File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 52

Date: Sat, 10 Nov 2001 12:43:01 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Ethics as a Figure of Nihilism

I'm inclined to think of Derrida as a materialist, though of a rather
different sort than most marxists. His inheritance of a "certain" Marx
includes an important encounter with Bataille, who, it seems to me, opens
the door to speaking about the role of "difference" within a marxian
framework. If there is a "general economy" of an "excessive" nature - and
i think Derrida and others test the waters of that "there is" on a number
of different planes of analysis - then the "spectre" of the "absolutely
other" haunts all of our more conventionally dialectical approaches to
limited economies. This unsettling factor seems, in part, a caution
against certain kinds of clean conscience, or certainty, that can lead to
the complete abandonment of even the concern for justice. It's important
to recall that most of what has come to be called poststructuralism wasone
or another form of nietzschean libertarian socialism, inheriting from
Marx, but frequently unwilling to connect either to the Soviets of the
PCF. Derrida in the 1971 "Positions" interviews sounds remarkably
conventional in acknowledging his connection the the marxian
tradition. And he has been quite clear about his concerns with Althusser's
crowd, and the pressures that put on him - which led to a lot of
discussion of Marx's concerns without much explicit talk about Marx. 

I suspect that talk of "relativism" is generally projection - the
reduction of all values to exchange value characteristic of capitalism is
the closest thing to a generalized relativism that i see, and even that is
more properly just the evasion of most questions of value for the sake of
justifying the status quo. Nihilist is more often than not what
fundamentalists call you when you question their Great (and
Simple) Truths. Fundamentalism is probably the real enemy of truth and
justice in our day - the 1001 evasions of complexity, uncertainty, and,
ultimately, anything like philosophy. The old - slightly misdirected -
critique of "utopian" socialist schemes might well be applied to many,
many ways of thinking about society and social change these days -
including some that claim Marx and Engels as progenitors. I was sparring
with a Stalinist on the yahoogroups anarchism list not too long ago, who
stated that "Marxist-Leninists want a dictatorship" and would attack even
a functioning libertarian society, if it had not arrived via the
"dictatorship of the proletariat." Freedom - real liberty - must be
bourgeois if the holy books have not been fulfilled. Weird shit. But
weirder was this guys complete openness about having slandered folks on
the list, lied, etc. All for the cause. No question of an ethics at all
there - if ethics is anything like Derrida and Lyotard describe it. There
is something like a "technology" rather than any question of deep and
potentially dangerous choice. 

I've strayed more than a bit here, but, more than anything, i'm interested
in defusing any tendency to set up a simple opposition between the
"poststructuralists" and the "Marxian materialists" based in some sense of
separate paternity. The engagements with Marx, Nietzsche, Hegel and Kant
are diverse, but i'm not certain we reach a point where it is even
possible just to choose, for instance, between "difference" and


Shawn P. Wilbur  |  |         


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