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  • Introduction:Of Rights, in Other Directions—Romantic Prepositions
  • Kristina Mendicino

There can be no talk of politics that does not also, implicitly or explicitly, address language in a way that exceeds all particular policies and objectives; and there can be none of community that does not also give word of the radical finitude and uncertainty that affect every communication. For whether one says, with Hannah Arendt, that "speech is what makes man a political being" (3); or whether community is what "gives rise" to "the gift of speech," as Maurice Blanchot suggests—: speech is at the same time "the gift of 'pure' loss that cannot make sure of ever being received by the other," and it is therefore imparted each time in such a way that it lacks all assurance of its aim or destination (Blanchot 12). Doing justice to issues of politics and community, as well as to justice itself, thus calls for attentiveness to the language of political theory—and especially to its unsure and unassurable purport—not least of all because foundational texts for law and right cannot but be fundamentally at a loss, when it comes to the unsettled status of their language, as well as their comportment towards other modes of speaking, towards speaking otherwise, and towards addressing—or failing to address—others.

"Justice is language [Gerechtigkeit ist Sprache]," writes Werner Hamacher at the outset of his posthumously published collection of essays, Sprachgerechtigkeit, before considering another turn of phrase: "language is justice [Sprache ist Gerechtigkeit]" (7).1 Both versions of this most pronounced proximity between language and justice indicate [End Page 1143] several ways in which they may refer to one another, as well as the need to explicate this reference, whose implications remain to be unfolded "up to this day" (Hamacher 7). But if language and justice are mutually implicated, this is also not to say that either may be reduced to the other, nor that the relation or reliance that insists between them is not liable to assume restrictive forms that threaten to undermine the one as well as the other. Even the most emphatic insistence upon the linguistic character of politics in political theory cannot ensure against this possibility, to the extent that there is no limit that could prevent language—which comes before every speakable law and sanction—from speaking against itself. Reading Aristotle's interpretation of díke ('justice') as krísis ('decision') in the Politics (1253a) as the culmination of Aristotle's "presentation of the identity between living with one another and speaking with one another, of polis and logos," Hamacher draws the consequence that, for Aristotle, "the living essence that essentially exists as the communal being, as zoon politikón," is at once that essence which is "distinguished by language, as zoon logon echon" (8–9). Since, however, this language of the polis is conceived as a language of decision (krísis)—and since said decision must fall in favor of that which is advantageous for the polis, rather than that which is injurious, unjust, or just incompatible with politically sanctioned terms—the "decision for the decision-character of language" is also a "decision for the foreclosure of language against other modes of speaking," therefore a contradictory decision that speaks against language and justice alike (37). With regard to the same passage from the Politics, Geoffrey Bennington similarly observes: "Man is, then, the animal that he is, 'rational' or at least language-using, to the extent that his nature is to realize the end of nature by defining himself from the start as a practical member of a polis. It follows that a man who does not do so is not truly human … and that by not naturally being member of a polis, man comes back to another, denatured nature" (23). Whether the emphasis is placed upon language or nature, however, no case could legitimately be decided, but would have to fall outside of all such self-contradictory terms of jurisdiction. As Bennington's and Hamacher's analyses show, language—including the language of justice and rights—cannot but escape those restrictions to schemes for nature, decision, judgment, and authoritative "speech acts" whose articulation language also permits. Hence...


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