- Living Antagonistically:Lorenzo Fabbri's Domesticating Derrida
To choose security is to choose death. That such a lesson comes at the expense of Richard Rorty in a book on the relation of French deconstruction to American pragmatism is only one of the more compelling paradoxes in Lorenzo Fabbri's impressive The Domestication of Derrida: Rorty, Pragmatism and Deconstruction. At first glance Fabbri, a young Italian academic, appears to be working within the tradition of continental critiques of American pragmatism and in particular the work of Richard Rorty, a critique begun almost three decades ago first by Michel Foucault and then by Derrida himself.1 The title of Fabbri's book is drawn from Wlad Godzich's important reading of de Man, "The Domestication of Derrida," which appeared in the 1983 volume The Yale Critics. There Godzich describes (and circumscribes) the intellectual encounter between Derrida and de Man in ways that inform Fabbri's own take on Rorty. Building on and diverging from Godzich's essay, Fabbri recounts his own coming to terms with Rorty's reading of deconstruction as an anti-philosophy in an itinerary that moves from contingency, to irony, to—and in my view most decisively—a final engagement with Foucault and the implicit question of biopolitics. Fabbri's concluding chapter on modernity, politics, and monstrosity registers the fundamental break between deconstruction and pragmatism, one centered on the features of a truly political form of life. On Fabbri's read, deconstruction brings in its wake radical possibilities for "favouring new possibilities of existence and of being-together" (4).
To get at those radical possibilities, Fabbri naturally begins where one would expect him to: with a cogent summary of Rorty's reading of deconstruction across well-known texts like Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature and Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. In a series of marvelous close readings, Fabbri brings his own profound knowledge of Derrida's works to bear on Rorty, laying out in convincing fashion the real strengths of Rorty's interpretation of deconstruction, and examining point by point the areas of contact and contamination between contemporary American pragmatism and deconstruction. Fabbri is always attentive in these comparisons to the role writing plays for both Derrida and Rorty, a writing that skirts in and out of the ironic. The place of writing becomes decisive in the second chapter, when Fabbri puts to the test his earlier readings of Rorty's supposed alliance with deconstruction by taking up the question of the doubly "private" in Rorty's understanding of the political. Of particular interest for Fabbri is the function of autobiography in Derrida's thought and more generally the relation between theory and the "person" espousing it. In the final chapter Fabbri pivots from the private and the philosophical to the question of forms of life and their relation to political solidarity. Fabbri's damning if familiar conclusion is that Rorty remains, alas, a stubborn liberal who cannot see how easily pragmatism allies itself with normalizing strategies meant to contain radical political possibilities for life. When Rorty, in Fabbri's gloss, chides Derrida for not having been decent enough to keep philosophy within the boundaries of private life, it is precisely with a view to denying philosophy's vocation as a practice of civil disobedience, a possibility Derrida himself puts forward in a series of essays from the 1980s and 1990s.2
There is much of interest in Fabbri's account of the limits of linking pragmatism and deconstruction too closely, but I'd like to focus especially on two areas. The first becomes visible in the margins of the introduction and the opening chapters but really comes into view in the book's final pages. Drawing on the work of Giorgio Agamben and Jean-Luc Nancy in particular, Fabbri speaks of an underlying anxiety on Rorty's part when the topic moves to thinking community. He writes that Rorty "is locked within the boundaries of a given theoretical and political community, confiding in narratives and philosophy to prevent the coming of monsters. Deconstruction, instead, plays in...