Category: Writing and Difference

Face to Face

by Andrea Elizabeth

Yesterday, while sitting in the parent area of the kids’ weekly trampoline and tumbling class I read pgs. 87-92 after deciding to skip over the question of “is ‘beyond Being’ a platonic concept?” and is it a baptizable one, even though I had attempted to tackle it in my previous post on the subject but erased what I’d written. I can’t get it out of my head though. We believe God’s essence is Other than ours. But we are created in His image. So are we a form of a higher reality? I know one way Orthodox differ from Platonic thought is to say that we will not someday be absorbed into God’s essence. That we will forever not be able to experience it. We become deified in Christ’s humanity, not His divinity. But still our humanity is in God’s image, so that almost sounds Platonic. And Genesis says that there was light before there was the sun, so that sounds sort of Platonic formish. I think Platonists would say that natural light represents a higher form of light. That natural light is a metaphor. We wouldn’t say that, so in that way the Platonic metaphor that is creation, is gnostic. We believe in Incarnated creation (though this would be fully realized in the eschaton, which at times transcends time, as the telos of creation) which fuses uncreated and natural light together, yet without confusion. There. All sorted out. Right?

Derrida says Levinas uses Heidegger’s science-ranks-after-perception against Husserl’s opposite point of view. Yet he also rejects Heidegger’s dogmatic, totalinarian, dominating definition of the other by this method, which seeks side by side, though penetrating solidarity “with” the other. But he agrees with Heidegger’s assimilation of non-refuted historical tradition in viewing others. So he’s not anti-knowing of others.

However it is also a question of inaugurating, in a way that is to be new, quite new, a metaphysics of radical separation and exteriority. One anticipates that this metaphysics will have some difficulty finding its language in the medium of a traditional logos entirely governed by the structure “inside-outside,” “interior-exterior.” (p. 88)

Beneath solidarity, beneath companionship, before Mitsein [being with], which would be only a derivative and modified form of its originary relation with the other, Levinas already aims for the face to face, the encounter with the face… without communion. (p.90) 

And thus without explanation. So instead of taken for granted definitional solidarity, there is an isolated, unthinking observance of the other’s face. “A community of non-presence, and therfore of non-phenomenality. Not a community without light, not a blindfolded synagogue, but a community anterior to Platonic light. A light before neutral light, before the truth which arrives as a third party, the truth “which we look toward together,” the judgmental arbitrator’s truth. Only the other, the totally other, can be manifested as what it is before the shared truth, whithin a certain nonmanifestation and a certain [non-dogmatic] absence.” (p.91)

This is not the end of the essay, so I’m not sure where he’s going with this absence, and non-communal solitude in the presence of the illumined other. The main reason I became Orthodox is because for the first time I experienced and believed the teaching of the Communion of the Saints in the Body of Christ. Yet, I still like the non-assuming stance of Derrida’s. There is still more to the Other, be they other people, God, or the rest of creation than meets the eye. I also still balk at the idea of being a possession of someone else’s. Being controlled by another against one’s will is oppressive and eventually intolerable to me. Love is a whole nother ballgame. It is not possessive or oppressive or controlling. Individuality is not annihilated. So in that way, I think Derrida’s right. It takes a Saint to know and perfectly commune the Other. All the rest of us who aren’t saints will be off in our assessments and judge people, ourselves, creation, and God wrongly. We need to stay open to this idea. To me this goes along with Father Stephen’s quote from the Philokalia, edited by Father Hopko:

Because of our conceit and our failure constantly to have recourse to God, we should cast ourselves down before Him, asking that His will should be done in all things and saying to every thought that comes to us:  I do not know who you are; God knows if you are good or not; for I have thrown myself, as I shall continue to throw myself, into His hands, and He looks after me.  (1Pet 5.7)

The Naivete of the Glance

by Andrea Elizabeth

The Violence of Light from Violence and Metaphysics

The nudity [pardon me] of the face of the other – this epiphany of a certain non-light before which all violence is to be quieted and disarmed – will have to be exposed to a certain enlightenment. [p. 85]

I believe he’s discussing the play between the inner and the outer. Natural light hits the outer, but the first glance,encounter, reveals the inner that resides in natural darkness which is not its opposite. This must be qualified with the pure of heart seeing God, and how the eye is the window to the soul. I’m skipping over the parts where he talks about “Being” as it relates to phenomenology or as object, partly because these descriptions of Being as well as the idea of God being beyond being because being is a verb confuses me. My husband agrees that God’s “I am” to Moses is more about how God is revealed than a statement about His essence, so I’ll leave it at that for now. But I’ll mention this quote to skip past the question of the infiniteness or totatity of being to get to it’s expression:

All the essays in 1947 grouped Platonic formulation placing the Good beyond Being.” (In Totality and Infinity the “Phenomenology of Eros” describes the movement of the epekeina tes ousias in the very experience of the caress.) [p. 85]

I mention this because something that struck me in the documentary Derrida was the way he would reach out and touch people that he was talking to. It seemed very powerful, perhaps because my love language is touch, if there is such an accurate and distinctive categorization among people. Europeans (probably excluding England) do not seem to have the personal space bubble many Americans have. I believe in Orthodoxy, Elder Porphyrios’ Wounded by Love helps correct fallen concepts of Eros which keep us at a distance from each other and from God in Christ. I’m sure there’s other sources as well.

The possibility of the impossible.

by Andrea Elizabeth

Violence and Metaphysics an Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas by Jacques Derrida in Writing and Difference (pt 2)

Derrida begins by pronouncing the death of the Greek philosophical tradition in it’s supposed function of knowing.

That philosophy died yesterday, since Hegel or Marx, Nietzsche, or Heidegger – and philosophy should still wander toward the meaning of its death. (p. 79)

if something is still to transpire within the tradition by which philosophers always know themselves to be overtaken, then the tradition’s origin will have to be summoned forth and adhered to as rigorously as possible? Which is not to stammer and huddle lazily in the depths of childhood, but precisely the opposite. (p. 81)

That Plato for Husserl, was the founder of a reason and a philosophical task whose telos was still sleeping in the shadows; or that for Heidegger, on the contrary, Plato marks the moment at which the thought of Being forgets itself and is determined as philosophy – this difference is decisive only at the culmination of a common root which is Greek. The difference is fraternal in its posterity, entirely submitted to the same domination. Domination of the same too, which will disappear neither in phenomenology nor in “ontology.” (p. 81)

He seems to think that introducing Levinas’ Jewish experientialism into Greek philosophical language will solve the problem. Again to deconstruct from within.

this thought summons us to a dislocation of the Greek logos, to a dislocation of our identity, and perhaps of identity in general, and to move toward what is no longer a source or a site …, but toward an exhalation, toward a prophetic speech already emitted not only nearer to the source than Plato or the pre-Socratics, but inside the Greek origin, close to the other of the Greek (but will the other of the Greek be the non-Greek? Above all, can it be named the non-Greek? An our question comes closer.) A thought for which the entirety of the Greek logos has already erupted …, seeks to liberate itself from the Greek domination of the Same and the One (other names for the light of Being and of the phenomenon) as if from oppression itself – an oppression certainly comparable to none other in the world, an ontological or transcendental oppression, but also the origin or alibi of all oppression in the world. A thought, finally, which seeks to liberate itself from a philosophy fascinated by the “visage of being that shows itself in war” which “is fixed in the concept of totality which dominates Western philosophy” [Levinas in Totality and Infinity, p.21] (p.82,83)

If the messianic eschatology from which Levinas draws inspiration seeks neither to assimilate itself into what is called a philosophical truism, nor even to “complete” [Levinas in TI] philosophical truisms, nevertheless it is developed in its discourse neither as a theology, nor as a Jewish mysticism (it can even be understood as the trial of theology and mysticism)…. It seeks to be understood from within a recourse to experience itself… the passage and departure toward the other… Truthfully, messianic eschatology is never mentioned literally: it is but a question of designating a space or a hollow iwthin naked experience where this eschatology can be understood and where it must resonate. This hollow space is not an opening among others. It is opening itself, the opening of opening. (p.83)

It is this space of interrogation that we have chosen for a very partial reading of Levinas’s work. Of course it is not our intention to explore the space, even in the name of a timid beginning. Faintly and from afar, we will attempt to point it out.

And if we must have faith in [Levinas] who stands most accused in the trial conducted by [his Totality and Infinity], the result is nothing without its becoming, which then would be no more than pure disorder. We will not choose between the opening and the totality. Therefore we will be incoherent, but without systematically resigning ourselves to incoherence. The possibility of the impossible system will be on the horizon to protect us from empiricism. Without reflecting here upon the philosophy of hesitation, let us note between parentheses that by simply articulating it we have already come close to Levinas’ own problematic. (p.84)

My response: Western language and thought, we can’t live with it, we can’t live without it.

The Other

by Andrea Elizabeth

Chapter 4, Violence and Metaphysics, an Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas

This essay compares, contrasts, and I believe tries to Derridistically and characteristically integrate, for lack of a better word in my rushed state, Jewish metaphysical and Greek philosophical relationships to the Other.

From Wikipedia,

Emmanuel Lévinas derives the primacy of his ethics from the experience of the encounter with the Other. For Lévinas, the irreducible relation, the epiphany, of the face-to-face, the encounter with another, is a privileged phenomenon in which the other person’s proximity and distance are both strongly felt. “The Other precisely reveals himself in his alterity not in a shock negating the I, but as the primordial phenomenon of gentleness.”[2]. At the same time, the revelation of the face makes a demand, this demand is before one can express, or know one’s freedom, to affirm or deny. One instantly recognizes the transcendence and heteronomy of the Other. Even murder fails as an attempt to take hold of this otherness.

In Lévinas’ later thought following “Totality and Infinity”, he argued that our responsibility for-the-other was already rooted within our subjective constitution. It should be noted that the first line of the preface of this book is “everyone will readily agree that it is of the highest importance to know whether we are not duped by morality.”[3] This can be seen most clearly in his later account of recurrence (chapter 4 in “Otherwise Than Being”), where Lévinas maintained that subjectivity was formed in and through our subjected-ness to the other. In this way, his effort was not to move away from traditional attempts to locate the other within subjectivity (this he agrees with), so much as his view was that subjectivity was primordially ethical and not theoretical. That is to say, our responsibility for-the-other was not a derivative feature of our subjectivity; instead, obligation founds our subjective being-in-the-world by giving it a meaningful direction and orientation. [bold mine] Lévinas’ thesis “ethics is first philosophy”, then, means that the traditional philosophical pursuit of knowledge is but a secondary feature of a more basic ethical duty to-the-other.

 The elderly Lévinas was a distinguished French public intellectual, whose books reportedly sold well. He had a major impact on the young Jacques Derrida, a fellow French Jew whose seminal Writing and Difference contains an essay, “Violence and Metaphysics,” on Lévinas. Derrida also delivered a eulogy at Lévinas’ funeral, later published as Adieu à Emmanuel Lévinas, an appreciation and exploration of Levinas’s moral philosophy. Here, Derrida followed Bracha L. Ettinger‘s interpretation of Lévinas’ notion of femininity and transformed his own earlier reading of this subject accordingly.

I already feel myself beginning to relax with Levinas’ explanation of encountering the other and emphasizing duty and responsibility, even though it feels a little like pressure in relationship, which I’m trying to back off of right now. The philosophical approach sometimes seems clinical and cold, and this feels warmer, more intuitive, and human. I’ve read the first 8 pages of the essay so far and since he’s now adding a Jewish “experiential” emphasis to traditional Greek philosophy, even though it feels more natural, I’m a bit overwhelmed. The last Chapter went faster because he was more repetitive (I sort of rushed through the sand part and Jewish word-based tradition) and I got falsely confident that I’d found the key to understanding him the first go-round. But now it’s back to the tough slough.

I didn’t realize there was such a serious study of the Other in philosophy.

Our son, who’s thinking about eventually going to seminary, got his application to St. Thomas More today, and on their entrance exam they ask a lot of questions about essence and  accidents, which sounds close to noumenon and phenomen to me, but we’ll have to look it up. I’m just glad I’m sort of getting a background into what he’ll be studying and can maybe help point out the western differences if he ends up going to a Catholic College.

On Jabes

by Andrea Elizabeth

My interpretation of what Derrida means, which I’m not advocating wholecloth, in “Edmond Jabes and the Question of the Book” (pgs 64-78):

The pause between, the silence, the circle

the distance, the void, the fissure

into which we must fall headfirst like Alice

but without the sides of the hole

The hole must disappear into nothingness to find the truth of non-reality

I must lose myself, God, and you to find the truth of nothing

Then I may speak, but it would be better to write

To make gaps between letters that signify nothing

that keep the question alive by silencing the answers

Shh, don’t talk, only write about nothing

the paper must not be left blank!

There are thousands of paths to nowhere on the page

You must choose the one which leads to the most impenetrable question

Penetrate the paper to find that you can’t know

Yet the paper is white, not black

We must put the black marks on the white paper to make the spaces of white visible, or else we’ll be lost

But we aren’t really lost, as our writing will prove

I exist, you exist, God exists, it’s just that we can’t know ourselves or each other

So we write to prove that we exist in ignorance

Dancing words our grounding root.


by Andrea Elizabeth

The way I am framing Monsieur Derrida is in a western setting. I have said we have a common enemy, western dialectics. So when he talks about God, or the lack thereof, I’m fighting against getting personally worried or defensive by removing him from  my context and placing him in the midst of western theology. I exclude the eastern God from his denial of God, but at the same time I try to mediate between him and the eastern God by validating his right to complain about the Western God, and by exploring how some of his views may find a home in eastern theology. There is a problem with taking an opposite, dialectic approach to western theology, and so far all I have done is tried to be aware of it. The Eastern Church works hard to defend against error so you can’t say believing a lie isn’t damaging and that damage shouldn’t be avoided or studied or mentioned or even warned against for the good of all, easterners and westerners. I recognize a certain anger that creeps up though, but when I’m thinking about what Derrida says I’m more in “like” mode because I think he has beautiful thoughts. Being a westerner and not wanting to totally reject my roots, I want to engage the west because I am trying to sort out what to keep and what to guard against. So instead of choosing a venue where I’m likely to assume a defensive/aggressive posture in defending Orthodoxy from western theology, I’m now trying to focus on the study of beauty, thought, and creativity in the west that I can keep. And right now, it’s toward western arts, not theology, that I’m drawn. I think artists in the west have focused more on their hearts where things are truer and more honest. And even many western scientists and philosophers demonstrate a certain intellectual honesty that I can respect. But artistic, scientific, and theological expressions all seem dialectically separated from each other in the west and more melded in the Eastern Orthodox Church, imho. For 4 years I’ve immersed myself in Orthodox sources with a renewed interest in reading. Prior to that I’d gotten burned out on western literature because I did not trust extra Biblical western theological sources nor atheistic scientific sources, and felt that western art and fiction had betrayed me by giving me a false ideal of what love and marriage was really like. So now, with Derrida I’m trying to like western literature again, philosophically and dialectically based in the west as it is. But with Derrida’s attempt to work within it while “stripping off all neo-platonism”, maybe I can take less of a dialectical, adversarial approach. Disdain, contempt, and segregation are unpleasant, not to mention uncharitable and unmerciful, emotions.

The next chapter in Writing and Difference is called Edmond Jabes and the Question of the Book

Our rereadings of Je batis ma demeure [a collection of Jabes’ poems] will be better henceforth.

In trying to find the translation for the above title (I Build My Dwelling), I came across this link which explains that Jabes was born in Egypt to Jewish parents of Italian origin and that French was his mother tongue. He is written about in a book called, Levins, Blanchot, Jabes: Figures of Estrangement by Gary D. Mole. He also worked as a poet for the British in Palestine during WWII, so I can see how he would be familiar with estrangement. I know nothing else about him, but back to the chapter,

A certain ivy could have hidden or absorbed its meaning, could have turned its meaning in on itself. Humor and games, laughter and dances, songs, circled graciously around a discourse which, as it did not yet love its true root, bent a bit in the wind. Did not yet stand upright in order to enunciate only the rigor and rigidity of poetic obligation. (p. 64)

Since there’s no quotation marks, I assume that introductory paragraph is written by Derrida. This chapter is arranged differently and will quote Jabes later.

The end of madness

by Andrea Elizabeth

p. 45 – 63. The conclusion of Cogito and the History of Madness and what I picked up from it.

He continues by positing (or relating Descartes’ posit) that dreams are more mad than madness because they are completely illusion, whereas madness maintains an element of reality. But dreams also contain intelligible elements like bodies, colors, and shapes.

Our senses sometimes deceive us, and this is the basis for much of philosophy.

Reasons for madness discussed:

1. the body – “perversion of the senses”

2. the mind or will – decreased “faculties of representation or judgment… He would even be condemned to construe it, like all errors, not only as an epistemological deficiency but also as a moral failure linked to a precipitation of the will; for will alone can consecrate the intellectual finitude of perception as error. It is only one step from here to making madness a sin, a step that was soon after cheerfully taken” [by Descartes].

However, it seems that these two truths become vulnerable in turn, as soon as we come to the properly philosophical, metaphysical, and critical phase of doubt. This reminds me of the gnomic will that does not know outcomes and can rationalize any decision based on perceived good.

He then introduces diabolical transcendent hyperbole (exaggeration and unattainable infinity?) and the evil genius which I am having difficulty understanding. “Marking the absolutely hyperbolical moment which gets us out of natural doubt and leads to the hypothesis of the evil genius. Descartes has just admitted that arithmetic, geometry, and simple notions escape the first doubt, and he writes, ‘Nevertheless I have long had fixed in my mind the belief that an all-powerful God existed by whom I have been created such as I am.’ This is the onset of the well-known movement leading to the fiction of the evil genius.”

Perhaps he is saying that if we can’t trust our senses, then God is an evil, elusive, genius who tricks some people into hell. He talks about Descartes believing that God alone saves from madness. Maybe Derrida is rebelling against the deterministic god who saves some but not others. I think he’s saying pure thought must be kept as a possibility for anyone.

If truth and reality/sanity are elusive, then there is the possibility of the evil genius. He also weaves in the notion of the attempt to be sane through language, and that insanity is a sort of silence, “Beneath this natural comfort, beneath this apparently prephilosophical confidence [ignorant insanity is bliss?] is hidden the recognition of an essential and principled truth: to wit, if discourse and philosophical communication (that is language itself) are to have an intelligible meaning, that is to say, if they are to conform to their essence and vocation as discourse, they must simultaneously in fact and in principle escape madness. They must carry normality in themselves. And this…is not a defect or mystification linked to a determined historical structure, but rather is an essential and universal necessity from which no discourse can escape, for it belongs to the meaning of meaning… even the discourse which denounces a mystification or an act of force. And paradoxically, what I am saying here is strictly Foucauldian. For we now appreciate the profundity of the following affirmation of Foucault’s that curiously also saves Descartes from the accusations made against him: “Madness is the absence of a work.” [boldness mine] Now the work starts with the most elementary discourse, with the first articulation of a meaning… for to make a sentence is to manifest a possible meaning. By its essence, a sentence is normal. It carries normality with it, that is sense, in every sense of the word… It carries normality and sense within it, and does so whatever the state, whatever the health or madness of him who propounds it, or whom it passes through, on whom, in whom it is articulated. In its most impoverished syntax, logos is reason, and indeed a historical reason. And if madness in general, beyond any factitious and determined historical structure, is the absense of a work, then madness is indeed, essentially and generally silence, stifled speech, within a caesura and a wound that open up life as historicity in general.

He then makes a distinction between the two extremes of dogmatic, determined historical facts and “some ahistorical eternity” – transcendent hyperbole. I think this latter is a criticism of a certain clueless, elusive, apophaticism. Then he goes into how to live within silence and language, “Not a determined silence, imposed at one given moment rather than at any other, but a silence essentially linked to an act of force and a prohibition which open history and speech. In general. Within the dimension of historicity in general, which is to be confused neither with some ahistorical eternity, nor with an empirically determined moment of the history of facts, silence plays the irreducible role of that which bears and haunts language, outside and against which alone language can emerge – “against” here simultaneously designating the content from which form takes off by force, and the adversary against whom I assure and reassure myself by force. Althought the silence of madness is the absence of a work this silence is not simply the work’s epigraph, nor is it, as concerns language and meaning, outside the work. Like nonmeaning, silence is the work’s limit and profound resource. Of course, in essentializing madness this way one runs the risk of disintegrating the factual findings of psychiatric efforts. This is a permanent danger, but it should not discourage the demanding and patient psychiatrist. (p. 53&54)

I will say that going back through this and trying to articulate through writing what Derrida means after a confusing once-through reading, is very clarifying, though my notes may be indecipherable. Another thought I’ve had through this part of the chapter is that if color, mathematics and geometry are accepted empirical realities, then no wonder we need icons to protect us from delusion. And I like the idea of the universal attempt-to-know which invites fulfillable, not elusive, revelation. I’ve often thought that truth comes to those who openly seek it. People whose hearts are open can find it, to whatever extent. Though it certainly gets stifled in all of us when we self-protectively close our hearts.

Back to madness, he speaks of fiction being a means to give language to madness by keeping onesself distant from it to be able to continue to live. Through this type of “complicity with it, [one can] measure their own strength against the greatest possible proximity to madness.”

Regarding “I think, therefore I am”, he says that “the Cogito escapes madness only because at its own moment, under its own authroity, it is valid even if I am mad, even if my thoughts are completely mad. There is a value and a meaning of the Cogito, as of existence, which escape the alternative of a determined madness or a determined reason. Confronted with the critical experience of the Cogito, insanity, as stated in the Discourse on Method, is irremediably on a plane with skepticism. Thought no longer fears madness… The certainty thus attained need not be sheltered from an imprisoned madness, for it is attained and ascertained within madness itself… [and] seems to require neither the exclusion nor the circumventing of madness.”

He is defending his right to think, and says that the work of thinking validates the thinker. I can respect a person’s desire to think and work through problems. It is giving up that is the decision to despair – madness. Contrarily, he is questioning Descartes’ God alone theology that in order to prevent madness, you have to check your brain in at the door and let God take control. “For finally, it is God alone who, by permitting me to extirpate [extricate] myself from a Cogito that at its proper moment can always remain a silent madness, also insures my representations and my cognitive determinations, that is my discourse against madness. It is without doubt that, for Descartes God alone protects me against the madness to which the Cogito, left to its own authority, could only open itself up in the most hospitable way.” (p. 58)

The compromise would be synergy with God, because “me alone” would be a recipe for disastrous madness.

Apparently the ‘silent theory’ isn’t new, Analogously, Saint Anselm saw in the insipiens, the insane man, someone who could not think because he could not think what he said. Madness was for him too, a silence, the voluble silence of a thought that did not think its own words. (p. 59)

The historicity of philosophy is located and constituted within the transition, the dialogue between the hyperbole and the finite structure, between that which exceeds the totality and the closed totality.(p.60) The Incarnation and economia in the Church can be seen as embodying that transition and dialogue.

We have attempted not to extinguish the other light, a black and hardly natural light, the vigil of the “powers of unreason” around the Cogito. We have attempted to requite ourselves toward the gesture which Descartes uses to requite himself as concerns the menacing powers of madness which are the adverse origin of philosophy. (p.61)

He must be drawing the connection between “extinguish” and ‘forcefully incarcerating’. The strategy is not to do frontal assault with madness, but to work around it by thinking, a subtler force. I’ve always liked the way John Nash’s struggle was portrayed in A Beautiful Mind by deciding not to interact nor aggressively confront his delusion. He sort of let it float around in the periphery. Denying it’s presence wasn’t helpful either. He was also grounded to reality by the physical presence of his wife, and when she wasn’t there, by her handkerchief.

So in his explanation that there is no such thing as complete madness, I can draw a similarity to a denial of total depravity. And I think that healing steps are available to all who are on the quest, even those not within the Church. But the Orthodox Church has the balanced fullness of healing steps for people who are willing to do the work. We are allowed to dialogue with the Church who will mediate between us and God, or at least bear mutual witness. (I did not say, “dialogue with God” because we can pray wrongly and can be deluded as to how God answers back, but He is merciful and will send the help we need if we’ll accept it.) We do not have to check our brains in at the door. Derrida never mentioned listening though, but he obviously has listened to philosophers and worked to understand what they said, and believes that people will be helped by listening to him. I believe listening, thinking, questioning and speaking in response are parts of healing that the Church encourages. And we are given freedom to accept or not the answers, with whatever ramifications. We have a very active role in implementing our own health.

To be mad, or not to be mad?

by Andrea Elizabeth

Pages 36-45 of “Cogito and the History of Madness” question history’s defining madness as the opposite of reason and it’s traditional method of forcing madness into a stifled compartment. I assume both in the individual and in society and in the telling of history. This rigid categorization is how Derrida defines structuralism, whose historical tradition he links to Socrates. He says that Socrates won out with his “reassuring dialectic”.

The attempt to write the history of the decision [to force into exile], division, difference runs the risk of construing the division as an event or a structure subsequent to the unity of an original presence, thereby confirming metaphysics in its fundamental operation. (p.40)

Which is not to say that there was no such dialectical categorizations before Socrates, or that all was unified. I’m not sure why he says that to say that there weren’t would confirm metaphysics in its fundamental operation. This unity sounds to me like a pre-fall state where man is not divided against himself, others, creation, or God. Is that what he means by metaphysics, which he denies? But since Socrates lived in the 5th century B.C., we would not deny that man was so divided before him. The formalization and subsequent defining of the division by Socrates is an interesting point. I believe we Orthodox would say that the division did occur at the fall, but perhaps Socrates influenced how we view it, think about it, talk about it, and deal with it.

Apparently Socrates won over a pre-existent “Caliclesian hybris” (from the link)

“Bacchylides, Fragment 15 (from the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2363) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
“It is open to all men to reach unswerving Dike (Justice), the attendant of holy Eunomia (Good Laws) and wise Themis (Right Order); blessed are they whose sons choose her to share their home; but that other, shameless Hybris (Insolence), luxuriating in shifty tricks and lawless follies, who swiftly gives a man another’s wealth and power only to bring him into deep ruin–it was she who destroyed those arrogant sons of Ge (Earth), the Gigantes.”

Having focused on Jewish history prior to Christ, I haven’t considered the Greek development of dealing with societal problems in contrast. I guess Derrida was a non-practicing Jew and isn’t dealing with Hebrew sources. My husband (may he correct if not accurate) heard recently the story of Socrates being defamed by a guy who said that he could tell by Socrates’ eyes that he was a seducer of young boys. They were going to silence the guy until Socrates admitted he was right, but that he stifled himself. I’ll say that stifling in cases like that is good, but healing is different, way more effective, and better. Perhaps Socratic stifling, along with Augustinistic Calvinsim, lead to Puritanism and Catholic self-flagellation, an angry war and condemnation of ourselves, which America has gotten tired of.

I’m still digging into Derrida’s answer to all this and wondering how it compares to Orthodox healing as outlined in “Orthodox Psychotherapy” linked in the margin to the left. Foucault writes, “a structural study must go back toward the decision that simultaneously links and separates reason and madness; it must aim to uncover the perpetual exchange, the obscure common root, the original confrontation that gives meaning to the unity, as well as to the opposition of sense and non-sense”. Derrida doesn’t think this goes far enough, he asks (Socratically?) “Is this ‘act of force’ described in the dimension of theoretical knowledge and metaphysics, a symptom, a cause, a language? What must be assumed or elucidated so that the meaning of this question or dissociation can be neutralized? And if this act of force has a structural affinity with the totality of the drama, what is the status of this affinity?… What is the exemplarity of Descartes, while so many other philosophers of the same era were interested or – no less significantly – not interested in madness in various ways?”

“Foucault does not respond directly to any of these more than methodological questions, summarily, but inevitably, invoked. A single sentence, in his preface, settles the quesiton. To cite Foucault: ‘To write the history of madness thus will mean the execution of a structural study of an historical ensemble – notions, institutions, juridical and police measures, scientific concepts – which holds captive a madness whose wild state can never in itself be restored.’ What is a “notion”? Do philosophical notions have a privilege? How are they related to scientific concepts? A quantity of questions that besiege this enterprise.”

And I’ll add, what does Derrida think of Foucault’s belief that the “wild state can never in itself be restored”?

He ends this section with “We will now turn to this manifest meaning, this properly philosophical intention that is not legible in the immediacy of first encounter. But first by reading over Foucault’s shoulder.”

The next section starts with this quote, “There had to be folly so that wisdom might overcome it.” (Herder) Now doesn’t that sound familiar? I’m referring to the question of if evil is necessary which I think has been addressed in many posts here and elsewhere. But I’m more intrigued by the dialectical tension in the statement and how Derrida will address it.

Dialectic sensibilities

by Andrea Elizabeth

Since reading Orthodox sources, most recently St. Maximus, I have become more and more sensitive to dialectical methods. I’m finding that Jacques Derrida, seemingly alone amongst western secular and religious philosophers, has this enemy in common, and for that reason he is my new friend. I see the result of dialectical reasoning as dehumanizing the other side and thus inciting riots, condemnation and contempt of others. The Great Divorce comes closer to how I now characterize people who don’t believe as I do, Lord have mercy on me a sinner. But even that characterization makes me a little uncomfortable by promoting a sense of superiority, so maybe the atheist had a point. If we are to see ourselves as the chiefest of sinners and truly have love and mercy in our hearts towards others, then destroying dialectics must be done from within, where I put myself on the wrong side and all others are on the right side. I read recently on one of the blogs a quote from a Saint, sorry I forget which and who, who when asked, said he was worse than these horrible sinners, but he would not say that his theology was wrong. He would not deny the Church. Every individual is a beautiful creation of God, even ones who are caught in delusion and sin. But none are more deluded and sinful than I, and this is why I need the Orthodox Church more than they do. And this is why I can’t help them through conversation. I can only tell them to go to the Church.

I’m reading Derrida to get to know my new friend, and because I’m not just against the conclusions reached through dialectical philosophy which have influenced western religion as well, but I’m trying to find a non-dialectical relation, if there is such a thing, to those who are operating within those erroneous conclusions and methods. Derrida also knows our enemy well. This is why he’s so keen in his critique of western philosophy. Still from Cogito and the History of Madness,

the revolution against reason can be made only within it, in accordance with a Hegelian law to which I myself was very sensitive in Foucault’s book, despite the absence of any precise reference to Hegel. Since the revolution against reason, from the moment it is articulated, can operate only within reason, it always has the limited scope of what is called, precisely in the language of a department of internal affairs, a disturbance. A history, that is, an archaeology against reason doubtless cannot be written, for despite all appearances to the contrary, the concept of history has always been a rational one. It is the meaning of “history” or archia that should have been questioned first [before a history of madness], perhaps. A writing that exceeds, by questioning them, the values “origin”, “reason”, and “history” could not be contained within the metaphysical closure of an archaeology. (p.36)

Western Orthodox converts have to reevaluate what they have been taught as history. We have to revise our view of how it has been presented by the western church and by secular historians. There is a third view, and sadly, it sometimes jives more with the secular guys. I don’t want to get into inflammatory, inciting specifics. But when we western Orthodox look at western history, we have to reconstruct it because there was isolation between the east and west for at least 700 years before Orthodox began to make a presence here, and so heretofore western history has lacked an eastern Christian world view. But God was not absent from the west, as He is everywhere present. It’s just that to me, He was present in unexpected places, though not in His fullness until the Orthodox brought it here. So I’m seeing His truth in American Indians, African Americans, and others dialectically labeled pagans because they were not so dialectically rationalistic. Though they had their dialectic squabbles with their definition of other “tribes”. After all the devil is everywhere too.

If Derrida was gnostic, it’s because he did not come forward to the physical Church. So far I haven’t found him anti-physical matter, which is part of my definition of gnosticism. He seems to address ideas more than physical stuff though, but I haven’t read enough yet.

Madness and Silence

by Andrea Elizabeth

I read the notes to pgs 20-30 which clarified things a tiny bit, but I’ve decided to press on. I also read a wiki article on Kant and have a preliminarily conclusion/hypothesis that these nihilistic or atheistic philosophers were suffering from post traumatic stress related to a misconception of traditional Christiantity. I could prematurely point fingers as to why this is so, but instead I want to say that I like these guys because they are smart, witty, unafraid, and maybe even honest artists who are trying to free themselves from perhaps unhealthy and unintended yokes and boxes, and are surprisingly religious (sounds like a cereal commercial).

Chapter 2 in Writing and Difference is called Cogito and the History of Madness. I really like Derrida’s titles. Not that my affinities are justified or are as worthy of note as I make them.

The beginning of the lecture is a tribute to his teacher, Michel Foucault, and the position he is in as his “grateful” disciple of critiquing Foucault’s “powerful in its breadth and style” book, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason.

Now the disciple’s consciousness, when he starts, I would not say to dispute, but to engage in dialogue with the master or, better, to articulate the interminable and silent dialogue which made him into a disciple – this disciple’s consciousness is an unhappy consciousness. Starting to enter into dialogue in the world, that is, starting to answer back, he always feels “caught in the act,” like the “infant” who, by definition and as his name indicates cannot speak and above all must not answer back. And when, as is the case here, the dialogue is in danger of being taken – incorrectly – as a challenge, the disciple knows that he alone finds himself already challenged by the master’s voice within him that precedes his own. He feels himself indefinitely challenged, or rejected or accused; as a disciple, he is challenged by the master who speaks within him, and before him, to reproach him for making this challenge and to reject it in advance, having elaborated it before him; and having interiorized the master, he is also challenged by the disciple that he himself is. This interminable unhappiness of the disciple perhaps stems from the fact that he does not know – or is still concealing from himself – that the master, like real life, may always be absent. The disciple must break the glass, or better the mirror, the reflection, his infinite speculation on the master. And start to speak. (p.31&32)

When Jaques denies presence, I think he is denying that I perceive the other in totality or correctly. I appreciate this humility.

Foucault runs the theme linking madness to silence, “to words without language” or “without the voice of a subject,” “obstinate murmur of a language that speaks by itself, without speaker or interlocutor, piled up upon itself, strangulated, collapsing before reaching the stage of formulation, quietly returning to the silence from which it never departed. The calcinated root of meaning.” (p.35)

I think I am beginning to understand Derrida’s method of destroying with the intention to liberate, from within. This is how he keeps from being dialectically opposed to. By magnifying the marginal he unseats the previously aggrandized, but presumably not to the extent of marginalizing the top-dwellers. Here he’s critiquing Foucault’s attempt to explain madness/silence from within and without, lauding trying not to attempt to explain it in terms of reason which isolates itself from madness, but being critical of the fact that speaking of silence is inconsistent and violates the barrier. We worry about Derrida promoting madness or neutralizing our aversion to it by not being opposed to it, but I think he’s talking more against writing off, condemning and imprisoning the immates, not that that’s done so much any more.

Despite the impossibility of speaking about silence, he thinks in Foucault’s book that a certain liberation of madness has gotten underway, that psychiatry has opened itself up, however minimally, and that the concept of madness as unreason, if it ever had a unity, has been dislocated. And that a project such as Foucaut’s can find its historical origin and passageway in the opening produced by this dislocation.(p.38)

I think that he’s right that madness is not unreason, especially as Orthodox understand that logic alone does not necessarily bring about truth. Psychiatry seems to worry about it more in terms of perceived “danger to self or others”. Madness to me is believing a lie, which is also sin, though probably unconscious. So to the extent that we sin, we are all mad. Sin is also defined as lack of self-control, but I think warped truth also plays a big part in that. Perhaps anger is from being silent too long, or from not being allowed, or feeling safe, to speak to someone else. I’m hearing Jack Nicholson say, “You can’t handle the truth!” and so we keep quiet. Perhaps there are two kinds of mad people, those who need to find a safe place to learn to speak, and those who want to stay in their delusion and will punish and manipulate anyone who tries to show them the truth. The latter in their logic and superior reasoning are usually not quiet, though. They win arguments and intimidate people into silence.