Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Language as Unaction II

More on "effective": again, the ambiguity is that we can't decide whether Machiavelli's "effective truth" is truth that makes things happen or truth that exists because of things that have already happened, or as we call them lately, "facts on the ground." Balibar's very dense exploration cross-references Strauss, Lefort, Spinoza, Austin, Althusser, and logical views of truth statements as demonstrations of the truth and as truth itself. Briefly, he mentions a possibility in Spinoza of "'retroactive efficacity.'"

I don't know which passage in Spinoza is being cited. To go back to yesterday's idea of the implicit rhetoric of nonverbal action, though, the rhetoric of efficacity may always be retroactive. Unilateral action banks on the notion that something that is is not worth interpreting, and that something that can be done is almost as good as happened already--you have to reckon with it. That's what's really scary about the ambiguity of "effective": it tries to make a fact into an exigency or a possibility into a fact, and its offhand quality means to signal that the difference isn't one. The complement of these confrontational modes of the retroactive is an equally retroactive, passive, trailing mode (does my being here cause collateral damage? sorry! nothing personal; I just happen to be here already). The "amphibology" between truth and action makes for a lasting dialectic; it also makes for cover. Action is the ultimate cover; once something happens, nature owns it; it's like crossing the final county line.

Some additional connections to explore, on criticism as response to the above:

1. Benjamin on the historian's relation to the past in "Theses on the Philosophy of History"

2. Foucault on his methodology, when he writes about interpreting forms (that is, effective contents); for example, in his discussion of the form of the administrative inquiry:

we might say that the inquiry is absolutely not a content but, rather, a form of knowledge--a form of knowledge situated at the junction of a type of power and a certain number of knowledge contents [contenus de connaissance] . . . . It seems to me that the real junction between the economico-political processes and the conflicts of knowledge might be found in those forms which are, at the same time, modes of power exercise and modes of knowledge acquisition and transmission. The inquiry is precisely a political form--a form of power management and exercise that, through the juridical institution, became, in Western culture, a way of authenticating truth, of acquiring and transmitting things that would be regarded as true. ("Truth and Juridical Forms," in Essential Works of Foucault, Vol. 3, ed. James D. Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley and others [New York: New Press, 2000], 51-52)

3. Some uses of allegory as defenses of structure against interpretation (more later).

Image: Neo Rauch, Water, 2004

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