Jacques Derrida – “From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve,” in Writing and Difference (1967)

A reading of Bataille’s reading of Hegel. Derrida explains the difference between lordship (grasping) and sovereignty (exploding). He then draws attention to the comic aspect of all lordship: it is funny that the slave has the advantage. Sovereignty comes with the ability to laugh at lordship. Hegel was blind to this laughter, which Bataille associates with the poetic, and this limit to his knowledge is what gives Hegel coherence but ultimately irrelevance with regard to LIFE. This is then read back on to the master-slave dialectic, in which the subject risks death in order to be truly live. Derrida points out that we must experience this death while living, in fact, which is a comic structure, after all. This is Hegel’s blindspot:

The blindspot of Hegelianism, around which can be organized the representation of meaning, is the point at which destruction, suppression, death and sacrifice constitute so reversible an expenditure, so radical a negativity—here we would have to say expenditure and a negativity without reserve—that they can no longer be determined as negativity in a process or a system. (259)

Hegel’s “revolution” was taking the negative’s “labor” seriously. Bataille does not take it seriously.In sacrificing meaning, sovereignty submerges the possibility of discourse: not simply by means of an interruption, a caesura, or an interior wounding of discourse (an abstract negativity), but, through such an opening, by means of an irruption suddenly uncovering the limit of discourse and beyond of absolute knowledge. (261)

“As a manifestation of meaning, discourse is the loss of sovereignty” (262)

“[Bataille’s] continuum is the privileged experience of a sovergein operation transgressing the limit of discursive difference…. Pushing itself toward the nonbasis negativity and od expenditure, the experience of the continuum is also the experience of ansolute difference, of a difference which would no longer be the one that Hegel had conceived more profoundly than anyone else: the difference in the service of presence, at work for (the) history (of meaning).” (263)

Sovereignty, like lordship, makes itself independent through risking its life, but does not conserve or attach itself to anything. It does not maintain itself or collect the profits. It cannot be defined as possession. [Cf. Andrew Cole’s reading of the Hegelian dialectic as being about the possession of land, transition from feudalism to capitalism]…” Soveriegnty must no longer seek to be recognized.”

Concludes with description of major vs. minor writing. Major writing exceeds the logos of meaning (lordship, etc.), while the minor merely interrupts it (?). This calls for a different type of reading, not bound by the constellation of philosophical concepts that Bataille is critiquing.

Sovereignty and discourse:

“To relate the major form of writing to the sovereign operation is to institute a relation in the form of a nonrelation, to inscribe rupture in the text, to place the chain of discursive knowledge in relation to an unknowledge which is not a moment of knowledge: an absolute unknolwedge from whose nonbasis is launched chance, or the wagers of meaning, history, and the horizons of absolute knowledge.” (268)

[Relate this to Levinas’ discussion of saying and the said, Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the self-interrupting flesh, and then show why Deleuze (and Judith Butler, ??) are different.

“Sovergeignty transgresses the entirety of the history of meaning and the entirety of the meaning of history, and the project of knowledge which has always obscurely welded these two together. Unknowledge is, then, supra-historical, but only because it takes its responsibilities from the completion of history and from the closure of absolute knowledge, having first taken them seriously and having betrayed them by exceeding them or by simulating them in play.”

[Relate to Benjamin’s “The Storyteller,” where transmission and meaning only become possible at the moment of death, as well as angelus novus excerpt; also, Adorno’s conclusion to minima moralia, in which all philosophy must be conducted from the end of history; also Deleuze in What is Philosophy?, in which creation and becoming are a turning away from history rather than continuation of them.]

Writing and the General Economy: “Senseless loss (production of useless excess) is sovereignty.” Hegel’s Aufhebung and phenomenology are both restricted economies. They are restricted to the circuit of reproductive consumption, the utilization of wealth—all of which can determine difference only as work (the activity of the slave, after all). The Hegelian dialectic therefore exists within the restricted economy of history itself.


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