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  • “The Miracle of Love” and the Turn to Democracy
  • Hent de Vries (bio)

In a recent interview, Rodolphe Gasché (2002) asked about the more recent debates regarding deconstruction’s relationship with—and, indeed, supposed turn to—the question of politics, ethics, and justice, and he wisely declared himself to be skeptical, indeed downright suspicious, of all too hasty appeals and all too abrupt turns to “turns.” Thinking the political would, first of all, be a matter of, well, thought. More in particular, “saving the honour of thinking” would first of all require that one, precisely, not give in to the temptation to turn away from it. Deconstruction, Gasché has reminded throughout his groundbreaking studies, never did. From the outset, it firmly anchored the question of the political—as well as the responsibility (justice, democracy) it implies—within its conception of the task of thinking, which for this very reason did not need to “turn” but merely to stay its course, that is to say, to persist and endure, work and work through, experiment and invent. Gasché wholeheartedly espouses this view when he notes: [End Page 237]

For me “turns” signal unfinished business, an evasion of difficulties, a lacking dedication, a failure in endurance, and so forth. Historically speaking, what you refer to as the “political turn,”—I would add the turn towards ethics—is in my eyes, to a large extent, an effort to escape the demanding nature of theory and philosophy. I consider it a way to avoid what Hegel called the work, if not hardship, of the concept. When the demands of theory and philosophy to deepen issues beyond a certain level of sophistication become too strenuous, a turn is an easy way out. Moreover, such turns have the blessing of good consciousness since they are made in the name of concreteness, real life, reality, etc. But any rigorous theoretical or philosophical work does not have to make turns, especially no turns toward the ethical or the political. Even if not always fully spelled out, implicitly all philosophical thought is involved, intimately tied up, with the question of the ethical and the political. Obviously, this involvement of philosophical thought as such with the political and the ethical can take shape in different ways.


But what if the invocation of turns were merely the formal designation of a certain conversion of the philosophical gaze that accompanied—initiated, defined, or oriented—it from its earliest Greek beginnings all the way up to Husserl’s phenomenology and Heidegger’s thought of Being, just as it continues to inform Derrida’s repeated mentioning of tours (as in Des tours de Babel, to mention just one example), to say nothing of his incessant use of the turns—and turns of phrase—that signal a simultaneous turning away from and turning toward (as in la démocratie à venir or, perhaps even more strikingly, in the Levinasian invocation of the adieu or à Dieu)? In other words, what if turns and turning belonged to the heart, matter, and movement of thought, especially as European phenomenology and its heirs—which would include deconstruction—came to perceive it? What if taking turns, when and where necessary and risked, obligatory and desired, were the only thing that could save thought and its honor?

Moreover, what if the turns of (and to) the political, that is to say, not so much as in popular but in democratic revolution—and arguably, nothing defined the very idea and history of modern Europe more than this breach in the walls of the Ancien Régime, its doctrines and institutions—contained [End Page 238] within itself a principle and operating logic that requires and, indeed, makes every practical no less than theoretical turn turn, in turn, also against itself? In short, how should we take turns? Or, as Derrida might have asked, “How should we avoid turning?” And, how is it that we will always already have taken turns (or, for that matter, will have been taken by one)? What leanings or fault lines force or incline us to curve social space and its imaginaries in certain indelible and ineliminable ways rather than others? Further, how is it that certain loopings of time...


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