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  • An Atheism that (Dieu merci!) Still Leaves Something to be Desired
  • Michael Naas (bio)

Radical Atheism is such a powerful, innovative, and in many ways heterodox reading of Derrida's work that it is difficult to know at first how to respond to it, whether simply to reject it out of hand or ignore it without argument, as I fear some readers will, or else—and this has been my inclination—simply to admire it, allow oneself to be persuaded by it, and attempt to follow and learn from it. Hägglund writes so well, argues so persuasively, and clears the interpretative field in such a confident and strident manner that if one is willing to engage this work, it is hard not to be swept up by it and won over to its side. Indeed it is difficult not to think that Hägglund has figured out Derrida's logic like no one else really has, that he has not so much put Derrida's thought in a nutshell as completely cracked the nut, and that no one will able to understand Derrida's work adequately without coming to terms with the arguments Hägglund makes in this work. Radical Atheism is a remarkable achievement, and we owe Hägglund our congratulations, our praise, and our gratitude, though we also owe it to him, and I think, we owe [End Page 45] it to Derrida, to read, reread, and study this book in an attempt, however difficult this may be, to respond to it.

For if we are to take seriously the central claim that guides Radical Atheism and apply it to Radical Atheism itself, then the very worst way to react to this book would be simply to praise and affirm it without really engaging it, to say that everything Hägglund says about Derrida is right, completely right, and that, when it comes to the logic of deconstruction, Hägglund has had the last and definitive word. To follow the logic that Hägglund develops in this work with such brilliance, a work that claims to say it all about Derrida, a work that comprehends and explains Derrida's work from beginning to end without remainder, in other words, the best imaginable critical work, the most accurate and most faithful, would be, insofar as it would leave no future for Derrida scholarship, the very worst, the most inaccurate and most unfaithful. Though the notion of a critical work that brings an end to all future criticism is, of course, but a phantasm, the phantasm of what is called a "definitive work," such a phantasm can nonetheless exercise a force, which is why my response here will be about nothing more or less than the possibility of such a phantasm. In the end, I will try to argue, the remarkable accomplishment of Radical Atheism is that it is absolutely convincing and right in its claims and yet still, thankfully, leaves something to be desired, indeed, since this is one of its central claims, it leaves everything to be desired—everything, which is to say, just a bit more time to respond.

I would thus like to offer here not so much a critique of this work (I wouldn't be so pretentious, and quite frankly, I am more than a bit apprehensive of Hägglund's ability to turn just about any critique against the one who makes it) but something like a "friendly amendment," or perhaps, in Derridean terms, a "friendly supplement." This supplement is indeed meant to be friendly and not necessary, since, on one level, Hägglund's work can surely do without it and is perhaps stronger as a work without it, even if I believe it is important to giving a full account of Derrida's work and logic with regard to the subjects Hägglund treats in Radical Atheism. This friendly supplement may well give the appearance of being but a false problem if not a transcendental illusion, a lot of worry over nothing or next to nothing, that is, but a phantasm. To put it in the most direct and succinct form [End Page 46] possible: if I will agree with...