10 MAY 06



Aaron Krempa and Derek Aggleton                                                                           Philosophy 621

Protocol: 5/10/06                                                                             On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy


Launching off of Joe’s protocol at the point where the question of deconstruction’s deconstructability arrested his reading, we returned to a discussion of Derrida’s essay, “The Force of Law,” which has come up in previous classes. On this occasion, Hugh mentioned the German word, Gewalt, which means “violence,” and linked it to Dreigewalt, the “three branch system of government.” This implies that legitimate government is always already violent, and we are brought to the question of the deconstructability of justice. In his essay, Derrida suggests that justice is not deconstructable because it forms no binary pair. Is deconstruction itself indeconstructable in this same manner?

            Joe continued to read his protocol until his discussion of Levinas required clarification, specifically about the way in which Derrida was deconstructing Levinas’ ethical hierarchy. This tangent increasingly showed its importance as the discussion continued beyond the scope of Joes’ protocol and came to involve passages past the assigned reading. First, however, we differentiated between the metaphysical ethical and the common ethical in Levinas’ system. Derrida’s concern rests on the question of touch: for the metaphysical ethical, or ethics “proper” (a word that latter came to have great importance in Derrida’s criticism of the philosophical tradition generally), touching is irrelevant, even the penetrating/crushing touch that murders, whereas the common ethical directly concerns caresses and blows. Derrida would have us challenge this hierarchy. Hugh asks how the touch that murders could not be seminal to ethics “proper,” especially when Levinas gives primacy to the ethical as a corrective measure against the Heidegger’s ontology? How can murder not affect le corp propre?

To understand Derrida’s criticism in the larger thematic of touch and the philosophical tradition, Derek directed us toward a passage on page 125. Addressing the context of this passage, we quickly moved into waters uncharted by both Derek and Aaron – a discussion of Deleuze and Guattari’s distinction between the arborescent and the rhizomatic. This discussion was began with the curious phrase, a ‘body without organs’ (p. 125). Hugh asked the group what this means. Aaron ventured a connection between this notion, whatever it may be, and Nancy’s extended Psyche as partes extra partes: a body without organs lacks interiority, just like partes extra partes. Hugh rightly pointed out that this still does not tell us what this phrase means in the context of Deleuze and Guattari. To this end he employed Arsalan, who brought us to the aforementioned binary pair.

            In A Thousand Plateaus the arborescent is the term used to denote hierarchical systems of thought that depend on highly organized, source-oriented, and centristic thinking. The term, meaning ‘tree-like’, gets its name from the recognizable form of a genealogical tree, whose branches are ‘rooted’ in one elementary origin. An example of this kind of thinking is found and criticized by Deleuze and Guattari in Freudian psychoanalysis. The rhizomatic, on the other hand, denotes uncentered thinking in which no source is granted privilege, in which, in fact, there is no source. An example of the rhizomatic is the Internet. Arsalan’s precise delineation allowed us to see that ‘bodies without organs’ refer to the rhizomatic. Bodies thought of as organic presuppose an order, a telos, and a hierarchical system; they are organized in an arborescent manner. 

It is against the arborescent and in favor of the rhizomatic that Deleuze and Guattari argue.  However, it is clear that they are working within a binary system, which is itself arborescent.  Arsalan pointed out that Deleuze and Guattari at least recognized this, though they may not have been able to account for it in their philosophy.  He also pointed out that there can be “arborescence in the rhizomatic” and, therefore, the zones of these two can be indecidable.  Derrida seems to criticize Deleuze and Guattari for maintaining their thinking within the metaphysical, hapto-centric philosophical tradition.  They emphasize the haptical over the tactile (see p. 124).  This grants them the continuistic postulation (see p. 124) and privilege to immediacy (see p. 120) that Derrida has characterized throughout §6 as the cornerstone of haptology.  The tactile, on the other hand, does not allow for the theoretical touching that plagues idealistic metaphysics (see pp. 120-21).  Thus, the notion of ‘bodies without organs’ remains hapto-centric.     

With this context in mind, Derek attempted a more articulate connection between the passage on page 125 and Derrida’s challenge to Levinas. The desire for continuity, which has locked the philosophical tradition in an intuitionistic hapto-centrism, has influenced Levinas’ work as well. His arborescent privileging of the metaphysical ethical has covered over the aporia of touch. Uncovering this aporia, Derrida offers a far-reaching deconstructive possibility. Don followed up these connections with an excellent observation within the same passage: Derrida is offering something that closely resembles a Hegelian movement, where the “right of concept” and the “right of desire” have not been borne out in the aporetic experience of touch, implying the need for, to use Hegelian terms, a new manifestation of spirit. Derek follows up this comment with the suggestion that Derrida’s focus on Nancy’s exact exorbitance may be a response to this need.