|February 9, 2012|
Geoffrey Bennington’s Not Half No End, a volume of essays all written, with the exception of one, after Jacques Derrida‘s death in October 2004, is “profoundly marked” by this death and attempts “to go on thinking in its wake” (xi). Despite the difficulty, indeed the impossibility, of being able to go on, the chapters of this very fine book display with dexterity, finesse, and expertise why Bennington has been recognized as one of the foremost interpreters and expositors of Derrida’s thought.
As the introduction tells us, the first half of the title of the book — preferably to be pronounced with a glottal stop as “Noʔ’alf!” (think of The Two Ronnies, for those who might be familiar with Ronnie Barker’s accent on the British show of the 1980s) — exploits the ambiguity of the British English colloquial expression which functions as an intensifier, to stress that, in one of its senses, one is really in mourning — not half! (xiii). In fact, the two parts of the book’s title — “Not Half” and “No End” — both allude to melancholia or demi-deuil, half-mourning, a notion invoked by Derrida in the mid-1970s . This demi-deuil would not be Freud’s pathological melancholia, but a structurally endless state, “the only possible mourning” (xii). As is well known, for Freud, mourning has a limited duration and successfully deals with loss and grief while melancholia is a deficient or incomplete way of dealing with it. To recover from loss, mourning has to be gotten over.
This might explain calls from certain quarters — unhappy with all the alleged “pathos” associated with what has been written since Derrida’s passing away and bored with the “tedium” of text after text by Derrida scholars, astute readers, interpreters, friends, and admirers trying to cope with the loss of a thinker who will turn out to have been one of the greatest of the twentieth century — to bring it all to an end, to be done with mourning. Let’s be done with the “suffocating trend toward mourning . . . close-circuit canonization” and move on to more important matters, they say. Let’s get over mourning. What these naïve and hasty calls seem to mistake is to take mourning for a simple affect and forget that it is structurally always unfinished and incomplete. What these calls conceal is the abiding hostility harbored by many in the academic world toward Derrida and what he stood for. What they also reveal is the strange, secret desire to be included, to be part of a group of “insiders” who would be seen as legitimately eulogizing him.
Bennington’s book, unapologetic and militant — militant in the manner of Derrida in Specters of Marx – in its admiration and esteem for Derrida’s work, would serve as, if I could say this, an antidote to these calls, explaining over a number of lucid, inventive, and trenchant essays why mourning is not something that can be gotten over. The only possible response seems to be an “originary melancholia,” which Bennington details in several chapters, for example in “Half-Life.”
Make any cento you want! But try to make it as good as you want it to be. You don’t really want Seidel’s freedom. His poems are licensed by privilege, prestige and money — lots of all three. His deliberate transgressions look like power — to poets, any use of power looks like freedom. But I just read all Seidel’s work, straight through, and I think he’s wearing golden handcuffs.
Pale Youths in Love
I remember when I was a pre-teen and they moved into a loft across the street from me in Tribeca, where I lived. And an older neighbor friend told me they were living in her building, on the top floor. I saw him at my corner deli, and on the street smoking, but never her. At night, I sometimes looked up at their windows and saw their lights on. He was not very impressive in person. Cute, but no big deal.
What is Work?
Without a written record, we cannot know with certainty how the earliest humans thought about work, but the importance of sharing food and other resources means that prehistoric work embodied at least an element of serving the needs of a community rather than just those of an individual and his or her immediate family.
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