remaining minutes—and apologies I didn’t look at the clock, so we’re just going to go with it, this is timed for 22 minutes, so I’m sure it’s going to be a little longer, apologies all around—but bottom line is that I’m now going turn, for maybe another 10 minutes or so, to a kind of element in Levinas which goes beyond that or, let me say, it goes below that. Turning back, as I said at the beginning that Levinas has two tiers, I want to now turn to the phenomenological subject and a kind of emphasis on pause and pastness, connected to an inter-humanness which is actually different from what I’ve just described, in terms of that, what we might call, covenantal moment in Benjamin.
In the project on Levinas, the covenant evental is actually related to the thing that I’m about to say, which is a different sense of pastness and pause that I want to now share. And I don’t know one hundred percent how it inflects to the political, but I have a deep sense that it inflicts partially to the Benjamin and partially to the anti-accelerationist, all of that, and perhaps also it implicates other elements to what that anti-accelerationist sort of space might look like in the political. So, I hope that’s clear what I’m doing now, I’m now kind of going down the level to Levinas’s phenomenological construction of the subject with a different sense of pause and past than even the interesting one that I just mentioned for Benjamin.
Okay, so let me start that with looking at hauntology. When I say that, hauntology, you’re maybe thinking of Derrida and Specters of Marx. I don’t know if this is well known, but I certainly didn’t realize until I started studying more early Levinas, that this is in Levinas. I generally tend to think anything I like about Derrida he got from Levinas—we’ll have to debate that or whatever—but I think this is one of those things.
What Derrida does with it, by the way, is different because, again, in all these different ways, whether it’s Ben’s work, whether it’s Marx’s work, whether it’s Benjamin’s work, or whether it’s Derrida’s work, those are one-tiered—whatever that means exactly—whereas in Levinas there’s this two-tier process—whatever that means exactly—but that means that there’s something different that’s always going on. And so, let’s leave Derrida aside for a moment because whatever Derrida does with hauntology is actually, I think, connected in its best moments to what I’m about to say about Levinas, but is ultimately not the same kind of thing because Derrida is not talking about a subject, he’s not biting that bullet, and so maybe there’s a plus to that but there’s also a minuses to that, so let me go to Levinas.
To Levinas’s says hauntology, Levinas loves Shakespeare and in his early writings, even in his prisoner of war notebooks and in the early writings in the 40s, he’s talking about Hamlet and other Shakespeare. And so, if we talk about Hamlet, we have the haunting of the son by the father theme. In some of his early works, in 1947 he has an essay “Being Jewish” in which he takes that kind of thematic of the haunting of a spirit of a father and a son into an overtly kind of Christian theological direction and takes a moment to critique Christianity.
Generally, Levinas is very favorable of Christianity and he greatly enjoys Judeo-Christian relations, as do I, but, as do I, he will sometimes also critique Christian frames and here’s one of those moments where he’ll take the idea, he’ll say look in Christianity God is the brother to you, where in Judaism God is the father. And so, we have right here a pastness element. Levinas really doesn’t care about theology, he’s not a theologian, so it’s not that he’s saying, that in Judaism God is behind us, he doesn’t really care where it is but, where he does care is that the theology in Christianity is too simultaneity driven.
And I guess this is interesting because, in that respect, it is too much of a past into a future that Levinas sees as a problem. There needs to be some kind of a sense of origin, and this is a kind of pastness, but, as we’ll get to in a minute, it’s a pastness in the instant it’s not just talking about past like, oh, we really need a religion where we can look to the traditions from the past. It’s not that kind of a conservative sense and p.s., anytime as a Jewish scholar I talk about covenant and pastness I’m off to a bad start because people are immediately assuming that I’m doing something super traditionalist or super oppressive or whatever. No, none of those things.
So, when I say the past and the father is in the past, says Levinas, in the case of God, he’s interested in a dynamic of somehow a kind of looking-over-one’s-shoulder-ness, if I may put it that way, which directly relates to the notion of pause. The idea of a pastness, of a God behind us for Levinas is more interesting here, in terms of theology, is a motion, as it were, to speak
paradoxically of a pausal motion. It’s a kind of way of a looking-over-one’s-shoulder-ness in the human condition.
So, if we leave aside the stuff where he talks about it in terms of theology, the part that then is interesting is in his early work—this is where my book is basically an extended commentary on his 1947 book From Existence to the Existents, sometimes translated Existence and Existents—Levinas, there, and also in Totality and Infinity, again the “Part Two” which is the interiority stuff, which is not famous part of that book, that people skip over, in all of those early works, up until the first part of Total and Infinity, you can find these strong emphases on embodiment and concretion of the human conditions. So, whatever you like or don’t like about phenomenology, or whatever subject, he’s talking about the concrete embodied experience of being human.
And in that structure there is, to him, the main emphasis that we just saw him say as a critique on Christianity and oh, look Judaism has the father behind us, in something that I call enbirthment as a basic structure of human experience. We are enbirthed. We have parents and even, p.s., if the parents are a petri dish, it doesn’t matter it’s that we have a before us and that experience of pastness that I’m speaking of is in the instant, if you see what I mean. Yeah fine, parents actually come before us in time but that’s not the point.
The point is, it’s a structure of enbirthment, as I call it, which is part of the basic structure of concrete human embodiment which is related to this looking-over-one’s-shoulder-ness, to the idea that there is another person or persons to whom I am related. So notice here, pastness and the pause is in this moment in which my own constitutiveness has to do with the kind of getting stuck on a looking-over-my-shoulder-ness. So, do you feel what I’m saying, it’s a pastness in the present that has to do with a pause in relationship to a paradox.
And the paradox is that this is something, the parent is something which is a paradox of dependence and independence. It’s something on which I am dependent and from which I am independent. And that paradox, for him, opens up in a very important way in which (and I don’t have time and I’m going to kind of wrap up here) he also uses that structure to describe boring stuff like eating bread. Actually, I have a section in my book which is this whole sort of Judeo-inflected eucharistic intervention where, for Levinas, the whole idea of body and bread, everything, you know, trinitarian mystery, incarnational paradoxes, eucharistic paradoxes, for Levinas, all of that energy is used to describe the basic reality of a human being, being embodied.
So, I’ll leave out the stuff about bread, but I’ll say that as it relates to this enbirthment, which is a kind of in the instant, in my own constitutiveness, kind of past relatedness, related to a pause in my own self, relating to that space, he also then relates that to then what I’ll call enneighborment, which is not just with respect to a parent but with respect to any human. Why he wants to put them, as it were, behind us, let’s leave that aside, but let me just tell you that he is doing that, he does that with bread as well, everything is behind us.
And so, this is a very beautiful conception of embodiment. P.s., this is what he means by imminence and transcendence. I won’t get into that—we could talk about that in the Q&A—but
that’s all. That’s all it is and it’s not all, it’s a lot, it’s a beautiful a lot. That’s where transcendence comes in because we are both interior to and exterior to ourselves with respect to something that is behind us in the instant. It’s a past in the instance.
Okay, so when we bring in the neighbor, in that positionality, hopefully you can feel the space of it’s a pastness in the instant, that which comes before me. It’s related to a paradox of, again same
with the neighbor and the stranger, neighbor includes stranger—or maybe it’s better to say stranger—I am connected to them; I’m dependent and independent so that paradox is there; it’s the pause because that’s the almost constitution of the subject, in that mix it’s like a kind of being pulled back, in a way, with respect to oneself—so that’s the pause—and as what becomes very clear in the enneighborment, more so even than the enbirthment but it’s in both, is pardon.
What do I mean by pardon? I’ll just wrap up quickly to say, I think in the very broadest sense I describe it as a hope for pardon. Hope for pardon is a terrible expression in various contexts because when I say hope people hear something very optimistic, so let me assure you it’s not optimistic. It’s a very difficult space in which you recognize that you owe a debt of some sort and you plea for pardon in a way from the other as a basic constitutive way of being within oneself.
I will just quickly end off to say that, what that all means is, again this is at the level of constructing the subject, this then is designed to inflect a politics. So, what other kind of politics does this reflect than one in which there is a pause with respect to the other, for a space of a kind of struggle for justice, a struggle for the public services, for the other pieces that Ben talks about in his book? What else is that in terms of how it inflects, and in terms of, again, a pausal politics which is not accelerating, which is not just frenzying itself into the destructiveness of production to get to the next phase, but that pauses with Benjamin to sort take account also of the voices of the victims from the past?
All of that, to me, seems to be what this structure inflects. And the last piece that it inflicts is a structure of debt, not in a neoliberal sense of debt, but in a sense of debt that has a Marxist underpinning to it that I’ll end with Graeber. Graeber is, again, doing a one-level project, he’s not doing a phenomenological inflected politics kind of thing. But what I see this inflecting is this political space that also has to do with what it means to have a political space that is living in the reality of inter-human debt. I don’t mean the neoliberal debt, what I mean is what Graeber means.
So, I’ll just end with this brief story that Graeber, in his Debt book—obviously Graeber’s not a fan of debt, right. In his Debt book, I really like that he cites the author Margaret Atwood who cites the author Ernest Thompson Seton, the nature writer, and it goes like this: Seton apparently says that he had a bill presented to him on his 21st birthday by his father and it was basically a bill for all of the costs associated with him, including his hospital delivery fee, all the way up until the present. So, Seton writes that this is what his father gave him on his 21st birthday was this bill, and that he says he paid off the bill.
Margaret Atwood cites this story and she says, when I first read this I thought, wow, the father is a real ass. But then she says huh, now I’m wondering. So, in the context there she’s wondering whether we could say, you know, get rid of all kinds of debt structures because that’s the problem of the current neoliberal frame. It’s not just that it’s the neoliberal version of debt let’s just get rid of inter-human debt. So, that’s why Margaret Atwood says, huh, maybe there is something to that.
So Graeber cites this whole thing of her citing the other guy and then saying, oh, I think it makes sense and he, who is writing a book critiquing debt, basically says, no, that does not make sense. Of course, we want to get rid of certain kinds of debt, but we do not want to get rid of basic inter-human debt. No, we do not all want to write a note to each other and write each other off. He even says that when we go out for a beer or a drink, you keep it as a constant I’ll get the next one, I’ll get the next one. Nobody’s looking to live in a political environment in which we’re all actually without debt to one another, says David Graeber.
In that respect, I find it very beautiful and he refers to it as a baseline communism, related to, of course, Marx’s notion of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” So, I would like to just end there, to say, thinking about Levinas makes me think about a phenomenological space that inflects a political space, a pausal phenomenology and a pausal politics, and in there are the spaces of inter-human justice, related to an inter-human debt, related to not just sort of shooting forward into the future. Okay, thank you.
Joshua Lawrence: Well, I think I can speak for everyone and say thank you to doctors Pessin and Noys for a stimulating juxtaposition of presentations on pause and pausal politics. I know that right now we typically take a short break. And speaking of time, I will you know make sure and clock this so that it’s about a five-minute break. I think that would give you the opportunity to pause as needed in the most embodied, concrete way and also to put in your questions and comments into the chat, that way we can go in order of comment or question as soon as we return. And I’ll leave it off at that.
Okay, so technically we’re at five minutes and I know that some will be slowly returning to our gathering but, in the interest of time, perhaps we can begin with a question that professor Pessin had regarding the intersections, I believe. If you want to frame that.
Sarah Pessin: Great, thank you. So, Ben, I would just love to hear your initial thoughts if you see points of intersection and where are the points of dis-intersection and relatedly, I know that you speak in the book that you’re not looking for a return to the human. So, I was just curious to sort of see if anything that I said seemed consistent with that or inconsistent with that. And then, relatedly, when you ended today talking about the stoic sense, you know in the book you talk about sort of avoiding false consolation of inbuilt hope, and I’m one hundred percent in agreement with.
When I talk of hope, it’s not that kind of hope, and in fact in the book on Benjamin Löwy says that let’s not talk of Benjamin in terms of hope, but in terms of what he describes as an “organizing pessimism.” So, again the kind of hope that I had in mind in what I talked about was a present related focus on the subject in this sort of weird way, related to a politics. So, I do like the idea of the present that seems to me to resonate across the two projects.
And then, again, maybe, I wouldn’t first go to stoic, just because I kind of like a kind of optimism/pessimism paradox better, but maybe that’s what you think of by stoic. But yeah, I would love just to hear your thoughts (obviously your project isn’t a phenomenal one, so that’s going to be a difference) and to see whether you see why I enjoy reading your work as I’m working on this project.
Benjamin Noys: Yeah, thank you, Sarah. I mean you packed a lot into a very short presentation so there was a lot there to think about and a lot there to unpack. I guess what did occur to me, I guess this might sound like a tangent, but I was thinking a lot about Winnicott—oddly—the psychoanalyst, as you were talking, particularly about the relationship to parents, paradox, and debts, partly because I teach it, so it’s just on my mind recently. But I guess you’re right to say in a sense that I’m not a phenomenologist, so you could argue that there was a kind of missing subject in my work.
There’s an implied one about political subjectivity, but there’s not a conception of “the subject” at work there, clearly. And obviously, for accelerationists, as I argue in the book, their conception of the subject is one that’s kind of transformable and kind of very much ruptured from the matrix of the family. I think there’s one thing that’s quite consistent in accelerationism it’s an antagonism to the family form, if you like, and to the parent. It’s anti-pause. You could take that from Deleuze and Guattari or from Lyotard. So, you could go all the way to the Italian futurists, I guess with this kind of notion of a kind of birth without parents, a kind of self-parthenogenesis, self-birthing.
So, yeah, thinking just from what you were saying, really, the way I might fill in that gap or think about that gap was really just through, like I said, Winnicott, and Winnicott’s interest in paradox through the transitional object, the teddy bear or the blanket. Winnicott just makes this point, which seems to me to resonate with what you’re saying that we form ourselves as independent through negotiating dependence. We kind of start as a baby in a state of absolute dependence.
As I say to my students, babies are useless, they can’t do anything and they can’t tell you which mobile phone to buy, they can’t tune your TV. They can’t do anything for themselves they require constant care. For Winnicott that care is gradually kind of withdrawn and negotiated
and partly through a transitional object. So, in a weird way, you form yourself as a subject through an object, and you form yourself as independent through a relationship of dependence. And we all know that one way you can make people fail to be independent is to make them independent too soon. You know, people push their children out too rapidly, too violently, they lose their inner resources.
Winnicott tells this nice story about evacuees, children during the war who were evacuated from London and other major cities to be housed with new families, and he said they would sit around—he was part of the program looking after them—some of the children would sit there kind of reading a book and not doing anything, and he said those were the ones you really worried about because their good behavior meant they had lost faith in the world. The ones who would damage things or write their name on the wall or cause trouble had some faith that the world was still there for them. Whereas the ones who turned inward in a kind of self-dependence and a self-reliance had actually lost that sense, I think, of indebtedness that you mentioned, a kind of positive sense of debt that we recognize our relationship to the other or to other people, that is not negative.
And, I guess that’s something I would take away in my own very primitive way—not phenomenological—but the sense of relation being important. There’s a British Marxist of the 1930s who’s very unfashionable, Christopher Caldwell, but he says something I think is very true. He says that bourgeois ideology fundamentally implies that you’re independent and the relations come second. All kinds of relations are secondary to your primary independence, you know, the kind of Robinson Crusoe myth. And I think that still largely holds true. So, I think it’s a full intersection, but I think that’s what I was thinking about in your discussion.
Joshua Lawrence: Thank you, so much for that. I want to make sure that both of our guest speakers can see the questions in the chat that have been written down. Okay, great. So, I guess we’ll move on to Roger Green’s question regarding the sort of aesthetics of the return to nature, the so-called becoming indigenous, he’s contextualized it nicely. So, whoever wants to go first there.
Benjamin Noys: Sarah, do you want to start? Or I can start.
Sarah Passin: I’m collecting my thoughts there.
Carl Raschke: Excuse me, could I intervene here? Could you read the question because we’re recording this?
Joshua Lawrence: Yeah, sorry about that, Carl. So, Roger writes, he’s thinking with Benjamin’s talk especially of Westworld, which of course is nostalgic for a 1970s film that included aesthetics of the old west, which were a big part of hippie or psychedelic aesthetics of an archaic revival, wondering how either or both of you might critique this aesthetics of a return to nature and, as I said, the becoming indigenous, i.e., electronic dance music but also folk americana nostalgia that you’re probably both aware of, and obviously elsewhere also.
Benjamin Noys: Yeah, so as I was saying, I think accelerationism presents itself as antagonistic to those kinds of nostalgias and those kinds of looking to the past and to nature and to hippy. If you read Mark Fisher’s work, it’s very clearly founded on a kind of punk antagonism to hippy. You know the famous never trusted hippy phrase. And I guess partly due to age, I’m of the same generation as mark, I share some of that distrust of return to nature and those movements.
In the kind of revival dance music in the Eighties there was a tension between—I told you I could turn it into a discussion of dance music, and I will—there was a tension between the kind of New Rave, standing in fields, kind of hippie spiral tribe, new tribal culture stuff versus jungle and drum and bass, which were more suburban, not urban, I think, interestingly suburban—I’m interested because that’s where I come from—and a kind of aesthetics of speed and kind of inhuman and, therefore, seemingly anti-natural. So, I must admit, I share some of the accelerationist suspicion around those moments of appropriation or claiming for nature.
At the same time, I think, obviously I’ve become less convinced of that and more convinced how we need to think about engagements with nature that would not be the sorts of appropriative ones. I mean, I think that’s what’s interesting in your question, as well. We’ve got now a kind of meta nostalgia, we’ve got a nostalgia for another aesthetic we’re not even talking about a nostalgia for nature. We’re talking about a tv show that represents a nostalgia for a particular aesthetic form, and I think this is kind of interesting at the moment, where it’s a kind of meta nostalgia rather than nostalgia itself.
So, I guess I think within that you know there is a kind of capacity to criticize the aesthetics and politics of those forms of nostalgia which rely on particular class positions, rely on particular claims to nature, particularly appropriative moments, and particularly often ignoring the actual indigenous populations and people who are involved, constructing a fantasy of the past. There’s a symmetry with the accelerationist desire to integrate with the machine and these kinds of fantasies of integration with nature. That, perhaps, might be a kind of starting point for a mutual criticism.
Sarah Pessin: Yeah and I’ll follow up in saying that I definitely have a suspicion of any kind of a return to nature aesthetic but, keeping in mind a couple of pieces. I’m concerned in general about sort of putting too much weight on the medium, in this case nature. I sometimes like to talk about it in terms of the comportment as opposed to the thing to which one is comported. In this respect, obviously I want a space in which there’s greater care for nature. So, obviously that’s important.
I also want to make clear that obviously indigenous relations to nature and teachings on nature are also a key piece, so that’s not what I mean to be suspicious of. But a kind of nostalgic return to some kind of nature, that strikes me as a particular comportment which I find worrisome. So, it’s not so much the nature piece, it’s something about the nostalgia or quite frankly both, the way that Ben just put it, in terms of the sort of new rave and the drum and bass, like the different kinds of musical approaches and whether we divide it up into return to nature or rejection of return to nature. I’m suspicious of both of those because those comportments seem overly hard baked.
Joshua Lawrence: Thank you both for your responses to that critique of return, and I appreciate that framing. I think the next one up is from Taylor, who is curious about the power dynamics of the implementation of the pause in politics. “In light of this accelerationist moment,” she writes, “we are currently experiencing in regard to the swearing-in of a new supreme court justice, discuss the power dynamics of who defines terms and implementation of the pause in politics.”
Sarah Pessin: I’ll start, Ben, since you luckily haven’t been probably losing as much sleep about this one as some of the rest of us here, we’ll give you a minute to think about the case. Yeah, I guess, at least in the way that I’m constructing and thinking with Levinas about a way that a certain kind of sense of subjectivity (which, p.s., I’m fine to think of as actually a kind of fiction and just whatever I mean by a kind of a story of the subject and how that inflects into a politics of pause).
In my own work I tend to think of that as inflecting in, in ways that are maybe certain kinds of traits, for example a pivot proneness and a capacity to—I like William Connolly’s discussion of agonistic respect and his notion of contestability—a kind of operating in the world with the modality in which (and again Connolly doesn’t speak of subjectivity in that way either) it’s just some kind of a comportment element that I think about in terms of pivot proneness and in terms of ambiguity and in terms of precarity and in terms of certain kinds of more openness and Connolly’s notion of contestability. All of that does not exactly answer the question. When Critchley for example talks about Levinas’s inflection into a political space, he talks about a plumb line. I rather like that, and I’ll sometimes talk about a plumb line politics. Which is to say, it doesn’t exactly say who gets to define the terms.
It doesn’t say that, and I think Levinas is quite aware that the political and the entry of the third always makes things multiply complicated, which is also part of why any kind of utopianism that envisions things ultimately working out in very clear ways doesn’t make sense to me through a Levinasian lens or through my own lens. So, it doesn’t exactly answer the question of who defines the terms. So, I don’t know how to exactly address that other than to say that if we are thinking in a Levinasian frame of living in a more contestable way, there are ways that—to Critchley’s level of a plumb line— I think, this allows us to be political agents in a different kind of way.
I’ll just say, as a quick aside, that some of the adjectives that I describe, maybe not pivot prone and contestable, but like the open and the precarious and paradoxical modality in a political space, I know that those have come under attack as sort of post-modern kinds of political comportments that are sort of passe because, in an accelerationist project like Deleuze and Guattari they will say that you know that that’s actually the neoliberal situation, that everything is just completely open, so for me to be bringing in a kind of open comportment to the current situation they would say doesn’t make sense.
Or to put it in the way that Negri critiques—I think he’s critiquing Derrida—similar kinds of adjectives about what kind of comportment we would want in a political, he basically says to Derrida—or I think he would say to me right now—why talk about openness and precarity as somehow a possible comportment that would be a solution to the contemporary problem?
Negri says that that’s like knocking on an open door because there’s too much openness. So, I would just say, I don’t actually see that as a critique because, again there are minuses maybe to talking about subjectivity in the way I do with Levinas, but at least the plus is to say that to say one has a comportment which is open is very much against what’s going on in a neoliberal frame. So, to say that, oh, this is about openness and difference, neoliberal implosions are about too much openness and difference so, therefore, how would this be a solution to that?
The answer is that’s a red herring. The kind of open, precarious comportment and an inter-human debt that Levinas is referring to is literally the opposite of what is reflected in a contemporary kind of environment. So, that is to say, I don’t know exactly who gets decided, other than to say that if we were comporting ourselves differently and cultivating ourselves in our politics to be comported differently, I think our politics would work out differently.
Benjamin Noys: Yeah, so just speaking in general terms, because I’m not a particular expert on the U.S., I would say that, in general, the problem is that any kind of (at least what I think I mean by) the pause or the kind of political things I’m talking about, to be implemented would demand collectivities, the masses as they used to say. That’s how politics, particularly a kind of left politics—however you want to define that—is done, that’s how it’s required to be done. Therefore, I’m not very hopeful because the situation does not appear to be good.
I think that’s what I was sort of saying, that it’s kind of understandable why people might turn away from the present or try to imagine a way out that looks to other moments because the present is not a seemingly particularly tractable or engaging horizon, at least in our two respective countries. Yes, I could say a lot more about suicidal death cults at this point, things like that. So, yeah, I think the political implementation is a kind of collective matter.
I guess what I’m doing, I don’t know if I’d describe it as political. That’s kind of an interesting question. I guess I’m trying to kind of propose correctives at the level of ideas and inquiry into the kind of assumptions behind certain kind of theoretical moves and moments. I think what I would just add is, there’s something interesting here about the role of the state and I think that quite a few theoretical moves originate in a critique of the state that emerges out of a critique of social democracy, the social democratic state in the 1970s and this partly accounts for some of the things Sarah’s saying about where confusion around words like open and the confusion around critiques of the state do start to—I agree with you—not directly coincide, but can be made to merge with neoliberal critiques of the state.
So, I think there’s a problem where older languages get used, there’s a kind of replaying of moves from the Seventies, as though nothing has changed in the last 30 years. That’s why I would have problems with punk—I turn everything into a conversation about music—because part of the problem with punk was that its critique of the establishment was not necessarily a left critique. You know, people are professing surprise that John Lydon supports Trump. It’s not necessary, if you actually look at Lydon’s career, statements, and what he did and does, to be totally surprised by that, you know, that a critique of the state that he articulated then might lead to an embrace of a figure like Trump now.
So, I think there’s some kind of call to kind of update, maybe, some of the thinking. And, I guess that’s part of my critique of accelerationism, that they’re really playing lots of moves in Lyotard, in Deleuze and Guattari that had a point then, they had a kind of galvanizing point. And yet, maybe they are less effective now, when you’ve got the kind of power-politic situation where figures like Trump and Johnson are kind of inhabiting “anarchists” or particularly fluid modes of power or just kind of overriding legal frameworks or accelerating particular processes.
So, I guess that’s maybe behind some of my thinking, maybe unpacking or considering some of the ways in which we are still replaying moves that not always were ineffective or may not still be effective but might need thinking about now.
Joshua Lawrence: Great, thank you both for that response. I believe our next question comes from Peter and it was directed at Professor Noys. “Question around breaking or suspension as a cracking of the present.” You could say a little more about that.
Peter Conlin: Yeah sure. Well, first of all, to get into this question, I just want to say that this this concept of the pause, of freezing, of suspension to me is just such a mysterious area to take us like, like a good mystery in a way that the temporal politics around past, present, and future kind of lead to a whole set of different impasses. But this idea of pausing, somehow or another, I think is such a fruitful way to open up our temporal imaginations.
Okay, so into the question. My own reading is that the problem is not that we can’t get into the present, that we can’t get into a politics of now. My own approach is more that we’re dominated by a kind of continual present which subsumes the past, which territorializes the future, and so what I find interesting is, Benjamin, it seemed like your talk was that you wanted to bring us to the present, that you feel that the present has been lost. But my own instincts with Benjamin’s work around suspension and breaking—and it’s so elliptical, there’s so many ways into this—is that it is a way of unseating a kind of present.
Somehow or another, I’m curious if we can find certain kinds of utopian dimensions or a kind of strange way into a futural politics by the act of breaking and freezing? So, I kind of want a kind of Benjaminian politics of breaking, not to just lead us into the present but to provide a very unusual possible opening for a kind of futural politics. So, your response?
Benjamin Noys: Yeah, there’s a lot of things to say about that. I mean, I guess I see where you’re coming from about the kind of seamlessness of the present or the way the present may seem to absorb the past and the future. I guess, I’m also kind of thinking of Bergson. Bergson seems to be behind a lot of Benjamin’s thinking on temporality and to some extent, from what I’ve been reading for this, around some of Levinas’s.
But I guess I was trying to argue that the present itself is fractured and divided. I agree with you, I don’t think it is seamless, I think the present itself is still divided by the conflicts both of the past and towards the future. I tend to like thinking with this concept of trend lines or possibilities that, I think I used the line in the talk, but the notion that science fiction is not about the future, it’s about the present. Jameson says it but everyone says it. I think that what’s interesting is that any attempt to imagine the future is still an imagination of the present and it’s still an attempt to kind of rupture with that present.
So, yeah, I guess, within that, I’m kind of trying to think about how we then might approach the present as not totally bad. A line that actually relates to that nature question, Brecht says let’s not concentrate on the good old things, let’s concentrate on the bad new. It’s like thinking that the present as itself a site that can be, or is already, kind of in fracture or attention you, not, I think, portraying the present as a kind of complete dystopia from which we must escape. Obviously, we want things to be better, but I think to understand that involves thinking how that present has been formed and how that present might be engaged with and the limits of those possibilities.
Joshua Lawrence: Thank you so much for that. I want to move on to the next set of questions, just so we can fit them in here, hopefully, with the time we have. The next question comes from Bryce and it was directed at Sarah, “hoping that Sarah could elaborate on the origins of Derrida’s hauntology in Levinas to maybe get a clearer idea of how nostalgia does or does not play into this idea of pause. I’ve always understood the term to mean a nostalgia for a naive vision of the future which present understandings tell us is impossible but seems I’m missing nuance here.” So, if you could speak to that, a little bit, Sarah.
Sarah Pessin: Yeah, and I certainly will actually defer to Carl on what exactly this means in Derrida, but I just was surprised when I was studying Levinas to find him talking expressly about these hauntings and, in a way, it just struck me, because of other things, that Derrida is clearly reading Levinas in many ways. So, like I said earlier, the ways in which, once you leave the phenomenological project of subjectivity behind, as one does in Derrida, what I understand is meant in Levinas wind up refracting into what is meant in Derrida, I don’t know. I don’t have a
a firm way to describe that story now.
So, it was more just as an aside, I saw that and then I realized that it was sort of Hamlet related. But, in in a Levinasian space, the notion of the haunting and relationship to a past, this isn’t anything related to a kind of space of mourning, related to a space of inter-human. It has nothing to do with nostalgia, but I don’t know if you meant with respect to Derrida. I’ll defer, I’m not sure what, exactly, all the implications are, but to the extent that it’s in Levinas this is definitely not related to some kind of a sense of nostalgia. It’s definitely related to a kind of engagement with subjectivity in a way that is in a tension, in the way that Ben was just describing to Peter’s question about some of the features of the present.
And this, by the way, is what fascinates me about the Levinasian project. Whether or not we take a phenomenological subject on face value, even as a poetics, quite frankly, I like the way that it mirrors some of the features of a political space. And so, the idea that the present is a sort of fractured thing, not just all one seamless thing, that’s very much the spirit of the Levinasian subject. It’s an interrupted subject and the relationship to those who are not ourselves. It’s not nostalgic, it’s a kind of interruptive encounter with the self.
Carl Raschke: Excuse me, Sarah. Since you invoked me here, as a spirit so to speak, just to say quickly for clarification that Derrida’s hauntology is found most specifically in his very significant book, Specters of Marx, which came out in the early 1990s. Derrida himself, as Sarah has heard me say, was haunted his whole life by Levinas. I’m not familiar with where in Levinas that idea of haunting comes from, but it’s about the future, it’s not about subjectivity in Derrida, it’s about what he calls democracy to come. Specters of Marx both is future and past, it keeps coming back, it keeps returning, retour in French.
Sarah Pessin: And I’ll just add to that, Carl, that—again so this is an interesting conversation for another time about how this piece and other pieces between Levinas and Derrida—to the extent that this is a kind of pastness in the instant—again we’re talking about a sort of odd subjectivity space, and certain ways of encountering and also pushing back against Bergson—to the extent that he’s talking about a kind of articulated instant—he’s so concerned with, what Ben was saying before, I thought, the sort of moment of the present, in a non-phenomenological sense, that the present be ruptured—Levinas is actually looking at the instant of subjectivity as ruptured itself, as an articulated instant. So, it’s an inflection piece that I like as a as a poetics, if as nothing else.
But there definitely is this idea, as Carl was just saying, about a future that has to do with a past. I mean, for Levinas, the sense of pastness that I’m talking about is related to a rupturing of the self and the rupturing itself is very much related to the pursuit of an impossible justice that is always yet to come in Levinas, as well. So, even though there are differences, there is that element of the justice yet to come flavor in Levinasian politics, as well.
Benjamin Noys: Just on hauntology, it’s also, I guess, worth noting that Mark Fisher uses hauntology in a more culturalist sense and I think it connects up to his accelerationist views, they’re not they’re not antagonistic, again it’s this sort of leap to a kind of past to imagine a future for Mark. So, there’s his example of kind of hauntological moments is like in Burial, the music artist, where you get kind of crackling, which is a sample, it’s a kind of weird use of the old nostalgic sound of the record—right now they’ve come back. So, in a sense, a kind of hauntology there is used, not in a Derridean way exactly, but in a way to reactivate a past that could then leap into the future.
So, again it’s kind of interesting how maybe hauntology, or the haunting, emerges as this kind of interactive theme that can be kind of read or inflected in a few different ways. You know, it seems, almost, like the kind of the flip side of accelerationism is this kind of dynamics or debate about haunting, maybe something about the kind of relationship between our kind of gothic moment and our kind of accelerationist moment quite kind of meshed together. I spent a lot of my time watching horror films, in general.
Joshua Lawrence: That’s great. That was a wonderful aside, I think wholly relevant, obviously. So, thank you for that question, Bryce. You know, I got to thinking as well about an art history essay out of UT—I think it’s entitled “Photographing Objects as Queer Practice”—and it talks about the development of an affective archive. It made me think about what Benjamin and Sarah both were saying, as well as Carl, not an archive in the sense of some sort of dry documentation that gets managed and kept and passed down, but one that gets returned to in order to look ahead—it’s affective. I’m sure Sarah could probably say a bit about that later as well, if we have time.
Moving on to Carl’s question. It’s fairly lengthy, so I’ll take some time, if you want to read it with me here. “For both Sarah and Ben, as they wish to weigh in. Per Graeber the problem of debt is the problem of the equality/inequality of exchange, in Marxist theory it’s the phenomenon of exchange that gives rise to commodification, which gives rise of exploitation, which creates capital, from which we get capitalism. Marx’s eschatology i.e., Marx’s ‘from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs,’ as stated in his ‘Critique of the Gotha Program,’ constitutes the eschatological abolition of the principle of exchange, which means the abolition of debt. I’m curious how a politics of pause addresses the political, economical paradox of exchange and debt, and in particular how would a Levinasian politics of pause have anything to do with it?”
Sarah Pessin: Yeah, so, at least in the frame of my project, which is in the frame of the Levinasian politics of pause, and this goes back to something I was saying that Taylor asked, I’d have to think about the exact details of a particular politics, in this case a particular sort of Marxist playing. The issue that I’m interested in is how his account of subjectivity is a kind of mirror space of certain kinds of comportment that one takes on in a plumb line politics. So, in other words, and with respect to debt, I’m interested in Graeber to the extent that, in this mix that you’re speaking of, I’m interested in the importance to Graeber of acknowledging this baseline communism as an intra-human debt.
That, to me, is part of a question about comportment and what it means to do politics from an awareness of inter-human debt. The details of what the politics look like, and again this connects in my mind to how I was responding to Taylor. I don’t mean this as a cop-out, obviously one needs to use that architecture as a plumb line to approach individualized questions. I don’t know what to say at this moment about that particular question, other than that I’m interested in what it means to conduct the political with a sense of—contrary to a sort of friend/enemy distinction as the basis for the political—what would it mean to have the political inflected by inter-human debt, not related to the thing that’s being critiqued in either Graeber or Marx.
So, that’s not really an answer other than to say, yeah, the project that I’m doing is looking to sort of think about what it means to inflect a general comportment at the political level. And I have heard, in critiques of the neoliberal context, the way that Margaret Atwood is talking about that might imply that there’s something completely off base about having any sense of debt whatsoever. And that just doesn’t ring true to me, and I find it interesting and helpful that it doesn’t ring true to Graeber and it also doesn’t ring true to Marx. So, it’s not an exact answer but
that’s where my project fits, it’s probably to the side but I don’t know if that’s even helpful at all it’s your question.
Benjamin Noys: I guess I’ll confess, that I haven’t read David Graeber’s book on debt, but I think from what I understand, you know, it’s also tricky because we’re talking about different conceptions of debt—you know In Graeber a kind of anthropological theory of debt, which I know Marcel Mouss’s work much more, and I think that’s part of an influence on Levinas and, obviously, on Bataille which I’ve worked on. So, I kind of stress on the anthropological kind of community and a particular kind of relation of gift giving and excess, which comes back to parts of what Sarah was saying.
You know, the whole point of the gift-giving is you don’t give back straight away, that’s rude. In the U.K. we have the practice—or used to, before the coronavirus—of buying a round. You buy a round, but then you wait until your round is circulated. You don’t buy someone a drink straight away, and that’s the kind of politics of gift giving it’s always a kind of politics of delay and exchange, in contrast to a capitalist politics where you quit your debt, you know, you pay at the counter and you’re done and you can take it away and do whatever you like.
So, there’s a kind of anthropological critique of debt, and then, obviously, in people like Lazzarato there’s a Nietzschean discussion of debt through The Genealogy of Morals, and then there’s the Marxist account of debt. So, I think there are different competing frameworks in which to understand debt. As for a politics of pause and dealing with it, I guess, I think some of the accelerationist arguments, and this can filter into discussions about debt, is if we just got rid of debt everything would be fine. The word debt sort of stands in for capitalist relations or a bad thing, you know, if we abandoned that that kind of debt would be fine.
I think, unfortunately, capitalist social relations are a bit more kind of penetrative than just debt. Obviously, I’m generally in favor absolving people of debt. Debt is a that’s a major way of keeping people unpolitical. In the U.K. it’s particularly through the mortgage form, you have to have a mortgage to have a house, you have to have a job to pay your mortgage, if you protest you lose your job, if you lose your job, you can’t pay your mortgage so you don’t protest.
So, debt is a very successful way to kind of manage subjectivity in its capitalist form, but I don’t think that debt is the only problem that we’ve got or confronting there. And I guess that’s the kind of thing about politics of pause is trying to kind of get some traction on debt and these other kinds of political moments as particular kinds of colonizations of time, because that’s the other point we’ve made about debts, debt is a colonization of your future. Literally in the mortgage I’m paying for it with my future.
Carl Raschke: If I could just follow up on that quickly because of bringing an author that hasn’t been mentioned here, and this is the basis of my book on neoliberalism—which we’re going to be
talking about in the next seminar—but that’s Maurizio Lazzarato’s The Making of the Indebted Man who basically makes a kind of accelerationist argument about debt, that it goes beyond
economic debt, it goes into psychological debt, it’s basically the foundation of the whole Christian idea of the infinite God to whom we are, as finite human beings, indebted and therefore this is why we have to have a savior who comes, the so-called penal atonement theory that was developed in the middle ages and so forth. He sees this is all tied up with capitalism. He sees capitalism as something that arises out of the penal atonement theory in Christianity, which, of course, is entirely different than the Levinasian view of Judaism.
But my question really is, we talk a lot about democratic socialism and the big issue in, at least, the American election (but it’s also in Europe, too) and I wanted to kind of get real because that was the kind of context of this conversation, the issue is about debt and kind of indebtedness which Covid is inspiring, but it’s also about debt to each other. The whole notion of reparation is based on a theory of debt, look what our ancestors did to so and so therefore we’re indebted, we need to do something about it and so forth. And I guess my question is very simple, is the politics of pausekind of like a historical jubileefor both psychological and economicforms of debt, like alright let’s just stop?
Basically, somebody like Lazzarato implies, he doesn’t really say it, that this is what’s going to end capitalism, because capitalism is now in our very souls, it’s in our very psyches. It’s not just simply about economic and productive relationships. In a sense, our whole subjectivity is determined by it. So does the politics of pause, in a real sense, maybe mean that we get over this kind of system of debt which implies blame and shame? In a sense, does it come down to the issue of forgiveness?
Sarah Pessin: Yeah, so, Carl, in my approach it’s the opposite. In other words, in my version of a politics of pause it’s the opposite of a jubilee from guilt. Again, not in some kind of an overwrought, terrible version, but just in the sense, and that’s why I use that example from Graeber, of this baseline communist sense. So, I don’t agree with Lazzarato.
This is where there’s a Christian framing, right. So, in a political theology way of sort of seeing this as coming from a certain kind of theological structure which has a lot of hegemonic elements to it and then how is that going to do anything other than create problematic structures. But like you said, maybe it’s just coming from a different perspective. In the Levinasian sense that structure of debt is not coming from any theology.
When Graeber is talking about baseline communism, I don’t know exactly if Graeber’s way of talking about it as a basic inter-human debt is something that is or isn’t how you would put it with respect to Marx. But in other words, that kind of debt, I think is important for politics and I don’t think is hegemonic and I don’t think is coming from Christianity. I mean, I’m sure it is coming from Christianity in certain versions, but that’s another piece as to why I said earlier, when I said as an aside, why I bring up terms like covenant evental, because they’re Jewish and that’s kind of a shocker in a contemporary context.
The reason I say that, it’s not just identity politics, no. It’s because it’s a critique. It sort of says not every time that you use the word covenant do you mean what traditions of Christians want to mean by Old Testament. That’s not the only thing it means but also similar to words that are the same, like debt doesn’t just mean something debilitating, it could mean something else. So, in my project is that there is a need for a certain kind of intra-human debt and not for other kinds of intra-human debt, but yes, those pieces, to me, make sense in a good politics.
Joshua Lawrence: Thank you, both of you, Carl and Sarah for saying a little bit more about that. I couldn’t help but think of some of the stuff that Benjamin had said earlier and some of the need to update our terms because, when you’re using retread terms, so often it can become quite problematic. And, from my own work and study with Sarah, sometimes Levinas’s use of terms is, I don’t want to say idiosyncratic, but there is a there’s a tension there which leads to a perhaps a large number of texts and interesting conversations around what is meant—words like liturgy, endless patience. And I’m sure, for those who are a little familiar, Levinas uses a pretty wide lexicon and I appreciate Sarah’s efforts, as well as Benjamin’s, to sort of clarify, expand, and update that lexicon, which can create problems in our efforts.
I want to move on to the next question from Ohad who acknowledges he arrived a little bit late—as did I, my apologies to all—but he had seen the use of the word katechon that was included in Professor Noys’s talk. He wanted to hear a little bit more about his approach to how the concept of inhibition would play out in this political, ecological framework, and he asked specifically at the end of his question, “would it be a kind of pharmakon, a la Stiegler, Derrida?” Professor Noys.
Benjamin Noys: Thanks. Yeah, I mean, I think one of the interesting things that’s coming up again and again, understandably, is that Derridean point about paleonymic strategy, that you have to use the words you have. That’s the way language works in terms of indebtedness. You know, this is Saussure’s fundamental point, which I think is true, is you do not have a choice over the language in which you speak, more pity for me because French would have been handy.
You are kind of existing within certain terms, and then the choice of those terms does have particular political, social, and philosophical resonances and consequences. And I think, in a way, pretty much every philosophical thinking strategy involves reinscribing or reworking or dealing with particular terms. Sarah told us quite a lot of alliterative terms that she’s working with, and the originality of the work is not that she’s just inventing words off the top of her head, the originality emerges from the engagement, from her indebtedness, from the engagement with the terms that are then reworked.
So, I suppose this is what I was thinking about when I was reading the questions there in the chat. You know, thinking about pharmakon in Stiegler and Derrida, I think for Stiegler especially, has a particular sense of technology and the kind of originary nature of the technological. That’s Stiegler’s kind of rejoinder, if you like, to Derrida and to phenomenology, is that there is an originary relationship to technology that we forget.
Everyone rewrites Heidegger. You know, what did we originally forget? It wasn’t being, it was technology. So, his version is his technology, and then he does some interesting things
with that. I think one of the interesting things Stiegler does is to try and rehabilitate critique after deconstruction, which I think is a kind of useful and interesting thing to do, in his late work, and particularly the critique of political economy. He’s tried, I don’t think he always does it well, but I think it’s good that he takes that on.
In terms of katechon, yes, that’s another reinscribed term, as I mentioned in the talk, it comes from Carl Schmidt, who uses it for the state, and I’m trying to re-inscribe it. I think it was Sarah who reminded me, and I was thinking, why did I ever use that word, and sometimes you have to go back to why you did use those words, and hold yourself responsible for your own choices, in a sense—maybe this comes back to Carl’s guilt or debt. What little religious upbringing I had was protestant and I probably have some guilt issues. But I think you do have to kind of engage with your own kind of choice of the terms that you made and then how they are supposed to be better.
I think that’s maybe something underlying the whole discussion we’ve been having, in the sense that I originally coined accelerationism as a critical word and then it got reappropriated. And we can all decry the reappropriation of words, but I guess the politics and the philosophy become how then collectively cash out or debate or discuss or rework those concepts. So, you know maybe then—what am I trying to say—there’s an importance to precision. Derrida makes this point as well—you can’t just say all words are complicated and messy.
But, at the same time, I think we have to accept the difficulty and the struggle that takes place through rewriting those particular terms, and, like you say, Joshua, also consider their valence and how that might shift, even in relatively quick time, you know, from when I was talking about this, 10 years ago to now. So, yeah, that’s what I was thinking about that question.
Joshua Lawrence: Thank you, both. That was great and a great question. I didn’t see another one there, but I had one… Oh, Sarah, sorry.
Sarah Pessin: Just to jump in. I really liked what Ben was talking about, that there sort of are no
innocent words. So, the process of whatever we do is partially related to that indebtedness that words have, and I really like that. I’ll just share as well that part of why I gravitated to that word in Ben’s earlier work is because of an awareness, on my part, of using covenant evental as a kind of response to a kind of kairotic, Pauline insistence in a Badiou, in a Žižek, and in a very contemporary kind of political space.
So, yes, I definitely use that word in a kind of way that is a bit polemic, but I like that katechon, the way that Ben is using it, opened up a Christian word in a way that I wanted to partner with. So, I’m just sharing out loud that, in my own work, there is definitely a polemic that I wear on my sleeve, so hopefully that’s a better kind of polemic. It’s, then, not to say that Levinas is not a Jewish project or something—that’s not the point—it’s about what are those words doing.
So I particularly liked the opportunity to think together with another word that sounds like the starting of words like covenant and Kairos—and by the way in my project I also push back against Kleinman—so, I thought those are the bad words, so let me have another good word, I’ll take katechon in the non-Schmittian sense, to play on these atheological uses of theological registers. I liked having a Jewish one and a Christian one. So, just to share.
Joshua Lawrence: Thank you for that, Sarah. I guess in keeping with that, I kind of wanted to ask you both to share a little bit more about time or alternate temporalities, because you invested a bit of your discussions in that, specifically the construction of this discussion being pausal. I’m thinking, because of my own background reading more phenomenology than accelerationist literature, but for Husserl and Heidegger both, time sort of frames, or is, the transcendental horizon, albeit in somewhat different respects, and Levinas is going to push against that. And Sarah you constantly were talking about tiers and Levinas is two tier, but you want to really avoid the miscategorization of those two tiers, so you kind of leave it untouched, a little bit.
But this alternate temporality, I know that he defines messianicity, in one of his essays, as an apogee or hesitation in being, the pause, and then, of course, the katechon precedes the messianic as Professor Noys pointed out. So, I’m curious if either of you could speak about messianicity in its relation to political engagement or activity in your specific ways of understanding that.
Sarah Pessin: I’ll just say quickly that the definite sense of the hesitation is the interruption, is the pause that I’m speaking of, and I’m speaking of it at the level of the phenomenological construction of a subject, but that that has implications for a kind of precarity. That’s really the implication of that temporality. Oh, I should add, a precarity that is related to inter-human debt, not just precarity.
That’s the problem with Kleinman. It’s not just a precarity, it’s a precarity that has something to do with inter-human debt. As Levinas says, even from his earliest works, temporality is brought on by the other, this is what, to me, is an implication that what he’s looking for is a kind of modality. Again, I’m doing it phenomenologically, but even if you want to just say that’s a fiction, however it inflects to the political subject.
Even, Ben, you were saying that you, obviously speak of a political subject without taking a stand on the metaphysics of it. That’s fine for me and, in fact, I play more and more in the phenomenological register as a poetics, truthfully, that has implications for thinking about a political subject. So, the question about an interruptive subject, a precarious subject, in a particular precarity related to inter-human justice, that’s to me what the pausal temporality in question is.
Benjamin Noys: Yeah, I think it’s coming clearer to me, as well, what Sarah’s saying about evental orientations, if we like, and then something that we’re sharing is a kind of resistance to, or skepticism toward the kind of evental conception of history or politics. You know, I never particularly liked Heidegger’s line, “where the danger grows there grows the saving also.” What if there’s just danger?
As Sarah said, and I’ve made this argument before, Heidegger is kind of an accelerationist. He’s often seen as an anti-technological thinker, you know, as far from accelerationism as you could possibly be. He’s the father of phenomenology, lived human time, but his whole argument about technology is that you have to traverse it, it goes to the end. Technological nihilism brought to its apogee is the completion of Western philosophy, the completion of all nihilism, and the kind of the opening to some non-technological relationship to being.
So, it’s kind of interesting how various seemingly oppositional positions actually start to merge into a more common ground than you would think. I think that’s one of the interesting side effects or kind of considerations here. I’ve come back to your point about time, I guess I’m about to undermine my own point, but I’m trying to avoid the simple model of good time/bad time which is so dominant.
This is why, I think, in quarantine effect, I get bored and post things on social media. One of which was recently, “the most influential 20th century French philosopher is Bergson” because I think Bergson is so influential. Partly because of this contrast between lived time and abstract time. It’s just everywhere and it’s very hard to avoid and it has Marxist inflections and Lukács and Debord and people like that.
So, I think it’s very hard to get away from a kind of contrasting good time/bad time, but I do also think it’s a particularly unusual way to think about things. That’s why I say the bad new or the katechon, that is the present that we’re living out it is like the end that won’t end. Agamben calls it the time which remains. So, the messiah is not arriving. How are you living out this this period of non-arrival of the messianic?
So, that’s what I’m trying to get at. I definitely haven’t got an answer, a philosophy of it, or a phenomenology of it, but I think there is something there that maybe not just reaching for the good time/bad time move might be something to think about. Within that, just about the messianic, I think Catherine Malabou makes this point, it turns up in Specters of Marx, Derrida’s book. That was the part of Derrida that I liked least, and I was always most suspicious of.
I think there is a contrast between the early Derrida, in some ways and that later emergence, in some ways out of a very interesting and tangled dialogue with Levinas—as you both know much better than I do—in terms of the early critique in Writing and Difference versus some of the laterengagements.So, there’s another whole kind of history ofthe messianic to bewritten.
Sarah Pessin: Also, quickly, on one of the pieces on the differences between Levinas and Derrida, in the space of whatever the inter-human is. Ben, in your in your project you very nicely say that it’s not as glamorous as space travel, but you call for the decommodification of people and a return to support for public support systems and you also mention agency, obviously not in a cartesian sense. Frankly, that’s the space of Levinasian messianicity. So, in other words, it’s what I call a micro-messianicity or a micro-revolutionarity. Even though we’ll have to talk another time about what you meant by you not wanting to return to the human, you clearly are looking for something about making the space better between people, and that for Levinas is the messianic.
Joshua Lawrence: Thank you. So, I don’t mean to interrupt we have to close out, and on November 17th, I didn’t want anybody to miss that. It’s been put into the chat you can look back November 17th, the same time as this one began, 10 a.m. Mountain Time. We’ll be discussing Carl’s text, which the title Neoliberalism and Political Theology, we’re going to have two respondents, Kieryn Wurts and Ward Blanton. We’d love everybody to join us if you can. This was wonderful, I appreciate all the participation.
Carl Raschke: Thank you, that was that was awesome. Thank you so much. Okay, I’m sorry, for technical reasons we have to close this out right now. So, hopefully we can come back to this topic and bring it up in future seminars which are every month now. So, thank you.