Living ‘Out of Joint’

Derrida’s new international offers possibilities to perform something ‘out of joint’ so that emancipative transformation is engineered and brought into being. It being always on the arrival works as an absent presence, like a spectre.  It lives in between being secretive as well as visible. It is ‘out of joint’ and untimely. Derrida says that it is based on links of affinity, suffering and hope.  But it does not belong to any name, party, country, national community etc. It is simply based on the bond of friendship.  Derrida describes the new international as an alliance of friendship without an institution.

Although in several ways terror groups work in a mode similar to new international, they being institutions cannot be put into the spectral notion of the new international.  The politics of the new international is not tied to the nation-state and stays beyond its boundaries.  Friendship as an alliance is less discussed in Derrida’s book on the spectres of Marx. It remains spectral in that text.  We can clearly see it come into visibility in Derrida’s next book, the Politics of friendship. In this book, Derrida does not offer new political content in an old frame but attempts a radical change in the way the political is thought and done.  Derrida chooses friendship as a site to think about politics because he says that Western political thought from Plato to Aristotle has intimately tied democracy, justice and the political to the concept and practice of friendship. Derrida is looking back only to push at the limits of all received understanding which is our inheritance of the political.

Friendship is a concept that we have lost because of modernity.  We need to understand its political import in the way we can make enemies of friends and friends of enemies.  Derrida does not think the political friendship in Carl Schmitt mould that bases itself on the reductive distinction between friend and the enemy. But this familiar political thought around friendship is tied to the institution we know as the nation-state.  Derrida attempts to displace this boundary around which we think of friendship and the political with his notion of the new international.  Derrida wishes to overturn as well as bring about an overflow of the received ideas of the political.  The new international does overturn and lead to an overflow of the received thought around friendship, its boundaries and delineations. By bringing friendship as the ground of the new international,  Derrida opens animating possibilities and inscribes the political with futurity so as to set free the politics of the promise ‘to come’. Derrida says, ‘friendship is never given in the present; it belongs to the experience of waiting, of promise, or of commitment’. It is always on the arrival, coming to be.  Such friendship is fragile and includes the possibilities of its breakdown.  It is only such friendship that lets the new international to be without institution and common belonging to an ethnicity, class, caste, nation etc.

Every other thinking of politics is looking for unity around an institution, especially the nation-state. Derrida opens possibilities of bonding beyond institutional strangleholds. It is a totally new form of cosmopolitanism. It is the spirit of emancipation inherited from Marxism that animates Derridean politics around friendship as a promise. The promise is a promise to be kept.  Hence, it will produce new events and effective actions. But these events and actions cannot be ossified and institutionalized. They are always to remain in the arrival to retain openness and the promise. This also continuously recreates the new international anew and keeps it in the mode of coming.

This non-logocentric thinking of Derrida is difficult to practice. With the growth of the internet, it is possible but we may find it difficult to shed our belonging to the nation-state, culture, caste, and class and think about the politics around pure friendship in the way Derrida does. To transcend the givens around which we organise and order our life is difficult. But at this stage, there is a promise that we can see in the self of the web.   There is the hope of belonging without belonging to the givens of our life as we can see how the self of the web transcends family, nation, caste etc.  But there are also those who use the web to strengthen their belonging to the nation, to the caste, to the class, to a religion, to a culture etc. Therefore, although the web appears to be borderless, it is used to build borders and divisions and may foster the old thinking of politics around a friend and the enemy.

We cannot also rule out the coming of the new international in and through the web the way Derrida imagined. The Arab Spring is one important instance of this coming to be. It is for us to think politics around friendship in the mode of coming to be so that we can think as well as be political in the manner of the new international that transcends all belonging to culture, class, caste, nation etc. This way of being political leaves only our fragile humanity and our common home, the earth as given to which we can belong to. What Derrida challenges us is to come to ‘naked life’. He has already discussed this in great details in his book, Animal therefore I am. Nakedness is not natural to us. We like to dress our reality. Our culture, law and institutions are important robes that dress our reality. Our politics is already a dressed reality forgetting the human and earthly.  Thus, we have the best possibilities to embrace the human race and our common home in its pure ‘naked’ form. Perhaps it may restore the lost paradise that we all aspire and await.  Therefore, we have the challenge to embrace ‘a life out of joint’.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao