Davis on Derrida; What Levinas Offers Latour

Via Blogora, a video lecture by D. Diane Davis on Derrida, deconstruction, gratitude, and debt:

Derrida and gratitude: thinking always has a debt. "The image of the trail blazing subject, self sufficient and completely independent is, of course, a metaphysical figure. But it is always a figure or for some traditions ideal" […] "But what Derrida marks constantly is that he does not stand on his own. He stands on a mountain of debt and conditions of possibility."

Davis resists labeling deconstruction as a simple textual methodology--but I think her discussion of close reading and the encounter with an aporia comes close to framing deconstruction as a method, albeit a "choratic" one (to use Hawk and Rickert's term). In other words, Davis' framing of deconstruction marks it as a fluid form of approach that cannot--and does not aim to--guarantee a certain result. Davis stresses: "Thinking is not knowing."

I tend to think of deconstruction in more spiritual terms--that it becomes a spirit for navigating the world (and not just reading texts). Like Davis, I am drawn to the notion of undecidability. In my grad class this week, I contrasted Augustine and Plato against Lanham's notion of "strong" rhetoric, McComiskey relativist, Consigny's anti-foundational, and Jarratt's materialist explications of sophistry. On the one side, Truth is derived through a certain methodology (biblical hermeneutics, dialectic) and then transformed by rhetoric (audience analysis, arrangement, style, delivery). On the other side, truth is something produced through what Lanham calls social dramas, it cannot be decided in advance and cannot be considered "certain" (although, Lanham stresses, this does not mean it is either arbitrary or trivial--human dramas set the bounds of existence).

To get to the second, "strong" rhetoric, one must operate within an uncertain, undecidable metaphysic. This is why I am particularly drawn to Levinas, since his metaphysic incorporates a relation to transcendence that neither eliminates the possibility of transcendence (as people like Lanham and, more recently, Latour have done) nor insists upon its certainty. God as enigma, perpetual, perpetuating question--Levinas's phenomenological ethics do not seek to produce a knowledge (or a method of knowledge) as much as what Aristotle might call a disposition (what Aristotle marks as the first part of a rhetorical performance that sets the mood): how does one act in the shadow of a perpetual, unanswerable question? Tentatively.

Of course, to those of an absolute foundationalist position, Levinas's appreciation for uncertainty might seem heretical. I do not think, in other words, that Levinas presents us with a solution to the problem of transcendence, faith and politics. But I do think, by acknowledging the transcendental as a question, he contributes to our understanding of the intellectual and political, philosophical/scientific and humanit(ies)(arian), right and might divides that Latour argues plagues our contemporary moment.


Internet Metaphor

I posted a link to this NYT article to Facebook, but I wanted to keep this paragraph someplace where I could find it:

Then again, the Internet is a new kind of barometer for keeping track of exactly how old you feel: how many things you don’t get, how many mini-Internet worlds you can’t find the door to; exactly how many crickets in the world you can no longer hear chirping. Unlike in generations past, when (I imagine) you just kept doing what you and your same-aged friends did, and aged into obscurity in comfort on a cloud of your own tastes and generational inclinations, until you died either thinking you all were still the coolest or not caring anymore about being cool, these days the Internet exists in part to introduce you to all these things you didn’t know about, but in part to remind you how much there is out there that you’ll never know about. The Internet is basically like being at a house party and trying to find the bathroom and opening up a door to a room where a bunch of kids are playing a game or doing a drug or having an orgy (metaphorically) or something and you get all flustered and say, “Oh, my God, I’m sorry!” and they all look at you like, “You pervert,” and you quickly slam the door shut. Everywhere you go on the Internet there are rooms you don’t understand, people playing games you don’t know the rules to, teenagers doing drugs you’ve never heard of and can’t even pronounce. And you just walk through the halls of this house party, aging in fast forward, until you open the one last door at the end of the hallway and it’s Death. Ha, ha.

The focus of the article is on the way that the Internet "ages" us. I think the scope can be changed however, to suggest how much the Internet potentially exposes.


Joe Paterno's Apology

I've seen a number of posts dealing with Paterno on Facebook today. I'll admit my knowledge of the subject is a bit sketchy--coming mostly from a few minutes of Dan Patrick's radio program the past few days. From what I understand, 10 years ago a member of the football program was caught fondling a young child in the Penn State locker room by a graduate assistant. The assistant in turn notified Joe Paterno, who notified administration. No one, to my knowledge, ever notified the police.

I have a very hard time processing that last sentence.

Given what I have heard on sports radio, so does most of America.

Today, Joe Paterno released a statement:

I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief.

I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today.

That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.

This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.

My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University

What bothers me about this statement, the first public statement by Paterno in the aftermath of this story, is its political maneuverings. While an apology, it is also an attempt to bargain with Penn State's Board of Trustees, who themselves have scheduled a meeting on Friday to determine Paterno's future. Regardless of whether I believe Paterno should coach the remainder of the season, I do not think he should use an apologetic statement as a forum for implicitly pleading his case.

My RSA proposal this year centers around public apologies, specifically apologies by athletes. In short form: my argument is that many public apologies fail when the speaker attempts to implicitly argue their innocence rather than completely accept fault for their actions.

In Paterno's apology, as in the apology of so many athletes testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, there is an argument. Albeit an argument of a different level of stasis, but an argument all the same. In each case there is a self-centered exertion to control and limit judgement. I don't want an argument here. I want sincerity. I want submission. Say you are sorry, more than sorry, and leave it to the mob to decide your fate. My guess (and, my hope) is that, outside of the Penn State faithful, the majority of sports fans will dissect and dismiss this "apology." Though it is not nearly as inadequate to this situation as his "response" was to a horrific situation nearly a decade ago.