7 Materiality, Resistance, and Time
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C H A P T E R S E V E N Materiality, Resistance, and Time There seems to be virtually no case in which the soul can act or be acted upon separate from the body [aneu somatos]. — ARISTOTLE, ‘‘On the Soul,’’ 403a, 1:642 Mon corps est là où il y a quelque chose à faire. [My body is where there is something to be done.] — MERLEAU-PONTY, Phénoménologie de la perception, 289; Phenomenology of Perception, 250 What is remembered in the body is well remembered. — SCARRY, The Body in Pain Reality happens without waiting for our theories—that was how I began this book. Thought always runs behind. But some theoretical paradigm—Poststructuralist models among them—can’t well capture this hysteresis. For them the ‘‘world’’ can’t ‘‘run behind’’ understanding because the world is no different from language. The result is that our relentless experience of difficulty and delay cannot rightly be cognized at all. But if experience and language had no gap between them, how could we not already have understood what we seek to formulate as theory to begin with? This sense that there is a need to fulfill which is not already fulfilled, this sense that our understanding is always out of phase with something it needs to comprehend , is the reflex of our immersion in constraint, of our limitation by materiality and by an ineluctable temporality. Life doesn’t unproblematically give in to language. So we need a way to theorize difficulty. We need a model of the refractory. Why is finding such a model thorny? The problem arises in part because, since the Romantics, we have heard so much about the imagination’s possibilities that we have tended to forget about its constraints. But the principal cause of 168 The Conflict of Theories our inattention is the foundational mismatch between language and the extralinguistic world, between the ideational and the material—or, to use another vocabulary, between the écrit (writing) and what Jean-Luc Nancy has termed the ‘‘excrit.’’ Nancy explains his charming neologism this way: The word [excrit] came to me in reaction to a whole infatuation with écriture, text, salvation through literature, etc. There is a phrase of Bataille’s: ‘‘Only language can indicate the sovereign moment when it is no longer valid [où il n’a plus cours]’’. . . . There is only language, sure, but what language refers to is the non-linguistic, things themselves, the moment when language is no longer valid. It reminds me of a conversation with [Paul] Ricoeur long ago at his house in Chatenay. He had just read my first book on Hegel and, opening the door to his garden, he said: that’s all fine, but where’s the garden in it? I never forgot: the excrit is the garden, the fact that écriture indicates its own outside, decants itself [se transvase], and reveals things [montre les choses].1 Nancy’s ‘‘decantation’’ is an alternate figure for what I’ve been terming the ‘‘phase-change’’ between ontological states (from materiality to ideality and back again) which is the most constant practice in human cognition, understanding , and action. Some would say—yes, this is all very well, but our words cannot become the garden. So we cannot theorize it or the Ding-an-sich or, indeed, any part of the realm of the excrit. Some even conclude from this that there is no point even trying to speak about what exists beyond words, since words—which, in this view, are us—can never go there. Such a position authorizes (or mandates) sanctuary (or claustration) in the language-world alone. The answer is that Kant, Nancy, many others, and language itself are already doing what such theoretical restrictions on our practice allege cannot be performed . It’s like a familiar joke. Asked whether she believes in baptism, the interlocutor replies ‘‘Believe in it? why I’ve seen it done.’’ Accusations of ‘‘primordial error’’ are leveled by some Poststructuralists against any system that suggests that language may not be all there is.2 Some contemporary versions of textualism in effect claim never to have ‘‘seen it done.’’ But to think so, you’d need to close your eyes very tight: it’s ‘‘done’’ every time we speak, and if it were not done we couldn’t exist. 1. ‘‘Le partage, l’infini et le jardin,’’ interview with Jean-Luc Nancy by Jean-Baptiste Marongiu, Libération (Paris), 17...


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