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it) 20 I 0 by Jeremy Fernando

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vii

'"A thinking," Flaubert said, "should have neither religion nor


fatherland nor even any social conviction.
Absolute
scepticism." Radically rupturing, the statement is not merely
subversive. It does not depend upon the program which it
criticizes. How might one free oneself from the cowardliness
pressing upon social convictions of the present, subjugated as they
are to reactive, mimetic, and regressive posturings?
Avital Ronell: Crack Wars: Literature, Mania, Addiction

viii

You are a clever man, friend John; you reason well, and your wit is
bold; but you are too prejudiced. You do not let your eyes see nor
your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of
account to you. Do you not think that there are things which you
cannot understand, and yet which are; that some people see things
that others cannot? But there are things old and new which must
not be contemplate by mens eyes, because they knowor think
they knowsome things which other men have told them. Ah, it
is the fault of our science that wants to explain all; and if it explain
not, then every day the growth of new beliefs, which think
themselves new; and which are yet but the old, which pretend to
be younglike the fine ladies at the opera.
Bram Stoker: Dracula

ix

To Avital Ronell, Wolfgang Schirmacher, and Werner Hamacher;


the bravest thinkers I know.
Thank you for being my mentors, my teachers,
and most of all
my friend.

x
Whilst speaking with a survivor of the Second World War, what
struck me most was her response to my questionwhat is the
biggest difference between being a free citizen and one in
captivity? To her it is simply the ability to say no. For when she
was under the rule of the captors, this act of choiceexpressing
her unwillingness to perform a particular task, deed, actionwas
unthinkable.

Every question put to her was never a true

questionit was only a question in form; a question to which an


answer was already known, already inscribed into the question
itselfit was an order, a demand, an imperative.

One register that is opened is; a possible pre-condition for


freedom is the ability to deny, the opportunity to reject. Here we
can catch a hint of an echo of Herman Melvilles Bartleby in her
response: when asked to do something, one is able to express ones
self through uttering I would prefer not to. 1 Whilst one might
argue that the rejection of Bartleby is not as strongthere is no
outright rejection of the request, merely a deflection (after all, just
because one prefer[s] not to does not mean that one does not do
it), one must also keep in mind that her utterance and Bartlebys
have one thing in commonboth are responses that keep the
question open, that allows the question to remain a full question.
After all, no does not mean an outright rejection of the premise,
only a refusal to comply; and since there is no time element to the
response, it does not rule out the potential for compliance at a later

Herman Melville. (2006). Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street.

xi
date, just not now. It is in that precise sense of indeterminacy that
the response of no is far from an answer, far from any finality
whatsoever: in fact it is the response that has the opposite effect; it
is a response that opens other possibilities, by remaining
unknown.

What remains unknown is not just the response to the


question. Since there is always a possibility that one might answer
in the positive to the question at some point in the future, this
opens the question of, who is the I that is uttering no. If one
wants to posit that the self is consistent, then surely there would be
a contradiction between a no now and a future yes. (We see
many such accusations in daily lifeand particularly in the
political arenawhere people are charged with going back on
their words). One could also posit that the self is situational: in
particular situations one could respond in the negative to the
question; at other moments, it might be a positive response. In
either case, the self that utters the response at the later point is not
exactly the same as the one of the earlier utterance (inconsistency
suggests change; situational difference suggests that there is an
external component to the self and since this is different, there is
no reason to claim that it is the same self).

Hence, at each

utterance of no, the self that is uttering is also an indeterminate


self: it calls to mind all the other self(s) that precede the no; and
all that will come after.

xii
At each utterance of no there are always already ghosts of all
the other self(s) that may or may not have uttered the same thing,
the same response. However, this does not mean that if at any
point there is a positive utterance to the questiona yesthat it
would be any different. In fact, the only situation that would be
different is if the yes is a compulsory utterance; when it is a
situation where there is no ability to say no, where there is no
ability to respond to the question at all. This would be a situation
where not only is the ability to respond effaced, but more crucially,
where the self is effaced.

What is opened is a consideration of whether there is a link


between the ability to respond and the self. Is there only a self
when there is a ability to respond to situations, with situations?
After all, responsibility is the very precondition of choice, and
there is no self without choice; otherwise one would be a mere
automaton, completely conditioned by ones surroundings. This
does not necessarily mean that one has complete control when one
makes any choice: after all, since perhaps only one of the self(s) is
making that choice, there is no reason to believe that the other
self(s) might not have made a different decision; and with the same
amount of legitimacy, or illegitimacy.

One may never even be able to comment on the legitimacy of


the choice, as this presumes an external verification to the
choosing. However, as each choice is situationalsingularthe

xiii
referent is always already different.

Hence, each choice is

irreducibly singular and thus incomparable, uncomparable.

In order to shed some light on the indeterminacy between


choice and automated response, we turn to Maurice MerleauPonty and his meditation on the strange phenomenon known as
the phantom-limb; the limb that is not quite there, but at the same
time affects the person, has effects on the person, as if it was there.
In fact on many occasions the person is affected by the absent limb
in ways that seem completely unreasonable, inexplicable: for
instance instead of pain where ones hand used to be, the pain is
now felt in another area of the body. Of course once we take into
account the fact that the nerve receptors of the hand are now dead,
it is completely reasonable that the pain is not felt where the hand
was: however, this opens up the question of why pain is felt at
allclearly there must still be some stimulus that the hand is
feeling, is receiving, that is now transmitted to another part of the
body.

It is in the light of the indeterminacy of whether the

sensation is caused by physiological or psychological stimuli that


we must consider Merleau-Pontys claim that

what has to be understood, then, is how the


psychic determining factors and the physiological
conditions gear into each other: it is not clear how
the imaginary limb, if dependant on physiological
conditions and therefore the result of a third

xiv
person causality, can in another context arise out
of the personal history of the patient, his
memories, emotions and volitions. 2

This suggests that sensations are neither purely from external


stimuli nor internal cognition: it is rather an inter-play between the
two, where the body discovers itself via the world and also
discovers the world through itself. Hence, the phantom-limb, is
not the mere outcome of objective causality; no more is it a
cogitatio. 3 Lying in the indistinct space between cognition and
external stimuli, the sensation felt by the patient is similar to a
reflexan action that is neither merely a reaction to stimuli nor
fully cognitive. In fact, reflex movements, whether adumbrated
or executed, are still only objective processes whose course and
results consciousness can observe, but in which it is not
involved. 4

The reflex does not arise from objective stimuli,


but moves back towards them, and invests them
with a meaning which they do not possess taken
singly as psychological agents, but only when
taken as a situation The reflex, in so far as it
opens itself to the meaning of a situation, and
2

Maurice Merleau-Ponty. (2006). Phenomenology of Perception. pp.89.

ibid. pp.89.

ibid. pp.91.

xv
perception; in so far as it does not first of all posit
an object of knowledge and is an intention of our
whole being, are modalities of a pre-objective view
5

Hence, all cognitionevery act of knowingcan only happen


retrospectively: the meaning of the reflex can only be inferred after
the fact. In other words, the phantom-limb sensation can only be
known at the very moment at which it is felt, where the
experience does not survive as a representation in the mode of
objective consciousness and as a dated moment; it is of essence to
survive only as a matter of being and with a certain degree of
generality. 6 It is a personal existence without, in other words,
being able either to reduce the organism to its existential self, or
itself to the organism. 7

Hence, the phantom-limb is not a

recollection, it is a quasi-present and the patient feels it now


with no hint of it belonging to the past. 8

Every time there is a sensation in the phantom-limb, it is an


event, unknowable until the moment in which it is felt; it is both
pre-objective and pre-subjective, preceding both the cognitive

ibid. pp.91-92. italics from source.

ibid. pp.96.

ibid. pp.97.

ibid. pp.98.

xvi
subject and also the very object of cognition itself. So, even as the
phantom-limb pain is treatable in the realm of the imagination, 9
this is a treatment of its symptoms: the cause, and the very status
of the sensation itself, remains unknown and ultimately
unknowable. This suggests that once again we are left in the realm
of darkness: the only thing that Merleau-Pontys ruminations
reveal to us, is that there is a potential for response to an
externality, to something that is outside of the self, to an other:
what this potentiality is can never be known. Moreover, it is only
a phenomenon after the factor at best at the moment in which it
is experienced: there can be no knowledge of the phenomenon

9 The most common treatment for phantom-limb pain is the mirror box treatment,
that was created by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and colleagues. A mirror box is a
box with two mirrors in the centre (one facing each way). A patient inserts their
hand into one hole, and their phantom hand into the other. When viewed from an
angle, the brain is tricked into seeing two complete hands. The mirror box
treatment is based on an observation that phantom limb patients were more likely
to report paralysed and painful phantoms if the limb was paralysed prior to
amputation. The hypothesis was that every time the patient attempts to move her/
his limb, (s)he receives sensory feedback that the limb is paralysed. Over time, this
feedback stamps itself into the brain such that even when the limb is absent, the
brain has learnt that the limb (and its subsequent phantom) is paralysed. Hence,
the patient feels discomfort or even pain because the phantom limb is either in an
uncomfortable position, or is paralysed. However, if the brain is tricked into seeing
two complete hands when the hand that is present moves, the brain thinks that the
phantom limb is also moving. In this way, the person can move her/ his phantom
limb, and so the brain no longer recognises it as a paralysed limb. More recently,
the University of Manchester has developed a virtual reality interface to treat
sufferers of phantom limb pain: by attaching the present limb to an interface that
shows two limbs moving, the somatosensory cortex is tricked again. Both the
mirror box and the virtual reality interface work on the same principle of visualkinesthetic synesthesia, except that the illusion is stronger in the latter.

For more on the mirror box please read, V.S. Ramachandran & S. Blakeslee. (1988).
Phantoms in the brain: Probing the mysteries of the human mind. A report on the
University of Manchester virtual reality interface can be found, amongst other
places, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6146136.stm

xvii
either before or even after the fact: it is only experienced at the
point of its experience, after-which all that can be known is that
there is a potentiality for yet another experience, perhaps similar
or perhaps not at all.

After all, this is the legacy that is left to us, the legacy of the
question that is bequeathed to us in and through the deceptively
simple utterance, did God really say not to eat from any of trees
in the garden? 10 In many waysat least in the Judeo-Christian
traditionit is the first hermeneutical moment and it opens the
possibility that a statement can have more than one interpretation,
can have more than inference, more than one meaning. At this
point it is irrelevant to posit whether God was telling the truth or
whether the serpents question was a purely performative one:
what is crucial to us here is the fact that if it is possible for there to
be numerous inflections to a single statementa command even
this suggests that not only are there potentially numerous self(s) at
play, but also numerous ghosts that are within, and in, each
statement at the same time. After all, one cannot forget that this
question is never answered; it is a question that remains a
questionit is a question that remains in full potential throughout
the text.

If a question is a true question, in that it remains in its full


potentiality as a question, this suggests that every inference,
10

Genesis 3: 1-2.

xviii
interpretation, gesture by way of a response, or every response as a
gesture, is a calling to one, from one, of its many possibilities. And
since these are not possibilities that are plucked from nowhere
(otherwise it would hardly be a response) this suggests that they
are re-called, re-membered.

This then makes the gesture of

responding a response to another responsethe interpretation is


also a re-calling of something. Hence, the only thing that can be
known about the response is that it is an ability to respond, that
there is a possibility of responding: as to what this response is, or
how one is to respond, nothing can be known except at the
moment of response.

As one might recall from the many lessons in literature, there


are various ways of responding to a call. When asked by the
ghost, his father, his ghostly father, to remember me, Hamlets
response was to pull out his pen and scribble on a sheet, almost as
if to record him, archive him, keep him at bay, away: by
committing the memory of his fathers ghostly request to paper,
Hamlet canat least temporarilytranspose that memory from
his mind. 11 Each time we hear the request remember me, there is
also the echo of the command to do this in memory of me. 12
11

This is taken from William Shakespeare. (1992). Hamlet. Act I sc v.

This particular reading of Hamlet was brought to my attention in a conversation


with Avital Ronell in Saas Fee about memory and forgetting. This was also one of
the various registers opened during her seminar, Finitude in Philosophy, Literature
and Art, at the European Graduate School in August 2005.
12

Luke 22: 19.

xix
Here, the register of form in memory is opened: after all, this is the
moment of trans-substantiation which is a moment that is beyond
all phenomenon(s)absolutely beyond the comprehension of all
phenomenology. This suggests that each time the Corpus Christi is
recalled, what is crucial is to perform the ritualthe breaking of
breadafter which nothing can be known. And we see an echo of
this in each recollection, each response to the potentiality of a
question: it is only through ritual, through habit, through culture,
that we even begin to know the meaning of anything, to even have
an inkling of how to respond in any given situation. In fact, each
time the bread is broken, one is never even sure what memory of
me is called up: the only thing that is known is the ritual itself,
and it is that which is important. It is the musical Jesus Christ
Superstar that reminds us of this: at the scene of the Last Supper,
after commanding (or pleading with) his disciples to remember
me when you eat and drink, Jesus turns aside and says,

I must be mad thinking I'll be remembered./ Yes,


I must be out of my head./ Look at your blank
faces. My name will mean nothing/ Ten minutes
after I'm dead. 13

13 Tim Rice, Norman Jewison, Melvin Bragg & Andrew Lloyd Webber. (1973). The
Last Supper in Jesus Christ Superstar.

Here, one might want to consider the notion that Jesus is only remembered because
of the betrayal of Judas. Peter, the alleged rock, denies him, and the rest go into
hiding after his crucifixion: in fact besides John, none of them are anywhere to be
seen after the arrest at the Garden of Gethsemane. In this light, one can consider
Judas his most faithful disciplehis betrayal of the man is in fidelity to the

xx

After all, it is only the idea of Jesus the messiah, or redeemer (or
whatever adjective one chooses to put after his name) that is
important: his actual name, and the person that he is, ceases to be
important. In fact, one can posit that it is at this moment that he
moves from a singular person, Jesus the Christ to a universal
Jesus Christthe moment where his role and his person merge
and they become indistinguishable, interchangeable; catholic. In
this sense, perhaps what exactly is remembered becomes less
important that the fact that it is remembered; what is known is less
crucial than the fact that something is known: what that something
is, however, remains to be known.

It is at this point that we must examine the relationality


between memory and forgetting. Often-times they are taken as
antonyms: forgetting as the negation of memory, as the absence of
memory. However consider the fact that in order to remember
something, it has to be out of our minds in the first place;
otherwise it would just be knowledge.

This suggests that

forgetting is a part of memory: it would be impossible to


remember if there was no forgetting. But would it suffice to leave
it that forgetting and memory are different phases of each other?
If we consider that each act of remembering is a recalling of one
aspectone register in a multiplicity of possibilitieswould it not
also suggest that each act of remembering necessitates the
teachings, and ideals, of Jesus. Moreover, someone had to betray the Son of Man in
order to fulfill scriptures, and complete the movement of God becoming man.

xxi
forgetting, at least momentarily, of the other possibilities. Each
time one possibility is recalled, all the other(s) are temporarily left
out, excluded, forgotten.

Hence, within each act of memory

always already lies a forgetting.

In memory of the forgetting that lies within each act of


remembering we should consider Hlne Cixous claim that

citation is the voice of the other and it highlights


the double playing of the narrative authority. We
constantly hear the footsteps of the other, the
footsteps of others in language, others speaking in
Stephens language or in Ulysses, I mean the
books language It reminds us that we have
been caught up in citation ever since we said the
first words mama or papa. 14

The very nature of language involves citationality: since we are


born into language, a language that precedes usalong with all of
its significances and by extension its significationsall that we say
always already is from the voice of [an] other. And since one is
only able to understand via language (even an instinct or gut feel
enters the realm of language the moment we attempt to express it,
articulate it, think it; at that moment it enters the realm of
codification through language), this suggests our very conception

14

Hlne Cixous. (2005). Stigmata. pp.135.

xxii
of ourselves is always already an interplay between memory and
forgetting.

We recall ourselvesor a particular inference of

ourselves, our selfeach time we utter I, but at the very same


moment, all the other self(s) are by necessity forgotten, they
remain footsteps, but perhaps in the distance, hear[d] but not
necessarily seen, or even known.

This is not to say that the footsteps of the other[s] have no


effect on us: just because we do not see, or even hear, them does
not necessitate their lack of influence on us. It is at this point that
all phenomenology fails again: the claim that only what is
comprehended through the senses matters is ultimately an
anthropocentric gesture, as if only what happens in and through
the self is what is important, is what is real.

And it is this

anthropocentric gesture that can be found in all social


constructivist theory, which is ultimately an attempt to subsume
everything under the understandinglogic, reasonof the self,
such that everything remains under the control of the self.

This matter is compounded if one considers the fact that one


has no control over what one forgetsforgetting happens to one.
At the very most, one can attempt to express this forgetting with
the utterance, I forgot. The moment there is an object to this
utterance, one is already back in the realm of memoryone has
remembered what one has forgotten. However, since forgetting
happens to one, this implies that there is no guarantee that the

xxiii
memory of the forgetting has anything to do with the forgetting
that took place.

More than that, the fact that it occurs from

without suggests that it can potentially happen at any point, at any


time.

Hence, each act of memory potentially brings with it a

moment of forgetting.

By extension, each act of knowing

knowledge itselfcan never be sure of its status of knowing; there


may always already be something forgotten within it.

Contents
Reading the body

Origins - Firsts

20

The First Time or I Want to Make Sure its your Last

22

The Violence of the Question and the Terror of the Answer

29

Why Why Tell me Why

32

Blindness and the Third

37

Witnessing: Fiction and Testimony

54

Symbolic Exchange or this is my gift of death


Seductive secrets
3.5 Requiem for a name
A measure of salvation
On Death (Suicide) or whats love got to do with it

71
88
101
117
121

On Suicide

125

The suicide bomber

137

4.5 The instant of death

140

4.7 Her gift of death

148

Shattering illusions or How Stalin was finally proven


right

153

Approaching illusions: approaching Death

157

On Relationality

166

Suicide Bombers, Zombies, and Necromancy

171

Confessions; or a suicide note

185

Exteriority and Finitude

195

How stupid can you be?

210

Poetry, irony, and the Suicide Bomber

213

Echoes

229

After-word

247

In the beginning there were three sexesman,


woman and the androgyn.
The androgyn was
composed of 4 arms and 4 legsfused at the
spine; they faced to the side.
Since they
were composed of both man and woman, the
androgyn was twice as fast, twice as strong,
and twice as clever.
As
such,
the
androgyn
questioned
the
authority of the Gods, and due to their
strength and intelligence, posed a threat to
Olympus.
In deciding how to deal with this
threat, Zeus and his council deliberated
obliterating the androgyn, but did not want
to lose the offerings and homages from
humankind. So they decided that they would
split the androgyn without killing her/ him.
So the androgyn was split down the middle
leaving her/ him with 2 arms and 2 legs. And
to forever remind the androgyn of her/ his
crime, Apollo was sent to turn their face
sidewaysfacing the front.
This was to
forever remind the androgyn of the other
half.
This is why we are forever searching for our
other half; our eternal soulmate.
This is a story of
sadness and longing.
A story of love.

rebellion,

punishment,

Reading the body


Perhaps we should begin by considering the beautiful epigraph in
Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes which goes, it must all be
considered as if spoken by a character in a novel, 1 and in
particular, how it speaks to us, of the unknown, and the
unknowable. For if it is only told as if by a character in a novel,
we are forever left unsure of whether the I is that of the narrator
or of a character: in fact, the narrator and the character are always
already indistinguishable.

There really is no reason why one cannot consider the


possibility that the narrator and the character are exactly the same
entity. This would suggest that the narrative is unfolded at the
very moment of its unfolding. What this opens is the status of
knowledge itself: for the narrator is supposed to possess a certain
over-arching knowledge of what happens not only before but to a
certain degree afterthere is a certain knowledge of the future
that the narrator possesses, that everyone else in the tale is denied
(even the reader, especially the reader). Once the possibility of the
narrator being veiled from the future of the narrative is
considered, an uncertainty is introduced to the entire narrative, not
just from the angle of whether the narrator can be trusted or not (of
course (s)he cannot) but more pertinently whether anything
uttered by the narrator is constative, or can even be considered a
1

Roland Barthes. (1994). Roland Barthes. Epigraph.

6
constative statement. What this suggests is that everything uttered
by the narrator is a future-anterior statement: perhaps with some
knowledge of the future, and a particular version of the past, but
never in the present except for the very fact that it is uttered in the
present. Which then enters the entire narrative into the realm of
undecideability: the only thing that one can be certain of is the fact
that the narrator is uttering the narrative; nothing else can we be
sure of.

This is the problem that we are faced with when we attempt to


think the relationship between biology and gender: the I that is
the basis of genderthe self of identity, the self that is
constructedis never fully determinable; it is always already the
I of the narrator (the one who is constructing the tale) and also
that of a character in the tale. In fact, one might also begin to posit
that the I is both narrating and being narrated at the same time, in
the same moment, in the very gesture of articulating the I. This
suggests that the I is never either completely singular nor is it
merely part of a network, part of the rest of the tale: borrowing
Jean-Luc Nancys beautiful formulation, the I is a singularplurality; always already singular and in relation with an other,
another, all others.

The social-construction logic of gender has always been


concerned with its status as plurality, where the I is seen as the
result of forces, influence, power, surrounding it, acting on it,

7
acting with it. In this way, the construction of the self is affected
through the imaginary: to be more precise, the self is formed in the
imaginary. If you prefer the language of psychoanalysis, what is at
stake is the negotiation between the superego and the id.
However, to reduce everything to a cultural construction would be
an anthropocentric gesture: if everything is constructed, the
underlying logic is that the I is self-generated, or at the very least,
the product of a solely human intervention. By extension, the
human is the centre around which everything is generated. More
than that, the implication is that the entire construction of the self
is under our control, that our very being is the result of a cognitive
process; our very being can be subsumed under knowledge, and
more pertinently our knowing.

We can see this again in

psychoanalysis in the attempt to subsume the unknowable under


the category of the unconscious; everything that is unaccountable
is then put under this, as if to say leaving this aside everything
else is knowable: the unconscious becomes the exception in order
for normalcythat we can comprehend the selfto sustain itself.
As Jean Baudrillard in Symbolic Exchange and Death elegantly
posits,

the unconscious, and the psychical order in


general, become the insurmountable agency,
giving the right of trespass over every previous
individual and social formation the idea of the
unconscious, like the idea of a consciousness,

8
remains an idea of discontinuity and rupture. Put
simply, it substitutes the irreversibility of a lost
object and a subject forever missing itself, for the
positivity of the object and the conscious subject.
However decentred, the subject remains within
the orbit of Western thought, with its successive
topologies 2

In this manner, the imaginary that is the self is the assumption in


order to validate the axiom that the human is the centre of the
world: instead of an unknown, an unknowable, psychoanalysis
attempts to re-inscribe it into a positivistic mode by terming it an
unconscious, merely the direct opposite of what is known, and
hence, still governed by the same logics, the same calculations.

An examination of the very premise of social construction


that the self is generated by experiencesproblematizes this
notion of the full plurality of gender (where man and woman are
exactly the same, interchangeable, and only a product of
influences, and more precisely a product of influences that can be
known, cognitised and ultimately controlled). For if experiences
are the basis of the self, then surely the differences in biology
between women and men would result in different experiences: in
fact the biological differences would be what Hlne Cixous calls
the irreducible difference between the sexes. This is not to say that
2

Jean Baudrillard. (2007). Symbolic Exchange and Death. pp.143.

9
biology is deterministic, but to deny that it has an influence on
experiencesand going by the very logic of social construction,
gender, and hence, the selfwould be false. The fact that only a
woman can experience pregnancy, and menstruation, suggests
that these are absolute differences that separate her from any man,
all men.

This is not to say that all pregnancies and all

menstruations are exactly the same as well: each experience is


perhaps unique, but to deny that they play a part in the formation
of the self is false. Since these experiences are biological, predetermined by sex, this suggests that they are beyond social
construction. Perhaps one can argue that the manner in which we
speak of them, know them, attempt to understand them still falls
within language and hence, within our constructions: however I
would like to consider the fact that since they precede language
(one does not have to conceive of menstruation in order to
menstruate) there is a part of the experience that escapes cognition,
that slips all attempts to understand, to know.

Perhaps this is the point where we can posit why biology has
been subsumed under the auspices of gender.

By completely

separating biology from gender, it is made the absolute other: this


exclusionary gesture allows the positivistic logic of gender to
sustain itself. In this manner, gender, and by extension the self, is
reduced to a calculable logic: the I is now totally within cognition.
Considering that there is no logic which can sustain itselfno
proof can possibly exist determining the truth or falsity of the

10
undecidable statement in the language of the system within which
the statement was formulated 3 in order for there to be any
totality (in the form of a consistent logic that can prove itself
within its own logical system), some form of exclusionby way of
the suppression of the axiom that does not conform to the internal
logic of the systemmust take place.

However, it is not as if making gender clear, completely


knowable, comes without a price: once the self is completely
calculable, it is also completely exchangeable, completely
transparent. In response to his playfully teasing questionwhat
happens after the orgy?Jean Baudrillard quips, every
individual category is subject to contamination, substitution is
possible between any sphere and any other: there is total confusion
of types. 4 Hence,

each category is generalized to the greatest


possible extent, so that it eventually loses all
specificity and is reabsorbed by all the other
categories. When everything is political, nothing
is

political

anymore,

the

word

itself

is

meaningless. When everything is sexual, nothing


is sexual anymore, and sex loses its determinants.
3

Avital Ronell. (2005). The Test Drive. pp.57.

4 Jean Baudrillard. (1999). The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena.


pp.8.

11
When everything is aesthetic, nothing is beautiful
or ugly anymore, and art itself disappears. This
paradoxical

state

of

affairs,

which

is

simultaneously the complete actualization of an


idea, the perfect realization of the whole tendency
of modernity, and the negation of the idea and
that tendency, their annihilation by virtue of their
very success, by virtue of their extension beyond
their own bounds 5

If gender is now totally transparent, we have reached the stage of


the trans-gendered, in the precise sense of everything is now
engendered. However, once everything is gendered, gender itself
loses all specificity and is reabsorbed by all the other categories,
and gender itself loses all meaning. Ironically, by attempting to
locate gender in everything, gender itself is rendered completely
empty.

It is at this point that biology has to be re-inscribed into


gender. For only if the unknowability that is biology is considered
within genderif unknowability is part of knowledge itselfis
the gesture of totalising knowledge, the gesture of totalitarianism
avoided. This is the notion of knowing, understanding, that we
glimpse in Werner Hamachers deceptively simple formulation,

ibid. pp.9-10.

12
understanding is in want of understanding. 6

Only if every

attempt to know something brings with it an inability to


comprehend within the same gesture, acknowledges a lack of
understanding,

is

the

full

potentiality

of

the

object

of

understanding itself acknowledged. In terms of gender, it has to


be thought of as a codein that one learns ones role to play; it is a
form that is repeated, and normalised, only because there is mass
repetition of that particular role. As Avital Ronell has opened our
sensibilities to in Crack Wars, there is no culture without addiction:
it is only when enough people are hooked to a particular way of
lifea certain rolethat it becomes cultural.

This opens the

question of why certain roles are legitimate whilst others are not. 7
However, what remains unknown is how these roles come into
being in the first place; the question of origin remains blind to us.
And it is this gap in the hermeneutical circle that allows the
potentiality of the object in questiongender in this caseto
remain un-effaced.

The category of genderlike any categoryis faced with the


problem of the relation between the part and the whole.

For

gender to mean anything, it has to have a certain universality, in


its being applicable to everyone in general; but at the same time, it
is also only able to derive any meaning from a particular instance,
6 Werner Hamacher. (1996). Premises: Essays in Philosophy and Literature from Kant to
Celan. pp.1.
7

Avital Ronell. (1992). Crack Wars: Literature, Mania, Addiction.

13
in its application to each singular person. Therefore, for a whole to
be a sum of its parts, there has to be an effacement of the
particularity of each situationthe over-arching concept has to be
perfectly repeatableeach situation has to be treated as exactly the
same, corresponding to a pre-determined set of criteria. However
since each instance is a singularity, this suggests that it brings with
it a unique set of circumstances, and hence, there is no
repeatability possible: even if the criteria were the same, there is no
reason that the singular set of circumstances will ever match it in
the same way. Hence, as Werner Hamacher posits,

the hermeneutical circle thus opens up and makes


every closure into a hermeneutic fictiona
heuristically useful fiction, no doubt, a fiction
capable

of

economizing

on

deficit

of

understanding, but a fiction that can neither


accommodate itself to the ideal of perfect
understanding nor redress the loss, constitutive of
language and understanding, which the ellipses
themselves introject. 8

And these ellipses, which are usually considered an aberration to


writingbringing the possibility of the incompleteness, or
incompleteability of sentences to the foregroundor at best a mere
8 Werner Hamacher. (1999). Hermeneutical Ellipses: Writing the Hermeneutical
Circle in Schleimacher in Premises: Essays in Philosophy and Literature from Kant to
Celan. pp.76.

14
supplementa graphical noveltyare in fact, the rhetorical
equivalent of writing: it depletes, or decompletes, the whole so as
to make conceptual totalities possible. And yet every conceivable
whole achieved on the basis of ellipsis is stamped with the mark of
the original loss. 9 Hence, gender as a category is always already
incomplete: all social-construction theory, or in fact any theory that
attempts to make an over-arching claim, always has to rely on the
fiction of a complete hermeneutic circle, held together by the
ellipsis, which is then denied in the very same gesture. Once the
ellipsis is taken into consideration, not only is complete
knowability a fiction, but more than that, whether it can be known
even through fiction is itself ultimately unknowable.

In the

context of gender, it is biology that is its ellipsis; it is biology that is


its unknowability.

It is this unknowabilitythis ellipsis that both allows one to


know yet never allows this knowing to be completethat Jacques
Derrida notes in his magisterial text Right of Inspection when he
argues that even though the reader has a right to see, and that it
takes a certain skill to see, in that it is not a random, purely
arbitrary act, (s)he is always already bound by a law of seeing.
After all, you have the authority to tell yourself these stories but
you cannot gain access to the squares of that other one. You are
free but there are rules. 10 In this way, reading, and seeing, is a

ibid. pp.74.

10

Jacques Derrida. (1998). Right of Inspection. pp.1.

15
negotiation between the reader and the text. One is free within a
certain set of rulesafter all one is always already bound by
grammarand ones reading is an interjection, an interplay
between the reader and the text within the rules laid out, the rules
before which both the reader and the text must stand; there is a
law that assigns the right of inspection, you must observe these
rules that in turn keep you under surveillance. 11 In order to play
the gamethe game of seeing, the game of readingyou have no
choice but to remain within these limits, this frame, the framework of these frames 12 And more than this, a text gives both
you and itself (through its characters, through the outcome of its
own narrative),

a right to look, the simple right to look or to


appropriate with the gaze, but it denies you that
right at the same time: by means of its very
apparatus it retains that authority, keeping for
itself the right of inspection over whatever
discourses you might like to put forth or whatever
yarns you might spin about it, and that in fact
comes to mind before your eyes. 13

11

ibid. pp.1.

12

ibid. pp.1.

13

ibid. pp.2.

16
It is in this way that every seeing reveals and conceals at the same
time; every seeing always already involves a certain inability to
see, an inability to know. In effect every reading is a positing,
taking a position, making a choice, which comes with a moment of
madness, of blindness. Otherwise all one is doing is re-writing the
text; otherwise one might as well not be reading at all. As Kafka
has taught us time and time again, one can never know the law
before which one stands.

Death is this unknowability that resides in every act of


knowing, every attempt to know: not a death that is merely a
phase of life, an end-point that is always already taken into
consideration in advance, death as a negativity to life, but death as
such, death that is a pure void, that can at best be constituted as a
catachrestic metaphor; death as a pure name, naming nothing
except for the fact that it is naming. This suggests that we cannot
define death, that at best we might begin to approach it but that it
will always already slip away from us. It is not as if we cannot
know death because it is beyond usin fact it is part of us, a part
of us that is always already (n)either within us (n)or without us. In
this sense we are always stricken with death, but a death from
within that remains unknowable to us, one that we can at best
glimpse as a metaphor, as a narrative, as fiction. It is with this in
mind that we approach Marguerite Duras beautiful tale The
Malady of Death. Perhaps in this non-direct way, we might begin to
catch a glimpse of the unknowability that haunts the self, that is

17
always already of the self, that doesnt allow the self to totalize.
One must never forget that we can only see ghosts when we are
not looking for them.

In The Malady of Death, there is a conversation between a you


and a her: at first glance, it would seem that it is between a man
and a woman in a room by the sea. Occasionally an Iperhaps a
narrator; perhaps the heinterjects. It is this impossibility of
distinguishing, of separating the he and the I within the text,
that brings the she into question, that opens the question of
referentiality; if one is never able to discern who is uttering the
utterances, the poles of elocutioner and referentthe binary of
subject and objectare imploded. At the end, all you can say
about the status of referentiality in the text, to borrow a phrase
from the very first time the I appears, is I dont know; 14 not just
an I dont know in terms of a lack of knowledge, but more
precisely an I dont know who the I that is uttering this statement
is in the first place. An echo of this is found later in the line you
think you know you know not what : 15 the first register it
opens is whether one can know they dont know something;
another potentially more interesting register is, if one only
thinks one knows one does not know, then whether something
is known or not known is now unclear. In either instance, the
difference between knowing and not knowing is blurred; they are

14

Marguerite Duras. (1986). The Malady of Death. pp.3

15

ibid. pp.40.

18
no longer antonyms but rather parts of each other: in other words,
every time something is known, there is always already something
unknown within it. The unknowability is not only in the content
the object to which the utterance refers tobut more radically in
the relationality of the subject to itself: each time one utters I dont
know, one is attempting to name oneself as well, to utter one-self
into being.

The only difference that is posited between the I, you, and


her is found in the line, your difference, your death. 16 What is
unknowablethe difference between the uttererswhat can only
at best be positedis death itself. This is why the tale is named
The Malady of Death: death is always within one (one is a carrier of
death from the very beginning) and always also from without
(death ultimately claims you). But it is not as if one ever knows
how death affects one: one knows without knowing how 17 and
more than that, whoever has it doesnt know hes a carrier, of
death. And also because hes like to die without any life to die to,
and without even knowing thats what hes doing. 18

16

ibid. pp.32.

17

ibid. pp.19.

18

ibid. pp.19.

One is tempted to turn to the after-word, to the commentary in The Malady of Death,
by someone, someone we too easily presume to be Marguerite Duras herself, to
gain a certain level of security; to stabilise as a fact the presence of two persons in
the scene. However, as one can never be certain of the status of the commentator,
this securityand assurednessis called into doubt, into question. It would be too
quick, too convenient, to ascribe this to a self-reflexive gesture, as a foregrounding

19

It is this gap between biology and genderthe gap that allows


them to affect each other, yet at the same time never allows how
they do so to be knownthat prevents a totalitarian theory from
coming into being, that prevents either biology or gender being
absolute. This unknowability, this death, both allows biology and
gender to communicate with each other, but also ensures that
communication is impossible at the same time: in this sense, the
exchange between them is always already a symbolic exchangeone
where there is no equalisation, flattening out of differences,
abstraction, but only reversibility, playor even better still, an
impossible exchange, an exchange between irreducible differences.
How biology and gender affect each other can never be calculated,
predictable, nor known in advance: all we can posit is that they do:
and each exchange happens only in the moment of exchange.

Not only does the irreducibility of their difference(s) prevent


either biology or gender from subsuming each other, it also allows
both biology and gender to be as such: otherwise by consuming

of itself as a work of fiction. This is unless we explore the very limits of selfreflexivity and open the possibility of a questioning of who this selfthrough the
Iis. Hence, it is not so much the status of the work as fiction that is
foregrounded, but the fictionality of the self that is reflected upon.
It is this unknowabilitythis indiscernability of the status of the self, of the
possibility of the multiple selfsthat is the gap that allows us to read, to respond
with the text, but always only provisionally, situationally; each reading is a singular
reading, a positing of both the self that is reading, and the self that is read.

20
the other completely, theybiology and genderwould consume
themselves, into meaninglessness, into nothingness.

Origins - Firsts
This leads one to ask the question, if one cannot know of origins,
or at least if origins are indeterminate, why is it that claims to
originality, sources, and ultimately the one truth, are constantly
made?

One can always make a too quick judgment, a snap

reaction, and say that there is a link between the source and
power, that power lies in the source, the centre. From Johannes
Fabian we learn that even time is no longer a neutral record of
passing moments: instead time has been made a trace of power, in
and through the idea of origins, the idea of the first moment. 19
One of the most obvious instances of the horror that is unleashed
through time comes to us from Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. In
the insistence that everything is reset to an original timeYear
Zerowhat was unleashed was one of the most brutal instances of
genocide in modern history. Of course it takes more than just a
concept to kill peoplean idea itself did not result in the death of
millions.

However, it was this ideathat one can restart

everything and more than that, that one has the solution to
everythingthat forms the framework, the structure such that
everything that lies outside the boundaries, the premise, is
19

Johannes Fabian. (1983). Time and the Other: How Anthropology makes its Object.

21
excluded, forbidden, banished. After all, in Khmer Rouge run
Cambodia, one did not even have to be guilty of anything: as long
as one was labelled an enemy, one was automatically excluded,
imprisoned and very often tortured and executed. Clearly how
one was labelled was crucial; all of this stems from the logic that
there is one correct way, a single wayonly one wayof being.
Everything stemmed from the centre (Year Zero) and the only
one(s) that had the solutionthe answerswere Pol Pot and his
central committee.

However, too quick a step in attempting to give a reason is no


different from making a claim to an answer, a claim of access to a
certain logos. Perhaps one way to attempt to address a question as
large as this one, a question that remains crucial to our task here, is
to embark on another detour, an aside into origins: in this manner
we might be able to catch a glimpse of some possibilities, without
making any over-arching claims to knowing, to knowledge itself.
And perhaps we might begin at the beginning, begin by thinking
what is a beginning, begin by positing why first-times remain such
an obsession.

22
The First Time or I Want to Make Sure its your Last
An obsession with beginnings.

And the fantasy of the original, along with the aura that comes
with it; the aura that surrounds the first. And the power that
comes with it, the power of credibility, of authority, of being the
source. This is why correction fluid has become indispensable in
our stationary drawersa desperate attempt to over-write a word,
a line, a smudge, as if by putting a layer over it, we can cover it up,
erase it completely; as if banishing it from sight will equate to
banishing its memory, banishing it from memory.

This is a denial that all experiences are literally written on our


bodies. Which is also why tattoos have been traditionally frowned
upon unless administered by the socius (in the form of tribal
marks): in this case one has to have a particular set of tattoos
which indicate that one is part of the tribe. So it is not as if the
person is free to choose: the wrong set of marks would forever
brand the person as an outsider, an outcast. This is the case when
prisoners are marked by the statethey are literally branded for
life. Tattoos are a literal, this is what I have gone through
symbolic of a particular passage, or trial, that the person has
experienced. In the case of personal tattoosthat is when the
person has made a free choice to mark themselves with a
particular phrase, design or imagethey are an indication that
this symbol means something to me and even more blatantly,

23
this is what I have gone through whilst you were not in my life.
It is the absolute singularity of the tattoo that truly terrifies: it is a
marking, a recording, a remembering of an experience, a thought,
an event that is only known (and perhaps experienced) by the
person wearing the tattoo; it is accessible to no one else. All any
other can know is the representation of the event, the image on the
person; and all this image reveals is that there is a secret that is
known by the person, one that you will never be privy to.

The obsession with origins is a hangover of both Platonic


thought and the Enlightenment, specifically the belief in
transcendental Truth and origins. It is this association withor
even the correlation ofthe power that comes with being the
origin, the first, the author, that lends itself to the societal
obsession with virginity, with virgins. And it is for this reason that
everyone wants to be a virginal experience, the virginal
experienceas if in order to be special one has to be the first. In
effect, what is being said is the obscene I want to be the first to
write myself on your body, which really translates to if Im not
the first to do anything with you, it is not meaningful at all.

But as always, the thing we fear most potentially gives us


hope. Just like tattoos, experiences are always cumulative. More
crucially, they are not added like Lego building blocks (one more
piece to an already present structure) but are always already a
reconstruction. In some way, this is how memory works: we are

24
not actually looking back to a past whenever we remember
somethingwhat occurs is a reconstruction of an event (that has
happened previously) but in this re-writing, we bring it into the
present precisely by re-membering it, by resurrecting it. Hence, an
additional tattoo is not merely one more in a collection of other
tattoos, but a reconstitution of the entire surface of your body;
your body is literally (re)written.

And likewise, another

experience is the re-writing of your life-story. 20

The fact that every experience is a reconstitution of the entire


realm of experiences, a restructuring of ones entire memory, does
not make first-experiences any less important. But neither does it
elevate virginity into the realm of the sacred: there is of course an
echo of religiosity at play here; the obsession with virginity and its
link with the Virgin Mary cannot be denied. In fact, this obsession
probably has an obscene link with the primordial yes that was
uttered to Gabriel: perhaps there is always a harbouring of a secret
obsession that all virgins will utter yes. The operating logic in this
instance is that without experience, one does not have a mind of
ones own: we see this operating in the Law as well (persons below

20 This is akin to Greg Lynns re-thinking of architecture where he contends that the
entire building (and indeed by extension, the entire city) is organic. Hence, an
alteration in one part of the building is not an isolated change, but one which not
only affects the rest of the building, but reconstitutes the entire building. Lynns
thoughts were shared at the European Graduate School, August 2004, when he was
a guest lecturer in Hubertus von Amelunxens seminar Architecture and Information.

25
some arbitrary age are deemed minors who are not responsible
and hence, cannot be held accountablefor their own actions). 21

The obsession with beginnings: a manifestation of the wish for


a yes to every request, which translates brutally to a desire of
dominance over another.

This is the spectre of the logos that

continues to haunt us.

In many ways, the poster-boy of the Enlightenment is the


Marquis de Sade. This is because de Sade is the one who takes
Immanuel Kant to the extremes: by applying the imperative to
every situation, de Sade demonstrates the fact that a reliance on a
single truthone that is decided a prioriis the effacement of the
singularity of every situation. In such a case, there is no other that
is responded to, as no matter what the situation is, the method is
always the same: whilst this doesnt necessarily mean that the
resulting response is exactly the same, it does subsume the
situation under the same conception, the same category. In this
manner, the will of the other is not taken into account; in effect the
will of the otherand the other her/ him selfis effaced. This is
why in a sadistic relationality, it is unimportant whether the sadist
is beating the victim or vice-versa: what is crucial is that it is the
sadist that is telling the victim precisely what to do. For instance,
21 This might well be reflective of the way in which the Law operates: one is only
deemed responsible and/ or accountable because the Law deems one to be so. This
is probably best captured in the phrase subject before the Law; not so much in the
notion that one is a subject that is under the jurisdiction of the Law, but more
precisely one is subjected to the will of the Law.

26
in de Sades Philosophy of the Boudoir, it is not the fact that Eugenie
is liberated, but the fact that Dolmance, Madame De Saint-Ange
and Le Chevalier de Mirvel, choose to train her into a libertine, and
more precisely to mold her, transform her, into the libertine of
their desires. It would have made absolutely no difference if they
had decided to make her into a nun. 22

In fact, there is no

negotiation between the sadist and her/ his victim: it is merely the
manifestation of the will of the sadist over the other. And since the
other is effaced, there might as well not be any other: it is the sadist
projecting her/ him self onto her/ his victim.

Sadism and the effacement of the will of the Other. Literally a


logic of I not only want to write myself into your existence, but I
want to write my existence into you: I want to make you into my
existence, I want to make you into me.

The obsession with virginity or the wish to wipe out everyone


else.

22

Marquis de Sade. (2000). Philosophy of the Boudoir.

There is an echo of the saying made in Gods image here: one has no choicenor
even the remotest of influenceover how one is designed. To compound matters,
after-which, ones actions are supposed to conform with this very image, an image
that was supposedly created by a God that is beyond both our comprehension or
reach. Hence, this is an image that we are supposed to refer to, but at the same
time, is an image that has absolutely no referentiality.

28

(Indeed, the only truly serious questions are ones that even a child
can formulate. Only the most nave of questions are truly serious.
They are the questions with no answers. A question with no
answer is a barrier that cannot be breached. In other words, it is
questions with no answers that set the limits of human
possibilities, describe the boundaries of human existence.)
Milan Kundera: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

29

The Violence of the Question


and the Terror of the Answer
When Mas Selamat escaped from the Whitley Detention Centre in
Singapore, on 28 February 2008, there should have been
pandemonium: allegedly one of the most dangerous men in SouthEast Asia was now roaming with evil intent. However, what we
encountered was ambivalence and even mirth; there were
numerous jokes surrounding the escape ranging from his name
(Mas Selamat Kan-diri) 1 to how Prison Break 2 should just be
renamed Toilet Break. What these jokes revealregardless of their
actual contentis a desperate attempt to find a reason for his
escape.

These jokes function in the same way as conspiracy

theories, bringing us a perverse comfort in knowing that there is


someone in charge ofsome reason behindall things that
happen.
1 This translates to Mas saves himself in the Malay language.
There were
numerous linguistic jokes that were popular in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia
in the wake of Mas Selamats escape: amongst them was one that went, How do
you know that Mas Selamat is in Johor (the Malaysian state nearest to
Singapore)?Because at the causeway, there is a sign that says, Selamat Datang
ke Johor. (Welcome to Johor but could also be read as Selamat came to Johor).
The irony of this joke was not lost on everyone on the morning of 8 May 2009, when
it was announced that Mas Selamat had indeed been apprehended in Johor; at that
point the nature of secrets was momentarily revealed: it is not what one knows that
is important, but that one must know that one knows.
2 Prison Break is popular television seriescreated by Paul Scheuringand the
premise is how two brothers organise a team in order to escape from prison. The
joke lies in the fact that Mas Selamat escaped through a toilet window after asking
the guards if he could go to the restroom to relieve himself. The extension of the
joke is that the series would have been very short, implying that this prison break
was very simple compared to anything seen in the television series.

30

This is the same reaction that weve always had to terrorism: a


refusal to acknowledge its status as an event; in exception to
everything else, and ultimately unknowable.

Instead, we have

always attempted to tame it, discipline it, under a cause and


effect analysis. It is for this precise reason that you will always
find an organisational chart whenever any terrorist group is
mentioned: it matters not whether the claim is that Mas Selamat is
the 3rd, 4th, or 72nd most important person in Jemaah Islamiah;
respective of the content, it is an attempt to assure oneself that
there is a structure in place, simply because, if there is a structure,
it can be toppled. This is the same reason why each time there is a
suicide bombing, the question asked is why did (s)he kill himself
when (s)he had so much to live for? which is then usually
explained via recourse to (s)he was brainwashed or the promise
of 72 virgins: in either case, the suicide bomber is brought back
under reason.

This is why hoaxes are punished severely. It is not so much


that they are a waste of state resources, but more pertinently, they
reveal that we are unable to tell the difference between a hoax and
the real thing. This inability is best captured in the fact one cannot
make a joke about terrorism, or even mention the word bomb, at
airports. Since the hoax, and the actual event, has the same form,
the effects are the same: after the bomb hoax in Holland Village in
November 2002, there was a dramatic decrease in the number of

31
patrons. 3 In fact we would rather there was an actual bomb: in
that way it could be diffused or explodein either case, the event
would end. A bomb hoax is infinite: the effects go on endlessly; all
we are waiting for is the bomb to go off. Or more radically still:
the bomb has already gone off; all we are waiting for are the effects
to catch up with us.

The punishment is not so much for the

utilisation of resources (they would have been used anyway in the


instance of a real bomb) but the fact that the reality principle itself
has been ruptured.

In this sense, the greatest fear that haunts us is if the escape


was a pure accident, without any explanation.

When Deputy

Prime Minister, and Home Affairs Minister, Wong Kan Seng said,
this should never have happened, 4 he touched on this precise
fear: it is not as if we didnt know that Mas Selamat would try to
escape (or even that he could) but rather we should never not
know why or how it happened. Much of the criticism of Wong
was not the fact that the incident occurred, but rather that he was
unable to provide a reason for its occurrence. Even though Mas
3 On 25 November 2002, many Singaporeans heard the warnings via SMS (short
messaging service) to stay away from Holland Village which is a area known for a
high concentration of expatriates. It was later discovered to be a hoax, but for
months after businesses in that area were affected by a significant decrease in
patrons. Even to this day, any mention of Holland Village brings with it an
association of bomb threats: the fact that the customer base is increasingly local
does not diminish this link, even though the logic originally posited for Holland
Village being a prime target was the number of expatriates in the area.
4 This was part of a statement read out in Parliament by Wong Kan Seng on 28
February 2008 entitled Statement from Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs
Minister Wong Kan Seng on escaped JI leader Mas Selamat Kastari which can be found
at http://www.straitstimes.com/STI/STIMEDIA/sp/pdf/DPM_statement.pdf

32
Selamat has been recaptured by the Malaysian police, and he has
laid out the route that he took to escape, the reason for it remains
unknown; hence, it remains a mystery to all.

The escapethe eventremains unknowable and ultimately


unsolvable.

Why Why Tell me Why


When one searches for a beginning, a source, a centre, one is
almost always looking for a cause.

And more precisely for a

reason: even where one may not exist (it may have been purely
chance) or when the reason is unknown (in the form of lack of
knowledge) or more pertinently the fact that every reason is but a
possibility, a reason among many other reasons. And it is this
unwillingness to accept the non-reason within reasonthat any
reason is but a chosen reasonthat is witnessed everywhere these
days. For if one admits non-reason into reason itself, one is always
already conceding that one can never know for sure, and it is this
uncertainty that seems to scare us.

What we are searching for is a particular death, a death to


possibilities, a death to multitudes, for that is what answers are:
the moment one can fix a positionwe find this in the daily saying
take a stand and stick to ittake an unchanging answer, one

33
converts doxa into logos. Or more precisely, one speaks of doxa as if
it was logos. This is the point at which an opinion becomes an
over-arching logic, a theory.

It is Friedrich Nietzsche who resurrects to remind us that it is a


yearning for metaphysical comfort, for certainty, which brings
about this theorisingas opposed to true thinking which is always
uncomfortable, discomforting, unsettlingin order to give the
theorist the false assurance that he knows, that he understands,
that he grasps the world in his hands: the ego of the theoretical
man is satisfied when he can fully explain the world he lives in. 5
In other words, his vanity is satiated when he can subsume the
world under his own conception: not only to be someone in the
world, living and learning in it, but rather to become the centre of
the world, where the world is nothing other than his world. In this
manner there is no longer a joy of living, of living as discovery,
with openness to the potentiality of change, of flux, and of chance.
In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche posits Apollonian (and later
Socratic) optimism as the totalitarian gestures that attempt to fully
comprehendthrough the centering of all existence in the
individuallife itself, and by doing so, drains life of all its vitality.
It is only the Dionysian gesture of pessimism that refuses complete
knowledgeand in fact realises that the individual is a illusionary
concept that merely brings metaphysical comfort to the
massesthat truly understands life.
5

In effect, the search for

Friedrich Nietzsche. (1967). The Birth of Tragedy. esp, sections 15-18 pp.93-109.

34
certainty is also a gesture against life itself, against the energies of
life, against the movement that is life.

This attempted freezing of movement, this suffocation of


possibilities, is precisely what Jean-Franois Lyotard and JeanLoup Thbaud call terrorismwhen relationality is one-sided, and
the third is taken hostage in their conversation in Just Gaming.
In other words, we are in a situation of terror when it is a situation
of non-negotiationality; when any possibility of negotiation is
effaced from the very beginning.

In Lyotard and Thbauds

conception, a situation is terroristic when

the blow is not struck on the adversary but it is


hoped that the blow will be borne by the third
party, the witness, public opinion. In such a case,
everyone

is

caught

without

freedom,

Whereas in a two-sided battle, my opponent


thinks that what I think and do is unjust, and I
think that what he does and thinks is unjust. Well
his freedom is complete and so is mine. With a
hostage, I am applying not even pressure. It
is much more than that. It is the social bond taken
as a fact of nature. 6

Jean-Franois Lyotard & Jean-Loup Thbaud. (1999). Just Gaming. pp.70-71.

35
We see this very clearly in the case of 9/11: the fact that there is no
need to even explain what the signifier signifieswhat it refers
tosuggests that we are only allowed to have one signified
attached to it; it is public opinion and the space of negotiation
that has been captured. And it is this that is terroristic about the
eventon September 11, 2001, there were many violent deaths,
and there are still many more deaths occurring as an effect of it;
what was terroristic though was the fact that we are no longer
allowed to say anything other than the official rhetoric about the
event. The standard media theory argument is that only if you
were actually in New York City (and more specifically near the
World Trade Centre) on the morning of September 11, 2001, would
you be able to tell what actually happened. This would imply that
any other means of knowing would be based solely on the
representation of the event: this is most clearly seen by the
validation of news coverage with other news coverage (see it first
on CNN, verify with FOX, and perhaps Al-Jazeera after that). Of
course the problem with verifying news through news is obvious:
all you are doing is allowing news to verify itself, strengthening
the underlying premise that there is a link between news and the
event.

However if we consider the notion that one has to be

present in order to know what actually happened, this suggests


that the phenomenological experience is raised onto a pedestal: we
find this in the everyday saying seeing is believing. The most
obvious effect of this figure of speech is that sight is elevated above
all other senses, as if the eyes have a monopoly over the truth, or at

36
least have a greater share of the truth, over hearing, touching,
tasting, smelling. However, even if we accept the premise that the
phenomenological experience encompasses all the senses, this does
not shift the link between realitythe truth of the eventand its
comprehension by the subject. In effect, taken to the extreme what
it is saying is that if a tree falls in the forest and I do not witness it,
it might as well not have happened.

Not only is the register of anthropocentrism which we had a


glimpse of earlier re-opened, we have also encountered the issue of
witnessing, of what it means to be a witness, of the possibility of
witnessing, here. And more pertinently of whether one has to be
able to comprehend the issue at hand in order to be a witness to it;
does one have to know in order to witness. This suggests that
there are two factors at play here: one is the ability to comprehend,
to see, to understand; the other is having an active role, one that
involves making a decision. And these are the two factors that are
fundamental to responsibility; an ability to respond to a particular
situation, a singular event. In order to meditate on witnessing,
responsibility, and what it means to respond, we will have to make
a detour into blindness, and into the making of decisions.

37
Blindness and the Third
In order to be responsible, one must be able to respond to the
needs of the other without subsuming the other under ones
conception: in other words, the other must not merely become a
reflection of ones self. That would merely be the construction of
the other in order to react to her/ him; a literal circle, a
masturbatory circle where the other is reduced to merely its other,
where the other is brought under the domain of the self, where the
other is made the self. Hence, in order to even begin to approach
the possibility of responsibility, one must maintain the other-ness
of the other whilst responding. This suggests that the other always
remains fully other to the self; one responds to the needs of the
other whilst not fully understanding, and perhaps never fully
understanding, what these very needs are.

At the moment of

response, and this brings us back once again torevives the


memory ofWerner Hamachers formulation, understanding is
in want of understanding: 7 the self does not merely act towards
the other; it is responding, communicating, negotiating with the
other.

This is a conception of responsibility not as a prescribed acta


one-way projection of the self onto the otherbut as a full

7 Werner Hamacher. (1999). Premises in Premises: Essays on Philosophy and


Literature from Kant to Celan. pp.1.

38
response; two-way and in full communion between the self and
the other.

The problem with a responsibility that is known a priori (in


the form of an ethics that is pre-determined) is that there is no
consideration of the singularity of the situation.

This is the

problem that Jacques Lacan points out in Kant avec Sadewith a


categorical imperative in place there is no other that is responded
to, as no matter what the situation is, the method is always the
same.

Whilst this doesnt necessarily mean that the resulting

response is exactly the same, it does subsume the situation under


the same framework, the same borders, boundaries. Even if one
considers Kant as teleological rather than ontologicalas Lyotard
and Thbaud do in Just Gamingit still holds that the end point
becomes the lens to which one then contextualises the entire
situation. As Lyotard says to Thbaud, when Kant introduces as
a regulator for the determination of actions by means of reflection,
the Idea of a supra-sensible nature, that is, of a society of free and
responsible beings, he is indeed introducing the Idea of a
totality. 8

Whilst it remains true that the end result is

undetermined, the end is always already known: this does not


allow the situation to be responded with as such.

And in

Lyotards words, as soon as one makes a determinant use of the


Idea, then it is necessarily the Terror: 9 the will of the other is not

Jean-Franois Lyotard & Jean-Loup Thbaud. (1985). Just Gaming. pp.86.

ibid. pp.92.

39
taken into account; in effect the will of the otherand the other
her/ him selfis effaced.

However it is not as if we can do

without an Ideaotherwise there is nothing to begin from, begin


with, and that would be an absolute non-response. So in this
sense, one must effectively have an Idea; but, in contradistinction
to what Kant thought, this Idea is not, for us today an Idea of
totality. 10 This suggests that an Idea which attempts to be a true
response to the needs of the other has to take into account the
unique situation that both the self and the other are in at any
moment. 11

The Levinasian approach to ethics addresses the issue of the


other, but ultimately is lacking in response as wellnot in the
sense of effacing the other, but ironically in its attempt to fully
understand the others needs. By claiming to privilege the visage
of the Other and emptying the self up to the point of becoming
hostage for the Other, what occurs is

an inverted arrogance: as if I am the centre whose


existence threatens all others confer[ing] on [it]
a central position: this very prohibition to assert
[the self] makes [it] into the neutral medium, the

10

ibid. pp.88.

For the more comprehensive discussion on Kant as teleological, please see Just
Gaming. especially pp.84-93.

11

40
place from which the truth about the [other] is
accessible. 12

In this situation, the self absorbs the other under its own
categories: there is a total consumption of the other.

More

precisely, the self simulates the otherthe response is not to the


other but rather to the simulacra of the other. Hence, the self is
actually responding to its own projected needsthe other exists
but as an imaginary other. We see this most commonly in displays
of organised charity: the organisations are rarely responding to the
exact situation of the person(s) they are trying to help, but instead
imposing upon them what they believe is good for them. This is
the problem found in the interventions by the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund: by ignoring the particularities of the
economic problem at hand, and imposing their own solutions (that
often have nothing to do with the actual situation), many an
economic crisis has been acerbated. In both cases, there is no
response to the situation as the intervening bodies have subsumed
the actual situation under their own conception: in seeking to fully
comprehend, understand, the situation, what has occurred is
instead a trampling over the situation, an effacement of the very
situation they attempted to help in the first place. Anytime the
claim is made that the other is centred, to the extent that in

12 Slavoj iek. (2004). Smashing the Neighbors Face pp.8-9 found at


www.lacan.com/zizsmash.htm [additions in parenthesis are mine].

41
Levinasian terms, subjectivity is being hostage 13 taking the
place of and being a sacrifice for the othereven if the intention is
to fully understand the other in order to respond to her/ his needs,
what occurs is the disappearance of the other via simulation:
another other is created: there is no longer an other. In order for a
true response, a full understanding of the other must never be
assumed, or even attempted: in this sense, the visage of the other
must always already be (at least partially) hidden.

This hidden visage of the other is not merely what Slavoj


iek claims when he says, the true ethical step is one beyond the
face of the other, the one of suspending the hold of the face: the
choice against the face, for the third. 14 ieks claim is that in
privileging the third over the visage, one is able to have an ethics
that is just (in the legal sense) for then one can abstract [the face of
the Other] and refocus onto the faceless Thirds in the
background. 15 Whilst the iekian gesture allows one to perform
a justice (that in his conception has to be blind to specifics, as in
every instance one can always justify whatever their actions are;
for instance personal short-comings; the failing nature of man; etc),
this is an ethics which privileges the material situationthe
faceless Thirdswhilst effacing the other completely. In the selfs
act of indifference, what one does is indeed suspend ones
13

Emmanuel Levinas. (1981). Otherwise Than Being. pp.127

14

Slavoj iek. (2004). Smashing the Neighbors Face. pp.10.

15

ibid. pp.10.

42
power of imagination 16 with respect to the other, but what occurs
instead is that this imagination is transposed onto the faceless
Thirds. Hence, there is a simulation of the faceless Thirds and
their needs. So whilst escaping the Levinasian trap of simulating
the other, the iekian gesture merely simulates the faceless
others. Indeed as iek claims, this is not simply the DerridianKierkegaardian point that I always betray the Other because tout
autre est un autre, because I have to make a choice to select who
my neighbour is from the mass of the Thirds[,] 17 but rather a
mere reversal of that statementa I betray the other because I
refuse to select from the thirds or even more radically, I betray
both the other and all others because I am merely subsuming all of
you under my conceptionI have made ALL of you my absolute
other(s). 18

The site of responsibility is indeed the third, but not in the


manner that iek posits, for the third exists not as an externality
to the other (in the figure of the faceless others), but rather in the
other her/ him self. By responding to and with the needs of the
other, the self has to communicate with the other in order to
uncover these needs. It is communication itself that takes place in
16

ibid. pp.11.

17

ibid. pp.9. [parenthesis my addition]

18 In a conversation with Werner Hamacher, he pointed out that at no point does


Levinas suggest that the visage of the other can even be seen. In this case, one can
then say that ieks gestureeffacing Levinas in order to simulate a Levinas in
order to efface him yet againis precisely a manifestation of his ethical conception.

43
the thirdfor true communication is not merely the exchange of
information but rather is a process where the two parties connect
and touch each other. 19 Communication, as Lucretius posits, takes
place in the skin (the simulacrum) between the two parties and it is
in that space that the two parties negotiate. 20 In this sense, there is
no direct transfer of meaning, 21 but rather, meaning itself is an
emergent property of the process of communication. By extension,
there is no such thing as mis-communication: communication itself
is an event and by definition its result cannot be pre-determined.
Responding to the other takes place in the thirdbetween the self
and the otherand it is at this site that the needs of the other
potentially emerge.

There is no doubt that an exchange takes place in


communicationotherwise one will emerge from any process of
19 In order for communication to be an exchange of information there has to be a
flattening out of differences. It is this flattening out that we see in ieks gesture of
transposing response onto the faceless thirds: in effect, the faceless thirds
function as the abstraction of the situation, the abstract value onto which all
exchange can take place, can circulate.
Hence, there is full and utter
exchangeability whilst the situation itself is effaced.
20 Lucretius conception of the simulacra was brought to my attention by Siegfried
Zielinski in his seminar entitled Mediology: Audiovisual History and Techno Culture,
and Pierre Alferi in his seminar From Script to Screen at the European Graduate
School, in August 2005 & June 2006 respectively.

Lucretius. (2005). Sensation and Sex. pp.39-60.


21 Most communication models presuppose a direct transfer of meaning. One such
instance is the Shannon-Weaver model, where every mis-communication is due to
interference, mis-information, or in more general terms, noise. This critique of
imperfect communicationthrough the concept of noisemerely strengthens the
underlying assumption that meaning can be accurately transferred, as if it were an
object.

44
communication completely unchanged (which is not true). Clearly
after each event where there is communication between persons,
each person changes in some way or another: however, how and in
what way this change takes place remains unknown, and perhaps
even unknowable, until at least after the event has occurred.
But the exchange that takes place is not one of a direct
information exchange: this would be the realm of a general
exchange; an exchange of one unit of information for another. This
is communication conceived as an economic exchange, where all
differences have to be flattened; abstracted from a use-value to an
exchange-value. Perhaps the sense of meaning that is derived
from the act is then its surplus value. This fits in perfectly with the
logic of capitalcommunication as a process that is calculable,
predictable and which produces surplus value that guarantees its
continual cycle. An analogy of this would be one of furniture in
the modern context: each piece of furniture no longer has a
meaning in itselfthe last of this is perhaps dads chair which
only he can sit inexcept for the fact that it is part of the overall
design of that particular room.

In this manner, each piece is

perfectly substitutable with any other piece: take any chair out and
replace it with another chair, as long as it fits in with the overall
design, it will work. Functionality is the key here. The ambience
of the room is the concept that determines the individual pieces of
furniture, which only have meaning insofar as being part of the
network that is the room itself: each piece is individual, but not

45
singular. 22

In a concept of communication in which there is a

direct exchange of information, each word functions like a piece of


furniture: nothing has meaning in itself, and there is no
singularity; individual words have meaning only as part of a
network of other words, constructions, sentences, other sentences
and so on.

Communication itself would be subsumed under

functionality, that is, the purpose of communication would be predeterminedexchange a particular piece of information. This is
the only way in which one can deem mis-communication took
place: only with an aim that is pre-set can any failure be
determined, and calculated.

Within such a concept of

communication, the importance of each person is determined by


her/ his position in the network, and by extension, each person is
completely and utterly replaceable, exchangeable. Each person is
individual, but not singular.

A process of communication in which there is no a priori


aimand by extension resultrests on an impossible exchange; an
exchange that occurs in spite of the fact that there is no flattening
of differences, an exchange that occurs in spite of the fact that no
exchange can take place.

An impossible exchange is one that

realises that there can be no exchange because all logical systems


rest on an exclusionan exclusionary gestureone that realises
that there is no logical system that can sustain itself within itself, as
22 This analysis of furniture and ambience is taken from Jean Baudrillard. (2005).
The System of Objects. pp.30-74.

46
without a totalising logical system that is set in placewithout an
over-arching Idea in the Kantian sensethere can never be a
natural equivalence.

Therefore there can never be any direct

exchange except if the exchange was simulated. This brings us


back to Lucretius conception of communication: the exchange
takes place in the simulacra; an exchange that is impossible but
which happens non-the-less. This exchange, in the form of the act
of communication, is precisely the emergent property of the
process of communication; communication occurs for the sake of
communication, and not some teleological goal.

There is no

overall design or ambience to govern the process of


communication: after all, an emergent property is strictly speaking
unknowable a priori; it can only be known either after or at best at
the point of emergence itself. Hence, each act of communication is
unique. Since there is no overall structure under which the act of
communication is subsumed, there is a potentially unique
response in each act of communication.

Of course, there is also a chance that this does not occurin


fact, the chances of a new and unique response is probably lower
than one that has already occurred. In most occasions the lack of
time dictates that conventions govern the emergent property of
communication, such that the meaning produced is not a unique
one. This potential not to be is part of a full potentiality, without
which there would be no difference between potentiality and
actuality except for difference stages in a progression.

True

47
potentiality is thus the potential to be and the potential not to
be. In fact in every potentiality, there is always already both these
potentialities at play: each time something becomes, is, there is
always already with it all the other potentialities that did not
become; the phantoms of the other potentialities remain spectres in
and within the potentiality to be. 23
unknowability,

an

uncalculability,

that

Hence, there is an
lies

within

every

potentiality, and which extends to every actuality: this means that


even when something actualises, perhaps in the form of a decision
that is made, there is always already something unknowable
within it, that remains a part of it.

It is this un-calculabilitythis unknowabilitythat resides in


every pure decision, where as Jacques Derrida posits, there is the
sacrifice of economy, that without which there is no free
responsibility or decision. 24 It is this un-calculability that saves a
decision from being a mere prelude to an act. The moment of
decision is one where there is the potential for responding to the
other, where the other remains unknowable (if not totally, at least
partially), and in which one responds with a degree of blindness.
The blindness occurs in two realms: one with regards to the other
which the self is responding to (in the sense of not subsuming the
other under the self); the second to the act that is to be done in
This is meditated on in detail in Giorgio Agamben. (1999). Potentialities: Collected
Essays in Philosophy.

23

24

Jacques Derrida. (1996). The Gift of Death. pp.95.

48
response to the other (in the sense of not knowing a priori what is
to be done). It is this double blindness that allows the self to
respond, in the fullest sense, to the other: not only does every
other (one) [remain] every (bit) other 25 in the acknowledgement
that every decision privileges one over all the remaining others, to
whom we always remain irresponsible towards, but also that the
other that is privileged does not become merely an extension of the
self.

However, if one chooses to respond, then one must respond


whilst being blind (to all other possibilities).

It is this double

blindness that allows for the potentiality of a response that is

an absolute responsibility [that] could not be


derived from a concept of responsibility and
therefore, in order for it to be what it must be it
must remain inconceivable, indeed unthinkable: it
must therefore be irresponsible in order to be
absolutely responsible. 26

This is why Sren Kierkegaard proclaims, the instant of decision


is madness: 27 one chooses in spite of the fact that there is no
rational basis to select one over the other(s): one chooses in the full
25

ibid. pp.82.

26

ibid. pp.61. italics from source

27

ibid. pp.65. which is probably a reference to Kierkegaards Philosophical Fragments.

49
knowledge that it is impossible to fully know what one is
choosing. If one were to rely solely on logic or rationality, there
will always be an aporetic situationone has to know to chose,
but since every decision brings with it an unknowability, one also
cannot know when choosing. But one has to choose in spite of
this. Otherwise there is always already a situation of non-action
(which is a decision in itself): this would be the decision of nonresponsibility; the refusal to respond to the other and all the other
others. This is the problem with ieks position: by refusing to
choose, he ultimately chooses a position that responds to none,
that abandons all the others. However, this is also where ieks
claim that the authentic moment, the real moment of decision
one which is harshness sustained by love, 28 which in his
conception is a moment of justice that is guided by love, a
blindness in fidelity to the otheris akin to Derridas claim that
true responsibility is one

that doesnt keep account or give an account,


neither to man, to humans, to society, to ones
fellows, or to ones own. Such a responsibility
keeps its secret, it cannot and need not present
itself . It refuses to present itself before the
violence that consists of asking for accounts and
justifications . 29

28

Slavoj iek. (2004). Smashing the Neighbors Face. pp.12.

29

Jacques Derrida. (1996). The Gift of Death. pp.62.

50

This is a responsibility that is blind in and to itself, in fidelity to


responding to the needs of the other. This is a responsibility that is
almost an inhuman responsibility, one that does not give account
to anything other than responsibility itself. It is almost a divine
responsibility, but one where God(s) has long already left the
building.

Whilst responding to the needs of the other, the self and the
other remain absolute singularitiesthis is why there is no
economy of exchange that takes place.

The exchange is an

impossible exchange: it is an aeconomical exchange that takes place.


This is secret of the exchange: there is nothing in the exchange
except for the exchange itself. This is the secret of the gift: there is
nothing in the giving but the giving itself. And hence, in a blind
responsibility, one is responsible to no one except the ability to
respond: this is

the paradoxical condition of every decision: it


cannot be deduced from a form of knowledge of
which it would simply be the effect, conclusion or
explication.

It structurally breaches knowledge

and is thus destined to nonmanifestation; a


decision is, in the end, always secret. 30

30

ibid. pp.77.

51
But in spite of this destiny, in order to respond to the other, one
must respondthis is precisely where the element of blindness
lies. To fully respond to the needs of the other, one must be blind
to everything else, including the other: it is this that allows the
other to remain fully other whilst one responds to her/ him;
Hence, there is no object to responsibility.

Of course, once the instant of decision has occurred, there is a


consequence which comes with the act, which is a consequence of
the act, after-which there is an accountability to the other and to
the other others as wellthis is when everything is re-inscribed
into an economy: one can calculate whether the response was
good or bad and so on. However, this is an economy that is in
simulacrum, an economy that is ambiguous enough to seem to
integrate noneconomy. 31 For in every true response to the other,
there is the element of the unknowablethe secretthat is
brought into the act itself: there is no prior knowledge of the
consequences; there is a potentiality for a previously unknown
consequence. Ultimately, the response and hence, responsibility
always risk what they cannot avoid appealing to in reply, namely,
recompense and retribution.

They risk the exchange that they

might expect but are at the same time unable to count on. 32 And
like every secret, and the unknowability that resides in every

31

ibid. pp.109.

32

ibid. pp.96.

52
secret, the unknowability that is part of every secret, it is this that
truly scares us, that truly makes us tremble.

It is impossible to speak of a true responsibility in prescriptive


terms for that would be the creation of another categorical
imperative, the result being the subsumption every situation under
its logic.

The double blindness that is in every decisionas

opposed to mere option or alternativein fidelity to responsibility,


is not an exception or an aberrant than can be done away with.
Blindness is an essential part of responsibility itself, as it ensures
that the self responds to the other, without doing away with the
other-ness of the other, the radical otherness of the other. True
responsibility is not an answer but a question; it opens up a space
in which one can be responsible to the other by being a true
question (for which there is no known answer, at least to the one
asking the question) and as often happens, the call of or for the
question, and the request that echoes through it, takes us further
than the response. 33

It is this question, irresponsible to everything except


responsibility itself, blind to everythingeven the otherexcept
the possibility of responding to the (unknown) other, that allows
both the other and the self to preserve their singularity.

In

responding to each other, there is a coming together that is akin to


a marriage, the precise ending of the vow being what God has

33

ibid. pp.115.

53
joined, man must not divide.

The joining is always already

imperfect and fragileotherwise the vow would have read what


man cannot divide. This suggests that man is fully capable of
dividing the union, and it is this fragility that ensures marriage is
not a mere constitutive mergerthe two remain fully singular,
and the union depends on the two recognising its fragility and
becoming one in spite of the impossibility of doing so. Hence, it is
only through this agreement, this contract, that the union is
formed, that the union has a potentiality of occurring: in no way
does the contract guarantee that the union will last, or even that
the union will take place; the function of the contract is only to
open up the space for the potentiality of this very union. In the
same vein, the self and the other respond to each other in spite of
the potential futility of any act to change or improve the situation;
the self and the other respond with each other in spite of the
impossibility of doing so.

This is a responsibility which is inherently blind, in which


blindness is a part of its very structure: a responsibility that closes
its eyes to everythingis blind to everythingexcept the ability to
respond.

54

Witnessing: Fiction and Testimony


It is at this point that we might want to detour back into
witnessing, but perhaps through a question, the question not just
of what it is to witness, what it means to be a witness to
something, but the more pertinent question, the more basic
question of what does this mean, which is also the question of
uncertainty, an uncertainty towards the very thing which we are
witnessing. This is a crucial question as it affects the very basis of
ones ability to witness in the first place: in order to respond to an
event, a situation, one must first respond to what this is, and
means. And hence, even if witnessing is a willingness to respond
to the situation, at some point there is a question of hermeneutics
that is placed upon it; at some point all witnessing is subject to the
question of what does this thing I am witnessing mean.

We return here to the echo of the eternal question of the


serpent that remains unanswered, that remains unanswerable; the
question of did God really say you were not to eat from any of the
trees in the garden? 34 The serpent was not asking so much what
Yahweh God saidthat the woman already knew: we may eat
the fruit of the trees in the garden. But of the fruit of the tree in the
middle of the garden God said, You must not eat it, nor touch it,

34

Genesis 3: 1-2.

55
under pain of death 35 but more pertinently the hermeneutical
question of what did God really mean by that. In effect, the
serpent was asking for an interpretive gesture by the woman. And
after-which the serpent gives his interpretation of what Yahweh
God says: No! You will not die! God knows in fact that on the
day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods,
knowing good and evil. 36 Whether the serpent was telling the
truth or not is irrelevant: for one, we never actually hear what
Yahweh God says to woman and man; we have always heard of
the prohibition through the woman; all that we ever hear from
Yahweh God is that eating from the tree is forbidden, without any
reason(s) given. Hence, all that we can verify is that there was a
prohibition. So in fact what the serpent was calling into question
was the very interpretation of woman herself, her own
interpretative gesture, her version of the Law. Not only does this
open the register that the Law only works due to the subjects
interpretation of itthe prohibition is only prohibitive when one
reads it as suchbut more pertinently that the serpents question
is not a constative one, but one that opens up possibilities. For the
woman could have chosen either her first interpretation, which
was that eating of the fruit was absolutely forbidden, or could
have questioned her version, which is what happens. It is not as if
the prohibition has changedwhatever Yahweh God had told her
remains the samebut that her interpretive gesture had altered:

35

Genesis 3: 2-3.

36

Genesis 3: 4-5.

56
and if we look closely, at no point did the woman state that
perhaps she had misunderstood the command not to eat.
However, the fact that she changes her mind about eating from the
fruit of the tree suggests that her relationality towards the
command altered.

Hence, what the serpents question does is

merely open the possibility of the command not being solely a


constative onewhere Yahweh God was either telling the truth or
lyingby opening the register of it being a performative
statement, where the command could mean a myriad of
possibilities, each of them as true or as false as the other. And
since there is no way to prove either the truth, or falsity, of neither
the serpent nor Yahweh Gods statements, this suggests that the
womans choice was a blind one: she was choosing in absolute
blindness, between two possibilities. After all she could not even
be said to be choosing between good and evil: before eating of the
tree of knowledge, neither woman nor man had any knowledge of
good or evil. Hence, this is a choice that was made in absolutely
blindness to everything except the fact that there was a choice to be
made.

When one is a witness to a situation, to an event, one is almost


always alone with ones interpretive gesture to the event, to what
is seen. Even if there are many around with the witness, there is
no solace that can be found with them, in them, for even if (s)he
attempts to verify, all that is happening after the event is a
verification of an interpretation with another interpretation. This

57
suggests that witnessing is not so much a gesture of truth or
falsity, but rather one in which one responds to the situation with
an absolute unknowability, an absolute blindness, to everything
except to the fact that one is witnessing. And this is what makes
testifying such a terrifying thing: one is ultimately making
utterances without any possibility of referentiality, without any
possibility of knowing whether one is right or not. Hence, when
one witnesses and testifies, one is actually naming the event; one is
giving a meaning to the event through ones own interpretive
gesture, one is giving ones version of the event, ones own story.
This means that one is always already in the realm of fiction,
where every testimony, every act of witnessing, is an act of
inscribing, an act of writing, narrating. And more specifically an
act of narrating in the first person; after all, one can only witness
for oneself: one can always narrate a tale that has others in it, but
one can only tell it from ones perspective. Since the narrator has
to be present to the event in order to narrate, there is always
already the problem of indiscernability at playthe I of the first
person narrative refers to both the narrator of the tale and also the
character that is in the tale, and it is impossible to differentiate
whether it is the narrator or the character that is speaking, that is
testifying, at any given moment. Hence, every act of witnessing,
every act of testifying, is always already inscribed with the
unknowability of whether the witness is recounting a tale, or
telling it, whether the witness is narrating the tale or telling it as a
character in the tale. This suggests that at every moment of the

58
testimony, one cannot tell if the witness knows how much (s)he
knows: a narrator would know the entire tale before recounting
it; a character only knows what is happening at the point it is
happening. And hence, at every point of the testimony, there is
always an unknowabilityan absolute blindnessthat is part of
it, that is in it.

At this point, the only thing that is clear is that the witness is
caught in a double binda double blindwhere one has to
respond, but at the same time one is unsurecan never be sure
about what one is responding to. This as Jacques Derrida testifies,
is the

distinction between fiction and autobiography that


not only remains undecidable but, far more
serious, in whose indecidability, as de Man makes
clear, it is impossible to stand, to maintain oneself
in a stable or stationary way.

One thus finds

oneself in a fatal and double impossibility: the


impossibility of deciding, but the impossibility of
remaining in the undecidable. 37

Once again we are back to this impossibility of distinction, the


impossibility of separation between fiction and non-fiction,
between the self telling her story and the self being part of the tale,
37

Jacques Derrida. (2000). Demeure: Fiction and Testimony. pp.16. italics from source.

59
the self becoming within the tale. Hence, all the witness can do is
testify, all the witness can doeven though this is strictly speaking
impossible for her to do sois narrate her tale, in full response to
both the event and the impossibility of knowing this event at the
same time. This is witnessing, as the sub-titlethe supplementary
title, the secondary titleof Derridas text suggests, as an openness, a reception to all possibilities, never sure of itself, never
grounded in anything, and always already keeping a questioning
of itself in mind.

Since one is always already naming the event, we must


consider that this brings with it all the seriousness of a namea
referent, with all the spectres of its history, its own stories, its own
talesand at the same time its illegitimacythere is no reason that
anything is named as such except for the fact that it is named such.
At every naming, we are always already in a tautological structure,
where the name refers to nothing except itself, except to the fact
that it is so; and at the same time, refers to an entire history, to
everything else except itself. Hence, each testimony is the naming,
and more pertinently, a foregrounding that a name is a catachrestic
metaphor; where the testifier is faced with the impossibility of
deciding [the name], but the impossibility of remaining in the
undecidable, where the testifier cannot name, but has to name.
Hence, the witness has no choice but to name as if (s)he can name.

60
This is the problem that Vladimir and Estragon face in Samuel
Becketts Waiting for Godot. Since neither of them has actually met
Godot, there is no actual way to know who, or what, this name
refers to: in fact it is a name without any referentiality. Hence,
when they are waiting for Godot, they are on the one hand waiting
for nothing, but on the other hand they are also waiting for
everything. For if Godot has no referent, it is a signifier in full
potentiality: anything and everything can be Godot.

However

even though anyone can be Godot, neither Vladimir nor Estragon


will ever be able to verify that: in effect, even if they eventually do
meet Godot, they will never know if that is the Godot they have
been waiting for; there is no reason there cannot be more than one
Godot. Hence, what Vladimir and Estragon are doing is waiting;
and Godot is the name of that waiting. 38

Whenever a witness namesfor the witness has to name


what (s)he is also doing is also waiting, and giving a name not for
the event that has passed, but an event that is to come. For this is
once again where the present, the past, and the future collide.
Each time we call something, recall something, it has to be from a
past; otherwise we can not do so: one cannot call to mind
something that is absolutely unknown to one.

However each

recollection is always already a reconstitution, a re-writing, a revision as well: hence, it is also an event that has not yet happened,
it is also an event that is yet to come. In effect, each time an event

38

Samuel Beckett. (1982). Waiting for Godot: a Tragicomedy in Two Acts.

61
is called to mind, each time the name of an event is uttered, it is the
moment where all time comes together; the event is present but
only present in as far as the present is a future-anterior moment.

It is Jean Baudrillard who never allows us to fully forget that


each event is in exception to everything, is in exception to all
attempts to subsume it under a particular category, is in exception
to understanding itself.

In fact, each event is in exception to

everything including itself: exceptions are the norm, and it is the


attempt to form a norm, create a norm where there is none that is
truly brutal, and truly terroristic. After all,

there is no finer parallel universe than that of the


detail or the fragment.
Freed from the whole and its transcendent
ventriloquism, the detail inevitably becomes
mysterious.
Every particle wrested from the natural world is in
itself an immediate subversion of the real and its
wholeness.
Like the fragment, it only has to be elliptical.
It only has to be an exception.
Every singular image can be reckoned exceptional.
And it puts an end to all the others. 39

39

Jean Baudrillard. (2005). The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact. pp.103.

62
This re-calls us to the site that we were traversing on earlier, the
site of the specific as opposed to the universal, the site of the
singular which can never be brought under, disciplined, by the
universal, never brought under the logic of the totalising one. The
fact that it is even possible for the singular to exist freed from the
whole, always already in relation with the whole but never under
it, always already separate from ita subversion of the real and
its wholenesssuggests that at each encounter with the singular,
there is both a memory of ita remembering in relation with an
Idea, with a concept, otherwise there can be no approach at all
and at the same time a forgetting that is part of this memory
otherwise it would not be in exception. And it is for this reason
that the singular, the event, is always elliptical: as we recall
Werner Hamacher and his elegant reminder, the ellipsis is the very
figure of writing itself and by extension, the very figure of
thinking itself

The ellipsis both an ending, a middle, and also a beginning


at the same time for it is indiscernible whether the sentence has
started at that point, or whether it is carrying on; and carrying on
onto what is also unknown. Perhaps at each ellipsis, there is a sign
of an end, but what the ending is, remains veiled to us; unveiled
by the sign, but remaining hidden to us except as a sign. All that
we can posit is that at each ellipsis, there is something there, but
something missing, something hidden at the same time, hidden
perhaps even from the one who inscribes the ellipsis at each

63
ellipsis perhaps all we can say is that there might have been
something there, something that we might have long forgotten, but
that still remains with us, something that is yet to come.

It is this yet to comethe possibility of the not yet, the to be,


the maybethat terror attempts to halt, to cease, to seize. For the
third is the site of all potentialities, the third is where all
possibilities meet, connect, touch: and it is this third that terror
attempts to take hostage, attempts to destroy; not by denying the
formation of actualities (in the form of meaning) but by attempting
to lock in the actuality, to form a ground, such that there is only
one

possibility,

one

meaning,

whilst

everything

else

is

marginalised, pushed out, excluded. This is the point whereand


here we invoke the voices of Lyotard and Thbaud once again
the social bond is taken as nature, 40 the point where a space that
is negotiated, ever changing, constantly re-created as it is being
created, is taken as something that is setin time and in space
fixed, certain, always already formed, and that is unchanging,
unchangeable.

Of course there are many risks when one attempts to remain


open, to remain receptive toin full response withotherness. As
Jacques Derrida points out, if we are attempting to remain faithful
to a democracy that is to come, then we can no longer be
prescriptive about what democracy is. Hence, democracy becomes
40

Jean-Franois Lyotard & Jean-Loup Thbaud. (1999). Just Gaming. pp. 71.

64
not an over-arching Idea, nor even a teleological goal, but a
process, a becoming; something that can only be known as it is
being known. And this incurs a large risk, as one can then no
longer exclude anything a priori: thus when Adolf Hitlers
National Socialist Party came to power via democratic elections,
one can not then claim that this is not part of democracy. The only
thing that one can draw from this is that democracy allows for
elements that are not democraticthat even go against democracy
itselfto come to power through its process. Once we attempt to
exclude all so called non-democratic elements from the process of
democracy, then we are back to an exclusionary politics; a
terroristic politics. This is of course the irony of the United States
of Americas position on democracy: by enforcing their brand of
democracy, the US is now no different from any other terroristic
power; all they are doing is effacing one method of governance
with their own.

The only time that one can judge whether a

system is democratic or not is after they come into power: of


course in this light, the Nazi party is as un-democratic as they
come.

However in order to be faithful to the possibility of a

democracy that is to come, that perhaps may come, one cannot


exclude the possibility of fascism a priori. 41

A similar problem, when it comes to the realm of history, is the


accusation of revisionism. Whilst one cannot deny the existence of
certain eventsfor instance when Nazi revisionists attempt to

41

Jacques Derrida. (2005). Rogues: Two Essays on Reason.

65
claim that the Shoah never occurredneither can one deny the
possibility of a new register within the historicity itself. When
someone is accused of being a Nazi sympathiser just because (s)he
points out that there is a possibility Hitler was a good family man,
we are seeing an exclusionary gesture (that one cannot say
anything positive about Adolf Hitler). Of course after a statement
has been made, one can judge it as correct or wrong, good or bad,
and so forth but not before: it is the a priori exclusionthe denial
of possibilitiesthat is problematic; that is terroristic.

This is the hidden problemthe perverse coreof political


correctness: by attempting to delineate what can and what cannot
be said, the issue itself is elevated to an absolute. For instance, if
one can no longer call a man who is unable to walk disabled, but
instead has to call him differently-abled, his disability has be
raised to the level of the un-mentionable, to the level of an absolute
otherness.

And by completely excluding his disability from

utterance, not only does this not change the reality of the mans
situation (that he cannot walk and might need material assistance),
it makes his disability such an innateand unmentionablepart
of his being that it can no longer be uttered, as if it was the
bogeyman that would then destroy everything good and peaceful
in the world. And it is this exclusionary gesturethat you cannot
utter the term disabledthat is truly terroristic, and which
effaces the man her/ him self. Slavoj iek who has often been
accused of racism whenever he tells jokes which involve ethnicity

66
has the perfect response: it is when one is no longer allowed to tell
jokes linking characteristics and ethnicity that we are in trouble: it
would be the point when these two are so completely
indistinguishable that one cannot even utter one without the other;
this would be the point when race is elevated to an absolute other
and completely excluded: and it is this that is truly racist. 42

If we are to attempt to think of the possibility of a full response


to a situationa response that is neither pre-conditioned nor
framed by a teleological goalwe have to consider each situation
as an exception, as the exception. And not only is this situation
singular in relation to all other situations, it is a situation in which
there is no relationality with any other situation. Perhaps only
after its occurrence, might one be able to cognitise it, ascribe some
meaning to it, even begin to understand it, but never before. This
then requires us to re-think how we usually constitute an event
and by extension how we constitute knowledge, and the ability to
know, itself.

Usually, we conceive of knowledge in this sequence:


something is unknown, then it is known, and then it occurs;
something is impossible, we figure it out, it then becomes possible,
that is, it happens. This is of course an anthropocentric conception;
as if we have to know of something before it can happena
42 ieks logic on racism being the point when race is elevated to an absolute level
was part of his seminar, Media, Politics and Psychoanalysis, at the European Graduate
School, August 2005.

67
privileging of the self as it situates not only occurrences,
phenomenon, but also all sources of knowledge within the self, as
if there is nothing that exists outside the self, independent of
cognition.

However, let us consider this possibility: what if the sequence


(if we can even consider it as sequential) is that something is
impossible, it happens, after-which we realise, we figure out, how
it happens. This would not only shift the conception of an event
beyond the realm of subjective cognition, outside the self, it would
also by extension remove any limits from the event itself; if the
event is now freed from subjective cognition, not only is it no
longer bound by reason and knowing, it is now completely free of,
and from, human understanding. In this manner, we manage to

retain for the event its radical definition and its


impact in the imagination.

It is characterized

entirely, in a paradoxical way, by its uncanniness,


its troubling strangenessit is the irruption of
something improbable and impossibleand by its
troubling familiarity: from the outset it seems
totally self-explanatory, as though predestined, as
though it could not but take place. 43

43

Jean Baudrillard. (2005). The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact. pp.129-30.

68
This is the event as an enigma; future-anterior at best, never quite
in the present except for the sudden and shocking fact that it did
happen. And at best we only manage to catch a glimpse of the
event at the very moment in which it happens, but it always
already slips uswe can only know of it in the past; the moment
we utter about it, in reference to it, it is already past; its
referentiality always already absent.

It is only when one conceives of the event as an unknowable


that one can escapeperhaps only momentarilythe confines of
terror. For if the event is unknown, and remains unknowable,
each attempt at understanding is a positing, a position, violent in
the extent that it is competing with other understandings,
negotiating, a position amongst other positions, but not with any
certainty, knowability, legitimacy or even validity.

This is a conception of a relationality of the self towards the


eventtowards an othertowards all othersthat retains a prerelationality of openness towards the other, towards all others,
towards multiplicities and possibilities.

And all that we can haveall that we are able to knowis


that perhaps we might be able to know __________ 44

44 (and it is this un-nameability that is always enigmatic, and remains an enigma


).

69

If we are attempting to conceive a possibility of knowing that


remains open to the other, that is attempting to fully respond to
and with the other, this suggests that this is a conception of
knowing that involves an exchange. However, this is clearly not a
direct exchange as that would involve a flattening of differences
which involves the effacing of details, particularities, singularities.
In order to think the possibility of an exchange that remains
singular, we have to consider the question of what occurs in an
exchange. And we will attempt to do this by considering this
question through the gift, and more precisely through the
question of what is the economy of the gift.

70

In any case, to be liberated, you have first to have been a


slave. And to have been a slave, you have to have not been
sacrificed (only the prisoners who were not sacrificed became
slaves). Something of this exemption from sacrifice and something
of the consequent servility persists in 'liberated' man, particularly
in today's servilitynot the servility which precedes liberation,
but the servility which succeeds it. Servility of the second kind:
servility without a master.
Jean Baudrillard: Impossible Exchange

71

Symbolic Exchange
or this is my gift of death
And everyone who has left houses, brothers,
sisters, father, mother, children, or land for the
sake of my name will be repaid a hundred times
over, and also inherit eternal life. 1

These are the stakes that are set out, set up, in the contract that
governs the exchange between Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples,
in response to the question of Peter; the question of what about us
we have left everything and followed you. What are we to have
then? 2 In this manner, an accounting system has been set up;
whatever you have given up will be multiplied a hundred times
over and returned to you. What is set in motion here is this: it is
no longer enough to merely follow the commandments; one must
now also give up ones worldly possessions. In other words, it is
no longer enough to believe, nor just to act in accordance with the
laws; one must put ones money where ones mouth is.

One could possibly conclude that this exchange would fit in


perfectly with the model of a potlatch: one has to give up
everything in order to receive something in return; it is an act of
1

Matthew 19: 29.

Matthew 19: 27.

72
giving that is necessarily reciprocated. 3

The fact that this

exchange involves other people, other segments of society


houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, land 4 suggests
that it is not an individual act of exchange. In fact the exchange is
a social act, one that always as Marcel Mauss notes, involves the
intervention of a third person; 5 not necessarily a person in a
physical form but possibly a third in the form of social rules,
norms, mores, laws.

What is clear though is that there is

something that lies beyond the two persons involved in an


exchangewhat remains unclear is what exactly this third is. It is
this uncertainty, this lack of clearness, that is captured in the
condition for the sake of my name, as this can only be a figure of
speech, a metaphor at best.

In effect, in order to gain the

remunerationalong with interest, of courseone must leave


everything one owns, has ties with, for a name, for something that
cannot be defined, that is strictly speaking a catachrestic metaphor.
This is why when asked, who can be saved then, the only reply
that that is possible is, for men this is impossible. 6

Marcel Mauss (2006). The Gift. pp.20.

All these institutions express one fact alone, one social system, one precise state
of mind: everythingfood, women, children, property, talismans, land, labour
services, priestly functions, and ranksis there for passing on, and for balancing
accounts. (ibid. pp.18)

ibid. pp.14.

Matthew 19: 25-26.

73
It is this impossible premise that interests us: if one has to give
up everything for the sake of my name, whilst not being able to
define what this name isor even know what it meansthis
suggests that one is not only giving up everything for an
unknowable, but that one is also judged by an unknowable.
Hence, there is a double unknowable at play here: both the basis of
judgment (what law, or rules are being applied), and the judge,
remain unknown. The only choice that the person has is to either
give up everything, or notthe only choice available is either to
play (and accept everything) or not to play at all.

It is this same unknowability of the law that we see in Franz


Kafkas The Trial, where K is brought before a power that he
neither knowsand can never knownor can see, but which
clearly has effects on him. In fact, what is asked of K is similar to
what Jesus of Nazareth asks of his disciples: give up everything
unto a power that is me, even as much as the me in question is
unknowable to you. Hence, at best, all Kand the disciplescan
do is to guess, to posit, what is required of them. It is this positing
that is captured in the statement of the priest in the cathedral when
he says to K, no you dont have to consider everything true,
you just have to consider it necessary. 7 This is due to the fact that
K is faced with a law that he must approach, and which has power
of judgment over him, but at the same time is a law that is always

Franz Kafka. (1998). The Trial. pp.223.

74
already hidden from him. And it is this that the priest attempts to
highlight to him in the famous parable of the Law:

Before the Law stands a doorkeeper. A man from


the country comes to this doorkeeper and requests
admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says
that he cant grant him admittance now. The man
thinks it over and then asks if hell be allowed to
enter later. Its possible, says the doorkeeper,
but not now. 8

It is not that the manor Kis not allowed into the Law, not
allowed to see what it is that is judging him, but that he is not
allowed to at this very moment. As there is no time stipulation to
but not now, it is not that the doorkeeper is lying to him, but
that the moment of admittance is deferred, not necessarily
eternally, but perhaps for just one moment longer than the life of
the man. However it is not as if the Law has no effect on their
lives: on the contrary the man from the country waits outside the
doorway till the end of his life, and Ks trial fully occupies his daily
existence. In other words both of them are completely consumed
by the Law, by a force they do not, and cannot, see or comprehend,
by a force they remain completely blind to.

ibid. pp.215.

75
Even though the Law is a force that affects them, has an effect
on them, it is not as though they are compelled to be before it: after
all, the man decides that he would prefer to wait. 9 At no point is
he forced to remain; it is of his own free will that he does. This
opens the possibility that it is the man who is free; unlike the
doorkeeper who is captive to his duty, is captive to the Law, as not
only has he to wait for the man to appear, but also must wait there
till he decides to leave: in this sense, it is the executer of the Law
who is most bound to it. As the priest explains to K,

the man is in fact free: he can go wherever he


wishes, the entrance to the Law alone is denied to
him, and this only by one person, the doorkeeper.
If he sits on the stool at the side of the door and
spends the rest of his life there, he does so of his
own free will; the story mentions no element of
force.

The doorkeeper, on the other hand, is

bound to his post by his office; he is not permitted


to go elsewhere outside, but to all appearances he
is not permitted to go inside either, even if he
wishes to. 10

Even as the doorkeeper is bound to the Law, it is not as if he


knows what the Law is: one can assume that he hasnt been too far
9

ibid. pp.216.

10

ibid. pp.221.

76
into the LawIm only the lowest doorkeeper the mere sight
of the third is more than even I can bear 11 and moreover, it is
the man who in the darkness now sees a radiance that streams
forth inextinguishably from the door of the Law; 12 nothing is said
of whether the doorkeeper sees this light. This suggests that both
the man and the doorkeeper, regardless of whether they are there
by choice or by duty, are affected by a power that is beyond their
comprehension; even the radiance that streams forth is only seen
at the end; only now does he see this light. And even though the
man sees this lightthis radiance emanating from within the door,
within the Lawhe never knows what it means, or even what the
light is.

The unknowability of the Law becomes even more curious if


we take into account the fact that, no one else could gain
admittance here, because this entrance was meant solely for
you. 13 This suggests that it is a personalised Law and this opens
up the paradox that every law, that the Law itself, faces: in order
for something to be Law, it has to have a certain universality, in
that it can be applied to everyone without distinction or
discrimination; however each application of the Law is singular,
unique and situational.

It is this very paradox between

universality and singularity that Paul de Man reminds us of with


11

ibid. pp.215.

12

ibid. pp.216.

13

ibid. pp.217.

77
reference to the tension that lies between grammar and figurative
language:

The system of relationships that generate the text


and that functions independently of its referential
meaning is its grammar. To the extent that a text
is grammatical, it is a logical code or a machine.
And there can be no agrammatical text, as the
most nongrammatical of poets, Mallarm, was the
first to acknowledge. Any nongrammatical text
will always be read as a deviation from an
assumed grammatical norm. But just as no text is
conceivable without grammar, no grammar is
conceivable without the suspension of referential
meaning. Just as no law can ever be written unless
one suspends any consideration of applicability to
a particular entity including, of course, oneself,
grammatical logic can function only if its
referential consequences are disregarded.

On the other hand, no law is a law unless it also


applies to particular individuals. It cannot be left
hanging in the air, in the abstraction of its
generality.

Only by thus referring back to

particular praxis can the justice of the law be


tested, exactly as the justesse of any statement can

78
only be tested by its referential verifiability, or by
deviation from its verification. There can be no
text without grammar: the logic of grammar
generates texts only in the absence of referential
meaning, but every text generates a referent that
subverts the grammatical principle to which it
owed its constitution. 14

In other words, we can call


text any entity that can be considered from such a
double perspective: as a generative, open minded,
non-referential grammatical system and as a
figural system closed off by a transcendental
signification that subverts the grammatical code to
which the text owes its existence. The definition
of the text also states the impossibility of its
existence and prefigures the allegorical narratives
of this impossibility.

A text is defined by the necessity of considering a


statement, at the same time, as performative and
14

Paul de Man. (1979). Allegories of Reading. pp.268-69.

Since one can never escape from grammar, as any text, even a nongrammatical
text will always be read as a deviation from an assumed grammatical form, this
suggests that grammar itself is a base assumption of language. This is why de Man
has to ultimately rely on Mallarms acknowledgment: one cannot prove the
existence of grammar; it is an assumption, doxa.

79
constative, and the logical tension between figure
and grammar is repeated in the impossibility of
distinguishing two linguistic functions which are
not necessarily compatible. It seems that as soon
as a text knows what it states, it can only act
deceptively and if a text does not act, it cannot
state what it knows. 15

Hence, at best the Law can only be knownif that term can even
be used in the first placeat the very moment in which it is
applied; to the man, to K, to you: the Law can only be glimpsed by
the effects it has on one, but can never be known as such. This is
precisely why the priest tells K, you dont have to consider
everything as true, you just have to consider it as necessary: it is
not so much that one cannot tell between what is true or not
(which is the misunderstanding that K has in thinking that lies
are made into a universal system 16 ) but more radically that each
truthand by extension each lieis only provisional, situational,
singular. It is the situationality of the Law, of each positing of the
Law, that allows the commentators [to] tell us: the correct
understanding of a matter and misunderstanding the matter are
not mutually exclusive. 17

In fact, one can only guess at best

whether it is a correct understanding, which suggests that every


15

ibid. pp.270. italics from source.

16

Franz Kafka. (1998). The Trial. pp.223.

17

ibid. pp.219.

80
misunderstanding is not only potentially a correct understanding,
but that it is impossible to distinguish between them in the first
place: one might even posit that within every understanding lies a
misunderstanding. It is for this reason that even the executer of
the Law remains blind to it: all the doorkeeper is doing is carrying
out the Law in that particular situation, the situation of the Law
being solely for you; in other words, the only knowledge that the
executer of the Law has is of its effects; the only time that the
executer knows of the Law is at the very moment (s)he is executing
it.

This undiscernability of the Law is precisely the problem the


disciples are facing when Jesus of Nazareth commands them to
give up everything for the sake of my name.

The

undiscernability of the Law is the very same problem that Jesus


faces. This is why, when pressed by the mother of James and John
to promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right
hand and the other at your left, his response is these are not
mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been
allotted by my Father. 18 This suggests that not only is the power
to grant the seats beyond him, which means that his powers are
limited by his duty on earth (much like the doorkeeper), but that
the will of the Father is also beyond his knowledge: both the
source of Jesus power and the exact extent of it is unknown to
him. Hence, strictly speaking, the status of his statement to the
18

Matthew 20: 20-23.

81
disciples is one of a promise: since he is unable to know either the
extent of his powers, and his influence on the after-life, nor the
very source of the powers itself, this means that his statement,
which sounds like a contractual statement, is actually unverifiable.
And it is for this reason that Jesus has to rely on the metaphor my
name: it is only with this catachrestic metaphor in place that the
statement can holdby making it completely unverifiable, the
statement can no longer be verified as true or false, but only
necessary.

Since the statement made by Jesus to his disciples is ultimately


unverifiable, this means that it is not a direct exchange that has to
be made in order to be repaid a hundred times over, and also
inherit eternal life. This suggests instead, that the exchange is
symbolic; where the quantification of the exchange is not as
important as the ritual of exchange itself. This however does not
mean that there is no element of a potlatch in place, an element of
excess at play; after all one must still give up everything.
However, the only way that one can give everything (which is not
a quantifiable amount much the same way as how nothing
cannot be accounted for) is through a ritualistic exchange.

This brings us back to the element of the third that Marcel


Mauss speaks of: not only is it not individuals but collectivities
that impose obligations of exchange and contract upon each

82
other, 19 but these obligations and contracts are ultimately
unknowable outside the moment of exchange; the social rituals are
situational, akin to the singular application of the Law as opposed
to the Law in general (which can only be a figure). Hence, any
prescribed contract can only be made by effacing the situation of
the exchange: for if the Law is unknowable, one can only prescribe
if one simulates the very Law itself, and then applies it in every
situation.

By doing so, one is effacing the singularity of the

situation.

If there is no effacementif the singularity of the

situation is preservedthen one must admit that there is neither


precedence for the exchange, nor is there any repeatability to it.

And this is the point where one is faced with a paradoxical


situation. If there is neither repeatability nor prescription to the
exchange, this means that it cannot be learned or taught.
However, for it to be a social exchange there must clearly be some
level of universality (at least within a particular community or
group) involved.

It is for this reason that the exchange is symbolic: since each


situation is singular, there can be no flattening of differences that is
required in a standard economic exchange (where the abstraction
takes the form of an exchange-value that is simulated); instead,
there is an exchange that is ritualistic, formal, nothing moreand
nothing lessthan a form. This is the only way in which the
19

Marcel Mauss. (2006). The Gift. pp.6.

83
system of exchange can be a system of total services. 20 If there
was an inherent valueor meaningwithin the exchange, the
singularity of the parties would ensure that the exchange would be
impossible. Obviously this is not the case: this suggests that it is
an impossible exchange that takes place; an exchange that occurs
in spite of its impossibility. The only way in which this can take
place is if the exchange is purely formalwhere the form of the
exchange is everythingand in which each individual component
is meaningless except for its role within the ritual itself.

This is what Georges Bataille speaks of when he describes a


general economy: everything has its role in relation with every other
thing, but it has no inherent meaning: in other words, it is the
significance of the object and not its signification that is of interest.
This is why in Batailles conception of the economy, sacrifice plays
such a crucial role, where the essence is to consume profitlessly: 21
this is where each exchange is beyond rationality, beyond
calculability, beyond reason itself, unsubordinated to the real
order and occupied only with the present. 22

Sacrifice destroys that which it consecrates.

It

does not have to destroy as fire does; only the tie


that connected the offering to the world of
20

ibid. pp.7.

21

Georges Bataille. (1991). The Accursed Share Vol 1. pp.58. italics from source.

22

ibid. pp.58.

84
profitable activity is severed, but this separation
has the sense of a definitive consumption; the
consecrated offering cannot be restored to the real
order. 23

Since there is no need for a physical change in the object of


sacrificeit does not have to destroy as fire doesthis suggests
that the tie that is severed is ruptured symbolically. Hence, there
is an aspect of a trans-substantiation in this sacrifice: the form
remains the same; in fact there is no perceivable changethis is
the point at which all phenomenology failsbut there is always
already a difference, an absolute separation from the real order,
from logic, calculability, reason. The object of sacrifice,

the victim [,] is a surplus taken from the mass of


useful wealth Once chosen, he is the accursed
share, destined for violent consumption. But the
curse tears him away from the order of things 24

And it is this tearing away from the order of thingsthe order of


rationalitythat restores to the sacred world that which servile
use has degraded, rendered profane. 25 For only when it is no
longer useful, when it is no longer abstractedsubjected,
23

ibid. pp.58. italics from source.

24

ibid. pp.59. italics from source. [parenthesis my addition].

25

ibid. pp.55.

85
subsumed undermerely a use-value, can the object be an object
as such, can a subject be a subject as such; be a singularity. It is
perhaps ironic that only within a general economy is singularity
preserved: however one must remember that the objector
subjectof the sacrifice is never calculated; its worth is never in
question, nor even taken into account. In fact it is never so much
who or what is sacrificed, but the fact that there is a sacrifice. We
find in The Accursed Share many tales of sacrifice and in each of
them there is a sense of reversibility. For instance, in Aztec wars,
all deaths were seen as a sacrifice to the gods: if victorious, the
Aztecs would sacrifice the prisoners; however,

if the warrior had himself been overcome instead


of returning a victor, his death on the field of
battle would have had the same meaning as the
ritual sacrifice of his prisoner: it would have
satisfied the hungry gods. 26

It is this reversibility that can also be found in the tale of Abraham


and Isaac. 27 When Abraham brings Isaac up to Mount Moriah as a
sacrifice to the Lord, he is asked by Isaac, where is the lamb for
the sacrifice? His answer is, God himself will provide one.
Unknown to Abraham at the time, his response (if one can call it a
response at all for it was an empty statement; it was neither a truth
26

ibid. pp.54.

27

Genesis 22: 1-19

86
nor a lie to Isaac), 28 is precisely what occurs; it is God who
provides the object for the holocaustthe ram that is burnt in
Isaacs place. Hence, at the moment in which he raises his knife to
sacrifice Isaac, Abraham has already killed himthis is the
sacrifice that God required from him: it is an objectless sacrifice;
the act of killing Isaac is the sacrifice; this is the kind of sacrifice
that does not have to destroy as fire does. It does not matter
whether Isaac, or the ram, dies: in either case it would have
satisfied the hungry gods. This suggests that the sacrifice itself is
a ritual, is purely formal; the exact objectwhether it is a warrior
or the prisoneris irrelevant.

As long as it is for the sake of my name.

However, one must never forget that it is God who provides


the object for the holocaust. This brings us back to the reciprocity
that is inherent in the exchange: if you give up everything, for the
sake of my name, [you] will be repaid a hundred times over, and
also inherit eternal life. Marcel Mauss speaks of the reciprocity as
an obligation; this system in fact is a total services of an agonistic
type which in fact is a struggle to establish a hierarchy

28 One can posit that at this point, Abraham demonstrates a true understanding of
communication: it is not so much what is saidin fact the signification of what is
said is sometimes completely irrelevantbut that it is said. For it would have been
completely cruel of him to have told Isaac the truth (you are the ram). Nor would
it have sufficed for him to have stayed silent. By answering Isaac with a
performative statement, Abraham told neither the truth nor lied: all he did was
utter a statement that should be considered as necessary.

87
amongst themselves from which [they] will benefit at a later
date. 29 This is echoed by Georges Bataille when he points out
that

potlatch is, like commerce, a means of circulating


wealth, but it excludes bargaining.

More often

than not it is the solemn giving of considerable


riches, offered for the purpose of humiliating,
challenging and obligating The recipient has to
erase the humiliation and take up the challenge;
he must satisfy the obligation that was contracted
by accepting. 30

Hence, giving [or sacrifice, which encompasses destruction] must


become acquiring a power. 31 But since there is no necessity of an
object in the sacrificethere does not have to be a gift in the
givingthis suggests that the act of giving itself is a stake, or more
precisely, each time there is an act of giving, the stakes in the game
are raised.

However, one must consider the fact that even though there is
a reciprocation, even though there must be a response to the
challenge, this does not mean that the rules for the exchange are
29

Marcel Mauss. (2006). The Gift. pp.8-9. italics from source.

30

Georges Bataille. (1991). The Accursed Share Vol 1. pp.67. italics from source.

31

ibid. pp.69. italics from source.

88
laid out, are known. The only rule that is known is that one must
respond, with a stake that is at least as much, if not more. This
suggests that one knows that one must play a stake, also that
something is at stake, but that what the stake is remains unknown,
unknowable; until the moment it is played, what the stake is
remains a secret.

Seductive secrets
It is at this point that we turn to Jean Baudrillard and his reading
of the stakes in seduction, the very stakes involved in seduction,
and the stake that is seduction, where seduction takes the form of
an enigma to be solved it is an enigmatic duel, one that the
seduction solves, but without disclosing the secret. 32 This is why the
game in The Seducers Diary is played out in writing, in a series of
letters that go back and forth, as the

dead letter of writing often has much more


influence that the living word.

A letter is a

secretive communication; one is master of the


situation, feels no pressure from anyones actual
presence precisely at those moments it has
the strongest effect 33

32

Jean Baudrillard. (1990). Seduction. pp.82. italics from source.

33

Sren Kierkegaard. (1997). The Seducers Diary. pp.158-159.

89

The gameand the challengebetween Johannes and Cordelia is


played out through the letters, in the letters. However, all one
seesand in fact all either of them seesis the letters themselves:
the challenge remains implicit, hidden; both of them play this
game whilst remaining blind to what the other means. At best, all
either one can do is posit the potential meaning of the challenge in
the lettersand it is this unknowability that captures their
imagination.

What remains secret is thus the meaning of the

challenge itself: all that is known is that there is a challenge, a duel,


a duality of the duel, but there is nothing beyond thatin that
that can be known. This is because,

a challenge terminates all contracts and exchanges


regulated by the law (whether the law of nature or
value), substituting a highly conventional and
ritualized pact, with an unceasing obligation to
respond and respond in spadesan obligation
that is governed by a fundamental game rule, and
proceeds in accord with its own rhythm.

In

contrast to the law, which is always inscribed in


stone or the sky, or in ones heart, this
fundamental rule never needs to be stated; indeed
it must never be stated. It is immediate, immanent

90
and inevitable (whereas the law is transcendent
and explicit). 34

Hence, the only thing that can be known is the fact that there is a
reciprocity, and that this is obligatory. Exactly what has to be
reciprocated is unknown, and perhaps only known at the moment
of reciprocation itself; and even at that point, all that is known is
that the stakes have been raised, and another stake has been
entered into the game: the duality is re-established and the duel is
on again. In this manner, the stake remains a pure signifier
completely and utterly meaningless except for the fact that it
signifies. But it is not as if a signifier can remain pure; the signifier
is precisely the stake that calls forth the signified. Moreover, it is
not as if the one that puts forth the signifier provides the signified:
the meaning that is imbued into the signifier is precisely the
response to the challenge; this is the point where the duel is
answered, where the duality is fulfilled, where the duel is reissued.
This is the reason why in the end, God provides the ram for the
holocaust. When S(H)e calls forth Abraham, Abraham take
your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of
Moriah offer him as a burnt offering, this is a test in the form
of a challenge: Abrahams response is to imbue this call, this
signifier, with meaning (murder Isaac), and hence, he raises the
stakes by [stretching] out his hand and [seizing] the knife to kill
his son. This challengeI will obey your word literally, even if it

34

Jean Baudrillard. (1990). Seduction. pp.82. italics from source.

91
means murdering my sonthen obliges yet another response, that
of God providing the ram for the sacrifice: Abraham had already
answered the test, responded to the challenge; it was then
irrelevant who, or what, is sacrificed as now I know you fear
God. 35

However, one must also consider this: Abraham answers the


test, the challenge in a rather unconventional way.

Instead of

responding in strength (assuming he had a choice, he could have


decided to respond to Isaac and ignore Yahweh), he chooses to do
so by weakness (giving in to Yahwehs Will respective of his own;
after all, Isaac is his only child whom [he] love[s]). Instead of
challenging Yahweh, Abraham seduces Yahweh: instead of
drawing God into his area of strength, which, in view of the
potential for unlimited escalation 36 (which of course he would
certainly lose), he seduces by drawing

the other into [his] area of weakness, which is also


his or her area of weakness.
weakness,

an

incalculable

A calculated
weakness:

one

challenges the other to be taken in To seduce is


to appear weak. To seduce is to render weak. We
seduce with our weakness, never with strong
signs or powers.

In seduction we enact this

35

Genesis 22: 1-19.

36

Jean Baudrillard. (1990). Seduction. pp.83.

92
weakness, and this is what gives seduction its
strength. 37

It is not as if Abraham knew for sure what Gods weakness is


that would be impossible. But instead of a direct challenge, he
chooses to submit, to obey, and this is precisely the weakness of
Yahweh: his test was a test of obediencewill you give up
everything for the sake of my nameafter-which Yahweh
responds by not only merely providing a substitute for Isaac, but
also rewarding Abrahams lineage with mastery over all the
nations. 38

If one posits that Abraham triumphs by seduction, this opens


the consideration that it is the one who responds to the gift that
decides what is exchanged: even as you give up everything for
the sake of my name, it is ultimately I who decide whether you
will be repaid a hundred times over, and also inherit eternal life.
And since there is a gap between the gift of Abraham and the
return of the gift, this suggests that there is an element of time
temporalityin the exchange. As Slavoj iek points out,

ibid. pp.83.
I swear by my own selfit is Yahweh who speaksbecause you have done this,
because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings
on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains
of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of
their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your
descendants, as a reward for your obedience. (Genesis 22: 15-19. italics my addition).
37
38

93
the key feature that opposes potlatch to direct
market exchange is thus the temporal dimension.
In market exchange, the two complementary acts
occur simultaneously (I pay and I get what I paid
for), so that the act of exchange does not lead to a
permanent social bond, but just to a momentary
exchange between atomized individuals who,
immediately afterwards, return to their solitude.
In potlatch, on the contrary, the time elapsed
between me giving a gift and the other side
returning it to me creates a social link which lasts
(for a time, at least): we are all linked together
with bonds of debt. 39

Hence, when Abraham raises his knife above his head to murder
Isaac, there is a moment when the singularity of his action (he has
no idea what Yahwehs response would be) and the plurality of
the situation (there is already a relationalitya dualitybetween
Abraham and God at play) coincide. And in this situation lies
precisely the paradoxical nature of the gift: in order to be a true
gift, one must give without any expectation of reciprocity, yet at
the same time, every gift can only occur in a social situation (there
needs to be someone to give it to) and hence, the moment one

39 Slavoj iek. The Secret Clauses of the Liberal Utopia. Law and Critique Keynote
Lecture. 2007 Critical Legal Conference. Birkbeck: University of London (13
September 2007).

94
gives, one is already in a game of reciprocation; one gives in the
full knowledge of the obligation of the other to respond.

Is this not exactly the same paradox that K is faced with: he is


confronted by a Law that is unknowable to him, yet at the same
time he is always already in relation to and with the Law. This
suggests that K is in a relationality with the Law that precedes
both his subjectivity and the Law: it is a relationality that is beyond
his understanding, and in fact any possibility of understanding
itself.

Hence, if one is looking for a face behind the law, an

overarching logic that one can comprehend, and therefore combat


(as K is attempting to do throughout The Trial), one would be
sorely disappointed. As Baudrillard beautifully encapsulates it,

there is no God behind the images, and the very


nothingness they conceal must remain a secret.
The

seduction,

fascination,

and

aesthetic

attraction of all the great imaginary processes lies


here: in the effacing of every instance, be it the face
and every substance, be it desirein the artificial
perfection of the sign. 40

In fact, this is precisely the strategy of the Law itself: by remaining


absolutely meaningless, by remaining a pure signifier, the Law
draws K into its very void, and sutures K into itself. And like the
40

Jean Baudrillard. (1990). Seduction. pp.94.

95
man from the country who stands before the Law, K constantly
remains there, until the very end, his very end. After all, one must
never forget that the great stars or seductresses never dazzle
because of their talent or intelligence, but because of their
absence. 41

Here, we should take a short detour to consider the tale of Ra.


When poisoned by Isis to extract the ultimate secret (his true
name), he reveals to herin order to obtain the antidotehis full
name, his real name: Amen-Ra. The secret of his name: the secret
that is his name. It is not so much what was concealed that is the
secret, for everyone always already knew his name, but that his
name itself is secret. After all, Amen-Ra is simply the affirmation of
his name: in effect, the secret of Ras name is I am Ra. This shows
that the power of a secret liesare secrets ever about the truth
not so much in its content, but in the fact that it is a secret; the
power of a secret lies in the fact that it is a secret in form. If one
maintains that the secret lies in the content, one is confronted with
a paradoxical situation: if it is an absolute secret, you would not
could nothave known of its existence in the first place; the fact
that you know of it suggests that there is a relationality to secrets;
however, if you knew of the contents of that secret, it would once
again no longer be secret. Therefore, it is a situation where one
knows of the existence of a secret, yet is not privy to what it is:
hence, the secret lies in its form as a secret; it lies in the
41

ibid. pp.96.

96
relationality between two (or more) where all that is known is that
something is not known.

And here, we have to revisit Matthew again for a crucial


phrase with regards to rewards, with regards to the response to
the gift: and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will
reward you. 42 This opens the register of the privileging of sight
in secrets: instead of the other senses of touching, smelling, or
hearing, the secret is entrusted to sight, to observation, to the gaze.
Perhaps this is the reason why God is usually depicted as an eye,
as an All-Seeing God. But this opens the question of, if something
is seen, does it still remain a secret? After all, a secret presupposes
that no other person has a knowledge of it: this suggests then, the
secret that is seen by the Father is either known only to the Father
and not to you (hence, retaining the structure of a secret;
something that is only known to one and not any other), or that the
secret is of a symbolic order (a secret in form but not necessarily in
content). Perhaps the two are not all that different: after all, if one
has to give up everything for the sake of my name, this suggests
that there is an element of free will at play here. However, since
this everything is unknowable, this suggests that it remains secret
from the person. Hence, what the person has to do is to give up
everything as if (s)he knows what this everything is: this is what
the secret is; (s)he must act like (s)he knows what to do whilst
never actually knowing. This is the same structure that we see in

42

This phrase in its various forms is repeated throughout Matthew 6.

97
the paradox of the King: he is only King because his subjects treat
him as a King. However, in order for the subjects to do so, they
must continue to act as if they believe there is an inherent kingliness in him. This might be why all Kings have to ascribe their
King-ship to an external element (tradition, God, etc).

This

suggests that the power of a King is the result of a symbolic pact


between the King and his subjects: he is King because they treat
him as King; they are his subjects because he is King. However
this pact must never be brought to light, must never be made
knownthis is the lesson of the tale The Emperors New Clothes
otherwise not only is the illusion shattered, but the entire structure
of the King and his power crumbles. This is why the nothingness
that they conceal must remain a secret. It is not so much to
protect the imagewithout a referent, the image would collapse
but more crucially, to protect the very idea of God itself: for if the
secret that there is no God behind the images is uttered, the form
of the image is shattered, and God is revealed to be that very
nothingness. What one must do is give up everything for the
sake of my name as if one knows what this everything is
(otherwise the element of free will is gone; one cant freely do what
one doesnt know), whilst allowing the Father to see in secret, and
who will reward you a hundred-fold.

Since the structure of a gift is symbolic, this suggests that we


are in the realm of a code. And not only is there the issue of
temporality in this exchange, but more importantly, due to this

98
gap between the giving and the reciprocity, there is always already
an element of unknowabilityof not knowing what is exchanged
in the exchangethat is part of the exchange itself.

It is this

unknowability that resides in the giving that suggests the structure


of the gift is pre-relational: not only is it not a phenomenon, but it
undoes the very possibility of phenomenology itself. Hence, it is
this position of giving, this readiness to give that precedes
everythingall giftsand it is for this reason that one can give
everything for the sake of my name without even knowing what
one is giving up, without knowing whether what one is giving up
will even be recognised, seen in secret, let alone rewarded.

The realm of the code: not merely the codified relationality of


the gift, but the very relationality of the gift itself as a code. And
since there is always an unknowability that is part of the gift itself,
what we are left with is the givingthe giving of the giftgiving
itself as the code; all we know is that there is a giving and that
there isthere must bea response to this gift. All that can be
known is the obligation of reciprocity, and the necessity of the
counter-gift.

One must never forget the challenge that resounds in every


gift. Hence, giving everything for the sake of my name is also a
challenge to God, a challenge that is reciprocated by a reward of a
hundred-fold and more than that, by eternal life itself. And
this is the way that God attempts to exert Her superiority over

99
mankind; by raising the stakes to one that cannot be matched,
cannot be reciprocated. Except through death itself. With the
counter-gift of eternal life all that is left for man, all that man can
do, must doreciprocity is not a choiceis to counter with her
death, her life. But

death ought never to be understood as the real


event that affects a subject or a body, but as a form
in which the determinacy of the subject and of
value is lost. The demand of reversibility puts an
end to determinacy and indeterminacy at the same
time. 43

This is why the only strategy is catastrophic, and


not dialectical at all. Things must be pushed to the
limit, where quite naturally they collapse and are
inverted Death must be played against death: a
radical tautology that makes the systems own
logic the ultimate weapon. 44

Perhaps this is the very lesson of Franz Kafkas The Trial: Ks


mistake was to contest the Law directly, to attempt to engage it,
reason with it, converse with it dialectically; the only thing that he
could have done was to engage it on a symbolic level, and this is
43 Jean Baudrillard. (2007). Symbolic Exchange and Death. Endnote. pp.5. italics from
source.
44

ibid. pp.4. italics from source.

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why the only thing the man from the country can do is to die. Not
because there is no answer, but that the Law is always already
open, and only for him: he is always already before the Law and
subject to all its powers: the only way in which he can counter the
Law is not to assert his subjectivity but rather to offer the Law
itself its fantasyobjectifying him(self). And the moment the man
from the country makes himself an absolute object, the Law no
longer has any power over him.

But one must never forget, this is not a death that is logical, in
reason, with reason, but death as a pure unknown, an absolute
unknowable.

This suggests that death is both un-nameable (after all we


cannot ever know what it means) but also clearly can be named at
the same time. But before we enter into thinking what death is,
what death is as such, perhaps we need to take a little detour into
names, into naming, into the death of names. After all, one cannot
forget the irony that Peter, who is named the first Pope, is the same
Peter that denies Jesus of Nazareth three times, that denies the
name of Jesus.

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3.5 Requiem for a name


Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled
They crawled out of the woodwork
And they whispered into your brain
They set you on the treadmill
And they made you change your name.
- Elton John & Bernie Taupin 1
If it doesnt happen on television, it doesnt happen.
- Pope John Paul II 2

Karol; a forgotten name: no longer a singularity that resides in a


man.

A name that has been trans-substantiated into pure

nothingness: 3 perhaps then, no longer a name?

The name Karol

1 Elton John (music) & Bernie Taupin (lyrics). (1973). Candle in the Wind in
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
2 When asked by an American Cardinal whether a television station from his city
could record his presentation, John Paul II famously answered, Of course! If it
doesnt happen on television, it doesnt happen. This is recounted in the article
John Paul IIs Relation with TV in Focusas part of coverage of the congress
entitled John Paul II: Religious Event, Television Eventin Zenit: the world seen from
Rome (6 April, 2006) which can be found at http://www.zenit.org/article15731?l=english
3 In some sense transubstantiation is always into nothingnessa body that is always
already absent, but at the same time very much presentnot so much in the

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has not just faded into obscure memory; it might as well never have
existed. In the minds of the faithful, there has always only been
John Paul IIthere was a being before October 16, 1978, but that
was not Karol Jozef Wojtyla, but merely a pre-John Paul II; a certain
someone preparing to become John Paul II and nothing more.

As we recall once again the tale of Ra, we remember the power


that resides in a name. With the fully affirmed knowledge of his
real name, all of Ras knowledge and power is transferred to Isis. It
is this very power that the Papal-dom understands, and this is
precisely why the name of Karol Wojtyla has to be buried: it is not
as if no one knows John Paul IIs real name, but the fact is that it
had to be never again be acknowledged. 4

One sees a manifestation of this phenomenon in the role nicknames play in society.

In some cultures, everyone knows the

persons nick-name whilst only a select few know her/ his given
name (Brazil, and many tribal cultures for instance), whilst in
others the reverse is true (for instance most of Western Europe and
material reality of the bread but rather in the memory (Do this in memory of me)
which then becomes very much a part of the bread itself (or the bread becomes a
part of the memory). In this sense, transubstantiation is a state of (n)either presence
(n)or absence. The name of Karol Josef Wojtylaalways already a memory of
(n)either the past (n)or the futureembodied in the material (non) body of John
Paul II.
4 Similarly, another acknowledgement of the power of the name occurs during Yom
Kippur, where only the High Priest can utter the secret name of God, and only on
that afternoon. He would enter the Holy of Holies and there utter the name, having
a rope tied to his ankle in case he died in there whilst uttering the secret name. The
fact that everyone knows the secret name of God is un-important: its power lies in
its utterance.

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some tribes in Central Australia). In either case, the logic remains
the same: one of the names remains secret (and only revealed to
those whom are deemed close, or worthy). The knowledge of that
particular (nick)name functions as a possession of a particular
power over that person.

The Pope: Marilyn Monroe: and the hyper-reality of the sign.


This is where the sign of Marilyn (in exactly the same manner as
the sign of the Pope) has become more real than the person. Does
anyone really care who Norma Jean is? In our search for Norma
Jean, we might as well continue waiting for Godot. In fact, in the
case of Godot, since there is no referentiality to the name, as long as
someone claims to be Godot, you can choose to believe him, and he
would be so. However in the case of Norma Jean, since there is an
external referent, one could not name just anyone else as her. And
since Norma Jean is now a spectre that is hidden away by the sign
of Marilyn Monroe, it stands to reason that she will never arrive;
Norma Jean is eternally deferred. Is this not the same in the case of
the Pope? The sign of the Popeand the performance of the sign
is more real than the man behind the sign. In fact, there might as
well not be a man. Perhaps a literal reading of the Pope as an
embodiment of St. Peter might be the most precise: the sign of the
Pope itself is all that matters; the man is already dead. Each and
every new Pope is a remix of St. Peter: DJ Vatican spins the same
track with different layers and beats. At the advent of every new
manifestation of St. Peter, the proclamation, Annuntio vobis

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gaudium magnum! Habemus Papam! ("I announce to you a great joy!
We have a Pope!"), is in effect the official requiem to the man, along
with his birth name.

It is completely appropriate that St Peter is regarded as the first


Pope. After all, who is more apt to fill this role than the great
denier himself.

How else can one make any claim to God (or

knowledge of God and Her Willwhich is completely unknowable


to begin with) unless one has already replaced God. It is not so
much the usual claim that the Pope has murdered God in order to
usurp Her place (for how is this even possible; only the vanity of
humankind will allow us to entertain this thought) but rather that
the Pope (and any other religious leader that makes a claim to
Gods Will) has hidden away God within images. Even Islam,
which tries to hide this fact by banning any representation of Allah,
has succumbed to this temptation: for without this murder, the
place of the Ayatollah (or any Imam; for the position of Ayatollah is
merely a public perception of the greatness of any particular Imam
to begin with) cannot hold. By claiming to be the executor of the
will of Allah (who is the legislator and judiciary of everything on
earth) the Ayatollah is in effect deeming himself the person that
knows Allahs will.

In order to execute Allahs will, what the

Ayatollah has to first do, is execute Allah. Through the constant


invoking of god, God Herself has been hidden within the system
of objects (and representations): in this manner, there is no way (as
if there ever was to begin with) of telling God from god(s); and it is

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through this simulated ability to distinguish them, that the Pope
wields power.

The creation of idols is the creation of the system of objects into


which God disappears. For there is never a singular idol: idols
instead exist within their own networkfor instance the multiple
idols of Jesus (Sacred Heart, Santa Jesu etc)each of them
connected yet separate from the others. The effect of this is that
their meanings rely on each other: the perverse core 5 that holds up
this structure is the meaning of God Herself (or in more precise
terms, that God has a meaning; and more so, one that can be
known). However, to maintain the system, the perverse core must
always be kept external to, always be kept secret from, the system.
Hence, God is the absolute absent other in this system that purports
to be about Her. One can see this occur especially when Catholics
(and Muslims) make their pilgrimages to the holy land(s): it is
akin to a collector who is anxious to gather all the different pieces
in the series, often not for the piece itself; many a collector has

5 Perverse core is used in the sense of the underlying premise that is used to hold
up a system of logic. It is always already external to that particular system of
logicneither provable nor un-provable within it; it must be assumed. For
instance, the perverse core of the logic murder is illegal is that the state must be
able to murder the one who breaks that law: the murder by the state is neither legal
nor illegal; it is extra-legal. In Giorgio Agambens conception, this is termed the
state of exception that is integral to any logic of sovereignty; in fact any decision
is always already made in a state of exception.

Agambens thought on this can be found amongst other places in Giorgio


Agamben. (1998). Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. One of many places
that the term perverse core can be found in this context is Slavoj iek. (2003). The
Puppet and the Dwarf: the Perverse Core of Christianity.

106
purchased a piece in the series which (s)he has absolutely no
interest in except for the fact that it is part of the series itself. What
drives the collector is the fact that the series is incomplete: often the
moment the series is complete, the collector immediately loses all
interest in it. What prevents religious pilgrims from losing interest
in their collection is the fact that the missing pieceGod Herself
can never be found, is eternally absent. 6

In this manner, the

murder of God is enacted, not by killing God Herself, but by


ensuring Her exclusion from the images; by making an image of
Her. This is why God always has to have a name, is always given a
name, even if it is a name that refers to nothing, especially if it is a
name that refers to nothing. The name of God is precisely the name
of nothingness: by maintaining this secret, what is maintained is
not only the image of God, but God Herself.

But is it not that the official requirement to be the Pope, is


death? For who would willingly give all that reverence to a man;
but to the simulacrum of a man, certainly. This is why,

for a long time now a head of stateno matter


which oneis nothing but the simulacrum of
himself, and only that gives him power and the
quality to govern. No one would grant the least
consent, the least devotion to a real person. It is to
6 An excellent meditation on collectors and gathering can be found in Jean
Baudrillard. (1968). The System of Objects. pp.91-114.

107
his double, he being always already dead, to
which allegiance is given. 7

In the same way, the Kings power lies in his sceptre and crown;
power lies not in the person, but in the sign(s) displayed. Since
traditionally no one could look a King in the facethose that could
were but fewno one really knew what the King looked like. In
effect, the person that held the sceptre and wore the crown on his
head was the King. Hence, it is not the person who is King, but the
person that displays the correct sign(s) that is King: the kingliness
of the person resides not in him but in the sign(s): the person no
longer matters; he might as well be dead.

In fact, it is probably

better that he is dead: no one would bow before another person;


but a spectre, that is another matter completely. It is for this reason
that the ghost in Hamlet has no namethis ensures that he is the
eternal source of power. The spectre of the king continues to haunt
the kingdom; it is still his kingdom even and perhaps especially
because he is dead. This is also why Hamlets response to the
ghosts cry to re-member me is perfect: by writing him down,
Hamlet ensures that the spectre enters the realm of re-presentation;
is forever re-producible, endlessly re-producible, and hence,
eternal. The answer to the question, What makes a king, King? is
7 Jean Baudrillard. (1994). The Precession of Simulacra in Simulacra and Simulation.
pp. 25-26.
8 This beautifully recounted in the tale A King Listens which can be found in Italo
Calvino. (1988). Under a Jaguars Smile.

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you. But not in the acknowledgment of the superiority of the
personfor if that were so, all jokes about the British royal family
would be impossiblebut rather in the acknowledgment of the
crownliterally the object on the headitself.

Once again we turn to The Emperors New Clothes for a lesson: it


is not that the Emperor had so much power that the people did not
dare to point out that he wasnt wearing any clothes (and that it
took an innocent child to point out the truth), but rather that his
power was in the fact that everyone agreed on the fact that he was
wearing his new clothes. It is the child that reveals the perverse
core of the Kings power: it is completely external to the person of
the King (or even the sign systems in the form of the crown); power
rests in the subjects themselves. This is the paradox of power: the
subjects must first conceive of themselves as subjects, in order to be
subjected. However the point of transgression is not a resistance of
this subjectificationthat would only result in the crushing of the
resistor via the network (the other subjects who remain as such),
barring the unique situation of a critical mass. But even with a
critical mass, the outcome is usually merely the replacement of that
power with another which is exactly the same: this is what
revolutions are about; moving about and around in circles. This is
why one king (or leader, or even political party) can often be
replaced by another without any problem; oftentimes life goes on
as usual the very next day after a major revolution. As long as the
signs displayed are the same, it makes absolutely no difference who

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is wearing the signs. This was why Mikhail Gorbachev provided
such a shock to the system: the person remained the same, but the
signs were changed from the Secretary-General as the Absolute
Head, to a Secretary-General who was open and receptive to
external influences. And it is this changing of the sign system
which the system cannot handle. This is exactly the same problem
that is presented in The Emperors New Clothes: the king is the same
person, all that he is missing are his signs of power; he literally
stripped himself of them: this is why the moment the child points
to the missing signs, everything collapses.

A truly radical solution would be to completely subjectify


yourself. All power assumes the resistance of the subject; without
that, there is no subjectification in the first place. By completely
subjectifying oneself, one becomes an object: this is the nightmare
of the dispositif. For how can one enact a disciplinary mechanism
on the subject if (s)he does not mind being disciplined in the first
place? This is why the suicide bomber still haunts all attempts at
security: what defense is there if death is already accepted by the
bomber?

On October 16, 1978, Karol Jozef Wojtyla was proclaimed dead.

On April 2, 2005, reality finally caught up with the Real.

110
Perhaps this is why the death of the Pope was such a traumatic
event (the outpouring of emotion throughout the world seems to
suggest this). This cannot be for the death of the Popefor the title
never dies; there is merely an Interregnumbut rather for the
trauma brought on by the sudden appearance of the Real. This may
be why the grief for this particular Pope seems to be greater than
for any other; the gap between the Real and the symbolic is wider
than ever before (in terms of actual time between the existence of
the undead personaJohn Paul IIand the real, dead, person).
Hence, the greater the trauma of the event: the gap in time had
almost allowed us to completely forget the existence of the person;
all we had with us was the persona. There has been no other time
in history where the sign of the Pope has been spun to this extent.
After all, John Paul II is the first TV Pope: for many, all we ever
knew of him was what we saw on TV.

Pope John Paul IIthe media Popethe mediated Pope. John


Paul II is the perfect simulacrum. Not just more real than real, but
in itself the only real (the Other, in this case Karol Wojtyla does not
matter any longer; it is no longer even part of our consciousness).
But that opens the question of whether it is John Paul II or the Pope
that is the simulacrum. Perhaps this is a case of two co-existing at
the same time; perhaps a rare moment when the persona (in the
form of the name that murders the person) reaches the same level
as the position (after all the Pope is the re-incarnation of the
position of Peter). For isnt the name Pope John Paul II really an

111
inter-play of two: the name John Paul II, and the title Pope; the title,
the 264th (or 265th if you count Stephen II) version of Peter and the
name John Paul II, the reincarnation (or resurrection if you prefer)
of Karol Wojtyla. Of course, the fact that one can choose to count
Stephen II or not already suggests that recognition is a rather
arbitrary process.

At the very moment John Paul II replaced Karol Wojtyla, a


singularity was murdered. And in its place was a pseudo-name:
this is the exact moment when Karol Wojtyla becomes one in a
series of objects known as the Pope. For after all, what is John Paul
II but another variation of Peter; another signifier for a constant
signified.

We see the Vatican acknowledging the murder of Karol


Wojtyla at the funeral of John Paul II. At the very end of the
ceremony, the wooden casket is displayed by the pallbearers to the
crowd as a final farewell to the Pope (from the very steps which he
made his entrance to celebrate his first Papal Mass)this is the
exact moment when the Real hits us; this is the site of the trauma:
the moment when the two deaths come together (the virtual one
present, the real one always already absent).

The funeral as a

symbolic closing of the life of John Paul II: there was never a need

112
to further acknowledge Karol Wojtyla; his funeral was already held
31 years ago. 9

This is why the funeral required the massive television


coverage it received: it was the requiem of the image (the funeral of
the pure sign). An ordinary burial would not have sufficed: that
would only have been earth covering a corpse, an already dead one
at that. This Papal funeral had far more at stakethe death of an
image, or in the context of the Church, the death of the image; in
some sense, the death of God Herself. What better way to solidify
the death of an image than by having it on television?
Nothing is solid till its on celluloid
Dell Marie Butler 10

How apt that the mediated Pope is buried via transmissionis


there any other way? For is it not that this mediated burial ensures
the immortality of John Paul II? After all, it is the re-producibility
of the transmitted code that allows the image of John Paul II to be
reproduced endlessly. But since the last image of John Paul II is the
funeral, its endless playing (and re-playing) will also ensure that
the death of John Paul II will continually occurthis would be an
9 For if Karol Wojtyla was still alive, would the Pope then not have two birthdays
like the Queen of England (one for the person, and another for the title)one for
Karol and the other for John Paul II? Or even a third birthday for the title if need be.
10 This phrase was uttered as part of a conversation between myself and Dell Butler
at the Catholic Junior College in March 2005, Singapore.

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occurrence of an immortal death. The only way to ensure that a
spectre remains deadand does not return to eternally haunt us by
appearing and dis-appearing infinitelyis to continually play out
its funeral, to continuously bury it (not in flesh, but certainly in
images).

For the moment a spectre returns to haunt, this is a

confirmation of its death. However, when the funeral is replayed


endlessly, he is in a state of being (n)either dead (n)or alive.

The trauma comes with the realisation that beneath the surface
of Pope John Paul II, there is absolutely nothing. Under the mask
of John Paul II, there lies not Karol the man, but instead John Paul
II. 11

The true trauma is in the realisation that there is now no

longer a difference between Karol Wojtyla and John Paul II, not
because they are one and the same, but because there is now no
longer a Karol Wojtyla and that the sign of John Paul II has always
already existed (even before 1978). Like the classic horror movie
scene where the man finally removes his mask, the true horror is
not when the face underneath is different from the mask, but when
it is exactly the same as the mask.

Since the mask and the face underneath the mask are
indistinguishable, this suggests that both John Paul II and Karol
Wojtyla are as real as the other: the sign and the dead man have
collapsed into one another.

John Paul II/ Karol Wojtyla have

11 The mask always lies, truth is never the concern of the mask; or if you prefer, the
mask is always true; or better still, truth and un-truths are no longer the concern of
the mask: it is now a game beyond truths and untruths.

114
become the same; which can only happen if both are nothing to
begin with. Either that or the sign of John Paul II acts like a black
hole, which then proceeds to suck Karol Wojtyla into it. In either
case, the result remains the same: the sign of Karol Wojtyla has
disappeared: it no longer matters, and might as well have never
existed.

This also accounts for the massive popularity of Pope John Paul
II. For if John Paul II/ Karol Wojtyla (we might as well use the
names inter-changeably now) are empty signs, this also means that
they operate as master-signifiers. In this manner, any signified can
be attached to the sign of the Pope. Is it any wonder now that
despite mixed feelings about his rather conservative stances (which
range from full support to massive resistance), his popularity
remains unchanged? It is no surprise that everyone is referring to
him as her or his father (is it not the fantasy of every child that the
father can be whoever the child wants the father to be). Of course
the Popes unflinching stance on issues helps support this fantasy:
his stances provide the gap, which ensures that the fantasy of a
father who is everything you want, can never be fulfilled.

Karol. John Paul II. Pope. A trinity of empty signifiers. Each


one reveling in complete absence, yet at the same time complete in
themselves. Perhaps this is the true mystery of the Church: the
inter-play of the 3 signifiers (which are complete signs in
themselves) in which the embodiment of a complete presence lies

115
in absence. As if in Pope John Paul II nee Karol Wojtyla lay the
very vision of the 2nd coming.

In this light, it is then truly

appropriate that the next manifestation of Peter, in the form of


Benedict XVI, is the former Grand Inquisitor of the church: the 2nd
comingthe appearance of the great judge.

Karol Wojtyla: the perfect simulacrum. Not in presence, but


rather a hyper-absence; not more real than real, but rather more
absent than absent.

A position of complete emptiness because

Karol Wojtyla was never there in the first place: the site for
seduction has been set. Complete absence plays out in the presence
of an empty sign (John Paul II) and in this emptiness, the public is
seducedJohn Paul II is to the viewer, anything that the viewer
wants him to be; in the words of the supreme seductress, I can be
anything you want me to be.

In fact, the ultra orthodox theological stance that he adopts


adds even more to the seduction (whether you agree with him or
not is irrelevant); for who actually dares to take a stance anymore.
Taking a polemic position, regardless of whether it is absurd or not,
seems to do little harm for ones following: a case in point would be
both Osama bin Laden (whether the spectre or the man matters
little) 12 and George W. Bush. It is the daringness to be completely
12 In fact, the spectre may be more effective than the man itself. A master-signifier in
the form of the name of a dead man is often more useful than the man itself: in this
way, the institution can attach any signified to the signifier and use it in any manner
it choosesa perfect situation for branding. A prime example of this would be how
the institution of the Church uses the name of Jesus Christ in a completely

116
polemic in this decaffeinated age 13 that allows them to move into
the realm of myth: the romanticised hero that literally sticks to his
guns despite being in disagreement with the rest of the world, and
even perhaps that of common sense. After all, the cowboy is not
popular because of his intellectual approach to issues. There is an
attraction, dare I say, to the savagery of the person who does, and
not the one who ponders, especially in this age of inaction and
political correctness.

The Pope is the perfect object: project all your desires onto me
and I will fulfill your fantasies (of what you want me to be): the
law-maker, the man of god, the absolute father, the great absolver
of all sins, god herself, etc.

This returns us once again to the

memory of Lucretius, recalls us to the simulacra; a third skin inbetween both parties onto which all communication takes place. In
this realm, all is negotiated, all is negotiable, all is posit-able, all is
possible.

meaningless way, such that the Jesus standing for peace and the Jesus of the
Crusades are not incongruent but can stand side by side perfectly. Another instance
would be how the fact that both the Eastern and the Western church operate as the
ONE Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church despite the universality of the term
Catholicism: the term Catholic then becomes an empty term, one that can
(ironicallybut irony no longer exists in this realm) include an exclusive element.
13 I borrow this term from Slavoj iek. His claim is that the West fears Islamic
fundamentalism not because it goes contrary to the predominant Christianity but
rather because they dare to still believe, or more precisely have the audacity to
believe in this post-modern age of Western Buddhism, where the prevailing maxim
is, believing in anything is beneath me, I float above it all.

For the full argument refer to Slavoj iek. (2001). On Belief.

117
A measure of salvation
Is the complete disappearance of the name Karol Wojtyla, the
perfect saving of the name itself? A name that speaks of nothing
except itself: a perfect name: a name that no other can have,
because it speaks of no other but itself, by speaking of absolutely
nothing.

Identities are hinged on the existence of a name: the name acts


like an axiom on which an identity is then built around. In the case
of any other name, there is an immediate reference to an object (the
person) and a process of signification takes place: in fact, this
external referent, to which the name is attached, is the hinge upon
which it revolves. When that occurs, the signifier (the name) then
reaches a death of sorts through the process of signification; a
signified is attached to the name (even if there are multiple
signifieds, the concept still holds). This end point of signification is
reached not because one of the signifieds is more suitable that the
others but simply because it is chosen: in this sense, what we are
speaking of is not its (semantic) signification, but rather its
significance. 14

The meaning that arises from this synthesis of

signifier and signified (not a coming together in any definite sense


but at least in a momentary one) is akin to the emergent properties

14 An example to illustrate the difference would be when someone asks, what is the
meaning of my life? The person is not asking for a definition (in the semantic
sense) of her/ his lifewhat the person really wants to know is how important am
I; what is the significance of my existence?

118
of cellular merging. 15 This perhaps best captures why the name is
secret (and even sacred) in many cultures: knowledge of the name
is knowledge of the significance of the person. It is for this very
reason that the secret addition to Ras name is Amenthe truth of
his power lies in the significance that he is Ra.

In the case of Karol, the death of the man allows the name to be
freed from any signified. Or more precisely, his death frees his
name, allowing it the full potential to be filled with any signified.
Or even more interestingly, his name now has the potential to be
filled, and the potential to not-be filled, with any signified; in other
words, the name Karol is now in a state of pure potentiality.

In this state of an in-betweenname and non-namethe name


Karol has the unique ability to be anything for anyone, yet at the
same time remains empty in order to be filled by any other. Karol
is no longer arrested in the binary of either name or non-name:
Karol is (n)either a name (n)or a non-namea transitory state, a
state of temporarily being in permanent flux: a perfect signa
perfect name.

15 An example of this would be when hydrogen and oxygen merge to form water.
In their singular states, oxygen and hydrogen are fuel. However when they
synthesise into H 2 O, the emergent property that arises is water, which retards fire.

The link between semantics and emergent properties was discussed by both
Manuel de Landa and Carl Mitcham in their respective seminars, Gilles Deleuze and
Science and Ideas and Power at the European Graduate School, June 2006.

119
The position of the Pope: a sepulture which holds within it
absolutely nothing but the ghost of a name. But precisely through
that nothingness, lies hope for all names.

Now we are faced with another problem: in order to think Death


as such, we need to speak of it, utter it, name it, but at the same
time, the moment we name it, we are no longer speaking of Death
as such, but a representation of death, a particular version of
death, perhaps only a ghost of death.

Even as we attempt to

approach Death through fictionthrough a narrative and


accepting, and in fact foregrounding, all the indiscernability and
unknowability that it bringswe still have no choice but to name
Death, in order to even begin to think of it: after all, one cannot
think of nothing, one has no choice but to think through language
and with language.

In the lightor perhaps absolute darknessof this situation,


where all we can know is that we might not be able to know
anything, we have no choice but to go on, to do the impossible,
that is, name Death itself. But this not a naming that is legitimate,
verifiable, or has even any possibility of referentiality: instead this
is naming as naming, where we attempt to approach Death
through a momentary positing, through the fiction of the name
Death.

120

The only way to win is cheat and lay it down before Im beat,
and to another give my seat for thats the only painless feat.
That suicide is painless it brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please.
Michael Altman & Johnny Mandel: Suicide is Painless

121

On Death (Suicide)
or whats love got to do with it
Acting is replaced here by reading. I always think
nothing can replace the reading of a text, that no
acting can ever equal the effect of a text not
memorized. 1

At a glance, these seem like nothing more than the whimsical


quips of Marguerite Duras as to how her tale, The Malady of Death,
might be performed; an imaginary scenario which has notand
may noteven happen. She even seems to suggest it herself: the
opening lines of what seems to be the epilogue to the tale are, The
Malady of Death could be staged in the theatre; 2 there is no
certainty there, either of the fact that it is staged, would be staged,
or the venue of its staging. After all, at the end of this same
passage of textwhich we shall tentatively call the epilogueshe
situates it as, all this by way of a general suggestion. 3

One of the aspects that her comments, her commentary on her


own text, opens is the registers of reading, and the possibility of
each reading being a first reading. Not a first reading in the sense
1

Marguerite Duras. (1986). The Malady of Death. pp.57.

ibid. pp.56.

ibid. pp.60.

122
of a virginal reading, but a first reading as a singular engagement,
response, to and with the text, where each reading is potentially
different, unique and particular. Perhaps the effect of the text is
greater when read, as it foregrounds the forgetting that takes place
in each reading: for it is not as if there is no memory in reading;
one is able to read only because one has a memory of the words,
the rules, the grammar and the language, but at the same time, the
fact that there is a possibility of a singular reading suggests that
this memory is not perfect, not complete, and not total. One can
posit here that it is the effect of this forgetting itself, of the fact that
the characters that the text refers to are always already absent, that
enhances its effect; that in some way it is the very forgetting of the
referent that affects us the most.
problems

of

foregrounding

This brings with it all the

forgetting

though:

and

more

pertinently, the problem of whether one can even know that one
has forgotten in the first place. Each time one utters the phrase, I
forgot, it has to be in the past as one can only know of this
forgetting because one has remembered it: Hence, strictly speaking
this utterance is an effect of memory, which then suggests that the
phrase is a performative one. More than that, it also suggests that
there is no referent to forgetting, that forgetting has no possibility
of referentiality: thus there is no verifiability to forgetting: it is a
pure name, and each time we utter forget, we are only able to
name it without any possibility of knowing what it is that we are
forgetting, or what forgetting itself even means.

123
Perhaps this is why Marguerite Duras is only able to address
or if we want to be more careful, is perhaps why she chose to
addressforgetting in a more direct mannereven though it is
part of The Malady of Death itselfin the epilogue, in an aside that
is not part of the text, but also not entirely separate from the text.
In fact, one is never quite sure where and how to situate an
epilogue: should it be considered part of the same trajectory of the
text, and by extension its narrative; or is it a commentary on the
narrative; or is it a separate narrative by itself. And there is no
reason to believe that it might not be all threeor even more
possibilities, some of which appear to us, and some which remain,
at least for the moment, hidden from usat the same time. This is
the very same question that can be asked of titles: what is the
status of the title The Malady of Death in relation to the text? The
most apparent link is that the title refers to the text: however even
if we establish that there is a relationality between the title and the
text, by way of naming the text, one cannot say for sure what this
relationality is. After all, since every text is open to numerous
readings, multiple potentials, the title is always already referring
to an infinite variety of possibilities, some present, some absent:
one can perhaps say that the title is having an infinite conversation
with its referent, that is, the text. Besides referring, the title also
frames the text: after all, one is most likely to seereadthe title
before attending to the text. This of course opens all the different
registers of the relationality between the frame and its content. As
Jacques Derrida has taught us, in the context of art, it is often the

124
frame that signifies that the art-word is a work of art: Sunflowers is
a master-piece in a gallery, but might also be construed as graffiti
if found on the side of a wall. We see the importance of the
signature in art most apparently when it comes to graffiti art: if it is
stencilled and sprayed on by Banksy, it is considered art; by any
other and it is vandalism. 4 Remaining in the realm of art, it is
Slavoj iek who posits that art resides in the gap between the
frame and the viewer. 5 In both cases, the suggestion is that there
is an indistinction, or more pertinently an inability, in terms of
defining where art lies, or even what art is.
Perhaps then it is Duras, Derrida, and iek, who give us a
clue, a hint, even a general suggestion, as to how we might begin
to approach death, and more precisely death as such, death as an
absolute unknowability. And more than that, it is by way of a
general suggestion that one might even begin to catch a glimpse
of death, if only for a moment.

If we posit that one might only be able to catch a glimpse of


death through fiction, through the forms of a narrativeas
opposed to a direct attempt to see, to knowthis suggests that one

4 Derrida posits the significance of both the frame and the signature in relation to
the work of art amongst other places in Jacques Derrida. (1987). Parergon in The
Truth in Painting.
5 This statement was uttered by Slavoj iek in response to a question of where is
art to be found in a gallery during his seminar, Media, Politics and Psychoanalysis, at
the European Graduate School, August 2005.

125
can only hope to approach through a formalistic structure, that one
might only catch this glimpse through a ritual.

On Suicide
Perhaps in order to begin, we might consider a ritual that is not too
far from death, that approaches deathand even occasionally
succeeds in reaching deathbut at the same time never pretends
to understand death. In fact it is sometimes a phenomenological
experience of death without all the trappings of an attempted
comprehension of the phenomenon. Suicide.

We

might

provisionally

begin

our

glimpse

into

the

phenomenon by considering the notion that suicide is the


expression of a subjects will towards death. One can even posit
that since one is thrown into life, and that one has no control over
the point in which one dies, suicide is the subjects way of gaining
some form of controlat least of the telos of life itself. Of course
the irony of the situation is, the very moment in which the subject
gains a form of control over her/ his life is also the very same
moment in which her/ his life is lost. This opens the question of
whether one can think of suicide in terms of an economic
exchange. Even though the opening gambit is that the subject
exchanges life for control, the attempted control was over life itself:
Hence, if life is lost within the very exchange that is taking place, is

126
there even a transference that occurs; is there actually an
exchange? Since both the lossesthe life of the subjectand the
gainscontrol over a no longer existent lifeamount to an
exchange of nothingin the economic sense of zero exchange
this is strictly speaking an empty exchange. Hence, one needs to
consider suicide as a ritualistic exchange, where one stakes ones
life in order to gain a form of control: and here is where form is
crucial, for surely there is no content in this emptiness, to this
emptiness.

The life of the person committing suicide is a stake precisely


because at the point in which (s)he gives up her/ his life, there is
no way that (s)he can verify the result of her/ his death. If we
consider the case of Thich Quang Duc, one can posit that perhaps
he was hoping for a particular reaction to his self-immolation on
June 11, 1963, in protest of the Ngo Dinh Diem regime. However
at the point in which he set himself on fire, there was no way he
could know whether anyone would even notice his deathonly
those who remain after the event can have any experience of the
effects of his death. This suggests that the only thing that Thich
Quang Duc can know is that he is approaching his own death; the
only thing that he can know is that he is dead. In other words,
Thich Quang Duc offers his own life as a stakeperhaps in the
hope of a desired effectbut nothing more: this is a sacrifice in the
very sense that we considered earlier through the inflexions of
Georges Bataille and Jean Baudrillard; this is a sacrifice which is

127
unsubordinated to the real order and occupied only with the
present, 6 and in which

the tie that connected the offering to the world of


profitable activity is severed, but this separation
has the sense of a definitive consumption; the
consecrated offering cannot be restored to the real
order. 7

Hence, in this particular instance of death, Thich Quang Duc is


the accursed share, destined for violent consumption. [And it is]
the curse [that] tears him away from the order of things 8 And
at the same time, Thich Quang Ducs death, like every stake, is also
a challenge, and more precisely a challenge [that] terminates all
contracts and exchanges regulated by the law [in which there is
nothing except] an unceasing obligation to respond. 9 But even
though there is an obligation to respond, this does not mean that
at any point Thich Quang Duc knowsor can even knowwhat
the response is. Hence, the only thing that he can know for sure is
that he is offering his life as a stake; the only thing that Thich
Quang Duc is certain of is his own death.

Georges Bataille. (1991). The Accursed Share Vol 1. pp.58.

ibid. pp.58. italics from source.

ibid. pp.59. italics from source. [parenthesis my addition].

Jean Baudrillard. (1990). Seduction. pp.82. [parenthesis my addition].

128
Another instance that we might want to considerin order to
potentially unveil some of the registers of death in suicideis
arguably one of the most famous suicides which has left traces
throughout the world; the one concerning Jesus Christ.

If we

consider the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was working towards his
own deathin order to fulfill the scriptures, and his destiny as the
Son of Manone can quite easily constitute his death as a planned
death; a suicide. After all, when Simon Peter attempts to draw his
sword to protect Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, he is told to
put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink of the cup
that the Father has given me? 10 Even Pontius Pilates efforts to
save him are turned down: when asked are you the king of the
Jews, a simple no would have been enough to save Jesus:
instead he deliberately implicates himself by saying, Mine is not a
kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men
would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews.
But my kingdom is not of this kind. This naturally leads to the
next question by Pilate: so you are a king then? which is another
opportunity for Jesus to deny and save himself. But instead he
replies crypticallyand rather sarcasticallyit is you who say
it, before completely incriminating himself with the statement,
yes I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for
this. 11 Even as Pilate is anxious to set him free, 12 Jesus is clearly
10

John 18: 10-11.

11 The sequence between Pilate and Jesus in the Praetorium can be found in John 18:
28-40.

129
not playing a part in freeing himself: instead he is hurtling himself
towards his own death.

The death of the Son of Man is usually ascribed as the cause, to


which the effect is the salvation of humankind. However this
would assume that Jesus of Nazareth was fully aware of what
would happen at either the point of, or after, his crucifixion: this
would assume that Jesus is fully aware of the actions of his Father,
or at the very least, that he is fully aware of the effects that his
death would bring about.
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? 13
It is at this point that we must examine one of the last
utterances of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross: my God, my god,
why have you forsaken me? If we posit that this is a question,
then by extension, he must have had some kind of idea of what
would happen at his crucifixion: without a pre-conceived notion,
he could not have been forsaken. This opens the possibility that
the phenomenon of his being on the cross does not match up to the
idea that he had: this suggests then that he is not privy to the entire
picturesince the Father is by definition omniscient, all that is to
happen is known by Him; however Jesus clearly does not share in
this knowledge. Hence, at the very least, Jesus is in the dark about

12

John 19: 12.

13

Mark 15: 34 and Matthew 27: 46.

130
what it is to be on the cross until he is actually on it. Perhaps one
can also posit that there is a hint of the hope of being saved: is the
forsakenness that he feels due to the fact that the Father actually
lets him die on the cross? After all, there have been previous
instances of people being raised from the deadit is Jesus himself
that performed one of these with Lazarus. There is no reason to
rule out the possibility that perhaps Jesus was hoping that he
himself was to be saved: and not allowed to die and then
performatively resurrected after that. In Patrick Sskinds essay
On Love and Death, he proposes that the raising of Lazarus was a
contrived act of kindness; in fact he goes as far as to say that it was
a perfect public relations stunt by the Nazarene.

As Sskind

writes:

Two ladies who are friends of Jesus send him a


message saying that their brother Lazarus is sick
and likely to die, and asking Jesus to come and
heal him. What does Jesus do? He doesnt come.
He says: This sickness is not unto death, but for
the glory of God, that the Son of God might be
glorified thereby. He acts (according to St John
the Evangelist, it is only fair to note), in exactly the
same way as any political leader of earlier modern
times and the present day when confronted by an
unexpected and unwelcome event: his reflex
reaction is to try turning the event to his own

131
advantage and exploiting it for self-advertisement.
The fact that a man is lying sick and suffering is of
minor significance. Far more important is how to
stage the saving of the invalids life to the best
effect for publicity, thus enhancing the saviors
own reputation and giving his own movement a
boost. Jesus does this in an extreme and indeed
brutal way. He waits until Lazarus is dead, and
informs his followers that he is glad that he was
not there, saying that it was to make them believe
in him. Only now does he set off at his leisure,
accompanied by his followers, to the village where
Lazarus had lived, and arrived four days late. The
two ladies, Mary and Martha, are understandably
disappointed. If you had been here, they say,
our brother would not have died. Jesus takes
this remark as lse majest, becomes furious and
shouts at the two sisters before the assembled
mourners that they should not be weeping and
wailing, but ought to believe in him as the Son of
God, to whom nothing is impossible.

Then he

orders that he be taken to the grave, not without a


touching performance on the way when he
publicly sheds a tear, instantly achieving the
desired success with his audience. Behold how
he loved him! whispers the crowd. On reaching

132
the grave, a kind of cavern sealed with a stone
slab, Jesus orders, Take away the stone!

He

dismisses the objection of one of the sisters who


protests that it would be better not to, since the
dead man has been there for fours days and by
this time he stinketh. Raising his voice at her
again, he tells her to shut up and believe in him
Sorry, that is not an entirely correct quote, for the
Messiah expresses himself a little more elegantly.
Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest
believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
This is how he speaks. Then they removed the
stone. The decisive moment has come. The crowd
holds its breath. We can picture them first staring
into the dark cavern, then looking expectantly at
Jesus, we can imagine both supporters and
opponents (for there are some of those present
too) pricking up their ears, styluses at the ready,
so that not a word of the Master will escape them
and no detail will go unreportedfor Johns story
reads very much like a press report written after
the event, and we get the impression of attending
a media spectacle of our own day. Only the TV
cameras are missing.

133
Next comes a close-up of Jesus. Before he goes
into action he creates a dramatic climax and
heightens the tension with yet another dramatic
climax and heightens the tension with yet another
delaying factor, at the same time proclaiming his
own message and, with outrageous frankness,
revealing the propagandist purpose of the event.
He lifts up his eyes to heaven and to God, whom
he addresses as his father. Father, I thank thee
that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou
hearest me always: but because of the people that
stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou
has sent me. Only now does he turn his eyes to
the cavern and calls, with a loud voice: Lazarus,
come forth.

The success of the operation is, as intended,


overwhelming. The majority of the Jews present
spontaneously join the Jesus party; others deploy
to spread the news of his famous deed throughout
the country; some go straight off to tell on him to
the high priests. The high priests decide that, for
their own good political reasons, they will depose
of the seditions itinerant preacher who has been a

134
thorn in their flesh for some time by killing him.
So the raising of Lazarus leads immediately to the
last act in the brilliant success story of Jesus of
Nazareth: his death on the cross as foretold,
desired, and instigated by himself.

After that,

nothing was going to stop its onward progress as


propaganda. 14

Drawing from Patrick Sskinds marvellous account of the raising


of Lazarus, there is no reason to leave out the possibility that Jesus
of Nazareth might have expected his own crucifixion to follow a
similar pattern: a public relations performance in order to increase
his fan club. Of course one can also posit that this is the point
where Jesus has no prior knowledge of the will of his Fatherthe
very same will that he agrees to submit to in the garden of
Gethsemane when he says, but let it be as you, not I, would have
it. We must not discount the fact that Jesus is not entirely willing
though, as his earlier request is to take this cup away from me, 15
but this unwillingness is one that involves death, which does not
mean that he knows what his Father intends for him. Otherwise
there would not have been a moment where he thinks that he has
been forsaken, that he has been abandoned.
14

Hence, at the

Patrick Sskind. (2006). On Love and Death. pp.58-63.

The scene from the garden of Gethsemane is taken from Mark 14: 32-42. Another
version can also be found in Matthew 26: 36-46 in which the exact wording is
slightly different but does not change the trajectory of the argument with any
measure of significance.

15

135
moment in which Jesus utters but let it be as you, not I, would
have it, the moment when Jesus tells the Father to let thy will be
done, he knows nothing except the fact that he is to die; and
perhaps more pertinently, that he is to die alone.

This might shed some light as to why suicide is denounced by


Christianity. Not only is suicide a challenge to the governance of
the body of the subject, it challenges the very basis of Christianity
itself. For the operating logic of Christianity is that we are saved
because Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross for the sins of
humankind. However, if we take into account the fact that he had
no notion of what he was dying forthat all he knew at the point
of death was that he was going to diethen there is no reason to
believe that the suicide of any single person is any different from
his death. In fact if one takes the teaching of the Churchto
follow the example of Christto its end, then what it calls for is a
sacrifice, in the precise sense of a severing from all utility and in
which the consecrated offering cannot be restored to the real
order. 16 It is a sacrifice that knows not why it is sacrificed except
for the fact that there is a sacrifice that is made: it is a sacrifice that
knows nothing, that seeks for nothing, that is nothing, except unto
itself. In this way, whenever there is a suicide, not only is the fact
of Jesus unknowing sacrifice made too clear, it is also the moment
in which the subject of the Church transcends the Church itself, not

16

Georges Bataille. (1991). The Accursed Share Vol 1. pp.58. italics from source.

136
because one has fallen from grace but precisely because one has
become too much like Jesus.

And it is this giftthis gift of deaththat cannot be repaid.


For since no one can die for youonly you can die for yourself
this is a gift that must be made in solitude, in separation from the
rest of the world, a death in which you will be forsaken by your
father, by everyone else, and your Father who sees all that is done
in secret will reward you, 17 not just a hundred times over, but
more than that, you will also inherit eternal life. 18

And this

leaves the Church with no choice but to out-law suicide; for this
rewardeternal lifeis beyond Canon Law, beyond the control of
the Church: for the gift of eternal life lies even beyond Jesus
himself, who can never know the will of the Father. It is perhaps
through the ritual of suicide that one touches too closely upon the
divinity, not by knowing what the Son of Man went through, but
by experiencing God becoming man through entering the absolute
unknown.

And it is this unknowable death, this approach into the


absolute unknowability that is death, through the sacrifice of ones
life, through the gift of ones lifeones deaththat truly frightens
us.

17

This phrase in its various forms is repeated throughout Matthew 6.

18

Matthew 19: 29.

137
The suicide bomber
When someone is willing to give up their life, when someone is
willing to give themselves as a gift of death, what defence is there
any longer? And more than that, how can one even begin to deal
with a phenomenon that not only escapes ones comprehension,
but that is beyond understanding itself.

It is of no coincidence that the most feared figure of the Second


World War was the Kamikaze pilot. For not only was the pilot
willing to diein some way all soldiers who enter a war zone,
either willingly or not, enter a complicity to death, accept in some
way the possibility of their deathbut more profoundly, the
Kamikaze pilot was indeed of a divine wind, of a divine nature,
because he was already dead. Before each squadron was sent off,
the Kamikaze pilots would gather for a last meal, a last cigarette, a
last cup of sake and a bow to the Emperor. By the time the pilot
actually climbs into his cockpit, he is already a dead man: his life
and his deathhas already been offered during the ritual. The
typical Western analysis usually involves pointing out the fact that
before flying, the pilots were pumped full of amphetamines in
order to allow them to fly their planes directly into targets.
However this misses the point as it assumes that it is only due to
the drugged state that the pilots become suicide bombers, that it
was the drugs that made them into suicide bombs. Even if they
had gained a measure of Dutch courage from the amphetamines,
there is no denying that the pilots themselves were fully aware of

138
their status as the order of the Divine Wind the moment they
began their training, the moment they become pilots. Hence, from
that point onwards, their lives had already been offered as a
sacrifice: if the amphetamines had anything to do with it, it was
merely an instrument which aided their task; the sacrifice had long
ago been made. And it is the ritualof which there are echoes of a
Last Supper; or a last meal of a condemned inmatewhich allows
the Kamikaze pilot to sever himself from the real order, to offer
himselfhis selfas a stake.

And like any true stake, the Kamikaze pilot has no idea what
the reciprocation is, what the effects of his sacrifice are: all that he
knows is that he has offered himself: everything else he remains
blind to, remains in the dark from.

The attempt to explain away, ascribe, his actions to the effect


of drugsanother favourite is social pressures, or brainwashing
by the Japanese military machineor any other cause is an
attempt to re-inscribe the actions of the Kamikaze pilot back into a
cause and effect analysis, to return it to the order of reason. We
are never quite as afraid when something opposes the order of
reason: in fact by opposing it, the underlying assumptions are
strengthened. And this is what the offering of drugs as a reason
attempts to do: by claiming that the pilots are flying in a drugged
state, one is trying to establish that their actions are the result of an
illusion, a change in mental state: in that way reality is preserved,

139
and one can then ascribe this actionan action that is beyond
explanation itselfto another reason: more importantly, reason
itself is preserved. What frightens us the most is when there is no
reason for the action, when the action itself is beyond reason,
beyond explanation, beyond knowing: for in that way it always
remains an enigma to us, and we have no ability, no hope, of being
able to discipline it, of putting it under us, of controlling it.

But before we go on thinking the figure of the suicide bomber,


we have to make a momentary diversion, and open another
register of thinking, that of what it is to be dead; and the question
of, what is this very moment of death, the instant of death itself?

140

4.5 The instant of death


Not mine, not yours, but deaths.
Death as such.
For, can one even begin to own death, make a claim on death?
Nor does death claim you. Otherwise there is still a relationality
between the subject and death. But since there is none that can be
establishedat least none that can be knownall that can be said
is, you die.
And yet whenever we speak of death, do we have a choice but
to speak as if we can make a claim on it, as if we can even begin to
speak of it.

Clearly we can never speak of it as a

phenomenological experience, for if we have experienced death,


we would not be able to speak any longer. However, if there is no
experience, we would not be able to speak of it as well. Hence,
ultimately any discourse on death ishas no choice but to be
from the realm of the imagination, fictional. It is this aporetic
situationif it is narrated, it has to be from the past; however if it
cannot have happened, if imagined, then surely it is only a future
event at bestthat makes the opening line of Maurice Blanchots
The Instant of My DeathI remember a young mana man still
youngprevented from dying by death itselfand perhaps the
error of injustice. 1 such a curious one. If one remembers, the
young man is surely from the pasthe is a recollection, he is

Maurice Blanchot. (2000). The Instant of My Death. pp.3.

141
called back from a previous event, a memory. However if he is
still young, this suggests that either he is trapped in time
sealed in permanent state in timeor that at each recollection, he
is called back into the same state that he was at, that perhaps he
will always remain in. This is a narration that is both of the past,
and of the future, in the presenta future-anterior momenta
present that is always over and also already to come: we catch a
glimpse of the indiscernability of time, and of the event itself,
when the narrator recounts the moment of the shooting, when he
utters, there remained, however, at the moment when the
shooting was no longer but to come, and this is a moment of
possibilities, all potentialities, where one is possibly freed from
life? the infinite opening up? 2

Perhaps there is an infinite opening up only because one is


freed from life; when one is freed from the order of the real,
when one is freed from utility, from logic and from reason. This
freeing takes the form of an unknowability, from an uncertainty:
the narrator can only utter that I know that the young man
which is a different statement from the young man; by having to
explicitly state that he knows, there is a foregrounding of the
nature of the statement; he is not stating a fact, but merely an
opinion, doxa.

This is further brought to lightthrough much

darknessby the fact that the narrator shifts from an I to a he,


and is also recounted as a young man: at all points there is
2

ibid. pp.7.

142
always already a trace of all three, and one is also unable to tell
them apart. In this way, one is always unable to tellespecially
when the pronoun I is usedwhether it is the narrator, or a
character in the narrative, which is speaking. It is the inability to
distinguish between the first and the third person, whether what is
uttered is in the pastwhich is the status of all first person
narratives; always a teleological recountingand the third
personwhich is a retelling of a past through the present; a
recounting that does not necessarily know its own end point. And
this indiscernability is most clearly seenset in a scenewhen he
utters, I knowdo I know it 3

It is this same unsure-nessif one can be unsure and the same;


perhaps a similar unsure-nessthat is found in the opening of the
tale, where the narrator is not sure why he is not yet dead, why
death is always to come: it is only perhaps the error of injustice.
It is clearly not just a common mistakethere is an invocation here
of the Law, of justice itself, and this is probably a reference to the
fact that he was to have been executed, a killing carried out not by
the whims of a person, but of a state mechanism. However one is
never surehe is never sureof whether this is actually an error
or not; it might only be one, and even if there was an errorit is
after all a mistake that the young man is still alivethe cause of
this error remains hidden from us, from the young man as well.

ibid. pp.5.

143
And perhaps it is this unknowability that is found in death, as
opposed to dying, in a dying prevented by death itself. It is a
double death, two kinds of death, perhaps even a dual death, that
is found here: firstly death itself as an absolute unknown;
secondly death as an order, as an imperative.

If death is an unknown, then it is an absolute onto itself, as


opposed to dying which is the end of a phase, an antonym of
living. At this point, we should consider that the young man
was already in the line, already lined up to be shot, and

the one at whom the Germans were already


aiming, awaiting but the final order, experienced
then a feeling of extraordinary lightness, a sort of
beatitude (nothing happy, however)sovereign
elation? The encounter of death with death? 4

It would seem that as he stood in the line, he was not dying in the
sense of awaiting the end of his life, but that he was already
deadmerely awaiting the final order to shift his bodily state to
match that of his mind. And this is the point where death as an
idea has an encounter with death as a corporeal existence. But this
is not a death that can be known, or even spoken of, which is why
the lines that immediately follow are, in his place, I will not try to
analyze.
4

ibid. pp.5.

He was perhaps suddenly invincible.

Dead

144
immortal. 5 There is a lack of certainty as to how the young
man is feeling: even if we posit that the narrator is (or was) this
young man, there is no more assurance than if they are
completely separate beings with nothing to do with each other.
And this inability to even describelet alone definethe
encounter of death with death is found in the duality of dead
immortal: the antonyms are linked, touching each other through
the dash, but also forever separated: this is the encounter itself
the dash. For death is the opening of a new possibility, a new link,
but beyond that, nothing more can be uttered.

One must also take into account the fact that the death of the
young man is a result of an order, an imperative for him to die.
So even though no one can die in his place, there is always an
externality to death: it has to come from somewhere else, some
other, some encounter with an other.

Perhaps this is another

reason why suicide causes so much discomfort: it is not so much


that one breaks the rules of death (can one even do so), but that it
makes it too clear that there is the possibility of otherness within
our selves. And by extension, if there is always already otherness
within the self, one can never fully comprehend the selfand it is
this that might be difficult to accept. This encounter of death
with death, at the point at which there is an imperative given for
him to die, is then an encounter of death with its own otherness,
the coming together of two unknowns. And since the moment in

ibid. pp.5.

145
which he is declared dead is also the moment of his death, there is
an aporetic situation here: if the young man is both dead and
prevented from dying by death, this suggests that the new state
brought about is one that of (n)either life (n)or death: the young
man is now of the living-dead.

And like every shift in spacethe moment the young man


who is dead, experiences the encounter of death with death,
there is a reconstitution of who, or even what, he isthere is a
shift in time as well: this we find in a very curious moment in the
tale, the break between the German soldiers lining up to shoot him
and the point in which the Russians arrive.

Even though the

Germans and the Russians are the same personVlassov


army 6 it is only revealed after a moment in time.

There is

absolutely no reason why the Russian soldier suddenly decides to


reveal his nationality; even though he may be Russian by birth, he
is still under the command of the Nazi officer.

Hence, his

nationality should not even matter; neither had he any reason to


let the young man go. This would not be much of an issue in
most narratives, but in The Instant of My Death, this is the crucial
momentthe moment when he is saved from dying, from being
shot, the moment of the encounter of death with deathand this
moment remains hidden from us, hidden perhaps from the
young man himself, and from all the other narrators, and their
narratives, from the I and the he as well.
6

ibid. pp.5.

146

Not only do we have face an absolute blindness in terms of the


moment when death encounters death, we are also faced with the
problem of who is recounting this moment, recalling this unrecallable moment, and testifying to what is essentially untestifiable.

For even though every testimony requires an

uncertainty, a potentiality of fictionotherwise it would just be


fact, and knowledgethis moment of death remains blind from
testimony due to the fact that in order to testify, one has to have
experienced it, and if one is dead, there is no testimony that can be
uttered. Hence, this testimony, this remembering of the event of
his death, can only be uttered from this position of impossibility,
this position of being living and dead at the same time, as a livingdead where one is not in either state but in a duality, of being both
self and other at the same time, of being both the I and the he,
the duality embodied in the young man. There is an echo of this
living-dead in what Jacques Derrida says of Maurice Blanchot and
archi-passivity, which is the neuter and a certain neutrality of the
narrative voice, a voice without person, without the narrative
voice from which the I posits and identifies itself. 7 For if the
young man is always already potentially both the I and the
he at the same time, then the young man is a signifier,
signifying nothing more than the fact that it is signifying: and this
is hinted at, near the end of the tale, when the narrative voice

Jacques Derrida. (2000). Demeure. pp.27.

147
utters, I am alive. No, you are dead. 8 It is not so much that
there are two selves in this utterancefor the same self cannot be
both alive and deadbut that there is always already an otherness
within the self, an otherness of which nothing can be said. This is
why all the narrative voice can say is, I know, I imagine that this
unanalyzable feeling changed what there remained for him of
existence: 9 all that can be said about this unanalyzable feeling
is that which is imagined, recalled as fiction, testified to; a
statement that will and can only remain unverifiable, and
ultimately unknowable. Hence, the utterance, I am alive. No,
you are dead, is an utterance without referent, without any
possibility of reference: and by extension all that can be said about
death is through an imaginative gesture: the instant of death is the
instant in which death is uttered, but it is nothing moreor less
than an utterance.

It is this unanalyzable state of death that continues to haunt


us, and unsettle us. For if it is undefinableand remains always
in the realm of the imaginationnot only can one not be certain
about death, it is always already in full potentiality. And like the
problem that Vladimir and Estragon face in never being able to tell
if and when Godot comes, we face the same dilemma: we would
not know even if death is staring us in the face.

Maurice Blanchot. (2000). The Instant of My Death. pp.9.

ibid. pp.9.

148

4.7 Her gift of death


For a gift must be activeshe must offer itbut it is an offer that
she cannot even begin to know, to understand; it remains open to
death, to absolute otherness. She must remain open to death, to
the possibility of death and all that it may entail: she can only
remain open to death, and to all its possibilities. Her only choice
her active decisionis whether to be in a position where she might
experience death; beyond that she no longer has any agency.

At the risk of banality, we must now attempt an imaginative


gesture, for we have no means to speak of death, or the suicide
bomber, without such a gesture. An attempt to analyse, to speak
of it as though we can, as though we know anything, would be
obscene: that would be the evil of transparency that Jean
Baudrillard speaks of, where there is an imposition of the
framework of analysis on the experience: not only would her
experience be effaced, but more than that, the model of analysis
would then precede the situation itself and all we would be doing
is making the model real. And at the point where all differences
are flattened, all we see is the model, for they no longer have a
referent in view, but a model; 1 where the model refers to nothing
but itself, where it is its own referent. This is not the same as
having no referentialitywhich is the status of a pure signifier,
open to all possibilitiesbut the exact opposite, of being in a state
1

Jean Baudrillard. (2007). In the Shadow of the Silent Majority. pp.48.

149
where the signifier and signified are exactly the same. And this is
the terroristic state par excellence: where the question and the
answer are one, where to draw on Jean-Franois Lyotard and JeanLoup Thbaud again, the thirdpublic opinion itselfis captured.
Once that space of negotiation is captured, all we are left with is
one, a single, and more pertinently a consistent, permanent
answer.

This is the yearning of the theoristthe yearning for


metaphysical comfortthat we spoke of earlier; it is the need to
define, to state, to make cleartransparentthe need to know, the
need for certainty. And if we allow the Nietzschean register to
carry us for a moment, this is a yearning for a particular kind of
death, where the life and vitality of the situation is drained and
all we are left with is a stillness, a lack of movement, a lack of life
itself. 2 This would be akin to how Nietzsche describes dogma, as
opposed to the natural vitalityand constant potential for
changeof myth when he says,

for this is the way in which religions are wont to


die out: under the stern, intelligent eyes of an
orthodox dogmatism, the mythical premises of a
religion are systematized as a sum total of
historical events; one begins apprehensively to
defend the credibility of the myths, while at the
2

Friedrich Nietzsche. (1967). The Birth of Tragedy. esp, sections 15-18 pp.93-109.

150
same time one opposes any continuation of their
natural vitality and growth; the feeling for myth
perishes, and its place is taken by the claim of
religion to historical foundations. 3

The moment a religion shifts from a movementpotentially


changing, always already becominginto stagnancybeing, a
doctrineall vitality and growth are drained from it: it is the
systematization of the movement into a linear series, a sum total
of historical events, into a logical sequence.

It is this

transfiguration from a monadic system where all parts are interlinked,

inter-dependant

and

hence,

ever-morphing,

where

knowledge is singular and situational, into a Socratic knowledge


by reason, which drains the movement itself, and settles it into a
structure, where it becomes lifeless, dead. By attempting to fully
understand the religion, moving it from mythsconstantly re-told,
altered, aliveto a set story, a hi-story, linear, predictable, retraceable, uncontaminated by variation, what ironically occurs is
the death of the religion itself, into mere dogma and orthodoxy.

This is the same issue that Jean Baudrillard posits as the


problem of sociology: in its attempt to define itself, sociology does
nothing but bring an end to the socius. By refusing to accept the
fact that the mass is an unknowable phenomenon, sociology

ibid. pp.75.

151
attempts to stake a claim as an all-knowing science, by sacrificing
the mass through effacing it with meaning. This is because,

the term mass is not a concept. It is a leitmotif


of political demagogy, a soft, sticky, lumpenanalytical notion.
attempt

to

A good sociology would

surpass

it

with

more

subtle

categories: socio-professional ones, categories of


class, cultural status, etc. This is wrong: it is by
prowling around these soft and acritical notions
(like mana once was) that one can go further
than intelligent critical sociology. Besides, it will
be noticed retrospectively that the concepts
class, social relations, power, status,
institution and social itselfall these tooexplicit concepts which are the glory of the
legitimate sciencesbut also only ever been
muddled notions themselves, but notions upon
which agreement has nevertheless been reached
for mysterious ends: those of preserving a certain
code of analysis.

To want to specify the term mass is a mistake


it is to provide meaning for that which has none. 4

Jean Baudrillard. (2007). In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities. pp.37.

152
To provide meaning, to define, to set out, to form a frame
around, and ultimately to leave out, to cut out, to exclude: even
when there is none, even when there is no basis for doing so,
especially when there is no legitimacy for doing so. But perhaps it
is precisely when there is no legitimacy for doing so that we are
most likely to find an exclusionary gesture: for if it were legitimate,
a negotiated space would be more than sufficient for proving itself.
It is when it is illegitimate that one has to resort to terror, to an
absolute exclusion. 5 In the context of sociology, the exclusion by
way of definition is not so to much protect the reality of
understanding the socius (who even believes that this is possible),
but more crucially to protect the illusion that this is even possible.
For even when we know that it is an illusion, it is still important to
maintain it: it is especially when we know that it is an illusion that
we have to protect it.

In order to have a glimpse at illusions, we have to take a,


perhaps illusory, detour to the Summer Olympics in Beijing 2008,
where an important lesson on illusions, and the failure of keeping
up appearances was painfully learnt by the organisers, by China.

5 One can find echoes of a similar illegitimacy that Avital Ronell traces in authority.
For if something is legitimate, access to it would be open to everyonegoverned by
the Law. It is only when something is illegitimate that the authority of a person be
required in order to enact it. In other words, authority is the very undoing of the
Law itself, and by extension, the seizure of the space that is open to everyone, the
space of discussion, of negotiation, through an effacement of the situation, by the
self.

153

Shattering illusions or How Stalin was finally proven right


On 8 August 2008, the Peoples Republic of China taught the world
about Stalinism; and about the importance of illusions.

During the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, Yang


Peiyi, the voice of Ode to my Motherland was literally relegated
to the background (for having bad teeth), whilst the more telegenic
Lin Miaoke took center-stage. A few days later, as the world was
still swooning over that same ceremony, news of this switch-a-roo
broke. The reaction was the usual liberal outpouring of how this is
unfair, discriminatory, inhumane and such.

The fatal error of the officials was not so much in making the
swapafter all, neither girl was known to anyone; and after a few
weeks, no one would have remembered them any longerbut in
getting caught. The scandal was caused not so much by the fact
that the organising committee had been superficial in choosing Lin
based on her appearance, but the even worse crime of shattering
our illusion that we can see beyond superficialities.

Even as the liberals were thumping their chests over this


incident, they might have considered the fact that no one likes ugly
people on television. The only times they are allowed to appear on
screen is when either a role directly calls for a feature-impediment

154
(since we are in the game of political correctness these days), or
when the person is in a comedic role, ideally poking fun at
themselves. In either case, we accept their presence on screen as
they allow us to feel normal: in other words, we cast them as
freaks in order to normalise ourselves. There is no accident that
the massively successful Ugly Betty is a comedy: one can laugh at
Betty, played by America Fererra, whilst maintaining a safe
distance from her. In order to laugh, one has to maintain an ironic
distance, and it is this distance that allows us to feel safe: after all,
it is she who is ugly and not us. It is also no coincidence that Tod
Brownings 1932 film Freaks was wildly unpopular (there were
street protests leading to the film being withdrawn from cinemas):
no one likes to see actual freaks living normal lives, lives just like
the rest of us; for if their lives are no different from us, how can we
differentiate ourselves from them.

We experience horror not when there is a difference but when


we are no longer able to differentiate ourselves from an other.
This is why the classic horror movie scene is when the monster
takes off his mask, only to reveal that under the mask is exactly the
same face. In this way, not only are we unable to tell which is the
real monster; by extension, we are no longer able to trust our
phenomenological senses, and hence, all our abilities to discern are
lost: and our very selves, our notion of self, is called into question.
The fatal error that is made is of course the attempt to unmask the
monster: in order to defeat it, all one has to do is to maintain a

155
proper distance from it. This is the lesson of Wes Cravens The
Nightmare on Elm Street: the way to defeat Freddy Krueger is not to
attempt to understand who he is (or was) or where he comes from,
but instead, to take him on his own terms; enter the dreamscape
and kill him within the dream. This logic is even clearer in the
Friday the 13th series. Unmasking Jason as a disturbed individual
who is merely guarding the memory of his mother who was
murdered, is not only irrelevant but also potentially dangerous:
one is more likely to hesitate when taking into consideration the
personal problems of ones assailant; something he is not going to
do. In order to survive Jason, one has to focus on his persona, on
the hockey mask he wears. By attempting to see the face of the
monster, by attempting to see too much, everything is lost,
including ones (sense of) self.

In fact, the typical liberal politically-correct stance about not


discriminating by looks shows precisely this: appearances have
been raised onto the level of the absolute; it is no longer open for
negotiation: in fact it is best if no one talks about it at all. This
unwillingness to engage appearances suggests that appearances
are so important that they are beyond discussion: more that that,
they are so important that they must remain secret.

And this is precisely the lesson of Stalinism: even if everyone


knows that it is a performance, it is crucial to maintain
appearances. This is why even at show trials, it was mandatory for

156
the condemned to confess to their crimes. The fact that everyone
knows that the verdict is pre-determined is unimportant: Stalinism
recognised the importance of allowing everyone to maintain the
illusion that there was a trial taking place. There is nowhere that
the importance of the illusion was more clearly shown than at the
20th Party Congress in 1956, when Nikita Khrushchev denounced
Stalin in what has become known as the Secret Speech. There
was widespread pandemonium after the speech with many
officials suffering from severe shock. However, it was not as if no
one knew of the horrors of the Stalinist regimeall of them lived
through it, and experienced it, first-hand. The shock was precisely
in the revelation itself: the veil of illusion was shattered and it was
this that caused the chaos. 6

It is not so much that we can live with lies; it is more so that it


is lies that we need in order to live. It is not that we cannot tell that
it is an illusion; it is that the illusion is crucial, not just to sustain a
fantasy, but the very reality in which we live.

And it is the shattering of our illusions that the Peoples


Republic of China is paying for. If the organisers of the opening
ceremony had left Yang Peiyi on stage, we would have all
commented on how she had an angelic voice, but pity about her
6 This is quite possibly why the Secret Speech is such an apt name. For it is not
that the Nikita Khrushchevs speech was to be secretthe fact that everyone knew
about its occurrence puts paid to thatbut that the speech itself was a
demonstration of the importance of secrets.

157
teeth. By getting caught swapping, the organisers made it too
clear to us that we would not have been able to see past her teeth.
How they have shattered our own illusions about ourselves; how
we are going to make them pay for it

Approaching illusions: approaching Death


As we all know, Jean Baudrillard ended up paying for shattering
the illusion of sociology: in effect, he paid the price for not
listening to his own lesson. But then, if we are to attempt to think,
we must not worry about such consequences, and we must be
willing to consider even such affirmations as the one that Georges
Bataille challenges us with, that the sexual act is in time what the
tiger is in space. 7

Whether one can even begin to know what

Bataille means by that is irrelevant; whether one can eventually


know is equally irrelevant: what is crucial is that one has the
patience, and the courage, to read [the] book. 8 Perhaps then the
courage and the patience required here is not so much to shatter
the illusion, but rather to confront the illusion: for since the illusion
is the medium between reality and ourselves, then it is also the
space, the gap, of negotiation; the very site that terror attempts to
efface.
Georges Bataille. (2007). The Accursed Share Vol.1. Preface. pp.12. italics from
source.

ibid. pp.11. [additions in parenthesis are mine].

158

And the illusion we shall attempt to approach is that of the


suicide bomber herself: and the moment in which she approaches
death. When she straps the bombs to herself, to her body, she is
already dead: at the moment in which she decides to strap on the
bombs, she is already encountering death. It would be obscene if
we pretended to psycho-analyse her at this point: after all, one can
only die for themselves, and die as themselves, and there is no way
in which we can replicate, or empathise, with her situation. If we
were to attempt to give a reason for her death, it would be the
terroristic gesture of giving meaning where there is none, 9 or at
least none that we are privy to. This is precisely the manner in
which nation states attempt to deal with the phenomenon of
terrorism: ascribe a meaning to iteven when there is none,
especially when there is nonein order to prescribe a solution.
This is the circle where one provides both the question and the
solution: this is the question as a performative act, where the
solution is already in the question; a substitute-formation that is
created in order that the subject can hold on to a meta-physical
comfort of knowing, of hanging on to an order in her/ his world.

By doing so, there is a death that is introduced into thinking;


not the death that is an absolute unknown, an opening up to
possibilities, but a death to any possibilities, death as an end point,
where thinking stops. This is death that comes in the form of an
9

Jean Baudrillard. (2007). In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities. pp.37.

159
answer, a statement; it is of no coincidence that all statements
begin with a capital sentence, a death sentence, and end with a
period, a full-stop, a demarcator of an end of the idea, where there
is no longer a space for negotiation, where all variables and
contours of a thoughtalong with all its possibilitiescome to a
stand-still. But even as one attempts to arrest the movement of
thought through a death sentence, we are faced with the
unknowability of death itself: even if we attempt to enforce
certainty through a capital sentence, the Law in which we call
forthas Franz Kafka will never let us forgetalways continues
to escape us, to slip past us. So even as the effects of the Law are
felteven as the idea might come to a momentary endthe very
reason for its ending remains unknown to us; and this is doubly
ironic as it is precisely reason, through a cause-effect analysis, that
one attempts to induce death with. At the last gesture, this very
reason itself remains its own blind spot: we can only go as far as to
posit reason on the suicide bomber, as if one can even begin to
understand her: and it is this as if that will always remain; a
remainder that continues to haunt us.

But what we can attempt to do, in fact the only thing we can
attempt, is to posit. And this is a positing that contendseven
gamblesthat at the point she straps on the bombs, or even
decides to strap on the bombs, she has already encountered death.
For if the suicide bombing is successful, she is dead; if it fails, she
will be killed (at the very least she will be tortured and then

160
imprisoned for life): her life as she has known it till this point, is
over. Hence, even before a physical deathone that is described
as a lack of brain-activity and heart-beat 10 she is already dead:
her encounter with death is not a phenomenal one (at least not
yet), but more pertinently, she has a pre-relational relationality
with death. Her encounter with death is always already there,
even before death claims her: at the point, in which she decides to
strap on the bombs,

there remained, however, at the moment when


[death] was no longer but to come, the feeling of
lightness that I would not know how to translate:
freed from life? the infinite opening up? Neither
happiness, nor unhappiness. Nor the absence of
fear and perhaps already the step beyond. I know,
I imagine that this unanalyzable feeling changed
what there remained for [her] of existence. As if
the death outside of [her] could only Henceforth

The fact that biology, the science (logic) of life, cannot go beyond describing death
suggests that it is at best a metaphor. Perhaps we can even go on to posit that the
border between life and death is the limit of biologyand the metaphor death is
the assumption needed for the logic of bios to sustain itself. In effect, death is a
name for the unknown that is part of life itself.

10

In fact, the term biology itself suggests that it is a logic of a certain aspect of life
social, political life; life in relation with others. In other words, represented life; life
in representation. Perhaps then, of life as suchzonothing can be said.

161
collide with the death inside of [her]. I am alive.
No, you are dead. 11

This brings us all the way back to the beginning, to our first
encounter with Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the pre-relational
moment; where there is something external to the self in the
relationality between the self and itself, something that the self is
completely blind to, that escapes all knowing, and all knowability.

However, this is not a position of complete passivity. For even


though one cannot choose death, one can put oneself in a position
where one is open to the encounter of death, to potentially
encountering death. Even as the phenomenological experience of
death is not a guaranteefor instance in the case of the suicide
bomberthe possibility of the pre-relational experience has to be
chosen by her. This is also what happens in the suicide of Christ:
even as Jesus of Nazareth has no control over the fact of his
crucifixion, he has to take an active role in putting himself into
position; opening the possibilities of his own death.

This puts us in a position of an active-passivity, where one is


actively passive, where one is attending to the possibility of death,
of awaiting the unknown.

This of course is the position that

Vladimir and Estragon adopt: even though they are completely


Maurice Blanchot. (2000). The Instant of My Death. pp.7-9. [additions in
parenthesis are mine].

11

162
unaware of who, or what, Godot is, and hence, are unable to tell
even if Godot arrives, they have placed themselves in a situation
where there is a possibility of waiting for Godot. Hence, Waiting
for Godot is not so much a play about Godot, but rather a
meditation on waiting itself, on the possibility of waiting, and on
the active position of awaiting: on the fact that there is no object to
waiting; there is nothing to waiting except waiting itself. 12

There is nothing to waiting except attending to the possibility


of waiting.

There is nothing to (her) death except attending to the


possibility of death.

In this manner, when death comes, when death claims her, it is


death as an event, indecipherable in [its] singularity the
equivalent of excess in a system that is itself indecipherable in its
extension and its headlong charge. 13 And this is perhaps also

12 One might also consider the term awaiting itself. The prefix draws attention
away from the self, from the subject: as opposed to the term to wait, where there
has to be a subject waiting for either another subject, or perhaps even an object.
Whilst there is a subject in an awaiting, the status of the object that (s)he is waiting
for is now called into question: one can now be in the state of waiting, where there
is nothing to the awaiting except for the fact that one is waiting.

It is waiting as a state that is also meditated upon in Maurice Blanchots tale,


Awaiting Oblivion. This was a major focus of Werner Hamachers seminar
Exteriority: Blanchotat the European Graduate School, August 2007.
Jean Baudrillard. (2005). The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact. pp.127.
[parenthesis my addition].

13

163
why we are constantly surprised at the event of each death, each
suicide bombing: it is not as if we do not know that it can happen,
or in certain situations even likely that it will happen, but each
death still shocks us. The utter inability to explain away death is
what continues to haunt us. In spite of any attempt to create
substitute-formations to explain the phenomenon of suicide
bombers, death continues to slip past, to be the spectre that refuses
to be exorcised. The death of each and every suicide bomber is not
just an aberration, an accident that can be written off, discounted,
but more profoundly an event,

counter-offensive

and

much

stranger

in

inspiration: into any system at its peak, at its point


of perfection, it reintroduces internal negativity
and death. It is a form of the turning of power
against itself, as if, alongside the ingredients of its
power, every system secretly nourished an evil
spirit that would ensure that system were
overturned. 14

Hence, unlike opposition to a system, which merely strengthens its


underlying premiseor even accidents which can then be reinscribed by a statistical calculationevents cannot be predicted
and they form no part of any set of probabilities. 15

14

ibid. pp.127.

15

ibid. pp.127.

164

The death of the suicide bomber: the return to the system of


the gift of the unknown: the gift of death itself.

And it is not as if this is a gift from without, from somewhere


else: for uncertainty, and unknowability is always already within
every system, only that it has been hidden away, explained away.
By refusing to allow death to remain a pure figurean image that
shows nothing except for the fact that it showsall attempts to
know, to be certain, destroy images by overloading them with
signification kill images with meaning. 16 By offering herself as
a sacrificean enigmatic sacrificethe suicide bomber offers
herself as a pure image, one that is nothing more than an image of
attending to death, and this image in the pure state brings out
the essential point: namely, that the image is more important than
what it speaks of, just as language is more important than what it
signifies. 17

Hence, we must attempt to think of the suicide bomber as


such: not as a part of a network of meanings; neither her
signification nor even her significance to anything else. But as a
pure figure, meaning nothing except in and of herselfat the risk
of meaning nothing, perhaps only because she means nothing. In

16

ibid. pp.92.

17

ibid. pp.98.

165
this sense, we must think of her poetically. And poetically, in the
precise sense of an enigmatic figure, keeping in mind that

the poem lacks nothing: any commentary makes it


worse. Not only does it lack nothing, but it makes
any other discourse look superfluous.

Poetry and thought are to be taken in their


literalness, not in their truth: truth merely makes
things worse. 18

This is not to say that the poempoetryreveals nothing, or says


nothing. In some way poetry says more by not directly saying
anything, by allowing language to be more important than what
it signifies. After all, in the words of Michel Deguy, poetry does
not unveil the very visible, nor the invisible.

Poetry instead

unveils the slightly visible. 19

In order to perhaps catch a glimpse of the suicide bomber, to


unveil her relationality to and with deathmayhaps only
momentarilywe have to approach her indirectly: in other words,
we have to approach her as a figure, full and complete in herself,
without attempting to make her part of a network of meaning,
18

ibid. pp.211.

19 This was Michel Deguys response to my question, what is poetry to you? at


the end of Judith Balsos seminarPoetry and Philosophyat the European Graduate
School, August 2004, where he was the guest poet.

166
without attempting to locate her in, as part of, some larger
discourse, but as a suicide bomber as such; without ever
pretending to know, nor even attempting to understand her.

This suggests that we have to attempt to approach the suicide


bomberwhilst allowing her to remain an enigmatic figure
through yet another figure.

There is no reason why a certain

figure is selected over any other figure; after all in every choice
there is always already illegitimacy and blindness. Hence, every
figure that we select, any figure that we select, is always already
plagued by doubt, and is open to the same question: why is this
particular relationality set in place? Perhaps then, before we select
a figure, in which, through which, to think about the suicide
bomber, we might have to take a slight detour and consider the
very status of relationality itself; of what it means to make a
statement, _________ is like _________.

On Relationality
When we make a statement _________ is like _________ what do
we mean; what does a statement of relation between one thing and
another imply about the relationality between the two objects in
question?

167
Perhaps there is always already a trace of preferencea
likingthat is inscribed into this statement: when one says
_________ is like _________, there is the possibility that attention
is drawn to this likeness because you like it to be so. There is
potentially a subjective biasnessor at least a subjective
involvementin the statement of relationality between the two.
This suggests that without this subjectivity, without the will of the
subject, there can be no similarity between things; that perhaps
subjectivity is the pre-condition of relationality. Moreover, the
object that is referred to in the utterance is no longer a pure object;
it is not an objective statement. It is a subjectivised-object; it is an
object only because it has been called into a relation with another
object by a subjective moment, a subjective will.

Only when

named as an object does it attain its objective status: otherwise it


remains unnamed, unknown, uncalled, sans papiers.

Hence, its

status as an object is only as such due to its relationality with the


other object. Since this relationality itself cannot exist without a
subjective moment, the very status of the object in the relation is no
longer stable: it is a relationality between two objects that are only
objects because of this relationality.

However, if we take into consideration the fact that the


statement _________ is like _________ is a statement of
relationality, this would suggest that that the possibility of the
relationality between the two things would have to first be in place
in order for that very statement to be made.

Since this is

168
unverifiable before the statement is actually made, the possibility
of the relationality between the two things in question has to be
assumed.

So even if there is a subjective moment to this

relationality, the possibility of this relationality precedes the


subjective moment, precedes the subject.

If the possibility of relationality precedes the subject, it follows


that this is a relationality that precedes cognition.

Since this

relationality is one that is pre-cognitive, there is always already a


notion of unknowability in it. Hence, in the statement _________
is like _________, there is always already a relationality that is
unknowable, a relationality that precedes both the similarity
between the objects and the subject that is uttering the very
similarity itself; there is an unknowable relationality within the
relationality.

This unknowability opens this register in the statement


_________ is like _________: if this relationality is one that is
preceded by an unknowable relationality, then is it a call to the
subject from the unknown, in the sense of the subject responding
to something that it does not, and cannot, fully comprehend? This
would suggest that the subject is responding to a transcendental
relationality between the objects, one that somehow the subject has
been made privy to. However, considering that the relationality is
a result of languageit only exists at the moment in which the
statement _________ is like _________ is utteredthis suggests

169
that this pre-relationality that calls the subject to making the
utterance cannot precede, be outside, language. In this sense, the
pre-relationality is part of language, part of the language that calls
forth the relationality; language itself must encompass a prerelationality within the relationality that it establishes. And since
this relationality is only established, can only be established,
within language, not only is pre-relationality part of the language
that establishes relationality, it is always already within
relationality itself. Hence, pre-relationality is not something that
precedes

relationalitycoming

before

to

be

replaced

by

relationalitybut rather a condition of relationality itself: all


relationality brings with it a pre-relationality.

It is etymologically possible to trace the term like to the


corpsethis would be through lich (or liche) which literally mean
a dead body.

This opens the consideration that this pre-

relationality is written on the body, is part of the body, and not just
that of the subjective body, the cognitive body, but a body that
precedes the very subject in question. This reopens the register
that the body of the subject must already be open to the possibility
of a relationality before the relationality itself is even possible: the
body is the site in which this pre-relationality is written, is
situated; the body is where the potentiality for relationality occurs
in the first place.

170
If there is a pre-relationality that is a part of every relationality,
this means that there is a part of every relationality that does not
lie within the boundaries of relationality: it is not a nonrelationality in the sense of an antonym of relationality (for that
would be just a phase before relationality) but a relationality that is
unknown to the relation itself; a relationality that is unknowable
within the boundaries of the relationality between the two objects
in relation. Not only is this unknowable relationality part of the
relationality between the two objects, it is a condition of this very
relationality which is established in the statement _________ is
like _________.

Hence, whenever there is a statement of relationality, one can


never fully legitimise this relationality, not because there is a
subjective bias in making the statementI want there to be a
relationality so there will be onebut as there is always already
an unknowability within this very relationality. This is a structural
assumption, a structural condition. And it is this very assumption
that both allows the statement of relationality to be made, and
which also never allows the statement to be fully legitimate. It is
for this reason that _________ is like _________ is a descriptive
statement, one that never reaches the status of a definition, and is
never a definitive statement. Hence, _________ is like _________
is a claim.

171
In fact, one can no longer even discern whether the claim made
is true or false as suchone can no longer differentiate whether it
is a performative or a constative statement as there is no external
referent.

Referentiality is precisely the assumed relationality of


language itself.

In this we find an echo of Paul Celan, who on March 26, 1969,


wrote this about poetry: La posis ne simpose plus, elle sexpose
(Poetry does not impose, it exposes itself). 20

Perhaps then,

relationality can at best only be a poetic relationality; one that does


not impose a frame, impose a particular meaning, does not efface
the singularity of the relationality, but instead only seeks to be
open, exposes itself, to the potentiality of relationality.

Suicide Bombers, Zombies, and Necromancy


Here, let us turn to the figure of the zombie in order to shed some
light on the figure of the suicide bomber, bearing in mind the
responsibility that this light brings with it darkness, in fact
blindness,

for

this

comparison

brings

with

it

the

very

unknowability of whether this relationality can be made at all. In


fact, all one can say is that the relationality between the suicide
20

Paul Celan. (1983). Gesammelte Werke. pp.181.

172
bomber and the zombie is a test, a trial of the claim that suicide
bombers are will-less beings that are controlled by some force from
abovebrain-washedand mere tools for some agency.

This is of course very close to a conception of the zombie that


one sees in any Hollywood movie; the zombie has no will of its
own, and is unable to make any decision, doing only what it has
been commanded to, usually by a zombie master, who is using
the zombie as an instrument to bring harm to the masters
enemies.

If we consider George Romeros Dead Series of five

zombie movies, the moment humans are turned into zombies, they
lose all of their abilities to choose, and all they have are trace
memories of their past lives. Therefore, they are apt to repeat
actions that they most often performed in their respective pasts.
Naturally this lends itself to a comparison between suicide
bombers and zombies: the claim of course is that the suicide
bomber must have been brainwashed (by a cause, by religion, by a
charismatic leader) and from that point on has no will of her own
and

only

does

what

she

is

trainedor

more

precisely

programmedto perform. As Zora Neale Hurston, one of the first


anthropologists who researched voodoo and zombification in
Haiti, writes in her 1938 publication, Tell My Horse,

it was concluded that [zombification] was not a


case of awakening the dead, but a matter of a
semblance of death induced by some drug known

173
to a few It is evident that it destroys that part of
the brain which governs speech and will power.
The victim can move and act but cannot formulate
thought. 21

Whether Hurstons conviction that a drug could put its victim into
a mindless stupor is accurate or not is irrelevant; what is crucial is
the fact that she traces a communal belief in the notion that
mindless creatures can be created. In fact, the belief in the poison
was so common that virtually every subsequent student of Haitian
culture would make some reference to it. 22 This belief in creation
of mindless creatures is not isolated in Haiti; after the attacks on
the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001, there
were many comparisons of the suicide bombers as victims that
were brainwashed by Islamic clerics, and hence, were completely
under Osama bin Ladens command.

The branding of the enemy as mindless creatures following


orders bears an echo of a very similar strategy used during the
American occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) where there were many
publications by Marines stationed in Haiti that spoke of the occult
and zombies, and each one conveyed an important message to
the American publicany country where such abominations took
21 As read in Wade Davis. (1985). The Serpent and the Rainbow. pp.214. [additions in
parenthesis are mine].
22

ibid. pp.214.

174
place could find its salvation only through military occupation. 23
It is of no coincidence that soon after the September 11 attacks, the
United States launched a military offensive on both Afghanistan
and Iraq, and in both instances, the reason given was the liberation
of the people from barbarism of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein
respectively. The overall strategy is similar: all the problems are
caused by a zombie master; hunt him out and destroy him and all
the problems will be solved. The attribution of all will to a zombie
master fits in completely with a totalitarian logic where there is a
single cause from which everything else is a manifestation: this is
the basis of all cause-effect analysis.

In order for the logic to

sustain itself, the single cause to which everything is attributed to


is ultimately a catachrestic metaphor: in the current war on terror,
Osama bin Laden serves as the name for terror itself. Once this is
set in place, bin Laden can be blamed for anything and everything:
of course, on the flip side any act can also be credited to him. We
see this play out whenever there is a bombing anywhere in the
world: all acts of violence are claimed by his followers; all act of
violence are blamed on him by nation states. In this manner, the
master-signifier that is Osama bin Laden allows for all meaning,
any meaning, and at the same time remains meaningless: both
terror groups and states can use him for any means, for all means.

23

ibid. pp.209.

175
In fact, the signifier Osama bin Laden becomes the exception in
order for all world order to continue. 24

However, thinking the figure of the suicide bomber through


the zombie is problematic as it constitutes the suicide bomber as
one without willand this is just not true. For in order for it to be
a suicide, it has to first and foremost be an act, a decision. So even
if we take into consideration the notion that the suicide bomber
might be using her body, her very life, as a testament to a cause,
totally consumed in service to the cause, there is no denying that
there has to be an initial gesture of giving her body to that cause.

One might even consider that the suicide bomber testifies


through her act. First and foremost, she must be present: the act
cannot exist, does not exist, without her. This is not to say that her
presence automatically results in anyone else understanding, or
even receiving, her account, her testimony. But at the same time,
at some level, she must assume that the other understands, or at
least has the possibility of understanding, her testimony
(otherwise there is absolutely no motivation to carry out the
act). But even if the other has no comprehension of her actand
perhaps even no ability to ever comprehend the actshe of course
will never know. All relationality between the suicide bomber and
the other is at the level of assumption, at the level of faith: this
This particular logic was explored in Jeremy Fernando. (2008). Reflections on
(T)error.

24

176
moment of blindness is a necessary part of the act. And where is
this testimony givenspokenbut on her body: her act of
testifying (to whatever cause, whatever message), even as much as
it will always be hidden from us, even as we will always remain
blind to it, will open us to the possibilities through its effects.

Once again, we turn to The Seducers Diary, and Johannes


observation that the dead letter of writing often has much more
influence than the living word, that a letter is secretive
communication, and as such [the reader] is master of the
situation, [feeling] no pressure from anyones actual presence, 25
and hence, feels free to interpret as (s)he chooses. This is perhaps
because the reader

would prefer to be alone with her ideal, that is, at


certain moments, and precisely at [these] moments
when [the letter] has the strongest effect on her
mind.

Even if her ideal has found an ever so

perfect expression in a particular beloved object,


there nevertheless are moments when she feels
that in the ideal there is a vastness that the
actuality does not have. 26

25 Sren Kierkegaard. (1997). The Seducers Diary. pp.158-159. [additions in


parenthesis are mine].
26

ibid. pp.159. [additions in parenthesis are mine].

177
It is the alleged absence of the writer in the letters, the absence of a
certainty, a single meaning that allows the reader to feel the space,
the freedom, of interpretation, as if (s)he were actually free to
interpret in any manner (s)he desires. However, the interpretive
gesture is always already bound by the rules of seeing, the law of
looking; after all her right of inspection is already bounded by a
law of reading, the rules of grammar, one that the writer is aware
of (and that the reader has to know in order to read), and is also
operating within. So even if the author is dead, the spectre of the
author remainsperhaps not so much in terms of her/ his intent
but by the hand that (s)he plays, by the combination within the
rules of the game that are laid out by her/ him; the very same
hand that the reader now has to play with. This is perhaps the
very death that the author enacts, not the absence of her/ him
selffor once the text is written (s)he is always already absent and
yet presentbut that the letters themselves are dead.

Awaiting resurrection by the reader.

This is reading as necromancy. And this is the hold of the


dead letter over the readerfor even as much as one cannot
legitimately interpret, one cannot legitimately read, one has no
choice but to do so; once one is faced with the text, the moment
one even begins to read, one is in the game of raising the dead.

178
And perhaps it is this very game that we are drawn into when
faced with the suicide bomber; a figure that remains a pure figure,
referring to nothing but itself, referring to nothing but the fact that
there is a reference. When faced with this lack of an object, what
choice do we havewhat choice does the reader havebut to
imbue this figure with any reading, any meaning, that we have.
At her point of deathat the instant of her deathshe literally
becomes the dead letter, not in any semantic manner, nor in any
signification of death, but the very opposite, the refusal of any
signification, the refusal of any meaning.

And just like in the case of Mas Selamat, is it not this absence
of meaning that truly terrifies us? After all, we have witnessed the
same desperation time and time again: in the case of September 11,
the Arabs were blamed even before there was any evidence of
their involvement; the absurdity of this finger-pointing was
painfully highlighted in the Oklahoma City bombings of 1995
where till this day conspiracy theories abound about how Timothy
McVeigh and Terry Nichols were merely agents in a wider
network.

In fact conspiracy theories work on the level of

providing us with an explanationa logicsuch that we can


remain assured that there is meaning in our lives, in our worlds:
in other words, any event, any coincidence is brought back,
disciplined, under the auspices of rationality, brought back under
reason. It is as though explaining away an event would allow it to
remain an aberration, an exception; which is the same gesture as

179
rejecting it completely, separating it from us. However, if it was to
remain unknowable, then we cannot exclude it from usmore
horrifyingly we cannot exclude ourselves from it.

In the case of the suicide bomber, there is an even more


terrifying premise: since there is no object for analysis, not only is
she dead, she is also indistinguishable from any other suicide
bomber, every other suicide bomber.

Hence, not only are we

unable to say anything about her, about the phenomenon, we are


also unable to draw a boundary around it, around her. Since we
cannot say what the suicide bomber is, we also cannot say what
she is not: not only is the suicide bomber nowhere and
everywhere, she is now no-one and everyone at the same time.
And more that just the paranoia of not being able to identify the
suicide bomber, there is still an even more terrifying possibility: if
(s)he is nowhere and everywhere, perhaps (s)he is always already
us, perhaps we are always already her.

The suicide bomber terrifies us not because she is a marginal


figure that cannot be co-opted into the socius, brought back under
our systems of thought, of logic, but because of the exact opposite:
(s)he terrifies us because she is us, because she is potentially in
each and every one of us. The suicide bomber terrifies us because
she is the shadow that is in us; she is the shadow of the silent
majorities. Her strength consists in the fact that she is a pure
eventthe event of her deathand hence, she has

180

no history to write, neither past nor future no


virtual energies to release, nor any desire to fulfill.
[Her] strength is immediate, in the present tense,
and sufficient to itself. It consists in [her] silence,
in [her] capacity to absorb and neutralize, already
superior to any power acting upon [her]. It is a
specific inertial strength, whose effectivity differs
from that of all those schemas of production,
radiation and expansion according to which our
imaginary functions, even in its wish to destroy
those same schemas.

An unacceptable and

unintelligible figure of implosion (is this still a


process?)stumbling block to all our systems of
meaning, against which [(s)he] summon[s] all
[her] resistance, and screening, with a renewed
outbreak of signification, with a blaze of signifiers,
the central collapse of meaning. 27

And this gives us nothing to cling on to, nothing to understand,


nothing to know. And it is this voidher emptinessthat sucks
us in: by being nothing, (s)he both allows us to make her whatever
we want her to be, yet at the same time constantly reminds us that
regardless of what we want, (s)he will always be nothing to us;
and more importantly, we will always be nothing to her.
27 Jean Baudrillard. (2007). In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities. pp.36. italics from
source. [additions in parenthesis are mine].

181

And it is in this way that she occupies the position of the


neuter; she is (n)either devoid of any meaning (n)or filled with any
meaning.

In this way, any meaning that is ascribed to her is

always already (n)either possible (n)or impossible: in other words,


the only thing that we can say about the suicide bomber is that we
dont know, we cannot know.

But it is not as if we will allow her to remain in this state of


being unknown: after all the moment we even attempt to speak of
her, we are attempting to ascribe some sort of significanceif not
significationto her. This is the gift that we are attempting to
return to her: at the instant of her death, (s)he becomes the
absolute unknown, devoid of any certainty, open to every
possibility; our return is to invest ourselves wholly in writing onto
her, desperately attempting to imbue her with some meaning, any
meaning.

It is in this way that (s)he becomes our mirror, our reflection,


and our own image. And this is precisely the gift of love that (s)he
offers usher betrayal of us. For it is never possible to betray
unless one also loves the other; perhaps even loves the other too
much: there is no gesture more appropriate than Judas kiss at the
moment of betrayal. Someone had to betray the Son of Man in
order that he could fulfill scriptures, fulfill his own destiny.
Hence, Judas betrayal of Jesus of Nazareth is in fidelity to Jesus

182
himself, to Jesus own ideas. There is an echo of this fidelitythis
harshness guided by lovein Brutus betrayal of Caesar: only by
killing Caesar could Brutus stop him from becoming a despot, and
over-turning everything that he stood for.

Every time a suicide bomber offers her-self, she is offering us


the possibility of singularity, the possibility of remaining
unknowable, enigmatic, and in full potential.

At the instant she becomes a suicide bomber, (s)he offers us


the gift of her death: we reciprocate, we return the gift, with our
lives.

183

184

This im-possible is thus not a (regulative) idea or ideal. It is what is


most undeniably real. And sensible. Like the other. Like the
irreducible and nonappropriable differance of the other.
In the second place, then the responsibility of what remains to be
decided or done (in actuality) cannot consist in following,
applying, or carrying out a norm or rule. Wherever I have at my
disposal a determinable rule, I know what must be done, and as
soon as such knowledge dictates the law, action follows
knowledge as a calculable consequence: one knows what path to
take, one no longer hesitates. The decision then no longer decides
anything, but is made in advance and is thus in advance
annulled. It is simply deployed, without delay, presently, with the
automatism attributed to machines. There is no longer any place
for justice or responsibility (whether juridical, political, or ethical).
Jacques Derrida: Rogues: Two Essays on Reason

185

Confessions; or a suicide note


Surely you dont think I have forgotten the
ones who died.
And that they are more than figures of
thought, to thought, in this quest at
thinking the very possibility of thinking
itself.
But even as weor above all I, if one insists
that I take full responsibility, and even
accountability for this attemptattempt to
approach the suicide bomber, taking into
account the probability of the murderous
intent harboured, we have to bear in mind
that at best, this intent is guessed at,
extrapolated, assumed.
It is difficult to deny the allure, and the
elegance, in the claim that since suicide can
be constituted as an internalising, even a
punishment, of the self, for the desire to
kill others, the suicide bomber is the moment
par excellence where the killing of the other
and the murder of the self come together:
almost a perfect collision of the two drives
in one instance.

Even though we should not

neglect, and certainly should not reject this


claim, I ask for a temporary deferral of its

186
certainty, if only to consider that the
coming together of two drives is in itself a
positing of their relationality; that is in
itself a naming, and always already in
catachresis.

So even as we can claimwith a

certain amount of psychoanalytic credence,


and historicitythat suicide is an attempt to
destroy ones self in order to destroy the
otherperhaps even all otherswe have to
bear in mindinsofar that memory is even a
possibility herethat we are claiming, we are
positing.
Otherwise we are in the banal game of
reduction, abstraction, valuationwhere what
we do is attempt to calculate the exchange
rate of the stakes at hand.

And we would be

doing nothing more than asking the obscene


question of how much is one life worth?

And

by extension, what is the going death rate of


bombs?

At this point we might as well go all

the way and ask if the value of a bomb


increases if another human is attached to it.
And that would be the very moment in which
all human life is banalised.
So even as I set out to defend what might be
an indefensible figureas I attempt to redeem
the unredeemableone might try to keep this

187
in mind: it is only when the suicide bomber
is maintained in her full enigmatic status,
that the very potentiality of singularity,
and by extension all human life as
singularitiesirreducibly differentremains
a possibility.
It might seem a tad strange to attempt to
explaineven rationalisethis decision,
especially in the light of the fact that for
much of this work, rationality, reason,
calculation, has been regarded with much
distrust. In fact, it would be almost a
surprise if you didnt suddenly regard this
moment with suspicion.

So even as you regard

confessionstestimony evenas no different


from a narrative, from a tale, relying on the
same structures, tropes, strategies, of
storytelling, perhaps allow me to plead for
a moment of generosity from you, one that
will accommodate the fictionality that cannot
but veil as I attempt to unveil.
For a long time, I was blind to the need
either that or I am not recognising a desire
that is pushing me hereto explain myself.
Perhaps there is a trace here of the
beautiful line of Paul Celan that echoes all
over this work, that of poetry exposing
itselfand in some way I have exposed myself,
almost thoroughly, to the possible criticism

188
that I am placing the suicide bomber on a
pedestal, whilst ignoring the fact that
people are murdered.

It was only when

speaking, and thinking, with friendsAvital


Ronell, Larry Rickels, and Josh Eidemfor it
is only a true friend that can destroy
without devastation, that the need to explain
myself, if only momentarily, became apparent.
In what is, and probably would be,
constituted as a work that attempts to think,
convention disallowsalmost dictatoriallya
writing that is deemed personal; one is
expected to divorce ones life, ones voice,
from what is thought about in the text.

And

in my state of utter anxiety about thisafter


all, there is no way that I can explain
myself without being personal, unless I rely
on logocentric tropes and strategies,
something which I did not want toI turned to
the telephone, and made my own long distance
connection to a dear friend, Julia Hlzl, who
responded in what can only be called an
elegant manner, channelling her dear teacher,
JeanLuc Nancys words, if you dont take it
personally, you dont take it at all.
So even as it is at a personal risk, I will
assume the responsibilityand the possibility
of being held accountablefor this choice to
defend the suicide bomber; whilst at the same

189
time attempting to think the unthinkable, to
think the impossible.

Perhaps the greater

transgression is, and has always been, the


attempt to place the twothinking and the
suicide bombernext to each other, in a
relationality with each other.
Here one almost naturally wonders why I never
listen to my own advice: after all, one of my
claims is that it is the unknown that truly
terrifies us.

And since I posit that every

suicide bombingeven though it is one of the


most calculated, planned, thoughtabout,
thoughtout, actsstill brings with it a
moment of absolute unknowability, and to
compound matters, place it alongside
thinking, and knowledge, which is also at the
final gesture fraught with the unknown, it
should come as no surprise that my position
my positing of their positionresults in much
discomfort.
The irony of course lies in that fact that a
work that has overtly very little to do with
psychoanalysis, is hinged on the unknowable;
which is precisely the site of trauma.

The

fact that there is no effort spared to


subscribe, inscribe, a meaning to all suicide
bombingsand all acts of thinking (after all,
the fact that it is usually called an act
suggests that one has to see a result to

190
thinking)suggests that we are scrambling to
deal with some unknowable that continues to
haunt us, that has great effects on us, that
affects us.

The reason for this need to find

a reason is perhaps nonreason itself; the


fact that a suicide bombingand thinkingis
an event, in the fullest sense of a
phenomenon that escapes all phenomenological
correspondence, that perhaps is the undoing
of all phenomenality, is precisely what is
traumatic about it.
The moment we attempt to solve this trauma
though, to put it back under the Lawperhaps
even our own Lawdo we not step into the
realm of effacement, into terror?

After all,

if we are attempting to maintain the


possibility of thinking as a question, if we
are trying to think the potentiality of a
question as question, then we might also have
to forgo the possibility of boundaries,
borders, and perhaps even answersat least
answers that we know, that we are certain of,
that we can rely on.

So even as we search

for answers, in the most provisional sense of


the term, perhaps we have to do so as
detectives rather than as persons under the
Law.

Here, it is always helpful to keep in

mind the scene in most detective novelsor


even Hollywood movieswhere the detective is
hauled into his superiors office, and his

191
badge and gun are taken away (for some
transgression of the Law).

It is only after

this point, when (s)he is no longer under the


auspices of the Law that the actual
searching, the actual detecting, takes place.
Of course one can also open the register that
the detective often ends up being completely
consumed by the case, by the search, that
most of her/ his life falls apart; there is
almost always a trope of addiction that
cannot be ignored within detective work: here
one might recall that Sherlock Holmes
addiction manifests itself both in his work
and through his coke nose.
Hence, I must risk the potentiality of
becoming seduced by the search for the
possibility of a question that remains a
question, by the attempt to think a non
terroristic thinking.

And perhaps even

resist all common sense which tells one to


imbue some form of meaning into the site of
trauma, to allow a recounting, recollection
of the event, to allow memory to function,
instead of keeping in mindeven
foregroundingthe impossibility of
discounting forgetting.

Here one cannot

ignore the irony of the gesture towards not


forgetting forgetting, especially taking into
account the constant acknowledgement that one
has no control over forgetting; in other

192
words, this is work that foregrounds
something (there is no possible name for an
absolute unknowable) that is completely
external, absolutely other, to ones self.
And that is the trauma that I must continue
to face in pursuing what might not be there
in the first place; the relationality between
the suicide bomber and thinkingthis is the
risk of maintaining the possibility of a
relationality between two potential
impossibilities.
At this juncture, perhaps youll allow me to
posit that part of the bravery Georges
Bataille reminds us is a necessity for
thinking, lies in accepting the risk of
addiction, being out of my mind; even being
unable to renounce the possibility that there
is no relationality between thinking and the
suicide bomber.

It is no coincidence that we

find echoes of heroin in heroine, that we


detect traces of heroin in heroism.

In fact,

heroin was first produced in 1974 at St Marys


Hospital in London.

It was reinvented or

discovered in Germany in the 1890s and


marketed by Bayer under the trade name
heroin, which derives from heroisch. (Avital
Ronell: Crack Wars pp.51n)

193
And here I shall channel the spirit, and
energy, of the World War II survivor I spoke
of much earlier, through the words of Amy
Winehouse, and renounce all attempts to go on
the straight, resist all interventions to get
me to clean up my actthey tried to make me
go to rehab and I said no, no. no
Perhaps here my only comfort is in the words
of my dear teacher, and friendAvital
Ronell in a lesson that was uttered on a
Monday morning 10 August, 2009 on a
hilltop in Saas Fee, a message that I dont
yet pretend to understand, but will let write
onto myself; that of, trauma structures you,
so hang on to it.

jf

194

You know, I believe if there's any kind of God, it wouldn't be in


any of us. Not you, or me ... but just this little space in between. If
there's any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of
understanding someone, sharing something (sigh). I know, it's
almost impossible to succeed, but ... who cares, really? The answer
must be in the attempt.
Celine: Before Sunrise

195

Exteriority and Finitude


Boundaries are not borders On the contrary, it
is

place

of

ceaseless

negotiations

and

ruses. Which means there is no reference We


are always within opinion, and there is no possible
discourse of truth on the situation. And there is
no such discourse because one is caught up in a
story, and one cannot get out of this story to take
up a metalinguistic position from which the whole
could be dominated. We are always immanent to
stories in the making, even when we are the ones
telling the story to the other. 1

Perhaps at this point, we should allow the register of Roland


Barthes to re-emerge from the shadows, and remind ourselves that
all we might be doing is telling a tale, and more than that, in terms
of this tale, all must be considered as if spoken by a character in a
novel. 2 We not only consider this from the register of the inability
to distinguish the narrator from the character, but more
pertinently, we are thinking the very status of the tale itself: can
this tale be considered a testimony (along with all the registers of
fiction that it brings with it), and is there even a verifiability to it
1

Jean-Franois Lyotard & Jean-Loup Thbaud. (1999). Just Gaming. pp.42-43.

Roland Barthes. (1994). Roland Barthes. Epigraph.

196
(after all, there are references to events that occur, or at the very
least representations of those events)?

For if we momentarily

follow the trajectory of the conversation between Jean Franois


Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thbaud, and consider that we are
always immanent to stories in the making, then there is nothing
that lies outside the story; by extension, there is no referentiality to
the tale. As such, even if there are references to events, these
references refer to nothing other than the fact that they are
referring: the events themselves are nothing but opinions within
the tale. In terms of reading the talewhich one has to do even if
one is writing it; there is no other way of knowing what is
writtenone then has no choice but to judge therefore by opinion
alone, that is, without criteria. 3 There is of course an echo of
Aristotles judge in this, where a just judge is one who is becoming
a judge only whilst judging: that a judge worthy of the name has
no true model to guide his judgments, and that the true nature of
the judge is to pronounce judgments, and therefore prescriptions,
just so, without criteria. 4 If the prescription of the judge comes
from the judging and not from an a priori model, this then
suggests that prescriptions are not of the order of knowledge, 5
that at best, a judgment is of the order of doxa, of a claim.

Jean-Franois Lyotard & Jean-Loup Thbaud. (1999). Just Gaming. pp.43.

ibid. pp.26.

ibid. pp.26.

197
This is not to say that the judgment is falsenor is it trueas
judgments are not in the realm of truth or falsity. At best, after the
judgment is made, one can judge it to be a good or bad one in
terms of its effects; maybe even a fair or unfair one. What cannot
be said however, is if it is a just judgment in an ontological sense:
after all,

we are in dialectics, and we are never in the


episteme.
prescriptive

I think that dialectics is all the


authorizes

dialectics

cannot

present itself as producing a model that would be


a model that is valid once and for all On the
contrary, dialectics allows the judge to judge case
by case. But if he can, and indeed must (he has no
choice), judge case by case, it is precisely because
each situation is singular This singularity comes
from the fact that we are in matters of opinion and
not in matters of truth. So much so that the ethos
of the judge indicates that an ethics of reasonable
distribution has been constituted. And the reason
implied in this reasonableness has nothing to do
with Platos reason; it is not a reason that states
being It is a calculating reason, as in strategy; it
is a mode of strategy, but one in which the issue is
not how to conquer but how to achieve parity
between people In every instance, one must

198
evaluate relations: of force, of values, of quantities,
and of qualities; but to evaluate them there are no
criteria, nothing but opinions.

But it does seem to me that with the notion of


mean we do have a theoretical statement that is
used as a criterion for justice: In every instance one
chooses the mean.
calculation

is

The aleatory estimating

concerned

only

with

the

determination of the mean.

When one says: in every instance, choose the


mean, it means, for Aristotle, that this mean
cannot be determined in itself, that is, outside of
the situation in which we find it. 6

In other words, the rule of the undetermined is itself


undetermined. 7

This opens up questions of not only what we can knowafter


all, if the boundaries are not defined, and cannot be defined, then
one not only cannot know the limits of ones knowledge, but more
pertinently, one cannot even know what one knows. This is when
6

ibid.pp.27. italics from source.

7 This is taken from Aristotles Nichomachean Ethics 1137b29-30 and is also the
epigraph to Just Gaming.

199
it might be helpful to turn to an unlikely source for thought, the
now infamous US Department of Defense news briefing on 12
February, 2002, by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,
where he quipped,

but the truth is, there are things we know, and we


know we know themthe known knowns. There
are things we know that we don't knowthe
known unknowns. And there are unknown
unknowns; the things we do not yet know that we
do not know. 8

Perhaps unbeknownst to him, Rumsfeld had stumbled upon a key


problem of knowing and knowledge; that of the relationality
between the object of inquiry and awareness of the existence of
that object.

In the first scenariothe known knownsthe

subject is both aware of the object and has a cognitive


understanding of it. In the case of the known unknowns, the
subject is aware of her/ his lack of cognitive understanding of the
object.

It is more interesting in the case of the unknown

unknowns: here the subject is unaware of the fact that (s)he lacks
a cognitive understanding; this would be the case of an absolute
lack of knowledge. The problem with Rumsfeld is that he did not
go far enough: he missed the fourth variation, that of the
unknown knowns. In this case, the subject is unaware of the fact

http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=3793

200
that (s)he has a cognitive understanding of something. Hence, one
is never able to determine whether (s)he knows or does not know
of something: this would be the case of the indeterminability of
knowledge. However, just because (s)he is unaware of something
does not mean it has no effects on her: even though (s)he might be
completely blind to it, it can possibly have an affect on her.

In this manner, the unknown known would be akin to a


traumatic event: something that occurs to one, but which one is
unable to cognitise, understand, or even realise.

However the

effects take the form of symptoms that occur; after-which one can
only treat these symptoms. Even if a substitute formation is
created, and the analysand goes on to believe that the cause of
their symptoms is found, this is of the order of faith rather than
knowledge. This is true even in the occasion that the actual cause
is found: it would be exactly the same scenario as someone
walking up to Vladimir and Estragon and declaring himself to be
Godot. This is in no way a claim that treatment of symptoms is
unimportantafter all, the analysand is suffering from real
symptoms; if the treatment manages to relieve the patient from
suffering, it is never a bad thing. However, even if the patient is
completely cured of the symptoms, one can never have claimed
to have found the cause of it; one can never get to the root of the
problem. The traumatic event is always already an unknown
known to both the analysand and the analyst; both will always
remain blind to it.

201

This blindness is not exclusive to a traumatic event. In fact, it


is the very nature (if one can use that term) of all events. Since
they are only cognitisedor brought to bear under reasonafter
their occurrence, this would be the creation of that very same
substitute formation. Hence, not only is every event blind to us,
one could even posit that every event is by definition traumatic:
we know not of the event as such; all we can feel are its effects on
us, and how it affects us. This would, of course, never allow one to
feel the assurednessto borrow from Nietzsche once again, the
metaphysical comfortof knowing that one is cured, that the
source of ones ailments has been discovered and conquered.

A common criticism of psycho-analysis is that it is not a


science; that is it is not consistent, and more importantly nonrepeatable. By extension, the claim would be that something is a
science when there is a centre: from there, one can draw an overarching structure from the logic, and it would be universal. In
other words, there would be a method that is replicable: the
singularity

of

the

situation

would

be

governed

by

the

universalising model; the methodology. However, an examination


of what is usually regarded as the most consistent of systems
mathematicswould suggest that this is problematic as well. One
of the simplest and most basic of mathematical logics
arithmeticrequires two factors to be at play: real numbers, and
operators. In order for real numbers to maintain themselves as a

202
sequence, the notion of zero is required: whilst not actually a
number, or even an entity, this position of absolute nothingness is
required in order that the rest of the real numbers maintain a
sequential order. As Hlne Cixous teaches us,

this is because the zero is not the nonvalue we


think it is. The originary zero (zero come from the
Arabic sifron, the cipher, the number) is the key
cipher, the one which permits writing of numbers
with the notation of position. To write 10, 100,
1000 we use the same numbers, but the ciphers
have different values according to their positions
in the writing The 0 was introduced at first as
an empty and necessary position. It is a space.
Originally zero is not a number, but a marker of
space.

Everything began with zero. Zero is how much


there is when there isnt any. When there isnt
any, there is, nonetheless. 9

In this manner, the zero occupies the position of the absolute


other in order that the logic of real numbers can sustain itself. The
problem arises when one considers the relation of zero to the
operators: each operator is a promise of a function between two

Hlne Cixous. (2005). Stigmata. pp.165.

203
real numbers; however when the zero is introduced as one of the
objects in the relation, the operators fail to fulfill their function.
This suggest that the zero is both what allows arithmetic to
function, and yet at the same time is its failing point. Even a
system as consistent as mathematics cannot be, can never be,
completely consistent: at every point, its consistency is allowed
and yet haunted by the spectre of the zero.

In other words, zero is both inside and outside of arithmetic


at the same time; zero is both the finitude and exteriority of
arithmetic.

At this point, one might consider the fact that in every cipher
rests a secret. Perhaps here we might posit that zero is the key to
arithmeticor if we want to be adventurous and extrapolate,
mathematics as suchbut at the same time, it is the key that only
allows us to see that there is a secret. After all, even with the zero
at hand, we are not anywhere closer to discovering the mystery
behind why this position of nothingness is not quite nothing. Then
again, as the tale of Ra continually reminds us, it is not the content
to the secret that establishes it as a secret. In the case of the zero,
perhaps the fact that we realise that zero is the secret nonetheless
maintains it as a secret: perhaps even more than that, the fact that
we recognise it as a secret further reinforces its position as a secret.

204
Here, one might draw a parallel with another inside-outside
position throughout history; that of the shaman. The shaman both
holds the key to powerin terms of influencein the society, yet
at the same time is always an outcast from that very same society.
This is most obviously reflected in the geographical position of the
shamans abode: it is almost always on the fringe of the village, or
town, or even city. However, whenever there is an important
decision to be made, the shaman has to be consulted; in fact
nothing crucial was ever done without the approval of the Gods,
and this is only known through the mediatory, the shaman. Even
the most headstrong of leaders, Genghis Khan, never went to war
without first consulting his shaman; King Leonidas was unable to
raise the army to defend Sparta against Xerxes Persians at the
Battle of Thermopylae and had to be content with his personal
bodyguards as he was unable to receive the approval of the
priestess of the Oracle.

This suggests that the shaman is in a

position of exception with regards to the society: (s)he is the key to


the decisions, influence, and even the distribution of power in the
society (one cannot imagine the leader not having the support of
the shaman), but yet is never a part of that very same society. The
shaman is the cipher to the society, allowing everything to
function through her/ him self, yet at the same time remaining a
mystery, remaining a secret, of which when there isnt any, there
is nonetheless; remaining as the remainder.

205
The cynicsor the Marxists among usmight jump on the
fact that there is a paradox in the position of the shaman: that the
claims of God is infinite whilst man is finite, and the fact that the
shaman is somehow able to know what God wills, are
incompatible. However, this criticism seems to be more valid of
organisedand institutionalisedreligions where there is a fixed
doctrine, a dogma, in which the Word of God is interpreted with
a finality, and all questioning is considered heresy. In the case of
the shaman, there is no finality to the word of the Gods: in fact, all
the shaman does is to listen torespond tothe Gods. In no way
does (s)he make the claim to knowing what God will say or do: all
(s)he isand can beis the conduit between the Gods and man;
the medium between the two. Hence, all the shaman can do is to
be open to responding to the Gods, to be open to the possibility of
hearing what the Gods have to say. Of course, the ones who are
listening to the shaman will never be able to tell whether the
words uttered are those of the shaman, or of the Gods; or even if
the two are distinguishable in the first place. And more than that,
since there is no referentiality to whatever (s)he saysafter all, the
others are not privy to the voice of the Godsone does not know
if s/he is a god or a human. It is a [shaman], but it may be a god,
since the other is metamorphic, and one will have to judge
therefore by opinion alone, that is, without criteria. 10 In some
way, this brings us back to a faith-based situation: there is no valid
or legitimate way to distinguish the shaman from the Gods; there
10

Jean-Franois Lyotard & Jean-Loup Thbaud. (1999). Just Gaming. pp.43.

206
is only belief. But is there any other way? For even the most
stable and consistent of methodologies require a moment of
faithin the case of arithmetic, it is the zero; since it is a mystery,
a secret, one has no option but to have faith in its positionafter
all, there is no way of verifying it. After-which everything else can
functionthe symbolic order that is mathematics can function,
once we proceed as if we can know what zero even means.

What we have to keep in mind though, is the absolute


singularity of each response: the singular response of the shaman
to the Gods, and the singular response of those who hear what the
shaman has to say; none of which are verifiable, repeatable nor
comparable. Hence, each of these responses is a response that is
irreducibly different, that is in exception to everything else. This
also means that one cannot hold the shaman accountable to two
different responses that seem incompatible or even contradictory;
for if every response is in exception, there is no reason why any of
them should ever be consistent with another.

In fact, every

response is an absolute other to every other. In other words, there


can be no prescriptive response, for

prescriptions taken seriously, are never grounded:


one can never reach the just by a conclusion. And
particularly, that which ought to be cannot be
concluded from that which is, the ought from
the is.

Then we are faced with one of two

207
things: either the just comes to us from elsewhere,
which means that we are never more than the
addresses of prescriptions Or we have our
situation 11

This is not to say that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive;
for there is no reason to exclude the possibility that the situation
comes to us from elsewhere, that there is a transcendentality to
the call that somehow we are momentarily made privy to. For
after all, this is the very situation that the shaman is in: (s)he
responds to a call from elsewhere, one that addresses her, but at
the same time it is only a response because the shaman responds,
in that very moment, and situation. This returns us to the question
of relationality. The shamans response to the call from elsewhere
is only a response as (s)he responds to it; there is no response
without her/ his active response, but at the same time, (s)he can
only respond with the assumption that this relationality is possible
in the first place. Therefore, in the end, all that can be said is, the
only thing the shaman can do is to be open to the possibility of this
response.

And like the shaman, we can only remain open to the


possibility of responding 12

11

ibid. pp.17.

12 Much, if not all, of my thoughts on the shaman have been guided and inspired by
my conversations with Mina Cheon, in particular in late July 2008, Singapore. A

208

Perhaps this is the point at which we must return to death.


And in particular, communication with the dead; in itself a call
from elsewhere, one that somehow we can hear, even if not
directly.

Speaking with the dead is always already beyond a

phenomenological experience, but yet, it is a call that has effects on


us. Hence, this is a call that we can strictly speaking know nothing
about, that we are completely blindand quite possibly deafto.
And what better way to open this call than to recall one of the most
famous calls from beyond in literature, the call of

All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!


All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!
All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter. 13

This is a call to Macbeth from the three witches, but not a call from
them per se, for their prophetic greeting as we later discover is
from our masters. Hence, the witches are but the media through
which these prophesies reach Macbeth: in fact, when asked by
Macbeth, what ist you do? their collective response isand can
only have beena deed without a name. 14

wonderful meditation on the shaman can be found at Mina Cheon. (2009).


Shamanism + Cyberspace.
13

William Shakespeare. (1980). Macbeth. Act I sc iii.

14

ibid. Act IV sc i.

209
Considering the fact that these prophesies are the driving force
behind all the events in Macbeth, it is significant that they come
from a place that is indistinctly within and without; they come
through the conduit of the witches. Even if you take into account
that Macbeth in Act 4 sc i hears the predictions from [the
witches] mastersand one can easily regard this as an attempt to
verify the claims of the witchesthis does not discount the fact
that the events had already been put into place; the very same
events that were prophesised by the witches in Act I sc iii. What
one is never clearand can never be clearabout is this: are the
events predicted by the witches (in the sense of them being able to
see into the future), or do the events occur because of this very
prediction? In other words, are the witches the narrators (which
would suggest a knowledge beyond that point in the play), or are
they characters in the play?

So even whilst we are always

immanent to stories in the making, our exteriority to this very tale


is always already called into question.

It is this unknowabilitythis absolute blindness both by the


one telling the tale, and the one hearing, or seeing, the talethat
makes a tale, every tale, told by one who can never be sure of what
(s)he is telling, and by extension, a tale in which the meaning of the
tale itself can never be certain, in fact can never be known, only
guessed at best;

210
a tale
Told by an idiot
full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. 15

How stupid can you be?


Stupidity knows no limit, offering one of the rare
experiences of infinity. Brecht once noted that
intelligence is finite but stupidity, infinite. That it
knows no limit means it knows no law, no alterity;
it is indifferent to difference and blind to hierarchy
While one of its forms only asks stupid
questions, the dominant form of stupidity bucks
the question entirely; it doesnt allow for questions
Ever resisting the question, dominant stupidity
on the contrary, effaces it with the quickness of the
answer. 16

This first statement that springs to mind, almost too quickly,


almost like a reflex here, is I dont know. When someone utters
that, what are they actually referring to; is there even a referent to
that statement? For if one has an object of reference, is there truly
an absolute not knowing that is occurring: that would be a form of
15

ibid. Act V sc v.

16

Avital Ronell. (2003). Stupidity. pp.43.

211
ignorance that can be rather easily rectified; if someone did not
know what a fact is, telling them would suffice. However, if there
is no referent, then we encounter a problem; that of the
indistinguishability of the statement. On the one hand, it could be
a performative statement; a refusal to engage the other: this would
be the case of one actually knowing but refusing to acknowledge
the fact that one knows. One sees this approach very often when it
comes to relationships of extreme power imbalance; one can only
speculate that this is the most common response to a question by
the police, or ones parents.

This is a strategy of survival

commonly known as playing the idiot; a role perfected by the


court jester, provoking the one with power to her/his very limits
and then drawing back, collapsing into the role of the fool, and
hence, sparing the face of the one who has power. This is in fact a
role of extreme intelligence; timing the I dont know, the nonresponse, to perfection. For this is a recognition that in a situation
of extreme power imbalance, a response to the power would result
in a loss; a strategy of non-response would then allow the power to
save face and at the same time bestow a reward for the retreat.
Timing, however, is of utmost importance; an error could be a fatal
error. On the other hand, an I dont know can also be a position
of absolute non-knowledge.

Whilst this is also a position of

absolute non-response, total exclusion, it is not an irresponsible


position as there is no subjective will to this non-response. One
can paraphrase this position in Rumsfeldesein some way there is
nothing more apt than speaking of stupidity in his termsas an

212
unknown unknown. The difficulty of courseperhaps even an
impossibilityis discerning whether an I dont know is an
unknown unknown or whether it is, as in the first instance, a
performed, and hence, deliberate, non-response, a known
unknown unknown.

The difficultyimpossibilityis in deciding whether I dont


know is a genuine position, or a performance to [resist] the
question [effacing] it with the quickness of an answer, a
deliberate act of exclusion, of effacement, where there is no
alterity.

Perhaps because it is completely impossible to

distinguish the genuine from the performative, the effects are


the

same:

the

communication.

short-circuiting

of

any

negotiation,

any

At the moment I dont know is uttered, the

space of negotiation is effaced. In this sense, a position of utter


weakness, of giving up ones position, of being whatever you
want me to be, is also the terroristic position par excellence. By
effacing ones self, by giving you the gift of my death, you are then
obliged to respond with your own life, with your own death.

Even though the effect may be the same, one should not fall
into the trap of being indifferent to difference; the fact that the
end might be the same should not deter one from thinking the
route.

In the instance of deliberate effacement, of a subjective

refusal to respond, the I dont know rests in the I: in the absolute


security of the self. This is a statement where the self is denying

213
the other, any othersI know for sure that I refuse to knowand
staking its self in the very centre of its existence. On the contrary,
when the I dont know is a genuine unknown unknown, the I
is in a completely unstable position. This is not an I that is merely
lacking information, but more profoundly, an I that is completely
unsure of its own position, one that might as well be saying I
dont know what I even begins to mean. And this is an I that is
in alterity with itself; a self that is other to itself.

And it is in this position of being other to ones self that we


might find some hope.

Poetry, irony, and the Suicide Bomber


The poet, irremediably split between exaltation
and

vulgarity,

between

the

autonomy

that

produces the concept within intuition and the


foolish earthly being, functions as a contaminant
for philosophya being who at least since Plato,
has been trying to read and master an eviction
notice served by philosophy. The poet as genius
continues to threaten and fascinate, menacing the

214
philosopher with the beyond of knowledge.
Philosophy cringes. 17

If we recall the words of Paul Celan, the words that we turned to


earlier, that of poetry does not impose itself, it exposes itself,
ones instinctive reactionthe thought that comes to mind without
thinking, without knowingis the question expose itself to what?
Whilst it is easy, too easy, to dismiss a nave question like that, it
would be to our detriment if we choose not to attend to it, not to
attend to a possibility that sometimes lies in the simplest of
questions, the silly question as it were. After all, if one exposes
oneself, it can only be so if there was something, or someone, to
expose oneself to.

There has to be a witness to the exposure,

otherwise there would not be one at all. Hence, exposure is


always a state of establishing a relationality with another. 18
17

ibid. pp.287.

18 With exposure also comes the potential risk whenever one is open to the
possibility of the other, to the possible response(s) of the other, all of which is out of
ones hand, ones control. One of the most glaring instances of this risk occurred in
the summer of 1990, when British metal band Judas Priest was brought to trial in
Reno, Nevada: they were alleged to have contributed to the attempted suicide of
two young men in December 1985, Ray Belknap (who died instantly from a shotgun
wound), and James Vance (who survived with horrific injuries, but died of drug
complications three years later). It was alleged that a subliminal phrase, Do it, in
one of their songsBetter by You Better Than Me from the album Stained Class
triggered the suicide attempt.

The fact that the band can be held accountable for words that were unwrittenthat
were only heard by these two boysonly foregrounds the risk in exposing oneself
to the other; there is no way in which one can know how it affects the other, and
what forms these effects might take. And more than that, one is always already
risking accountability for what one is not even responsible for; one can be called
before the Law to answer for a question that one didnt even open, but was opened
for one by another, by the other.

215

It is not a relationality that seeks to impose a particular, single,


meaning, reading upon another. And this is why poetry continues
to [menace] the philosopher with the beyond of knowledge;
without an imposition, the borders are not drawn, the limits are
not set. And whilst not forgetting the registers that Paul de Man
and Jacques Derrida opened earlieryes there are always rules to
seeing, and we are always already in grammar, always bound by
grammarthe lack of a boundary also always opens more
possibilities than we can account for. One may not even be overstating if one claims that at this point, all accounting systems
which are set up to predict, to control, via graphs, curves,
probabilitiesfail.

Whilst exposing itself, and hence, opening

itself to response, any response, poetry always risk[s] what [it]


cannot avoid appealing to in reply, namely, recompense and
retribution. [It] risk[s] the exchange that [it] might expect but [is]
at the same unable to count on. 19 Once the poem is sent off, set
off, one can only hope for a response. In fact, one always gets a
response; even a non-response, a complete ignoring of the poem, is
a form of a response. It is just that one can never know what kind
of response one is going to get.

Once the poem is set off, the poet remains completely blind to
its effects.

19

Jacques Derrida. (1994). The Gift of Death. pp.97.

216
Once the bomb is set off, the suicide bomber is completely
blind to its effects.

It is probably of no coincidence that the suicide bomber is


usually constituted as one who is completely irrational, cast as a
complete idiot; the most common question heard whenever there
is an instance of a suicide bombing is, why would one give up her
life when (s)he has so much to live for? All attempts to provide an
answer to this question are banal, as the very person that the
answers attempt to address is dead; hence, all answers are
unverifiable.

One has no choice but to admit that all reason

eludes, escapes, is beyond one, is beyond the limits of ones


cognition, is at the beyond of knowledge. Perhaps the only
thing we can say is that (s)he gives up her life in spite of the fact
that (s)he has so much to live for; after all, it is (s)he who chooses
to do so. Whilst this does not provide any answer to the question,
provide any comfort that we finally understand her, this is all we
can say.

Perhaps it is the fact that (s)he remains an enigma that is her


gift to us. It is this refusal to be understood, to be subsumed under
any existing conception, to be flattened, exchanged, reproduced,
that is her gift. And in that same spirit, it is not a gift that can be
understoodthis is not a gift that one can bring to the returncounter at the shop, to be exchanged for something else, something
more palate-able, something easier, something more comfortable,

217
more comforting.

This is a gift that is unknowable, in full

potential, always possible; perhaps always a gift that is to come.

What continues to trouble us is that this giftas with all


giftscomes with an obligation to reciprocate, an obligation to
respond.

So even though this is an objectless giftand to

compound it, a gift that we might not even begin to comprehend,


or even know is presentwe are always already within the realm
of reciprocation. This is the point where the eternal question of the
serpent, that of what did (s)he mean, returns to haunt us, along
with the other question, the question of responding, and
attempting an appropriate response at that; the question of Lenin,
that of what is to be done? If we attempt to answer the question,
to provide a prescription, then we are back to the situation of
effacement. Perhaps then the task that we are faced with is that of
reconstituting Lenin in and within a situation. If the question of
what is to be done is a situational question, there can be no
answer outside of the situationat the point of uttering both the
question and the answer, we are always immanent to [the story]
in the making, even when we are the ones telling the story to the
otherand more than that, each answer is at best a provisional
answer. However, the fact that one can even attempt an answer
suggests that at least momentarily, one must be able to step back
as it were, be exterior to the question, to the situation. Hence, each
answer, each definition to the question

218
can only be accomplished as a more or less
provisory, more or less violent arresting of a
dynamic that is interminable, but never simply
indeterminate or infinite. For a dynamic such as
this can only be conceived as a series of highly
conflictual determinations, as a movement of
ambivalence, in which the other is always being
seized as a function of the same, all the while
eluding this capture.

The other becomes the

intimate condition of the possibility of the game,


remaining all the while out of bounds 20

It is the ambivalence that is the key in this provisionary


relationship between the question and the situation; a relationality
that Sam Weber points out is constantly unsure of itself, as we can
never be in a position that is totally immanent to the stories we
tell becausehere as elsewherethe stories are not immanent to
themselves. This is why

we cannot be entirely in a game or story, any


more than we can be squarely outside the
stories we tell. But if in dreams, as in popular
narratives, there is no place one can go to
photograph the whole scene, it is not because, as
20 Samuel Weber. (1999). Afterword: LiteratureJust Making it in Just Gaming.
pp.109. italics from source.

219
we read in Just Gaming, there is no exteriority,
but because in a certain sense, there is only that; as
soon as the unconscious is in play, we are dealing
with an exteriority that tries to exclude itself, in
other

words

to

internalize,

incorporate,

appropriate itself, without managing to do it. But


if we can never succeed in this impossible effort,
neither can we renounce it, and it is precisely this
double impossibility that makes the game of the
unconscious both imprecise (because it is never
completely

determinable)

and

ambivalent

(because it is always in the process of arresting


itself, of revolving around a fixation). 21

In all of this, there is always already an echo of the strange pairing


of despair and hope in the Beckettian formulation of not being able
to go on, but yet having to at the same time. We also hear this
strange paradox resound in Wolfgang Schirmachers wonderful
response to aporia, one that he formulates in his deceptively
simple maxim of Just Living.

This is not a over-arching

philosophy to lifeone that frames, guides, or attempts to be a


frameworkbut the exact opposite; it is a response to life itself.
All you can ever do is choose, respond, livelive your life; life as a
concept, life in general, will take care of itself. In other words, in
order to live life, you have to actually distance yourself, at least
21

ibid. pp.111.

220
momentarily, from life as an idea, and actually be ambivalent to
life. When one is asked, how to live, the only answerwhich is
at best a provisional responseis you just do. And perhaps it is
in this ambivalence towards the answerof having to come up
with a provisional answer whilst knowing that it is only
provisional at the same timethat allows one to maintain a
proper distance as it were, towards the answer, towards a final
solution.

This proper distance is also the space of irony, where one


recognises the multitude of possibilities that rest within every
singularity, where each possibilityor meaningis but one of the
multiplicities, where every interpretation, like narration, is not
simply external it is also an active participant (while still
distorting it). 22 Hence, the story, the tale, is inseparable from a
process of interpretation that in turn implies a play (and a relation)
of force. 23 In maintaining this proper distance, there is also the
maintaining of a certain tension between unity and disunitythat
characterizes all games as such. 24

And it is this tension that

maintains the space between, the site of negotiation, and continual


negotiation; this tension is precisely the tension of relationality
itself. When poetry exposes itself, it is exposing itself to this
very tension, to the possibility of relationality, all the while
22

ibid. pp.112.

23

ibid. pp.113.

24

ibid. pp.113. italics from source.

221
maintaining this ambivalence, and ambiguity, as to the exact
nature of that relationality.

The significance of this exposure, this ambiguity, comes to


light if we recall Jean Baudrillard and his lamentation that the
possibility of metaphor is disappearing in every sphere. 25 This
disappearance as he posits, is due to the viral loss of
determinacy; 26 that of transparency, of utter and absolute
exchangeability; in other words, when everything is like
everything else and one can no longer distinguish between objects
any longer. It is this lack of distance between objects that results in
them disappearing into each other, into meaninglessness.

For, the very name for this ambivalence, this proper distance
itself, is metaphor.

It is metaphor that allows us to name, to call, and to witness.


And it is also metaphor that doesnt allow the names to sink into
one another, doesnt allow names to equate with each other,
prevents them from disappearing into utter nothingness.

Perhaps it might be momentarily disturbing to consider the


suicide bomber in this light, as the one that remains to remind us
Jean Baudrillard. (1993). The Transparency of Evil: Essays in Extreme Phenomena.
pp.7.

25

26

ibid. pp.7.

222
of the impossibility of determining, the impossibility of knowing
who or even what (s)he is. But in the spirit of thinking, recalling
the bravery needed to think that Georges Bataille invokes, one
must be willing to consider this possibility, whilst never resting in
any surety, or finality, that this is a solution of any sort. In this
sense, all one can do at this point is posit the possibility that the
suicide bomber is our reminder in these times of instant answers, a
reminder of the impossibility of answering. After all, one must
never forget that we can only invoke the suicide bomber after the
event(s)he is only named as such after her death. Hence, she is
always already named in absence, named when there is no
possibility

of

verification,

named

in

the

absence

of

all

referentiality, where all possibility of legitimising the name


which requires the knowledge of her subjective willis lost; (s)he
is named as a suicide bomber even though there is nothing we can
say of her except the fact that she is dead.

This brings us to the other register the question opens, that still
remains with us. If we are inquiring what is to be done, this
suggests that we are also struggling to cope with how to accept,
and reciprocate, this gift, her gift to us. Any attempt at a direct
exchange, a direct repayment, would be direthis would be an
attempt to repay her death with our lives. As Margaret Atwood
beautifully captures in Cats Eye, an eye for an eye only leads to
more blindness; 27 all we would have are more deaths, and

27

Margaret Atwood. (1989). Cats Eye. pp.427.

223
nothing more. But more than that, an attempt at a direct exchange
would also be banalthere is no exchangeability on a life. But in
spite of this impossibility of a direct exchange, this gift must still
be reciprocated; one has no choice in this respect. One has to go on
even though one cannot go on. Hence, the exchange is symbolic;
exchanging in spite of there being nothing to exchange,
exchanging whilst keeping a distance from the fact that there is
nothing in this exchange. This is an exchange that keeps secret the
fact that there is nothing in this exchange.

At this point, can we do anything but chuckle?

For, in the chuckle lies not an ironic distance that is indifferent


to anything and everything. That would be a position of utter and
absolute non-response; what Slavoj iek has so aptly termed
Western Buddhism.

This is an attitude of I am above and

beyond all of this, and nothing will affect me, a dangerous game
that has been played so many times in history by despots,
governed by a single Idea, dismissing any singularity as a mere
blip in their path, to be over-looked, and discounted. One is hard
pressed to find a more fittingand frighteningfigure for
Western Buddhism than Heinrich Himmler. 28 Moreover, it is of
no coincidence that many fascist regimes were inspired by
perverted versions of Buddhism.

Western Buddhism:

an

Himmler (in)famously carried a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita with him at all times,
claiming that like the warrior Arjuna, he was simply doing his duty without
attachment to his actions.

28

224
anthropocentric gesture as there is no other that is in relation to the
self; not only is the self the centre of the world, there is no other in
this world. By definition, every other has already been excluded.
Apparently most of them seemed to have completely overlookedeffacedthe fact that in Buddhism, the self is completely
absent as well; the self is absolutely other to itself.

If anything, this is an ironic distance that is disinterested. In


this situation, one responds to the other, whilst keeping a distance
from the other in the sense of not subsuming the other.

This

echoes the response that takes its cue from Aristotles judge; one
judges, and even passes a judgment, on the act, on the situation,
without judging as a totality, without totalising the judgment of
the particular as a judgment of the whole person, without a
universalizing gesture. In this manner, all judgment can only be
passed with reasonable doubt; or in other words, all judgment is
always already only within reasonable doubt. This is not a doubt
that is exterior to the judge in the form of one being unsure of the
Law and therefore being unable to pass a definitive judgment, but
rather a doubt about the very ability to judge; this is a doubt that
stems from the judge judging her/ his own judging. In other
words, this is a doubt that comes from one taking a proper
distance to oneself; a doubt that can only come from ones
exteriority to ones self. This is a doubt that comes from ones
recognition that one is always already ones own other; that the
only way to speak of ones self requires one to be exterior, alterior,

225
to ones self. And since one can only speak of ones self in alterity
whilst being that same self, this suggests that the self is its own
exteriority, its own finitude.

Faced with the possibility of not

being able to know ones self, of knowing that potentially all that
one knows of ones self is but a notionfaced with the finitude of
ones ability to know ones selfone can either be filled with
horror, or chuckle.

Since one is still bound by the self when thinkingit is not


possible to think from an exterior positionthis suggests that all
thinking, and by extension all knowledge, is in a certain tension
with itself, ambivalent to itself. Hence, it is at best a thinking that
is done as if it is possible; it is a thinking that is unsure of itself as
thinking.

And as such, all thinking brings with it a perhaps; in

fact, the finitude of knowledge is found in a perhaps, which is


also its very limit(s), and exteriority. For a perhaps which is an
indiscernability cannot lie within a statement of knowledge
(otherwise it would not be a statement), but at the same time is its
own limit (and therefore is always already part of that statement).
Hence, every attempt to think has to ultimately face its own
indiscernability; the indeterminacy that is (n)either within (n)or
without thinking.

Poetry has long confronted philosophyand all systems of


knowledge, all attempts at systemising knowledgewith this
limit. And here perhaps it is apt to invoke Jean Baudrillard once

226
again, and his poetic claim that the poem lacks nothing: any
commentary makes it worse. Not only does it lack nothing, but it
makes any other discourse look superfluous. 29 And when faced
with its own finitude, philosophy cringes.

In this day of

globalisation, where everything is transparent and knowable,


immediately knowable, the suicide bomber is the poem that never
lets us forget that there are still enigmas, enigmatic moments, and
unknowables. And when confronted with this poemher gift of
deathwe cringe. The only way that we can face her, to face this
unknowable, is to adopt a momentary distance from it, and
acknowledgewith and through this distance itselfthat we can
never know her face, can never touch her, and that all we can do is
guess, posit, take a position.

And that all we can do is say

perhaps. 30
29

Jean Baudrillard. (2005). The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact. pp.211.

30 One question that remains, that has haunted us from the beginning but has never
been addressed is, is there always already a tension between writers and readers
because of the unknowability of intent? This is of course compounded by the fact
that a writer can only have a glimpse of what (s)he wrote by reading it: so even as
you re-read your own work, there is a chance that the intent remains hidden from
you. And as Larry Rickels reminded me during our conversation in Saas Fee, this is
the same problem at every site of criminality. Which then opens the register of, are
we always already criminals as we write, and detectives as we read? Perhaps it is
only in the gap between criminality and detecting (if we can even separate them;
and if we can, mayhaps only momentarily), in the space of negotiation, that we can
temporarily slip between the law, and even all the rules, and keep open the space of
reading, thinking, and the question.

In this sense, we might even posit that poets are the worst of these criminals: for the
form that is poetry often makes the intent of the poet the hardest to guess, let alone
know. On the other side, we might claim that the intent of the suicide bomber is so
apparently clear: mayhem, destruction, and death. But even as there is a high
possibility, and probability, we must never forget that even within the discourse of
statistics, a hundred per cent probability is an impossibility. If we make that leap
from positing to certainty, from doxa to logos, we are back into the realm of terror; it

227

Perhaps all we can say is;

Perhaps the most important word in thinking is perhaps 31

is through allowing the space of the question to remain that we can momentarily be
in singularity and potentiality.
And if it remains a scandal to place the suicide bomber alongside poets, one might
recall that these seemingly meek and gentle poets are also the same people
through their work, thoughts, and questionsthat constantly blow our minds.
31 This phrase is a trace of a memory that comes to me from a source that remains a
mystery to me. In many ways, I have attributed it to a conversation with Avital
Ronell about Nietzsche and the significance of the perhaps to his thinking.
Regardless of its origin, it clearly has written itself into my consciousness; after all,
words are missiles that explode in your somatic being. (Avital Ronell, re-opening
a register on Jacques Lacan)

228

If he had smiled why would he have smiled?


To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first
to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series
even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself
to be first, last, only and alone whereas he is neither first nor last
nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to
infinity.
James Joyce: Ulysses

229

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246

247
The call of death and the gift is a strong one; the call to the
suicide bomber.

And it is a call that she must choose to

accept or to deny, a call that is for her and her alone, that is
often heard by no one else (even though many might claim to
have taught her, influenced her, or even trained her). No one
can take credit for answering the call of death, the call of her
own life. After all, no one can die in her place, no one can
die for her; no one else can pick up that call for her.

At a more banal level, this is a call of the second half of the


sentence to the first, the call of the sub-title; always already
from elsewhere and from within at the same time. In much
the same way, death comes to claim one, from elsewhere
(death has to come to you) and yet at the same time it is
ones own death (a death from within you, one that you
always had from the very beginning).

Perhaps one can

provisionally posit that it is at the moment of recognising


death, if that is even possible, that one potentially touches the
other; that each touching of the other is also the moment in
which the potentially of death is always already foregrounded.

And since there is no phenomenal aspect to

deathit is not as if it can ever be sensed; those who claim


to be able to predict death have to rightly call it an extrasensory perceptionthis suggests that it is an object-less call.
It might seem a little strange to call in a metaphysical

248
moment herea transcendental callbut since the call of
death is an event, then it can only be an idea, an abstract
thought till it occurs; at best it is one that can only be known
at the moment it is experienced.

In some way, the only role that one can play when it comes
to death is to die.

This sounds like a completely absurd statement until we take


into consideration the fact that there is no object to
recognition;

there

is

no

object

of

referentiality

in

recognitionthere is no object involved in picking up a call.


In this, we find an echo of mans role in Greek mythology.
When challenged by the Gods, it is mans role to recognise
that this challenge comes from the Gods; so even though man
is fully capable of besting the Gods (with dire consequences),
he has to lose in the challenge. Hence, the challenge is a ruse;
the actual challenge is the recognition. Or more precisely the
challenge is a ritual in the specific sense that man has to
continue to act as if it was a real challenge, one that (s)he is
trying to win, whilst ensuring that (s)he loses. In both ways,
the end result is the same; man loses and the Gods win. The
difference lies not in the result, but in the response.

249
The only difference when it comes to death is in the
acknowledgement that it is always already a part of ones life,
that death is always already awaiting, that all you are doing is
awaiting its call.

This opens the register of death as a call

that is perhaps always already there, one that cannot be


heard, until the very moment it is heard.

Here one cannot forget that one of the founders of the


modern usable telephoneAlexander Graham Bellwas a
teacher of the deaf. It is not too much of a stretch to say,
especially taking into consideration that his own mother was
gradually becoming deaf, that Messr Bell was very much in
tune with absent voices, with connecting with voices that
were not there, that were not in front of him.

After all,

speaking with someone on the telephone is akin to receiving a


call from beyonda distant soundfrom lips that one
cannot see, from a person that may or may not actually be
there.

Whenever one receives a phone call, ones only role is to


choose whether or not to accept the call, that is, whether to
pick up or not.

This is not a response to the other in any

cognitive mannerfor one can never know who is on the


other side, the other line.

Even in this day of automated

caller identification, there are so many instances of mistaken

250
IDs or crossed-lines; all your caller ID really does, is tell you
that someone is callingsomeone that might or might not be
the person whose name is flashing on your screen.

This

opens registers of the selfs relation with the other: if one


does not, and cannot, know who the one on the other side is,
not only is the choice to pick up the call a response to an
unknown other, it is also one that privileges the other. For at
the point of picking up the call, one is putting down
everything else, for reasons unknown, in order to attend to
another who might potentially have nothing to do with one,
or even worse, might be detrimental to ones self. As Avital
Ronell says, when answering Rodolphe Gashs call from The
Tain in the Mirror: Derrida and the Philosophy on Reflection,
the call transfers you to the Other.

In this regard, calling

might be viewed as perturbing the selfs traditional subjection


of the Other to itself. 1

This privileging of the other is most apparent when it comes


to prank calls. As one can never know who is on the other
line, each time one picks up the phone, one is opening oneself
to the possibility of being pranked, to being made fun of, of
being faced with an other that is out to humiliate.

One

cannot help but recall the call made to Jacques Derrida which

1 Avital Ronell. (1989). The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech.
pp.82.

251
he recounts in a footnote in The Post Card: I must note it
right here, on the morning of 22 August 1979, 10 A.M., while
typing this page for publication, the telephone rings. The U.S.
The American operator asks me if I accept a collect call
from Martin (she says Martine or martini) Heidegger.

heard, as one often does in these situations which are very


familiar to me, often having to call collect myself, voices
that I thought I recognised on the other end of the
intercontinental line, listening to me and watching my
reaction. What will he do with the ghost or Geist of Martin?
I cannot summarise here all the chemistry of the calculation
that very quickly made me refuse (Its a joke, I do not

accept) after having the name Martini Heidegger repeated


several times, hoping that the author of the farce would
finally name himself. Who pays, in sum, the addressee or the
sender? who is to pay? This is a very difficult question, but
this morning I thought, I should not pay, at least not
otherwise than by adding this note of thanks. 2

Reject. Refuse. It is a joke, I do not accept. Put down


phone.

Jacques Derrida. (1987). The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. Footnote.
pp.21.

252
At first glance, Derridas response might seem to be a
contradiction to his claim a few pages latera claim ascribed
to a much earlier date, 8 June 1977when he says, I accept
[jaccepte], this will be my signature Henceforth, but dont let
it worry you, dont worry about anything. I will never seek
you any harm, take this word at its most literal, it is my
name, that jaccepte, and you will be able to count, to count
on it as on the capital clarities, and from you I accept
everything. 3

However, to even know that it is a joke, a

prank call, one has to first accept the call, pick it up.

In

Derridas case, he has to first accept that callonly after the


acceptance, could the calculation that it was not Martin
Heidegger on the other end take place. And even though he
does not speak to the person at the other end, he has already
been affected by the call, the call already has its effect on
him: no one ever said that we will always like the calls we
receive.

One

can

only

imagine

Abrahams

discomforteven

displeasureat receiving the call from God to sacrifice his


beloved Isaac. It is no wonder that Abraham didnt pick up
immediately; sometimes even God has to call back.

ibid. pp.26.

253
Gods call to Abraham opens another register of the call;
calling as testing, calling to test, calling to see if anyone will
pick up the line.

Hello?

Hello? is there anybody out

there? A test to see if anyone will answer the call to duty.


Perhaps

this

oft-used

phrase,

particularly

in

political

rhetoriccall of dutyreminds us of a crucial aspect of


calls; a call always comes from beyond us, and sometimes
calls for one to go beyond oneself. And that a response to
this callwhich is almost always a call to somethingis an
I accept, and an acceptance of the fact that one is
perturbing the selfs traditional subjection of the Other to
itself, that one is putting the other ahead of one self. This is
an I accept that occurs before any phenomenal experience
of the call itself; this is an unconditional I accept, an
acceptance that leaves the self open to any call, to any
calling. Of course, after the experience of the call, one can
then discern whether or not to act on it, but never before.
This is an acceptance that does not permit the self to reject a
call a priori.

Hence, once one adopts the position of

acceptance, one is always already open to the possibility of a


prank, a call to a duty that one does not like, or even agree
with, a call that attempts to obligate, a friendly call,
appointment, date, lunch, and so on This is an acceptance
that is pre-relational; an I accept to any call that might, or
might not, ever arrive.

254

I accept Pick up phone

I have to accept even before picking up the phone.

Just because one is able to reject a call after experiencing it


does not mean that one is not already affected. If this were
so, then presence would be a prerequisite for effects: if this
were true, phone sex would not be possible.

And the fact

that phone sex is possible opens the register of the imaginary


that lies in responding.

For, if one has to respond to the

other without effacing the other, without making claims to


knowing the other, one is responding purely by opening up
ones own imaginary to the very possibility of responding.
After all, phone sex is more than possible with a complete
stranger, is often with a complete stranger.

And this is

precisely the risk that one takes; by opening ones imaginary,


one is also always already opening ones self to the possibility
of wounding, of trauma.

And it is the trauma of the unknown caller that continues to


haunt Derrida, through the question of who pays?; a
question that cannot be answered, can never be addressed. It
is Derrida that will always continue to pay, has no choice but
to continue to pay; or at least bear the burden of the

255
continual question.

By responding to the call, Derrida has

already opened himself up to the wounding of the call(er):


every call is a collect call in this very sense. Every call that
one responds to always already makes a demand of you, from
you, and with you.

Perhaps it is a similar collect call that I have to make, am


making, and have made, whilst writing this particular piece.
In attempting to make a case for The Suicide Bomber; and
her gift of death, I have had to enlist, in an almost military
styled recall-to-duty, all my influences, my guardians, other
thinkers, writers, inscribers. It is a call that I make to them,
one in which they have little choiceafter all it is I who
dialed their numbers, and they have responded independently
of a conscious decision to respond.

By citing them, by

appropriating their words, their thoughts, their ideas, I have


enacted an act of terror against them, on them; for it is not as
if they were given a space of negotiation, a space to respond
to me, to my thoughts.

Here, by way of an apologythe only one that I can offeris


an insistence on complete culpability, of accepting total
responsibility.

I accept the collect call and all the

payments that ensue from it So even as I am laying out,


have laid out, my little black book (for what is a citation list

256
if not a black book; friends that you can call up, count on, in
case of a fight), I will open a running tab with them, one that
will always remain unpayable; not because I want to default
on my bill, but because it is impossible to settle this cheque.
In this sense, the publicisingor even worse, publicationof
a list of friends (which strictly speaking should have always
remained private), is both the naming of my posse, and at the
same time, the acknowledgment of an eternal debt to this
same group.

This is not to say that they run absolutely no

risk as well: after this public naming, this exposing of their


association with me (whether they want to be or not), they
are now also potentially exposed to attacks, and perhaps even
completely unwarranted assaults.

The register of the problematics of friendship brings to mind


a conversation with Slavoj Zizek at the Hotel Allalin bar in
Saas Fee, sometime in early August 2007. He was in a hurry
to write a response to an attack on his work in some German
newspaper (unfortunately I never got the name of that said
publication from him).

Whilst he was quibbling about how

draining it is to constantly have to write such defenses,


especially against baseless accusations, I asked him, then
why defend yourself? To which he instantly responded, just
in case someone else attempts to do it for methat would be
infinitely worse.

In some way, Zizek was highlighting the

257
dangers of someone else responding to your call, perhaps
even a call that you did not intentionally send out, a call that
you yourself were oblivious to. Here we once again find an
echo of the lessons of both Jesus of Nazareth and Julius
Caesar. Both their betrayals, and murders, were born out of
love, were a result of their closest ones responding to their
respective calls; calls that came both from within, and beyond
them.

Tim Rice captures this beautifully in his lyrics in

Heaven on their Minds, from Jesus Christ Superstar, when


he has Judas tell Jesus, youve begun to matter more than
the things you say.

In this light, one can read Judas

betrayal as an act of fidelity to Jesus teachings: he had seen


Jesus beginning to turn against himself, against the spirit of
the very word he was preaching. Moreover, without this act
of betrayal, the Son of Man could not fulfill his own
destinydying for the rest of humanity.

It is in this same

spirit that Brutus was responding to the call of Julius Caesar;


killing him to prevent him from becoming the very despot he
once detested.

On the one hand, with friends like these, who needs enemies.
On the other hand, it is only friends like these who stop you
from becoming your own worst enemy.

258
This opens the question of, does one have to sometimes be
an enemy in order to be a friend? And this of course is the
question of fidelity; here the register of who and what are we
responding to is then opened. In order to be faithful, do we
respond to the person as such, or to the qualities of that
person. And even as we aspire to respond to each person as
a singularity, we are confronted with the problem of knowing;
if each person is absolutely singular, irreducibly different,
then we have no frame of reference, and strictly speaking,
nothing can be said about the person, nothing can be known
about herwe are then responding to an unknown.

To

compound matters, we cannot forget the more difficult


question ofperhaps difficult mostly in terms of admitting to
ourselveswhat and who we must reject, refuse to answer, in
order to answer some calls.

This is a hanging up that is

completely illegitimate, that cannot be justified: after all if


one is always already responding to an unknown, there is no
reason to choose that particular person; by extension, the
rejection of the other person is completely unjustifiable as
well. In some way we are always receiving a double-line (if
not more), and are only able to speak to one other person at
a time; the other(s) have to be put on hold, even if only
temporarily.

So even if the others are in mind, never

forgotten, they are momentarily out of touch, only able at


best to leave a message on your voicemail if they choose to

259
hang up; otherwise they will have to choose to waitin either
case, you have made your decision; their choice is now
independent of you.

This is the difficult question that Jean-Franois Lyotard and


Jean-Loup Thbaud attempt to respond to in Just Gaming,
when Lyotard asks Thbaud, can there be justice without the
domination of one game upon the others? 4 In other words,
can one have justice without the over-arching idea of justice?
In the case of multiplicity, can one attempt to defend
multiplicity, without effacing those who claim there is one,
single, truth?

Lyotard continues, and the difficulty comes

from this: when one thinks of justice according to a


nonunitary teleology, one tends to merely reverse what was
implied in Kants doctrine, whereas one should be on ones
guard, I think, against the totalitarian character of an idea of
justice, even a pluralistic one. 5 Here, the stakes of the game
lie in the relation between justice, being just, being ethical to
ones choices, decisions, judgments even, and the rules of the
game, the language of the game itself.

For even as we

continue to claim that multiplicity, plurality, even to the


extent of putting the other before the self, is crucial, we must

Jean-Franois Lyotard & Jean-Loup Thbaud. (1999). Just Gaming. pp.95.

ibid. pp.96.

260
admit that this stance can only occur if we agree to disallow
the one, the single truth.

It is only via a pre-relational

exclusion that we can guard against exclusion.

In order to guard against terroristic gestures, we have to first


be terroristic ourselves; we have to first efface the possibility
of effacement.

Perhaps it is Thbaud that offers a glimpse into a way


through this aporia, with his observation that language
cannot be mastered. 6

Here we find an echo of Martin

Heidegger: we are thrown into the world, we are flung into


language; our task is to find how we interact, communicate,
negotiate, within language.

Lyotard follows along this

trajectory when he says, language is indeed not, and cannot


be, mastered.

Its very plurality makes it impossible for

anyone to establish her- or himself in a field and proceed to


produce its laws in a sort of universal language or generalized
metalanguage, and then go on to extend these laws to all the
fields of language. 7

In other words, language is specific,

singular, and only true at that moment, space, in time. In the

ibid. pp.98.

ibid. pp.98-99.

261
case of justice, when asked what is just, one can only answer,
it remains to be seen in each case. 8

This suggests that it is a justice that is to come: we have to


wait, to attend, to that very possibility of a justice, and
possibly even a justice that we know not about, that we might
never be able to recognise.

So even as we learn from

Wolfgang Schirmacher to just live, and to act as if we are


able to, we also acknowledge that this pre-relational openness
to relationality, to the possibility of touching the other, to
otherness itself, can never be in the affirmative nor in the
negative.

And since we cannot say what it is or is not, at

best we can proscribe in the very precise sense of a


proscription against prescription.

Hence, at best, it is a

tentative proscription. As Lyotard reminds us again, justice


here does not consist merely in the observance of the rules
it consists in working at the limits of what the rules permit,
in order to invent new moves, perhaps new rules and
therefore new games. 9

This requires knowing, and not

knowing, the rules at the same momentperhaps an ironic


acknowledgement of the rules.

ibid. pp.99.

ibid. pp.100.

262
It is completely appropriate that Just Gaming ends in
laughter.

For when faced with such a situation, where one

must do even when one cannot do (or at least cannot be sure


of what one is doing), what else can one do but laugh. This is
not a laughter of despair, but a laughter of pure irony, a
laughter that recognises that we are always already in
singularity, where each situation is a situation in exception to
everything

but

itself;

and

in

fact,

since

there

is

no

referentiality to a situation, any situation, this is a situation


that is in exception to everything, even itself.

This is the laughter of Ubu Roi.


A great belly laughter
that

accepts

everything,

precisely because everything is


completely

non-sense,

laughter that does not even


pretend to understand that nonsense.
We are in the realm of pata-physics
where to know, to remember, we have to
forget, but we have to somehow remember to
forget; or perhaps we will forget even when
we have forgotten to forget

263

Thought must play a catastrophic role, must be itself an element of


catastrophe, of provocation in a world that wants absolutely to
cleanse everything, to exterminate death and negativity. But it
must at the same time remain humanist, concerned for the human,
and, to that end, recapture the reversibility of good and evil, of the
human and the inhuman.
Jean Baudrillard: Passwords