- Figures of RefusalA review of Irving Goh, The Reject: Community, Politics, and Religion after the Subject
Motivated in large part by Jean-Luc Nancy’s question, “who comes after the subject?,” Irving Goh’s book delivers a reply, provocatively arguing in favor of the reject, a figure resistant to the historically and politically contentious concept of the subject. Working among thinkers like Derrida, Deleuze, and Cixous, Goh systematically illuminates the suppressed figure of the reject from within current theories of the subject, attempting to drive “contemporary French thought beyond its existing horizons or limits” (23). To be clear, Goh’s proposed figure of the reject is not another concept among others vying to replace the subject, as if it were a substitutable concept. Goh instead prefers the phrase “figure of thought.” However Goh’s analysis balances and trembles between, on the one hand, the call for a decisive break with the subject as concept and, on the other, remaining dependent on it as material for rejection and auto-deconstuction from within the concept itself. Occasionally slipping into a conceptual frame that he intends to evade, Goh defines the reject as “a concept that really knows no boundaries” (180). The reject is Goh’s gesture toward what Nancy claims is “that to which one can no longer allot the grammar of the subject nor, therefore … allot the word ‘subject,’” (Nancy 6), a claim that he will articulate along the axes of discourse enumerated in the title.
Curiously, though, Goh sees no need to address the subject head on. “I will not tarry with the subject here. Neither will I tarry with texts that continue to problematize the subject” (5). In the same collection of essays in which Nancy’s leading question occurs, Michel Henry rightly names Descartes and Kant the two most influential thinkers in the history of modern thought to have “given rigorous meaning to the concept of subject,” such that “any critique leveled against the subject that does not proceed by the light of the foundational analyses of the Meditations and the Critique of Pure Reason would be meaningless” (158). Goh’s decision to forgo the injunction is worthy of concern. We ought to be suspicious of this abstention, for the most we are offered as regards the contestable nature of the subject centers around a nod in the direction of the generic “Eurocentric subject,” as if this is adequately descriptive of the problem, citing feminist and postcolonial literature as having thoroughly rendered the subject “problematic.” The usual critiques raised against the subject are quickly tallied: assertions of certainty and/or presence, capacity to rationalize, affirmations of power, tendencies of appropriation, etc. Despite the veracity of such claims, in an absence of any detailed critique against the subject, Goh makes the cavalier leap ahead to an articulation of the reject as that figure capable of going “beyond” the subject (3).
But even the degree to which Goh accomplishes this move “beyond” the subject, abandoning it completely, remains to be seen. One can certainly make a claim for the necessary reinscription of the subject within the figure of the reject amid the very attempt to overcome and evacuate the subject from its sovereign conceptuality. One could go further and radicalize the conceptuality of the subject by demonstrating the fundamental structures of auto-deconstruction already at work, exteriorizing the subject onto its auto-rejective other. In fact, my reluctance dovetails with my suspicion that what Goh names the reject only reiterates in form and content what Derrida articulated as the law of auto-deconstruction. It is incumbent upon Goh to either specify their affinity or delineate the manner in which the reject is at variance with auto-deconstruction, potentially improving upon it—neither of which is made explicit on my reading. For Goh will rely on an “animal vision” to deconstruct State politics, all the while insisting that the animal-reject eventually be incorporated and participate in the political discourse. Between the questions of gaze and response, on the part of the animal (reject) figure, Goh’s analysis echoes the gap...