"hyphos is the tissue and the spider’s web"

Tag: Disavowal

Derrida on Rimbaud

[Translator’s Note: The following brief letter was written by Jacques Derrida as a response to an “investigation” made by Roger Munier. It was written sometime between September 1973 and March 1974. The goal of the investigation was to determine the contemporary significance and reception of Arthur Rimbaud’s work. Fifty participants, primarily poets, were asked to reflect on six questions regarding this topic. Other notable respondents were René Char and Martin Heidegger. The questions mainly asked about the notion of silence as it existed in Rimbaud’s work and as a signifier for his departure from poetry. One in particular remarks that Rimbaud seems to be “stretched to the future,” which Derrida indirectly refers to below. Although the goal of the investigation was to tap into the “spirit of an epoch,” this letter gives a great deal of insight into why Rimbaud, a great opponent of dominant Western conceptions of subjectivity, is not directly engaged with throughout Derrida’s corpus.]

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Dear Roger Munier,

Thank you for your gesture and your proposal. I must avow [avouer], very stupidly, that I do not know Rimbaud: reading for me [that is] almost “prehistoric.” I do not doubt the necessity of doing it or of attempting a return. Perhaps it would be shocking. Then, I must avow, most stupidly again, that I do not currently have the strength, availability, etc. Perhaps it is already there to answer you that I am closed to the FUTURE, that I do not have time for the future.

                                                                                                                               my faithful friendship.

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Translated by Jake Nabasny.

Source: Jacques Derrida, Aujourd’hui, Rimbaud…: Enquête de Roger Munier, ed. Roger Munier (Paris: Lettres Modernes, 1976), 42.

Nietzsche’s Disavowalist Moment

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a spectacular event unfolded that would forever change history. God was murdered. This scandalous transgression was met with multiple reactions. For some, God’s role was transformed into the logical truths of rationalism. For others, suffering became an eternal condition that only compassion could alleviate for brief moments. A few even continued to cling to the hope that God was alive and well; they transmuted their hopeless hope into “faith.” Yet, the ultimate scandal, according to one German philologist, was that we had assassinated God.

The death of God, according to Friedrich Nietzsche, meant the complete loss of any absolute or universal meaning to life. Contemporary morality and science attempted to mend this void. While Nietzsche offers innovative critiques of moralists (e.g. Kant) and the scientific method, his most venomous rejoinders are directed toward pessimists such as Arthur Schopenhauer. According to Nietzsche, pessimism essentially throws in the towel when confronted with the void of a meaningless existence. It accepts suffering as the eternal condition of life. If the pessimist does not kill herself, she only continues to live for momentary, compassionate acts that unite humans in their shared suffering. Against the pessimist’s resignation and the scientist’s self-certain rationalism, Nietzsche promotes a “gay science” whose task is to tarry with the suffering of existence in order to discover increasingly powerful moments of joy.

In The Gay Science, details of this new science are interspersed with attacks on ancient and modern attempts to escape pessimism (e.g. art, Greek tragedy, Wagnerian opera, religion). The culmination of these guerilla-style interventions is the fourth and final chapter titled “St. Januarius.” (In the second edition, a preface and fifth chapter were added to the book.)  In this chapter Nietzsche turns away from criticism and focuses in on his positive philosophy. It opens with the inauguration of a new year and a new type of person: “I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse the accusers. Let looking away be my only negation! And, all in all and on the whole: some day I want only to be a Yes-sayer!” The Yes-sayer becomes the pinnacle of affirmation; she is the person who resists pessimistic resignation to suffering and creates the new values required for a joyful life. Read the rest of this entry »

Heriberto Yépez: “The Post-Borderzone”


What is a border? Is it the imaginary line that divides two countries? Perhaps, it is the width of an object obstructing free passage between two territories. Yet, a border implicates other spaces. At the U.S.-Mexico border, a long line of cars stretches perpendicularly to the border. Attendants at the border refer to it as la línea, the line. In this way, the border is stretched out and its points are multiplied along a two-dimensional surface. The border is really a zone of its own, a transfronterizo or borderzone.

In “Lo post-transfronterizo,” Heriberto Yépez probes deeper into the question concerning the nature of the border. In his investigation, he unravels the popular mythologies that have come to explain the borderzone and the socio-cultural practices that give rise to “border culture.” Yépez’s essay interests us not only for its unique and timely revelations, but also because the borderzone is a territory outside of territory proper, a terra incognita. It is that space which is neither one nor the other, neither North American nor Mexican, and certainly not both. How to approach this space without falling victim to the common mythological trappings (e.g. postmodern “hybridization” of culture) is a strategy we have sought out in various other milieux; this tendency toward the outside is undoubtedly part of the configuration known here as disavowal. For this reason, we offer the following translation of “The Post-Borderzone.”

Translator’s note: I have chosen to translate transfronterizo as “borderzone” when used as a substantive (but as “trans-border” when used as an adjective). “Borderzone,” as the reader will find, has the conceptual benefit of highlighting what Yépez believes is at stake in the transfronterizo. Additionally, I have bolded phrases that appear in English in the original text.

Read the rest of this entry »

Poppin’ Xanax: On Lucki Eck$’s Body High

Lucki Eck$’s second album, Body High, is only the most recent work within a milieu that has been slowly coming into focus. One might say that this milieu (known here as disavowalist works of art) first became visible in Charles Baudelaire’s prose poem, “Be Drunk!” However, this was only the first manifestation of a tradition that has always been clandestine; radical disavowal is akin to an untranslatable secret, like those (un)covered in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. Having just been released this month, now is the perfect opportunity to look more closely at a contemporary example of this tradition.

In this album, we find the mutual manifestation of challenges to the sovereignty of the autonomous subject, projected “lines” of escape through drugs, and the search for a community of those who have nothing in common. Eck$ leads the listener on an outlandish Bildung in which the transgression of law is only the first act. We float along with him, at different rates of speed and slowness, like drunken boats who dance on savage waves. The light at the end of this bizarre trip is not the lighthouse guiding us home, but the illumination of transactions yet to come. Read the rest of this entry »

A Footnote to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

A guiding thread runs through the recent Mission: Impossible movie. At times it represents a rupture, but in other instances it becomes the entire paradigm of the film. This point reveals itself as the constant fear of disavowal. From minor revelations (a supposed reason for Ethan Hunt’s imprisonment) to the complete thematic (“…if you choose to accept it”), becoming-disavowed is what the characters attempt to avoid at every turn.

Disavowed from what? The characters are caught up in a signifying apparatus that totalizes itself throughout the film. The mantra of those that hand out the missions is essentially avowal or death. Like all structures, this implies several dichotomies that the characters cling to as necessary. To be disavowed would be to recognize these oppositions as contingent, which suggests the death of the subject and the melting away of certainty. Some of these dichotomies are global, while others are defined by local events: success/failure, good/evil, west/east, friend/foe, functional/non-functional, and so on.

To give up on these basic (insofar as what is essential for the current signifying apparatus) distinctions would also serve to shake the foundations for any founding principle of metaphysics (e.g. subject/object). Becoming-disavowed involves giving up one’s subjectivity as much as it implies negating the Other’s objectivity. In becoming-disavowed, one loses one’s “agency” (literally, the characters lose membership as an agent of the government).

The anxiety of the death of the subject propels the characters to construct fictions that postpone the reality of disavowal. By the end of the film, “ghost protocol” has still been issued. This means that the characters no longer belong to any agency. Nevertheless, Ethan Hunt takes the role of the agency’s secretary and hands out the next mission to his team. This shows that one signifying apparatus will always be ready to replace another. And yet the threat of radical disavowal continues to infect these structures like the secret that is used to cover up a homicide.

The Disavowalist Manifesto

We will never know how many discourses we inhabit at once. Words like “socio-political” must be uttered in an ironic sense because any notion of strict division between discursive spaces is a fiction. One must remember that a “hyphen is never enough to conceal protests, cries of anger or suffering, the noise of weapons, airplanes, and bombs.” Any and all distinctions are contingent, acting like hinges, where one component is not clearly distinguished from the other, but also necessary for the operation of the apparatus. It is not each discourse that produces meaning, as is commonly believed, but is actually that which produces a general meaninglessness. Above all else, the Disavowalist wants meaning. The only path to meaning is away from every black hole of signification. It is the disinterested wandering away from discourse that will be the coalescence of meaning: a complete refusal to avow; a disavowal.

This strategy is sometimes represented in the political realm as anarchism. Is not an-archy a complete disavowal of the State, hierarchy, gods, and masters? An-archists would certainly believe so. Yet it is this strategic disavowal that leads to the ultimate avowal of anarchism. So, it is a similar case with any discourse that introduces itself as a prefix. One finds affirmations and affinities everywhere in anarchism, dormant like razor blades in apples. However, it is not the positive, anarchist projects that adopt a stance of avowal in the sense that we are concerned with. A collective never hurt nor helped anyone. Implicit in the naked disavowal of arche is an impulse that can surface as crude naturalism or frigid utilitarianism or any disease you could imagine on your lunch break. The Disavowalist wants to disavow everything including her own position. The evening news is trite and every book has been read: the Disavowalist is fiending for new intensities.

The first step to making your own disavowal: determine the field! We are not here to vomit three critiques about the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Disavowal is a step away from what is to what is not. Some would call this metaphysics, but those people are not Disavowalists. We do not want to give you philosophy, political theory, self-help, or pornography. You already know where to find them; you already are them. We can only offer a constellation of images. These images will appear to form a coherent structure in an immanent matrix, but, like all constellations, each image is light-years away from the others. The question of structuration, that very event where the constellation becomes what it is, will be left open until the end, where one will rightly find the beginning.

Some philosophers have argued that our relation to the world is innately sexual. Either our bodies are always complicit in a sexualized energy of mechanico-biological connections, or sexuality underlies every thought and action as the genital property of power itself. What is overlooked far too often is that this sexuality always already entails production. The sexualized subject can only exist when it apprehends a sexualizing object. Therefore, sexuality is grafted on to the subject and this procedure has been naturalized throughout history. Yet at every moment, the subject is primarily asexual before encountering the means of sexual production. The desire to spread sexuality as much as the productive localities of sex itself is a discourse of avowal. One must be weary of the counter-attack that posits anti-sexuality or abstinence as solutions; this is not what we are interested in. The Disavowalist becomes becoming by closing his account at the economy of becoming-sexual.

How does one become a Disavowalist linguistically? It should already be clear that the No is a trap. The No is an avowal of the negative; it is inextricable from that which is Yes. We have no pledge or principle. A strong distaste resonates equally from culture and counter-culture. The Disavowalist distrusts language because it affirms being over becoming. Yet, as Cratylus had done, one cannot simply give up language. Even this marks a return to negation. The Disavowalist is a black body radiator in the vacuum of language.

The Disavowalist sometimes adopts a name, but only to disavow it in the end, to give it up, to die. Hamlet became Disavowalist in his indecision to kill Claudius. This allowed him to ponder his fate, despise country and capital, and scorn vanity. The decision brought complications. All at once, Hamlet enters bio-chemical, political, social, historical, literary, and militant discourses. He is forced into the conclusion of all avowals: the death of the subject. And so, Hamlet’s dying words solidify his predicament: he voices his opinion on a political election. Hamlet was a great Disavowalist, but Bukowski was greater. In Bukowski, one finds a critique of everything that is both clear and concise. Value-constellations of politics, sexuality, culture, art, etc. are dissolved to their most fundamental contradictions. Beneath it the reader finds a sincerity that is intentionally absent from all other writers. However, in the catacombs of Bukowski’s style, one is bound to realize his hedonism. It is an avowal of the beautiful that takes the form of Mahler, Lawrence, and the woman in 4E. Certainly, we must forgive Bukowski whatever joys he could find under the dirty covers of a rented motel room, but it was his disavowals that made him great, that inched him closer to the divine emptiness and the yawning spirit. We forgive Bukowski to read him again; we read Bukowski to not end up like him. However, Bukowski’s failures are not that far from another great Disavowalist. It is Bartleby’s mantra that could lead any Disavowalist to purified reflection, if such a thing existed: I would prefer not to. Is this not the goal we have been aiming at: to prefer not to do anything? Linguistically, Bartleby discovers a world of disavowal, but it is his practice that is lacking. In his radical disavowal, Bartleby forgets what he is still avowing: a particular spatial position. Bartleby engenders a critique of work and law that would not resurface until more than two hundred years later. He is also a reminder of what radical disavowal encompasses and where the Disavowalist needs to take caution. We do not want to be catatonic! Disavowal is an active becoming; any stasis is a negation of its principle.

Disavowal leads indirectly to a peripheral subjectivity. The subject is a foundational position, which is prior to objectifying apparatuses and discourses. To be clear, if such a thing is possible, we do not desire to reaffirm the classical role of the subject. Individual and pure values are inextricable from the discourses they inhabit. We seek a world beyond value. It is here, at this point of no return and constant return, that the subject becomes identifiable, but only as clearly as a corpse. The subject is not a goal or end; it is what remains after radical disavowal. The subject’s position in the world is always contingent. It involves a coming out (of the closet, of consciousness, etc.) to the Other and the world. One finds multiplicity only in a return to singularity. Radical subjectivity necessarily composes radical alterity. The radical subject is not absolutely present or coherent, but is merely a subject in-and-for-itself. Our goal is to disavow the Other in our-self in order to discover the Other as itself: “We can only remember that seduction lies in not reconciling with the Other and in salvaging the strangeness of the Other.” A disavowal need not lead to any particular configuration, but it is always already a becoming-subject in the face of alterity. The subject is only inherently valuable insofar as it is in relation to the Other. Yet the Other is already everywhere; it is discursively produced in a perverse space overflowing with contradictory values. The Other, in its relation to the subject, which is always already murdered by discourse, is a pure Other for-itself. The Other emerges on a plane of disavowal along with the subject. Disavowal is necessarily a movement: it meanders toward the Other and meaning. One must not remove oneself entirely as Bartleby does. What constitutes this movement is a new topic for each person. Disavowal is a violent conquest directed at parts of the map that do not exist. With every new horizon, one must be cautious of avowals that blossom everywhere like landmines.

Slogans for Walls and Wars:

Don’t Try

I Would Prefer Not To


To Be Or Not

Lego La Nada A Nadie