Archiving the Messianic: Derrida, Benjamin, and the politics of memory

There is no archive without a place of consignation, without a technique of repetition, and without a certain exteriority. No archive without outside. (Derrida, Archive Fever, 11)

For most of us, the archive represents a practical space of investigation, with its contents sitting in darkness, waiting to be reassessed and rediscovered. What’s perhaps less obvious about the archive is its construction, an analogue to the scholar’s privileged cultural position and, along with it, the hermeneutical agenda she brings to her research. Since Derrida’s Archive Fever, the archive has become a important concept for cultural theory and historical methodology. Of course, Derrida wasn’t the first to question the archive’s authority or the ways that history is produced by it. Not simply a site for the preservation of cultural artifacts or a repository of a past authenticity, the archive also names a basic procedure of inclusion and exclusion, a simultaneous remembering and forgetting that proceeds from any attempt to archive. Derrida’s work invites us to consider several crucial outcomes of this process: first and foremost, that a dialectic exists between what gains historical legitimacy through its preservation, and what is condemned to oblivion by being ignored or repressed. The archive always entails some kind of exteriority and for this reason opens up the discussion to theology (the messianic) and psychoanalysis (repression). Secondly, while discussions of the archive have traditionally been driven by questions surrounding the organization of the past, Derrida’s work considers how these ongoing modes of organization orient us toward the future. Continue reading

Politics, Religion, Violence, and Faith: Simon Critchley’s Faith of the Faithless Reviewed

Works Reviewed: Simon Critchley, Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology New York: Verso, 2012. 291 pp.

 When I think of religion at all, I feel as if I would like to found an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraternity of the Faithless, one might call it, where on an altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling, might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of wine. Everything to be true must become a religion. And agnosticism should have its ritual no less than faith. – Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Penned within the dreary atmosphere of Reading Gaol, the dismal cry of the Irish poet has now been taken up by an English philosopher as the launching point for a series of historical and philosophical investigations into the interdependence of politics and religion. In Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology Simon Critchely argues that the religious dimension of the letter Wilde penned while in prison, and especially his interpretation of the figure of Christ, can helpfully illumine the “dilemma of politics and belief.” (3) This dilemma is not merely one confronted by those who identify as atheists, although that is the vantage point which Critchley chooses to adopt. At the heart of what makes Wilde such a captivating figure, for Critchley, is his resolute refusal to accept any misfortune as the occasion to accept an extraneous mode of salvation. Aware that he has ruined himself and squandered his artistic talents Wilde sees his condition as “the occasion for a fresh mode of self-realization.” (2) Wilde articulates this self-realization in terms of politics and ritual. That everything to be true must become religion, suggests Critchley, should be read as an affirmation of the necessity of ritual in the act of fidelity, or ‘being true to’ something.(3)

Can the need for ritual, for religious truth and a framework of ritual, coexist with a rigorous refusal of external commands or extraneous symbolism? Continue reading

Not in my Backyard

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Before I begin, I have a confession to make: I’m an addict. I didn’t choose to be, I was born with this addiction. Sometimes I am able to wean myself off of it, if even for a little while, but never for very long—a few hours at most. To be honest, if I were to go without it for much longer then that, I would probably die. Continue reading

A Critique of Purity

Andre Forget

In my post last month about power relations in Canada, I suggested that multiculturalism has obscured the fact that the majority of real financial and political power in this country is still largely held by the descendants of European colonizers. I suggested that until power is more equally shared – until, that is, we see the same cultural and ethnic diversity on Bay Street and Parliament Hill that we see in Kensington Market or Ellice Avenue – we will remain haunted by the problems of racism and ethnic discrimination. I do not think this is an easy or straightforward goal to accomplish, nor do I think that accomplishing it will mean an end to oppression, bigotry, or inequality. The human race has a truly astounding capacity for nastiness, and I suspect that if racism is ever put to rest we will find other, equally irrational reasons to mistreat each other. Just as cancer and AIDS have replaced smallpox and Spanish influenza, racially-motivated hatred will be replaced with some other kind; however, just as the knowledge that cancer and AIDS will in turn be replaced by other diseases does not stop us from searching for cures, awareness of humanity’s stubborn capacity for violence should not keep us from resisting the violence we see around us.

But what does this resistance look like? Continue reading