Review: [untitled

]
Author(s): Herman Rapaport
Reviewed work(s):
Le différend by Jean-François Lyotard
Source: SubStance, Vol. 15, No. 1, Issue 49: Anti-Semite and Jew: The Aesthetics and Politics
of an Ethnic Identity (1986), pp. 83-86
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3684944
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REVIEWS
Lyotard, Jean-Franvois.
Le
differend
Paris:
Minuit,
1983.
Le
differend by Jean-Fran;ois Lyotard develops
further the French
post-
structuralist
engagement
with
analytic philosophy
and is
very
sensitive to
ques-
tions which concern
speech
acts in the broadest sense of the term. In
large part
I
find that the book
develops
ideas central to
Ludwig Wittgenstein's
On
Certainty,
in
which the issue of
validating
or
proving propositions
is considered from the
perspective
of
judgment.
We recall that in the Tractatus
Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein
offered as one
of the tentative conclusions that if one has to
say
a
proposition
is identical to what it
represents,
then such a
proposition
is
necessarily
not identical. In
short,
identity
is
not constative but inherent in the
performance
of the
proposition's logic.
"In
logic, process
and result are
equivalent," Wittgenstein
writes.
But much
later,
after
considering language games
in the
Philosophical Investiga-
tions,
Wittgenstein,
in the subtle volume entitled On
Certainty, began
an
unsettling
series of
speculations stressing
the constative-that
is,
assertions of fact.
Very
important
is the idea that reference and
naming depend,
not on some innate
congruity
between
logic
and
world,
as in the
Tractatus,
but on
someone'sjudgment
or belief which
necessarily places
faith in
rules,
assumptions,
evidence,
agree-
ments, consensus,
examples.
In a definite move
away
from the notion of a
language game, Wittgenstein
went so far as to write: "We do not learn the
practice
of
making empirical judgments by learning
rules: we are
taught judgments
and
their connection with other
judgments.
A
totality
of
judgments
is made
plausible
to us." With
respect
to the
"counting
of evidence"
upon
which
judgments
are
made,
Wittgenstein
admits that someone could discount such obvious evidence as
that the earth existed a hundred
years ago,
for to count it means that one has to
suspend
doubt and
accept
or believe that the earth existed.
Being
reasonable in
such
contexts,
Wittgenstein says,
means not to have doubts about
things upon
which
everyone agrees.
Hence
facticity depends upon
social consensus.
In Le
differend, Lyotard
examines a situation in which a
group
of
people
develop
a discursive
body
of
knowledge
which chooses not to be "reasonable" in
that it holds doubts about that which we believe to know for certain. This
group
consists of those revisionist historians who have chosen to doubt the status of the
Holocaust and
emphatically deny
that six million
Jews
were
liquidated by
the
Nazis
during
World War Two.
Indeed,
Lyotard
himself takes it as fact that the
Holocaust did
happen.
But he wants to
interrogate
a discursive situation in which
a most "certain" historical event has
difficulty
in
"presenting"
or
"presencing"
itself as that which can be
validated,
proven,
made manifest. He wants to interro-
gate
how
"philosophical"
doubt can be used
politically
to
expedite prejudice,
and
he wants to
study
to what
degree
all
philosophizing
in the
Wittgensteinian
sense is
merely
a matter of
making prejudicial pacts,
of
learning "judgments"
in whose
connection
victimage
and its denial or erasure is effected.
Sub-Stance N?
49,
1986 83
Reviews
Unlike
Wittgenstein, Lyotard develops
these
thoughts
in terms of the
Jakob-
sonian
poles
of addressor/addressee and their relevance for
speech
act
theory.
His
term,
le
differend,
refers,
specifically,
to a
performative speech
act in which the
addressee is a victim without redress. "I would like to call the
differend
the case
where a defendant is
stripped
of the means to
argue
and because of this fact turns
into a victim. If the
addressee,
the
addressor,
and the
meaning
of
testimony
are
neutralized,
all is as if no harm had been done." The
differend
is a difference which
exists in a blatant manner but which is structured such that the victim cannot find a
means
by
which to address it. This is
precisely
the case worked out at
length by
Franz Kafka in The
Trial,
and
Lyotard
sees it as crucial to an
understanding
of how
the Holocaust could be
put
into
practice by
the Nazis. At issue here are those
performative
acts
comdemning
the victim to death-acts
which,
in their
very
performance,
efface the articulation of that difference
by
means of which the
victim could
present
himself or herself as an other who is
wronged.
The revisionist
historians who
today
claim to doubt the
veracity
of the Holocaust
merely perpetu-
ate that
speech
act situation in which countless
people
were
deported
and
gassed.
Le
differend
contains several
chapters,
each with
lengthy
intratexts set
apart
in
small size fonts. The first
chapter
is entitled "Le diff6rend" and
digresses
from its
main concern with the Holocaust to issues
concerning
the
dialogues
of Plato.
Some
people may
find this
juxtaposition
of Auschwitz/Plato rather
curious,
but
close
inspection
of the text on Plato
quickly
reveals
very pertinent
connections in
terms of "The
Apology"
of Socrates and the
philosophic handling
of the issue of
"testimony" by
the ancient Greeks.
Lyotard
notices that for the
pre-Socratics
the
question
of reference is subsumed in the site of the
addressor,
who is a
god.
Thus
testimony
consists of revelation. For
Gorgias,
on the
contrary,
reference is estab-
lished between addressor and addressee and
depends upon
refutation. Thus "the
word
logos changes
its
meaning." Lyotard
adds,
"it is
necessary
for Plato to
establish those rules of
argumentation
which
prohibit
the weaker
argument
from
detracting
from the
stronger
.. ." Of
course,
in order to do this one must first
have a
preconception
of what is
right orjust. Only
from this can rules follow. But if
this
preconception
is not
already
linked to the
gods,
how can it be asserted? This is
the
problem Lyotard explores
with
respect
to the
pre-Socratics.
Of
course,
the
sophistic
and later Aristotelian rules of
argument give way
to the "administration
of
proofs."
This entails what
Lyotard
calls the
"metalepsis"
of
sequencing argu-
mentativejudgments by way
of a chain of executors. The result is social consensus.
The next
chapter,
"The
Referent,
The
Name,"
dwells on
Wittgenstein's
Tracta-
tus,
discussing
the relation of
propositions
to the real. Not
surprisingly, Lyotard
argues
that
reality
is inaccessible even in the case of deictic
markers,
since no
deictic marker can be communicated without it
shifting places
in an addressor/
addressee model. Thus even here there is
displacement.
Moreover,
in the invoca-
tion of a deictic marker
(i.e.,
"here I
am")
one finds a constative
expression
which,
of
course,
Wittgenstein
has
explicitly
demolished in On
Certainty.
At the end of this
chapter, Lyotard
returns to the
question
of Auschwitz in
wondering
about the
testimony
of its
survivors,
of the
"here,
look at what
happened
to me."
Lyotard
wonders
implicitly
about the
validity
of
eye
witness
accounts,
especially
in the face
of what he sees as the
disappearance
of evidence. And without this
validity,
what is
the status of
testimony,
of the voices of the Holocaust?
In
"Presentation,"
a
chapter
with
digressions
on
Aristotle, Kant,
and Gertrude
Stein,
Lyotard interrogates
the
categories
that make
up testifying
structures,
categories
which mediate what is
presented;
and he
interrogates
the
system
of
84
Reviews
propositions
in which these
presentations
are to be found.
Following
is a
chapter
entitled "The Result."
Lyotard suggests
that the
Jews
were
prevented
access to
those
categories through
which their
testimony
could be
recognized.
Because of le
differend,
it
appeared
as if the
Jews
had no
legitimate complaint.
And because the
addressor/addressee
polarities
were
deconstituted,
it was
possible
for the SS to
murder
people
without
taking responsibility
for
any
crime,
since the
killing
of the
victim was not like
passing
sentence and
carrying
it
out; rather,
the
killing
was
based on the
presupposition
that these
people
were
already supposed
to be dead
and had no claim to be otherwise. Hence the
judgment
as both constative and
performative
is
presupposed.
The rest is
merely mop up.
It is
precisely
a reestab-
lishment of communicative contact between addressor/addressee that the Nurem-
burg
trials had to effect. And
again
the Eichmann trial in Israel was
especially
significant
in the sense that it
gave
to the victim his or her
voice,
his or her
right
to
redress.
The last three
chapters
of Le
differend
are
"Obligation,"
"Genre
and Norm,"
and "The
Sign
of
History."
Let
mejust
remark on the
digression
about Emmanuel
L6vinas's work in
"Obligation."
The
digression
is included
perhaps
because Levi-
nas was himself a
survivor,
but almost
certainly
because his view of
obligation
in
terms of a deconstruction of the Greek rhetorical model of addressor/addressee
produces many interesting counterpoints throughoutLe differend. Lyotard
notices
that whereas the
suspension
and deconstitution of an addressor/addressee rela-
tion leads to Holocaust within a National Socialist
context,
that within Hebrew
tradition itself this addressor/addressee relation is also made
asymmetrical.
Levi-
nas "places the accent
upon
the
asymmetry
of the relation
I/you
[je/tu].
The latter
is not
reversible;
it
imposes
and maintains the destabilization of the
knowledge
where the I was an I
(the
oneself
oneself,
identity)." Lyotard
continues,
"the I
understands
[here] nothing
more of the
ethical;
it can
only
believe that it under-
stands."
Clearly,
the victim is situated in the Hebrew context with
respect
to God as
Other,
a
position
in which the victim's
expression
of redress is not
heard, is,
as
Buber
said,
eclipsed.
But for Levinas it is this
eclipse,
this
occultation,
this silence
of the other which demands an
obligation
in which ethics
is,
in
fact,
established.
Hence, le
differend
can be viewed from not
only
the
perspective
of
criminality,
but
of holiness.
I am not sure that Le
differend
clarifies how one is
supposed
to relate sections
such as those on Levinas with those on the concentration
camps.
It
may
well be that
Lyotard seesjudgment
as
suspended,
the ethical as that which evades
decidability
in terms of the
presencing
of a distinct moment in which
something
is determined.
"Silences
signal
the
interruption
of self
[Selbst],
its fission." Le
differend:
is it a
suspension,
an
interruption
of
silence,
a moment of undecided
decidability
which
invests itself in numerous moments in which the ethical is determined as the
undetermined? If
so,
Lyotard may
be
viewing
le
differend
in terms of an
archipel-
ago
of contexts. "There is no moral
diachrony," Lyotard
writes. There is no
homogeneity
of
law,
he
says
also. And
yet
it is hard to read Le
differend
without
linking
and
historicizing
the relations between the
fragments Lyotard presents,
for the text
suggests
a
collage
which
may
be viewed as a unified schema.
However,
if one does view the text as a
unity,
one
may
well
begin
to have reservations about
Lyotard's suturing
of sections like that on L6vinas with those on Nazi
persecution,
since the
linkage may suggest
the difference between
Jewish
culture and Nazi
culture is undecidable with
respect
to the
question
of ethics. A reader who
may
find such an inference
may begin
to wonder
why
the text of Le
differend
does so
85
Reviews Reviews
little to
discourage
one from
making
associations
compatible
with anti-Semitic
ideology.
Indeed,
if one reads
beyond
Le
differend
into
Lyotard's Aujuste (the
two
books are
closely
related),
one will notice
passages
such as those on the
Hegelian
conviction that
Jews
have
developed
a culture that resists direct
confrontation,
recognition,
and
engagement, passages
which evoke rather than revoke the idea
that
Jewish
culture is itself diffident. It
may
well be that we are not
supposed
to
make the kinds of inferences which would
give
credence to anti-Semitic
ideas,
but
given
the
way Lyotard's
recent
writings
lend themselves to free
association,
it
would have been
reassuring
to have had some sentences in the recent texts which
might allay
the
suspicion
that
Lyotard
is
supporting
the notion that the Holocaust
is the
consequence
of a form of
thought
or
logical principle
that can be derived
from
Jewish
ethics.
Indeed,
it is as if
Lyotard's
ethical
philosophy
were
curiously
uninhibited with
respect
to
allowing
for a transference with those
very political
resonances which have been so
catastrophic
for
Jews
in modern times.
Indeed,
this is an
aspect
of
Lyotard's
work that needs a fuller and
perhaps
much more
thoughtful investigation
than one can
give
in a review. Such a fuller treatment
would include close
inspection
of
"Discussions,
ou
phrases 'apres
Auschwitz'" in
Lesfins
de l'homme
(1981)
and the more recent
"Judicieux
dans le differend" in La
faculte
dejuger (1985).
Given the elusiveness of these
texts,
it is
perhaps prudent
to
give Lyotard
the benefit of one's
doubts; nevertheless,
I find his recent work
touching
on the Holocaust
deeply distressing
and
repellant.
For me it marks a
limit where certain modes of
post-structuralist interpretation
reveal
major
inade-
quacies
as methods of
philosophical
reflection.
Herman
Rapaport
University
of Iowa
Sternhell,
Zeev. Ni droite ni
gauche:
I'ideologie
fasciste
en France. Paris: Editions du
Seuil,
1983.
Pp.
414.
Ni droite ni
gauche
is the third volume of Zeev Sternhell's
trilogy
on the radical
Right
in
France,
and those who are familiar with Sternhell's
previous
books
[Maurice
Barres et le nationalisme
francais
[1972];
La Droite
revolutionnaire,
1885-
1914: Les
originesfrancaises dufascisme [1978]),
will find the
argument
of this one
quite
familiar.
The reader is informed at the outset
that,
like the
previous
books,
this one will
concentrate on the essentials of the fascist
phenomenon
in France: the connection
of the
nationalist, anti-liberal,
anti-bourgeois Right
with the
anti-marxist,
anti-
liberal,
anti-bourgeois
Left.
Both,
Sternhell never tires of
telling
us,
were disen-
chanted with the established liberal democratic order of the Third
Republic,
were
its
outspoken
critics,
and therefore
ideologically
undermined the
Republic
and
"prepared
the fall of
democracy"
in the summer of 1940
(p. 40).
This is not to
suggest
that Sternhell measures the
popular support
of French fascism or investi-
gates
the active role of the
Leagues during
the 1930s. A few
pages
touch on these
issues,
but in
general
this is a book about
ideas;
the author's
concern,
as the subtitle
states,
is "the fascist
ideology
in France"
(emphasis
mine).
Sternhell is
quick
to admit that fascism
enjoyed
little
political
success in
France,
largely
the
result,
he
claims,
of the
strength
of the conservative
Right
and of
little to
discourage
one from
making
associations
compatible
with anti-Semitic
ideology.
Indeed,
if one reads
beyond
Le
differend
into
Lyotard's Aujuste (the
two
books are
closely
related),
one will notice
passages
such as those on the
Hegelian
conviction that
Jews
have
developed
a culture that resists direct
confrontation,
recognition,
and
engagement, passages
which evoke rather than revoke the idea
that
Jewish
culture is itself diffident. It
may
well be that we are not
supposed
to
make the kinds of inferences which would
give
credence to anti-Semitic
ideas,
but
given
the
way Lyotard's
recent
writings
lend themselves to free
association,
it
would have been
reassuring
to have had some sentences in the recent texts which
might allay
the
suspicion
that
Lyotard
is
supporting
the notion that the Holocaust
is the
consequence
of a form of
thought
or
logical principle
that can be derived
from
Jewish
ethics.
Indeed,
it is as if
Lyotard's
ethical
philosophy
were
curiously
uninhibited with
respect
to
allowing
for a transference with those
very political
resonances which have been so
catastrophic
for
Jews
in modern times.
Indeed,
this is an
aspect
of
Lyotard's
work that needs a fuller and
perhaps
much more
thoughtful investigation
than one can
give
in a review. Such a fuller treatment
would include close
inspection
of
"Discussions,
ou
phrases 'apres
Auschwitz'" in
Lesfins
de l'homme
(1981)
and the more recent
"Judicieux
dans le differend" in La
faculte
dejuger (1985).
Given the elusiveness of these
texts,
it is
perhaps prudent
to
give Lyotard
the benefit of one's
doubts; nevertheless,
I find his recent work
touching
on the Holocaust
deeply distressing
and
repellant.
For me it marks a
limit where certain modes of
post-structuralist interpretation
reveal
major
inade-
quacies
as methods of
philosophical
reflection.
Herman
Rapaport
University
of Iowa
Sternhell,
Zeev. Ni droite ni
gauche:
I'ideologie
fasciste
en France. Paris: Editions du
Seuil,
1983.
Pp.
414.
Ni droite ni
gauche
is the third volume of Zeev Sternhell's
trilogy
on the radical
Right
in
France,
and those who are familiar with Sternhell's
previous
books
[Maurice
Barres et le nationalisme
francais
[1972];
La Droite
revolutionnaire,
1885-
1914: Les
originesfrancaises dufascisme [1978]),
will find the
argument
of this one
quite
familiar.
The reader is informed at the outset
that,
like the
previous
books,
this one will
concentrate on the essentials of the fascist
phenomenon
in France: the connection
of the
nationalist, anti-liberal,
anti-bourgeois Right
with the
anti-marxist,
anti-
liberal,
anti-bourgeois
Left.
Both,
Sternhell never tires of
telling
us,
were disen-
chanted with the established liberal democratic order of the Third
Republic,
were
its
outspoken
critics,
and therefore
ideologically
undermined the
Republic
and
"prepared
the fall of
democracy"
in the summer of 1940
(p. 40).
This is not to
suggest
that Sternhell measures the
popular support
of French fascism or investi-
gates
the active role of the
Leagues during
the 1930s. A few
pages
touch on these
issues,
but in
general
this is a book about
ideas;
the author's
concern,
as the subtitle
states,
is "the fascist
ideology
in France"
(emphasis
mine).
Sternhell is
quick
to admit that fascism
enjoyed
little
political
success in
France,
largely
the
result,
he
claims,
of the
strength
of the conservative
Right
and of
86 86