“Whether There is Life or Not”: Dasein and the Vivacity of the Nonliving

 

The following is the abstract of my proposed paper for the “Radical Space” conference at the University of East London on 18 and 19 October, 2013. Considered in conjunction with the paper for the SEP conference (the previous post here), it gives a clear indication as to my current research interests (research which will ultimately result in a book, at present provisionally entitled Insect Lover of Jacques Derrida: Writings of the Posthuman):

This paper explores some of the far-reaching implications of a rigorous deconstruction of the living-nonliving binary. In proposing a radical materialist conception of the trace – understood as the becoming-time of space and becoming-space of time – I argue that this demands an equally radical reworking of the spaces of the body.

If we are to understand how a certain “post-Derridean” deconstruction constitutes a fully materialist, antihumanist and posthumanist philosophical praxis, the fundamental dichotomy that remains to be challenged is between the living and the nonliving, that is, between the animate and the inanimate. Derrida, by contrast, deconstructs only the living-dead binary, that is, between the living and no longer living, while leaving intact the barrier between the living and the never or not yet living.

Indeed, Derrida in fact installs an unbridgeable abyss between the living and the nonliving when, in Of Grammatology, he posits a first “coup” which allows that being as such only appears with the emergence of life, synonymous with the emergence of the trace, thus leaving deconstruction justifiably susceptible to the charge of correlationalism as posited by Quentin Meillassoux. Put simply, for Derrida there is being, but no being as such, without a living being. The trace, however, continues to function whether there is life or not, and this has serious consequences not only for deconstruction, but for political and ethical questions as well [1]. As will be shown in this paper, this becomes clear once Derrida’s understanding of the trace is placed in dialogue with Meillassoux’s notion of ancestrality – a dialogue constituting a genuine posthumanist encounter between deconstruction and “object-orientated ontology.”

In my reading, I argue (against Derrida) that Derrida’s oeuvre ultimately demands a love for the nonliving in general. This in turn corresponds with a non-vitalist, materialist position which, in contrast to the meaningless void of empty relativism, demands ever greater political and ethical vigilance towards potentially inventive spaces of community.

 

[1] On this, see the important work of Martin Hagglund, particularly Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (2008) and “Radical Atheist Materialism: A Critique of Meillassoux” (in The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism eds Bryant, Srnicek & Harman (2011)). Also in this context, see Joanna Hodge Derrida on Time (2007)

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About Richard Iveson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow I have a PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London; my teaching and research interests include animal studies; Continental philosophy; posthumanism; cultural studies; biotechnology and cyberculture; post-Marxism. Books; Being and Not Being: On Posthuman Temporarily (London & Washington: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), forthcoming. Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals ( London: Pavement Books, 2014). View all posts by Richard Iveson

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