Miracle and Machine/Islam

Philosophy (and philosophy of religion) no less than other disciplines today remains immune from Islam and the questions of Islam. (Islamic studies mirrors this, for all its contemporary heat and funding, in maintaining its textualist heritage against the vapid enthusiasm for “interdisciplinarity” bursting from the other humanities.) Thus Islam appears in philosophy for the most part either as a cipher for religion-as/and-politics (that is, a cipher for danger) or as a recourse to gain critical distance for one’s argument. We can offer various hypotheses about this limit, but remarkable here is that Derrida follows neither of these courses, trying also to avoid the temptation of taking Islam as “available” to his arguments. Thus Islam is introduced in “Faith and Knowledge” under the question of the name (Islam, or a certain Islam, what passes for Islam today, or what speaks in the name of Islam). Islam is “clearly not just one religion among others in the current debates about the fate or place of religion” (25). Yet when Derrida looked across the conference table at Capri almost two decades ago, he saw (only) European men. “No Muslim is among us, alas, even for this preliminary discussion, just at the moment when it is toward Islam, perhaps, that we ought to begin by turning our attention” (§5). The references to Islam that follow in the rest of the essay through Miracle and Machine – undermining the confidence of translation, figuring the risk of democracy, attacking the right to literature, possessing a global “prerogative” to the question of religion – should be read in the melancholic light of this observation. Read the rest of this entry »

Analogical Expansion and Differential Space: Thoughts on Michael Naas’ Miracle and Machine

One cannot affirm difference without affirming the differential undecidability (Derrida), or crack (Deleuze), or nonidentity (Adorno), of / between affirmation and its failure. This is a thought that has possessed me for awhile now, and has sent me in a number of directions. What I took to be a kind of protectionism, in Derrida, against the productive character of alterity pushed me in a more Deleuzian direction. Such, it seemed, was what the affirmation of difference demanded, and yet to make difference into an affirmation seemed, simultaneously, to subsume difference under a new identity. Thus it was important for me to articulate that the same affirmation was nonidentical with senselessness and melancholy. This, it became clear, was a question of political ontology—namely, one of the relation between political potentiality and ontological difference. But what, many have asked, about political theology? An insidious question, perhaps, as this allows us to skirt the notion of “religion.” And so religion appeared as the vanishing mediator of differential ontology and political creativity. Read the rest of this entry »

Deconstructing Derrida: Reflections on Michael Naas’s Miracle and Machine

Michael Naas’s Miracle and Machine is a book worthy of Derrida, combining rigor and playfulness, near-obsessive scholarliness with bold experimentation. It is a literary reading of the most literary of the philosophers, and is itself a beautifully written book, exhibiting Naas’s resolutely “American” style—and connecting it to the American context via the unexpected comparison with Don DeLillo’s Underworld. One hopes that it marks a new direction in Derrida studies, with its focus on working through one text (“Faith and Knowledge”) and learning from that text how to read Derrida.

In this post, I’d like to limit myself to some observations on the way the book intervenes indirectly in three fields: the debate over Derrida’s relationship to religion, contemporary continental philosophy of religion, and the reading of Derrida as such. These remarks are not meant to be authoritative or exhaustive, but to open up some avenues of conversation.

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Mini-Book Event on Michael Naas’ Miracle and Machine

Starting this week we will be hosting a mini-book event on Michael Naas’ recent book Miracle and Machine: Jacques Derrida and the Two Sources of Religion, Science, and the Media. I will simply be introducing the book and the interventions, from regulars Adam and Dan, and a guest post from Basit Iqbal, will skip over our normal summary style that we use for our longer events. Read the rest of this entry »

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