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  • Bowing to Necessity in the Idiom of Rodolphe Gasché
  • Peggy Kamuf (bio)

I thought for a long time that this essay to honor Rodolphe Gasché was going to begin with the titling phrase of the latest collection of his writings, The Honor of Thinking. It seemed both an obvious and an auspicious place to start. One could be relatively sure to find there how Gasché himself honors thinking and thus what he might recognize as an honor coming from another. After all, if one seeks to honor someone, if the act would be “felicitous” as one says, then the gesture has at least to take a form that the would-be honoree could recognize. So one might begin by asking if there is some particular quality or characteristic of the honor that Gasché himself bestows on the thinking work of others when he seeks to do them justice, which is to say, to do them honor. For this purpose, of course, one need not remain within the pages of The Honor of Thinking and its 14 chapters that salute with their readings the honor of thinking in so many others (Aristotle, Austin, Benjamin, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Heidegger, Kant, Lyotard, and still others). Gasché is always writing to do justice to another’s thinking, to [End Page 85] honor it with the clarity of his own understanding, and that is no less true in each of the other books he has signed. Which means that one might have begun almost anywhere, everywhere this Gaschean clarity attempts to do justice to another’s thought, at least insofar as it is honorable by the lights of that clarity. (Gasché, one should notice, almost never writes about texts or thinking that he cannot honor or that repel him with polemics.) Clarity: there is, perhaps, the quality or characteristic that, characteristically, Gasché salutes or welcomes with his reading and that he recognizes and responds to in the thinking of others even when their texts have been reputed “difficult.” My essay, then, should aim for clarity—shouldn’t it?—if indeed it aims to honor, to bestow honor, to do honor to him.

Despite the clear logic of this deduction, I began right away to have my doubts that I could ever live up to the honor of honoring Rodolphe Gasché in the mirror of his clarifying conceptual articulations. Besides, one cannot invoke this language of honor carelessly, at least not without immediately falling short of the sort of circumspection with which Gasché responds to the circumspection of others who respond to the call to honor thinking, to “save the honor of thinking,” in Lyotard’s phrase (Gasché 2007a, 276), or in the second of Derrida’s essays in Rogues and in the whispered, prompting words of “someone in me”: “Perhaps it would be a matter of saving the honor of reason” (Derrida 2005, 118). Who nowadays would say such a thing, even in a whisper? Honor—what a quaint notion, or else it is too thoroughly saturated with its ancien régime protocols to be salvageable today without ridicule, if not exactly the kind of Ridicule (as the film by that title savagely recalls) that historically stood as a principal name for the contrary of honor. Perhaps this is why the prompter beneath the stage of Derrida’s text, that whispered voice “in me,” adds a clarification to forestall, precisely, the memory that in the past attached ridicule to honor as to its obverse. Rather than this bygone memory, it is to the event of what is (perhaps) coming, unless it has already arrived and thus already demands response. It is or it would be the event of an imperative, an imperative event that poses the necessary matter of saving reason’s honor, not simply in the sense marked by the concept’s past, but on some day to come whose event will be (if it is not already) marked by the advent of the renewal of the demand to save reason’s honor: “Perhaps [End Page 86] on that day, in the daylight of today, in the light of the enlightenment of this day, it would be a matter of saving the honor of...


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pp. 85-105
Launched on MUSE
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