- A Viral Lexicon for Future Crises
These pages are an excerpt from a book that does not exist, not even as a project. They come from a virtual and improbable dictionary à la William Burroughs: each term would be a virus, and “definitions” would matter less than entry words.
This point of departure is a point of arrival, or maybe of non-arrival. This might come from a very simple remark. Mastering the code, protocol, or rhetoric of an epistemic discipline confers freedom, confidence, efficacy, strength, and ideas; it also drastically limits what I am seeking to explain, interpret, or describe. While (almost) every scholar pretends to “know” this, its effect on knowledge itself remains largely overlooked. Moreover, the reproductive mission of the “research university” (aka “graduate studies” in the United States) generally works to prevent any serious consideration of disciplinary defectiveness. Throughout the previous century, social-historical imperatives finally made of “interdisciplinarity” a kind of motto for research version 2.0.1 However, the meaning of “interdisciplinary” fluctuates greatly. In many instances, interdisciplinary scholarship actually points toward a well-organized edifice, where an encounter between divergent perspectives [End Page 169] cannot mask the fact that, in the final analysis, power lies in a super-discipline (such as philosophy, history, or mathematics) or a quasi-transcendental discourse (see what is happening with cognitive science or even “theory”). Another version of the concept is closer to a reasoned practice of multidisciplinarity, providing different, though plausibly complementary, approaches to similar phenomena. In both cases, a certain ideal of polymathy is at stake, and this ideal is certainly more appealing to me than the celebration of epistemic over-specializations, or the praise of expertise. But, in contradistinction to an irenic phraseology, I advance that ubiquitous “bridges” between “cultures,” disciplines, or “studies” would not make knowledge one (or even two, or . . .). A maximalist recourse to interdisciplinarity dwells on the gaps of, among, and between each discipline—also showing that we invent new thoughts both by acknowledging and refusing the limitation that is knowledge. The disciplinary is what the philosopher Vladimir Jankelevitch would have called an organ-obstacle. It may allow more than what it precludes, thus I would never dream of going without it; but its integrity, its conservation are of little interest to me themselves, as soon as they reinforce the legend of a smooth operability. In each discipline, we should try to reach the moments where things crack, where the impossible emerges; from there, to go to another plane and do the same, and so on; and through this repeated experience of deconstructive construction (I did not say “deconstruction”), think further. This certainly means that we have to work tenaciously and competently—a gentle dilettantism is as entirely out of the picture as an esprit de sérieux. As a further consequence, confining one’s research to its own “natural” space would, at best, lead to some exploitable results, and, at worst, just the same old social ordering. Indiscipline, then, is a possible name for a non-unified epistemology making something of the unknowable, the latter being so for structural, technical, social-historical, cognitive, and/or metaphysical reasons. As should already be obvious, indiscipline is also readily at odds with the institution of knowledge.
There is more. If we take (inter)disciplines at their lingual level, we are not even sure of what we say, what we say we said, what [End Page 170] you think I wrote, what we believed you thought I told them. There is definitively no “language of thought,” and “mental concepts” conjured up with language are not fixed and universal points of the human cortex. The discrepancies between the patterns of my electric brain, the words and sentences I use expressively, the consequences of my own speech on my own thinking, the relative indeterminacy of meanings, the signification you attribute to my discourse, what it modifies in you and me, the traces of our conditions of enunciation—all of these discrepancies, and many others, although not restricted to the domain of scholarship, do inform the production of knowledge. In current social situations, lingual divergences will be put to use (the semantic multiplicity of political...