- Untimely Actualities
The French and Francophone thinkers who came to be known as the bearers of “theory” had at least one thing in common, despite their major divergences: they were all engaged in a reflexive and powerful critique of their time. They were not the first scholars to deal with aspects of the present: Marx had already attempted to transform the world through philosophy, Hegel and Kant were at times commenting on the event of the day, and even Plato was constantly reflecting on the social and political norms of daily life. In the 1930s, both the Frankfurt School and the Collège de Sociologie examined aspects of mass culture, the rise of fascism, and their reshaping of subjectivities. Authors tied to the various meanings of the word phenomenology (such as Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Beauvoir, or Tran Duc Thao) also took into account the political parameters of their era—drawing vastly different conclusions. There was nonetheless a sense of novelty in the ways Fanon, Foucault, Cixous, Debord, Lyotard, de Certeau, or Deleuze and Guattari debated the substance of their now. They were not exactly situating themselves within a well-organized geopolitics; they were not delivering a definite program or course of action; they were not contemplating the catastrophe from their suite at the Grand Hotel Abyss (to quote Lukács’s bitter attack against Adorno); nor were they adopting the ironic tone of the semioticians who were interpreting the “mythologies” of modernity. The novelty was that “theory” would consider the dimensions of psychic agency, the becoming of concepts, the sociohistorical conditions of an epoch, the material and epistemic culture as well as the thought allowed by works of art, altogether and at the same time. Scholarly research could no longer be separated from the context of ordinary—and extraordinary—life.
In this regard, Derrida, who, admittedly, did not write books like La prise de parole or Anti-Oedipus, also shared the same concerns when he decided, quite early on, to deconstruct the ethnographic method of Lévi-Strauss or the historical presuppositions of Foucault: he was abandoning the sky of ideas, Socrates’s “noetic site,” to discuss philosophically what had been turned into the specialized object of sciences humaines. Overall, the particular freedom of “theory” in its back and forth movements between the metaphysical and the psychological, or the epistemic and the social, has been a key to its transatlantic, then global, success. Our actuality, or actualité, was being scrutinized with a paradoxical sense of untimeliness that derived from the constant reference to the longstanding approach and problems of the humanities. From Agamben to Malabou, from Badiou to Butler, theory today stays true to this task, with sometimes less liberty in its gestures and some grandiose proclamations one could certainly regret. But, at any rate, a belief in the dialogic interchange of the reflexive and the lived, of the political and the conceptual, is thereby maintained. [End Page 3]
This issue of diacritics shares the same insights and our readers will find here Dominik Finkelde’s article on the anamorphoses implied in the Edward Snowden phenomenon, Campbell Jones’s “speculations” on the world of finance, and Phillip John Usher’s meditations on the untranslatable “humanities” carried by the term Anthropocene. Finally, Kristina Mendicino’s study of newswriting in Heinrich Heine helps us situate the diffracted historicity of our “untimely actualities.”
On a more personal level, an aspect of my now is the end of my tenure as editor of diacritics, and this note is the last one I will sign. The editorial board recently decided to appoint Karen Pinkus as my successor and she will oversee the journal beginning with our volume 45, that is after our next issue, dedicated to psychogenesis. Over the years, it has been a great pleasure for me to work with Diane Brown, our authors, and reviewers. Reading hundreds of submissions has been a daunting activity that always taught me a lot. In these days of instant communication, the work of an editor is a bit less solitary than it used to be and, with very few exceptions, I truly appreciated the exchanges I had with scholars whose submissions we accepted...