- The Reject: Community, Politics, and Religion after the Subject by Irving Goh
Irving Goh’s The Reject summons its titular concept as a master trope to respond to recent discussions in critical theory surrounding the fate of the subject. While Goh’s study ostensibly “concern[s] itself with eliciting and elucidating the figure of the reject that has subtended contemporary French thought” (14), his readings of theorists from Badiou, Derrida, Deleuze, Cixous, Nancy, and Rancière, along with many more, aim to show how their thought has “relevance to the contemporary world, if not future applications for it” as well as “encourage [theory] to push further its radical horizons” (4). Goh accomplishes these goals by using the reject to amalgamate, sort through, and clarify an extensive body of work and, at the same time, put that work into a productive conversation with current academic debates and our modern world, “an age of rejects” (21).
In four long central chapters, Goh cover topics such as the ethics of friendship, love, and community, the postsecular, democracy, and finally, posthumanism. Because a thorough assessment of each chapter’s contribution to its subject would require a much longer review, I find that the following passage, which I will quote at length, illuminates the exigency and flavor of Goh’s thought as well as his method of analysis and style. Discussing Melville’s Bartleby in relation to Derrida’s rogue, famous readings of that tale by Hardt and Negri, Agamben, and Deleuze, the Occupy movement, and Marcuse, Goh suggests that both Bartleby and Occupy lead toward a “nihilistic politics” that asserts sovereignty as a “subject of occupation” (190). This contention leads to the following question: “How does one put in place a thought whereby the voyou [Derrida’s rogue]—be it Bartleby or the participant of the Occupy [End Page 526] movement—is encouraged to be perhaps more radical than it already is, and walk away, and therefore prevent founding itself as a sovereign subject?” (191). Here is his response:
The Occupy movement, consisting of the 99% that are refused adequate economic resources or economic equality because of unequal wealth distribution, implicitly claims itself to be a multitude of rejects. Bartleby is no less a reject either [because] he is largely sidelined by his fellow copyist. At first sight, then, both Bartleby and the multitude that makes up the Occupy movement are already rejects in the passive sense. But there is no doubt that they bear the second turn of the active reject too, when Bartleby projects his force of rejection through his enunciation of I would prefer not to, and when the 99% decide to occupy public places to manifest their discontent of being denied the wealth the 1% enjoy. At this point, I note once again that it is usually the overprojection of the active force of rejection, first against the oppressive forces, then against whoever or whatever is in its vicinity…that one witnesses the claims to the foundation of a sovereign subject. This is why it is important to put in place the third turn of auto-rejection in order to prevent any (re)articulation of the subject. In other words, in the case of Bartleby especially, after the first enunciation of I would prefer not to in the face of the demand to quit the premises, the reject must know how to auto-reject by not allowing his or her gesture of occupation to become a singular, monolithic, fixed strategy. He or she must know how to walk away from the strategy, and that is perhaps how the (auto-)reject will always be a shock to the system or to the political order, and also prevent its interpellation by the police. … It is via such a movement that the reject can continue to carry out political rejection in ways unanticipated and incalculable. That means to say that the fight is not over for the reject when it walks away: instead, it seeks out other, better, effective, and life-affirming means. At times, the ends might change or even...