Initial thoughts on Hägglund’s Radical Atheism

I have finally started reading Hägglund’s Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life, and I’d like to share a few impressions of the first quarter of the book. First, I should say that as an attempt to systematize Derrida’s thought and demonstrate basic continuity throughout, it is very impressive and convincing so far. Reading backwards from Derrida’s use of the concept of autoimmunity, Hägglund argues that everything must be autoimmune and thus non-identical — meaning that the bedrock of most Western philosophy, the law of non-contradiction, must be false. With this in mind, he tries to lay out the basics of “deconstructive logic,” centering his readings around encounters between Derrida and other philosophers.

The problem, however, is that he poses this reading specifically as a refutation of the “negative theology”-style readings of Derrida that have (broadly speaking) followed in the wake of Caputo. I don’t find it problematic that he rejects such readings — in fact, I broadly agree with Hägglund’s reading more than Caputo’s so far. What bothers me is, first, that this focus seems disproportionate to the actual influence of such readings on the reception of Derrida. Second, and more importantly, it makes his argument as a whole distractingly combative, and indeed one-sided and repetitious.

What’s more, as a reading of Derrida, it does surprisingly little to illuminate Derrida’s texts (at least so far). In this regard, many of the “negative theology”-style readings, most notably Caputo’s, are much more convincing.

All of this may turn out to be wrong as I read on and gain a broader view, of course.

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2 Responses to “Initial thoughts on Hägglund’s Radical Atheism

  1. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The chapter on Husserl was much better in my opinion, though it still focuses on taking Derrida’s basic points and proving them in new ways (i.e., still isn’t really a “reading” of Derrida).

  2. Tim Morton Says:

    Ah–just found this. It’s hard to claim that Derrida is against negative theology. I’ve seen him talking nicely to negative theological arguments. And Hagglund’s argument for the falsity of non-contradiction is a self-swallowing idea that just doesn’t follow from the “trace structure.” Nagarjuna (the Buddhist Derrida): he who believes in my philosophy as a system is incurably insane…


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