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  • The Faith and Struggle of Beginning (with) Words:On the Turn Between Reconciliation and Recognition
  • Erik Doxtader

No justificatory discourse could or should insure the role of metalanguage in relation to the performativity of institutive language or to its dominant interpretation.

—Jacques Derrida

The words that are a "riddle" from the outset contain a symbolic core, beyond the meaning communicated in it, a core that is the symbol of noncommunicability. For this reason many riddles can be solved simply through an image, but they can be redeemed only through the word.

—Walter Benjamin

In a beginning that strives to constitute the grounds for understanding from the terms of fate's violence, the promise of the word is not (self) fulfilling. Caught within those conflicts that ban the self from its own voice and which use the codicils of law's precedent to deter expression and collective (inter)action, the power of language is simultaneously rendered absolute and suspect. As such "signs of the times" strive less to negate resistance than to ensure that it replicates and thus confirms the legitimacy of their logic, the "gift" of the word that claims to interrupt this cycle and make human relationships anew can be "taken" only as its potential is turned against itself. A hinge in which we are called to create a beginning in the light of its own cost, the experience of this contingency is a moment in which we are confronted with the question of whether the word('s) power to invent (or discover) unity in the midst but not at the expense of difference inaugurates the productive opposition of reconciliation's promise or marks the onset of recognition's struggle.

In the name of beginning that which cannot be dirempted from a beginning named, we have come to speak a great deal about reconciliation and recognition. In the violence from which we seek exception, we have come to place significant faith in the power of their words. (Re)presenting the hope of a new beginning, reconciliation and recognition promise something basic if not fundamental, a (trans)formative event that beckons the subject from the bindings [End Page 119] of mastery and slavery and which crosses the isolating corners of enmity in order to fashion the subjectivating bonds of friendship. This work appears in a variety of places and contexts. It may, for instance, be held in the very name of this journal, at least insofar as Henry Johnstone's tremendous initiative in 1968 provokes the question of whether its (transgressive) conjunction between philosophy and rhetoric expresses a conciliatory interest or opens a space for the mutual acknowledgement of (inter)dependence. Very close by, at least if we are receptive to Adorno's claim that the divorce of philosophy from rhetoric is a division "leagued with barbarism," reconciliation and recognition are concepts that both ground and focus contemporary debates over how to best promote democratic pluralism, foster democratization, and repair the wounds wrought by gross violations of human rights.

Does it matter if we speak of reconciliation or recognition? Whether in the halls of the academy, the public square, or the killing fields, the appearance of deep historical division beckons this question. It is a question not just of value but of relation. In the midst of certain conflicts, we are sometimes called to the language of reconciliation. At other times, we turn to words of recognition. In still other moments, we compose and rely on a vocabulary that sets these ideas into an unsteady play, a connectivity that can be seen to variously blur and codify their difference. In all cases, it is frequently difficult to discern the rhyme of our reasoning. Consider that on the first page of its first issue, this journal's editorial vision appeared just above the listing of an editorial board that was strictly divided between those in "philosophy" and those hailing from "Speech and English." Does the tension between these "announcements" hint that recognition more than reconciliation was the order of the day? The matter can be debated. It is debated by those concerned with dynamics of democratic politics and transitional justice. In the name of making a timely future from the wreckage...


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pp. 119-146
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