File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 136

Subject: RE: [Fwd: re:  Ethics as a figure of nihalism]
Date: Fri, 23 Nov 2001 08:33:33 -0600

Hmm. I don’t know, Steve. First, I'm not sure if we understand what
nancy is talking about in the same way. In my understanding,
being-in-common is not a function of desire, nor is it a product--it
cannot be produced. It is an originary "community," and it is
*originarily* inoperative: by definition, it does not work. A
"community" that always already is, it has nothing to do with social
bonds, and identifications can only efface it--it is from this
originiary community that subjectivity extracts itself. Though it can't
be built/produced, it can be exposed--not exposed in any work (any
representation or figuration) but in that which exceeds, interrupts, or
incompletes both the work of subjects and the subject as a work (of the
dialectical process). 

It is exposed, yes, most explicitly in the death of the other, or rather
in the other’s relation to her/his mortality--which teaches me my own
mortality and my singularity: my "infinite lack of an infinite
identity." We share finite existence, that’s probably all we share, and
we share it in a radically passive way; it is not a function of agency.
In the exposition of finitude, i experience an unraveling of identity,
identity's unworking: désoeuvrement. In Heideggerian terminology but
with a Nancian (?) refusal to re-gather, it is this experience of
unworking and depropriation that introduces Dasein to itself (as
Da-sein) and to community (as Mit-sein) and that confirms for Dasein
that what (and all) "we" share is precisely what divides "us": our
finitude, which is both our mortality and our inability to be-One and to
be-at-One, with others or even with ourselves.

What you're calling a nostalgic desire for community is really a
nostalgic desire for *communion,* a fusional desire, which is certainly
what got manifest with a vengeance after 911 but which is also precisely
not what nancy is talking about. Do we disagree?

The exposition and experience of finitude is not akin at all to
totality; it is precisely what interrupts ANY totalistic effort, any
work, any attempt to exclude since it exposes the non-belonging that
precedes and exceeds any and every *condition* for belonging. This
exposition of finitude and so of community does not and cannot found a
"new totality." It cannot found or institute *anything*, not a politics
nor a mode of sociality. What it does, though, according to nancy, is
expose the limit, the ectopical between-us “space” or ethical “zone”
where any politics or social organization ought to begin (and end). “A
politics that does not want to know anything about this is a mythology,”
Nancy observes, “or an economy.” 

What I was trying to suggest in my last post is that there was this
fragile moment, this ever so tiny opening that presented itself on 911
in which the oppressive representations, the exclusionary practices,
etc., might have imploded in the face finitude's exposition. But what
happened instead was the opposite, a kind of furious backlash, an
insistence on mythology, on economy, on identity over and against the
experience of community. The "United We Stand!" stickers pretend to be
an exposition of community, but they actually articulate exactly what
effaces it. Avital Ronell once noted that it is precisely when finitude
gets infinitized, when the other's finite singularity gets erased or
ignored or obliterated (through stereotypes or whatever), that "we"
start bombing the shit out of them. And of course, it's also when the
self-appointed "we" starts othering those "within the ranks" who will
not "fall in" or "unite," filtering them out and excluding them. I agree
with you that this is what's happening now, that "sense of exclusion for
the greater whole of America - is greater than ever before." I just
disagree with you, I think, about what sparked it.

And I still want to hold onto the question I posed in the last
post--because the only "just" politics, if there is one, would have to
be one that refrains from infinitizing finitude, that avoids the
question of essence but without nixing the possibilities for an/other
kind of solidarity. 

Best, ddd

-----Original Message-----
[] On Behalf Of
Sent: Thursday, November 22, 2001 1:12 PM
Subject: Re: [Fwd: re: Ethics as a figure of nihalism]

I was interested in your mail because it hinted at many issues and
experiences that we must have lived through over the past few months.

It seems as if the nostaglic desire for community and the communal
being/existence is only achievable through the desire, the sudden
appearence of death.  Jean-Luc Nancy refers to how Batallie was
concerned with the thought that human sacrifices seal the destiny of the
human communities. Community is drawn out more strongly into the public
realm through the death of others-in-the-community. It is this which
constructs the new 'totality' and perhaps the new 'finitude' the
experience of community which immediately defines itself against those
who do not belong. In this, admittedly more negative response, I differ
from your initial analysis for the new being-in-common always results in
the appalling treatment of the 'Others' which communities derive from
their sharing of a moral and singular experience... In this sense the
extraordinary coming-together of the being-in-common inevitably results
in exclusion. The primordial myth of the community is founded on the
original notion of a people that proposes a communal identity purifiying
the image of a population whilst also blocking any productive
interactions of difference.

I'm not sure how it can be otherwise when we live in a society in which
traditional cultures and social organisations are endlessly destroyed,
deterritorialised, by capital's endless trajectory  through the world
creating new networks and paths which results in a single cultural and
economic system.

Certainly the USA has been drawn together into a greater sense of
community by the events of 911 and Afghanistan - however as a simple
European visitor the sense of exclusion for the greater whole of
 America - is greater than ever before... 

To construct a new notion of community, to produce one that is
operative, rather than being endlessly flawed and founded on specular
commodification, exclusion and violence is the challenge...


Diane Davis wrote:

A few years ago I was on the search committee in my dept, and we brought

in a candidate who used the term "community" in every other sentence.

When I got my one-on-one meeting with him, I asked him what he meant by

this term. He waffled, smiled, blushed, and said something like:

"um....well, you know, it's really hard to define...but it's one of the

few concepts that doesn't have any negative connotations--no one can say

anything bad about community." I was thinking: wow, those were the

days--before psychoanalysis, feminist theory, poco theory,

post-structuralism, deconstruction, etc. He didn't get the job. 

But steve, though I don't really disagree with what you're saying, I do

think I would add a little texture to it or something. I think that it's

possible to experience community, to suddenly experience it through all

the oppressive crap (not just consumerism's crap, either). Today I

noticed out my kitchen window t
his giant SUV proudly displaying the

typical post-911 kitsch: an American flag and a big passenger side

window sticker saying, in bolded caps, UNITED WE STAND! And it hit me

that in the first moments/hours/days after the 911 tragedy, that phrase

seemed descriptive, a genuine attempt somehow to express the

inexpressible, to indicate the overwhelming feeling of concern and care

and support for one another that "we" were suddenly experiencing, the

urge or imperative to pull together locally and nationally. This had

nothing to do with consumerism and at that early point very little to do

with nationalism (though, I do think nationalism may have imposed some

limits to the experience). And the news media was as dumb-struck as the

rest of us; it was their dream story, but they were caught totally off

guard and were scrambling around, stuttering, stammering, giving

unprepped, unpolished accounts of what they saw or heard. The spectacle

e that's usually so smoooooth and sleek, bumbled and fumbled.

Nobody knew what they were doing. And/but still this experience of

community, of being-in-common, as nancy puts it, was palpable. We had

very suddenly and very violently been reintroduced to something that

most of "us" have a tendency to forget: that we are indeed fragile, that

we are finite after all. And the experience of finitude *is* the

experience of community, the experience of sharing a mortal and singular

(unsharable) existence. 

That lasted for about 48 hours in most of the country, I'd guess. Longer

in NYC. And then...then "we" forgot again precisely what we'd just

relearned. The radically passive and depropriating experience of

finitude, of community, gave way to the reassertion of identity and

sovereignty, in all its nasty forms. You're with us or against us. The

damn flag became a big money-maker. And this morning that phrase--UNITED

WE STAND!--exclamation-
pointed as it was, struck me not as a descriptive

but as a prescriptive, as a command. Especially after lynn cheney's

goons at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni put out that

McCarthy-ish report citing academics as the "weak link," etc. A kind of

tyranny of consensus now runs rampant in the so-called land of the free

to an extent that I haven't experienced in my lifetime--evidencing yet

again the incredibly shitty side of "community," the fact that the

experience of being-in-common is obliterated in the very instant a

project is established by which that community might define and express

itself (in this case revenge is the major project: war). By which it

might include and exclude. Meanwhile, consumerism came rushing back with

unbelievable force, backed as it was this time by nationalism--or,

excuse me, (ahem) patriotism: Buy a gas-guzzling SUV and support your

country's economy!!! No interest for a whole year! Etc. 

 question for me, though, is not so much how to "win" against

consumerism b/c I think we just saw that the latter in fact does fall

off the register when "we" are exposed to our irreparable finitude. I

don't think it's primarily a problem of the loss of common myths,

either--myths tend always to be associated with the establishment of

some kind of Volk. The question for me, rather, is how to hold onto the

intensity equal to the level of death, as bataille put it, which the

experience of sharing-existence demands, without resorting to violence

and sacrifice to do it. 

Best, ddd


  D. Diane Davis

  Rhetoric and Composition (UT Mail Code B5500)

  University of Texas at Austin 

  Austin, TX 78712-1122 

  Office: 512.471.8765  FAX: 512.471.4353

-----Original Message-----

From: [mailto:owner-] On Behalf Of steve.devos

Sent: Wednesday, November 21, 2001 5:06 AM


Subject: Re: [Fwd: re: Ethics as a figure of nihalism]


the issue started because of Hugh's belief in communuties having some

value and worth

"... a continuity of personal relationships and institutional support

for those relationships  they affect significant others, parents and

children, extended families, tribes, communities."

Given that the stru
cture of the communities in question, and perhaps
I used the equally specular but different communities of this side of

the atlantic it would have been clearer, is predominantly one that

oppresses and excludes rather than includes and liberates. In this

specific society community is used to place the human subject into a

place where they belong. In previous, equally unpleasent societies, a

common language placed the subject into its community,  but now the

commodity spectacle constructs an artificial reconstruction of

community.  Our societies have lost the community that the common

language, the myths had been able to maintain. In place of the

unpleasent communities founded on death and sacrifice, our communities

are founded on commodification, spectacle and division. The divided

 nature of our communities constitutes them as inactive because the

common language of community is derived from its commodification.

False communities and neighbourhoods are generated 
everywhere - for

example - at work 'teams' and 'communities' are built to enable the

business to maximise its use of human resources through the false

community it constructs. The currently suspended (because of 911)

refugee and economic migrant issue in europe, is founded on the myth
refugees and migrants being welcomed and this being a society which

tolerates difference. The reality is of course different for the

spectacle uses the former myth to hide the oppression of difference.
use and glorification of redundent and oppressive cultural norms based

on cultural, racial, sexual and local stereotypes is normal.

If 'community' is being used to oppress and control - which is the

result of the excessive commodification - then on a day to day basis
need to be careful before we accept the idea that it is in itself a

positive value...




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