Something I find questionable in Hägglund

Having worked my way through all of Hägglund’s Radical Atheism, I find that some of my early complaints about his polemical stance are only reflective of the opening sections and that perhaps his overstatement was actually necessary to make sure that he wasn’t misunderstood. Overall, having come to the end, it seems to me that he has produced a very convincing systematization of Derrida’s work, one that will be, as Michael Naas implies in his blurb, basically unavoidable for those writing on Derrida going forward.

One thing that is less convincing to me, however, is his claim that by definition we can’t desire fullness. Perhaps this is true with his technical definition of “desire,” but since he defines desire for fullness out of his definition, that’s pretty much “cheating.” There are vast intellectual traditions centered on the desire for fullness, for instance, negative theology. He also says that we can’t desire fullness because it would be tantamount to absolute death, but people do desire absolute death as well — isn’t that basically what the Buddhist nirvana is?

These desires are obviously based in the realities of our bodily existence, since that is where we always already find ourselves, but that doesn’t seem sufficient to claim that they aren’t desire. Nor does it seem convincing to claim that these desires are self-undermining or deluded — I’m pretty sure people desire self-undermining and deluded things all the time. It may be going too far to embrace the Lacanian position that desire is by definition the desire for a lost fullness, but again, it does seem that that kind of desire is at least sometimes operative.

Perhaps an overarching account of desire would have to include both a Derridean desire for survival and a Lacanian desire for fullness — though I’m not sure what that would look like and am really just “throwing it out there.”

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4 Responses to “Something I find questionable in Hägglund”

  1. Tim Morton Says:

    Great, great, post. I think I go a little way towards this here:

    http://ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.com/2011/02/effects-of-trace-structure-atheism-and.html

    In effect, the model leaves out a subject that may as you argue desire.

    I’m writing an essay on desire for Nirvana right now that will have to make use of these insights. Thank you mate.

  2. Михаил Емельянов Says:

    I actually got my Hägglund copy out to compare notes, but now I feel like anything I say will be taken as an excuse to take this thread down the “let’s trash OOO” lines since I said something. I suppose I have to blame myself for becoming a kind of poster boy for all things “OOO bashing” – but for what it’s worth, I agree that initial clearing out of space vis-a-vis bashing of Derridian head was in fact necessary for the argument.

  3. Sans Oeuvre Says:

    I think that Hagglund’s claim isn’t that people don’t *think* that they desire fullness; it’s that when they say they desire fullness they actually *mean* something else (i.e., survival).

    Maybe I’m not really disagreeing, but I don’t want it to sound like the position could be refuted by pointing to the Buddhist who says that he desires nothingness. Presumably one could show that he’s wrong in the same way that one could show that the Kantian idea structure is a problem.

    As far as the desire for death — my sense is that this is addressed in the discussion of suicide (which basically covers Buddhist nihilisms).


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