Don’t Forget the Black Jew II: But Why Go to Jacques? Research Time, 18/05/2017

Because Mercier is following a Derrida-inspired track, he ends up with an aporia. Surrounded by conceptual ruins, he’s left the core of IR theory a collection of posits and presumptions that have lost their justifications. The negative, destructive power of Derrida’s concepts have worked their magic.

It’s an interesting essay, and I may use some of his ideas in one part of the argument in Utopias. But I’m going in a different direction, of course, because I’m not satisfied with aporia.

Funnily enough, there’s one quick moment in his essay when Mercier comments how similar an ontology of force is to the ideas of Gilles Deleuze. But then he jumps back to a discussion of Derrida, saying that he’s simply not here to talk about Deleuze. And that’s a shame, because Deleuze (and Félix Guattari, and Deleuze and Guattari) developed a lot of positive content for an ontology of force.

But Derrida constitutes a weirdly special case that I think might be worth meditating on. His popular reception – and the most basic power his own concepts of deconstruction have – is as a destroyer.

He leaves ruin in his wake, as the contradictions of core concepts destroy any capacity you might have had to take those concepts seriously. Any kind of presence, of solidly defined certainty that you were able to stand on is destroyed. This can happen to anything.

But he never wanted to destroy.
All you need to do to let deconstruction destroy something is to turn it loose. It’s a universal solvent – all certainty dissolves. Sometimes, we want this. Sometimes, we don’t. But it can always happen.

Mercier seems happy to land in a relative aporia – the conceptual confusion of a broken system. System relies on certainty, and Mercier is out to break down a certainty that’s growing increasingly problematic in the violence of our crumbling civilization. He wants to throw International Relations theory out of its easy reliance on a transparent concept of power.

Derrida’s early work revolves around a foundational concept of his own:* The metaphysics of presence.

* Because no one, even the master of deconstruction is ultimately immune to it. What would a deconstruction of deconstruction itself look like? Maybe we can ask the older Jacques Derrida.

Lots of people have written a ridiculous amount about what the metaphysics of presence is. But I don’t want to touch on it because I’m coming to dismiss a lot of interpretive academic discourses as nitpicking chatter for the sake of careerism.

As far as I take this concept of the metaphysics of presence, it’s the need to rest your life – and all the meanings that give significance to your life – on a firm foundation. And Derrida was the one source in our era of the blasting caps.

IR Theory fundamentally relies on the concept of power – the play of subjects. It used to be that the key political subjects were states in most mainstream political theory. When Michel Foucault blew up, political philosophy understands institutions, social networks, sexualities, individual and group identity of any kind as power.

Forces of subjectivity, impositions of code. Overwriting differences with similarity to itself. Or at least trying to.

Power is fundamentally a model of force as subjectivity. Even in the very decentralized subjectivity of Foucault’s sociologies. Now think of what alternative it could have. . . . To be continued

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