‘Hamlet has put on the crown, but is now wondering why he exists.’ Régis Debrayfootnote1
Institutum Studiorum Humanitatis has done me much honour in inviting me to deliver these lectures.footnote2 I am quite sure that my visit to Ljubljana at this juncture in your history will prove far more instructive for me than what little instruction I may be able to provide in the course of my lectures. Permit me, therefore, to start by offering my heartfelt thanks for this opportunity.
My hosts have proposed that since so much of my recent book, In Theory, refers to postmodernism on the one hand, nationalism on the other, I may, in these two lectures, reflect on those engagements and extend my critique in view of the current situation that you face in your part of the world, I and people like me face in ours. The engagement with contemporary nationalisms—under the working title of ‘fin-de-siècle nationalisms, East and West’—will come tomorrow. For the first lecture, I thought, I should now begin that engagement with postmodernism—or, more accurately,
That was easier thought than done. For all the publicity that surrounds it, and for all the hyperbolic political claims it generates for itself, poststructuralism is, as you surely know, rather a technical subject, and in order to have a fruitful dialogue, one has to be sure that we are speaking of the same authors and texts—a very elaborate set of authors and texts—with more or less adequately shared familiarity. So, I prepared many notes but hesitated to actually write up the lecture, partly because I really did not know whether an occasion of this kind allowed a discussion of so technical a nature—and, indeed, to what purpose? This problem was resolved for me provisionally, in a more or less fortuitous manner, this last Friday when I visited the offices of the New Left Review in London and received from the editor a copy of the latest issue of the journal, which includes Jacques Derrida’s ‘A Lecture on Marx’. I read the ‘Lecture’ the next day, on my flight to Ljubljana. It struck me that Derrida himself had opened up the space for a dialogue—a contentious dialogue, maybe—between Marxism and poststructuralism, specifically deconstruction, as it now stands, after the dissolution of Communist states in the former Soviet Union and East-Central Europe. Derrida’s text I read, as I said, on Saturday afternoon. Sunday I spent mostly in collecting my thoughts. The lecture itself, which is simply a reflection on the kind of opening that Derrida provides in his own lecture, I started writing this morning—which means that, for all the appearance of a confidently finished text, what you are going to hear is only an initial, provisional response.
I have chosen Derrida’s text for my own reflections for the simple reason that it affords us an opportunity to assess the politics of deconstruction—in the hard sense of the word politics—as he now defines it. The section where Derrida offers a deconstructive reading of Fukuyama’s muchpublicized bookfootnote3 does not much interest me, I must confess, even though Derrida’s characterization of that book—‘essentially, in the tradition of Leo Strauss relayed by Allan Bloom, the schoolish exercise of a young, industrious, but come-lately reader of Kojève (and a few others)’—is fairly on the mark. There have been very extended discussions of Fukuyama’s work, especially in Britain and the United States, and Niethammer’s Posthistoire,footnote4 which was published in German barely two months before Fukuyama published his original essay in English, had in any case already opened up a great many interesting ways of examining the lineages of what Fukuyama was to propose. Perry Anderson then extended Niethammer’s leads with superb effect, acknowledging what strengths there were in Fukuyama’s argument, in a fulsome essay on him and on the larger end-of-history tradition in European thought.footnote5 Coming so much later, Derrida’s treatment of Fukuyama strikes me as conventional. The discussion would have been more fruitful had he offered reflections on the political and philosophical adjacencies between Fukuyama’s end-of-history argument and the announcements of the end of all metanarratives that one finds routinely in the work of so many deconstructionists. But this substantial issue Derrida unfortunately does not take up. Had he taken up the challenge he might have come up against the fact that, between the two ‘end’ claims, Fukuyama’s is, strictly on the philosophical terrain, much less naive.
What interests me, rather, is the real occasion of this text: Derrida’s gesture of affiliation with the Marxist heritage, now that the moment of communism in Europe, east and west, seems definitively to have passed. But, then, Derrida also recounts a certain relationship between Marxism and deconstruction; seeks to displace our historic understanding of Marxism with a different kind of understanding, in a messianic tonal register; and, alongside a perceptive diagnosis of the main maladies of contemporary Europe, he nevertheless proposes what I can only call an anti-politics, even if one also hears in the many nuances of this word, ‘antipolitics’, that nuance of personal witness that Havel has sought to read into it.footnote6 This latter aspect offers me the opportunity, with reference to this latest and relatively more congenial text of deconstruction, to demarcate what it is that a Marxist of my kind would find unacceptable in deconstructionist ideas of politics, even when the ideas are at their very best as they surely are in the text at hand.
Please note, first of all, the active sense in my title today: Reconciling Derrida. The title is not ‘Reconciliation with Derrida’, in the sense of an older conflict now resolved, or of an act already accomplished. Nor is it ‘Derrida Reconciled’, which would have had the nuance of a submission, a new-found passivity, on the part of Derrida, in relation to Marx—or of Marxism in relation to Derrida. In either case, we would then have a sense of a gratification too easily obtained. I mean, rather, the active sense of a process, and of a subject: a mode of reconciliation; Derrida in the process of reconciling; and we, therefore, in response to the process Derrida has initiated, participating in an identification—and identification also in the positive sense of identifying with the intent of this reconciling, as well as in the sense of identifying that with which Derrida has here set out to reconcile himself. It is in this double movement of identification that the pleasures and problems of Derrida’s text lie for us, the readers of the text.