Monday, August 15, 2005

Ideology, Derrida, Aporia

How do we approach the greater world in terms of analysis? How do we make sense of our societies and politics? How do we know if what we think is true truly is so? Is multi-culturalism a good thing or is the People, the Land, the Leader what we should look to for our organizing principle? Often, it seems, where we depart from determines where we arrive.

Below we have two essays on intellectual approaches to epistemology. In this our time we are faced with the decay of ideology and the stagnant remains of nihilism. Now we have an "Ideology of Duh!"

The essays below are straight-forward, and we feel little need to interfere here in the reader's interpretations of these texts. They show the history of our present situation regarding the rise of Left fascist dhimmitude, of fascist pandering to Islamic exceptionalism, of Moslem triumphalism. With these essays one comes closer to putting together the puzzle pieces that make up the meme of our time, the dominant discourse that informs us all, to some or other extent. Here we leave the reader to the texts. (OK, we fibbed a bit. The emphases are from the ed.)

Dictionary of the history of ideas

Sociological Approaches.
A watershed in the study
of the ideology concept was reached in the works of
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who viewed ideology
as a system of false ideas, a statement of class position,
and a justification for class rule. Ideologies are second-
ary and unreal, since they are part of the "superstruc-
ture" and as such a reflection of the more fundamental
material economic "base." [Religion, for example, is seen as a superstructure on the base of capitalism, a prop of the ideological result capitalism. Prior to the capitalist mode of production religion was a superstructure used by the feudal base power structure to legitimize feudal rule.]

One's thought and belief patterns, Marxist theory
holds, are conditioned by one's socioeconomic exist-
ence. Socioeconomic relationships, particularly prop-
erty relationships, set the stage for man's bondage and
"alienation." They dehumanize man by thwarting his
creative impulses. They separate man from himself, his
productivity, and the society to which he belongs.
Socioeconomic relationships are institutionalized in
social classes. One's ideology is therefore a function
of the class to which one belongs. More specifically,
ideologies are deliberate creations of false images by
the dominant class to manipulate and control the
masses, and to perpetuate its own rule. "The ideas of
the ruling class," wrote Marx and Engels, "are in every
epoch the ruling ideas: i.e. the class, which is the ruling
material force of society, is at the same time its ruling
intellectual force" (The German Ideology, p. 39).

Marx and Engels attached a derogatory connotation
to ideology, since they viewed all ideological thought
as the dishonest use of reasoning, as the conscious or
unconscious distortion of facts in order to justify the
position of the ruling class. Ideology represents, in
Engels' memorable phrase, "false consciousness."
The proposition that false consciousness may provide
a basis for action suggests, as many have pointed out,
that ideas and ideologies enjoy a measure of autonomy
—a realization that runs counter to Marx's earlier
assertion about the dependence of ideas on the eco-
nomic system. Engels was to explain, after Marx's
death, that Marx had indeed overemphasized the eco-
nomic factor, and for a good reason. He wrote: "Marx
and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that
younger writers sometimes lay more stress on the eco-
nomic side than is due to it. We had to emphasize this
main principle in opposition to our adversaries, who
denied it, and we had not always the time, the place
or the opportunity to allow the other elements involved
in the interaction to come into their own rights"
(Selected Correspondence, p. 477). However, Engels
maintained, although there is no inflexible one-way
relationship between idea systems and economic sys-
tems, sooner or later the two will coincide.

Marx and Engels, by basing ideas on the socioeco-
nomic system, raised an issue that, at the hand of Karl
Mannheim, came to be known as the "sociology of
knowledge": the study of social bases, conditions,
varieties, and distortions of ideas. To this extent, soci-
ology of knowledge is reminiscent of the epistemologi-
cal approach to ideology, except that Mannheim pro-
posed to elevate the enterprise to a truly scientific
status devoted to the unmasking of the ideological
biases in thought.

Mannheim's approach differed from Marx's in im-
portant respects. Influenced by Max Weber, Mannheim
abandoned Marx's primarily class approach and based
ideology on the total social structure, particularly polit-
ical parties. (This prompted some scholars like R. K.
Merton in his Social Theory and Social Structure
[New York, 1957, p. 490] to call Mannheim a "bour-
geois Marx," a label that was applied earlier to Weber.)
Moreover, Mannheim argued, Marx's approach had
inappropriately fused two distinctive types of ideology:
the "particular" and the "total."

The particular conception of ideology denotes that
"we are skeptical of the ideas and representations
advanced by our opponent," because "they are re-
garded as more or less conscious disguises of the real
nature of a situation, the true recognition of which
would not be in accord with his interests." It includes
"all those utterances the `falsity' of which is due to
intentional or unintentional, conscious, semiconscious,
or unconscious, deluding of one's self or of others,
taking place on a psychological level and structurally
resembling lies." Page 555, Volume 2. This conception is "particular" because "it always refers only to specific assertions which may be regarded as concealments, falsifications, or lies
without attacking the integrity of the total mental
structure of the asserting subject" (Mannheim, pp.
55-56, 265-66). [Yes, dear reader, that last sentence was incredibly idiotic, but our alternative is to rewrite the essay here, which is in its own inimitable fashion, interesting and valuable for the sake of our thesis. We ask that you please struggle through.]

Mannheim contrasts the particular conception of
ideology to the total conception: "Here we refer to
the ideology of an age or of a concrete historico-social
group, e.g. of a class, when we are concerned with
the characteristics and composition of the total struc-
ture of the mind of this epoch or of this group" (ibid.,
p. 56). The total conception, in other words, refers to
the Weltanschauung of an age or of a historical group.
The two conceptions of ideology have in common
the fact that they are determined by one's social cir-
cumstances. Beyond this they differ in some important
respects: (1) the particular conception calls into ques-
tion only a portion of the opponent's assertions,
whereas the total conception challenges the opponent's
entire world-outlook and admits of no nonideological
thought; (2) the particular conception rests on a psy-
chological analysis of ideas, whereas the total concep-
tion operates at an epistemological-ontological level
wherein the entire "thought-system" is analyzed as
socially-historically determined; (3) the particular con-
ception is associated largely with individuals, the total
conception with collectivities; (4) the particular con-
ception historically precedes the total conception.

Mannheim draws a further distinction between
"ideology" and "utopia." Ideology, according to this
formulation, is an idea system congruent with, and
supportive of, the status quo. Utopia, by contrast, is
an idea system opposed to the status quo and support-
ive of an alternative social order. Only those mental
orientations are utopian, Mannheim holds, "which,
when they pass over into conduct, tend to shatter,
either partially or wholly, the order of things prevailing
at the time" (ibid., p. 192). The ideology-utopia dis-
tinction is rather farfetched, however, since either
concept may be simultaneously opposed to (or sup-
portive of) a given status quo and supportive of (or
opposed to) a rival one.

Conclusions strikingly similar to those of Marx were
reached via an entirely different route by two early
European sociologists, Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo
Pareto, who were in some respects the intellectual
nemesis of Marx. Mosca and Pareto believe in a scien-
tific approach to social analysis. To be fruitful, they
maintain, social science must be objective; to be objec-
tive, it must rest on observable and verifiable grounds.
The most fundamental fact of social existence is that
human society at all times has been characterized by
a fundamental division between a minority that rules
and a majority that is ruled, between elite and mass.
According to Mosca, the most decisive feature of
any society is its ruling class. A society's art, culture,
politics, religion, etc., are all determined by the domi-
nant social stratum. As such, social analysis must begin
and end with the ruling class—its origin, development,
composition, and change. Politics consists of violent
struggles among contending groups for power, for the
ruling positions in society. The leaders maintain, per-
petuate, rationalize, and justify their own rule through
the skillful manipulation of "political formulas" or

Pareto stresses the prevalence of the irrational in
human conduct. He insists, under the influence of
Freudian psychology, that significant portions of
human behavior are motivated and sustained by non-
logical drives lying well below the level of conscious-
ness. Man's conduct is governed as much by uncon-
scious habit as by deliberate choice.

Pareto's approach is also influenced by a conception
of "myth" developed by Georges Sorel. All society,
according to Sorel, is guided and directed by myth;
the myth is the most important factor in social life.
A myth consists of a body of symbols and images
capable of evoking sentiment and propelling men to
action. More specifically, a myth has two components:
a statement of goals or objectives, and a commitment
to a line of action toward the materialization of the
objectives. A myth, in other words, is an "expression
of a determination to act" (Sorel, p. 50); it binds a
group of people together, taps their sentiment and
emotion, and directs their energy toward specific ob-
jectives. The most important function of any leadership
group is to provide the appropriate myth for a society.

Pareto divides all human conduct into two categor-
ies—logical and nonlogical—in terms of whether it
employs suitable means in pursuit of attainable objec-
tives. He contends that most human action is non-
logical, and that nonlogical action is especially per-
vasive in the sociopolitical realm. All societies, he
points out, are filled with taboos, magic, and myths.
In the political realm, codes, constitutions, platforms,
and programs fail to meet the criteria of logical action,
since, among other things, they are stated in the
vaguest, most rhetorical, most meaningless terms.

Pareto distinguishes two types of nonlogical action:
"residues" and "derivations." Residues refer to a fairly
small number of constant factors—"nuclei"—in human
behavior that change little from age to age, culture
to culture. Derivations consist of the large number of
factors that change rapidly with time and place; they
are manifestations and expressions of residues. Page 556, Volume 2.

Derivations are the verbal expressions—including "ideolo-
gies"—that seek to explain, rationalize, and justify the
residues through appeal to sentiment, emotion, custom,
and tradition. Residues and derivations are interde-
pendent; they are motive forces of social conduct. (It
is interesting to note Krishna P. Mukerji's comment
that Pareto's theory of residues and derivations is a
variation on Marx's theory of base and superstructure;
Mukerji, p. 17.)

The concept of ideology, then, is a major variable
in these writers' analyses of society. Used synonymously
with "myth," "political formula," or "derivation," ide-
ology is viewed as the matrix of social behavior, the
guiding force in human society, and the principal
means for attaining social solidarity. It is approached
as an instrument for leadership manipulation and con-
trol of the masses, a means for rationalizing, legitimiz-
ing, and perpetuating a given state of affairs.

Among contemporary sociologists, Talcott Parsons
and Daniel Bell deserve special attention. In general,
Parsons defines ideology as "an empirical belief system
held in common by the members of any collectivity."
More specifically:
An ideology... is a system of beliefs, held in common by
the members of a collectivity, i.e., a society, or a sub-
collectivity of one—including a movement deviant from the
main culture of the society—a system of ideas which is
oriented to the evaluative integration of the collectivity,
by interpretation of the empirical nature of the collectivity
and of the situation in which it is placed, the processes
by which it has developed to its given state, the goals to
which its members are collectively oriented, and their
relation to the future course of events
(Parsons [1951], pp.
354, 349).

The phrase "a sub-collectivity of one" suggests that
ideology may be a purely personal phenomenon. Par-
sons states in the same work, however, that ideology
refers "primarily" to the belief system of collectivities,
and he proposes to call the belief system of individuals
"personal ideology" (ibid., p. 331).

Moreover, it is clear from the larger definition, ide-
ology involves goal-directed behavior; it serves as a
basis for action toward improving the welfare of the
collectivity. It binds the community together, and it
legitimizes its value orientations. Finally, ideology
involves an element of distortion: "the strongly evalu-
ative reference of ideologies tends to link in with the
`wishful' or romantic-utopian element of motivation
which is present in every social system. There will
generally... be a tendency to ideological distortion
of the reality in the direction of giving reign to the
wishful element" (ibid., p. 357).

Elaborating on this point elsewhere, Parsons identi-
fies the "essential criteria of an ideology" as "deviations
from [social] scientific objectivity." He identifies two
types of deviations: one associated with the selectivity
with which ideologies approach problems and treat
issues; the other with the positive distortions of those
problems and issues that ideologies do choose to treat.
He writes: "The criterion of distortion is that state-
ments are made about the society which by social-
scientific methods can be shown to be positively in
error, whereas selectivity is involved where the state-
ments are, at the proper level, `true,' but do not consti-
tute a balanced account of the available truth" (Parsons
[1959], p. 38).

The "functional" approach to ideology—its action-
orientation, its ability to promote or undermine legiti-
macy, its potential for attaining social solidarity and
value integration—has been emphasized by Daniel
Bell. According to Bell:

Ideology is the conversion of ideas into social levers. With-
out irony, Max Lerner once entitled a book Ideas Are
This is the language of ideology. It is more. It
is the commitment to the consequences of ideas.... For
the ideologue, truth arises in action, and meaning is given
to experience by the "transforming moment." He comes
alive not in contemplation, but in "the deed."
(Bell [1960],
pp. 370-71). [Cf "Fascist Grand Gesture."]

Elsewhere, Bell defines ideology as
... an interpretative system of political ideas embodying
and concretizing the more abstract values of a polity (or
social movement) which, because of its claim to justification
by some transcendent morality (for example, history), de-
mands a legitimacy for its belief system and a commitment
to action in the effort to realize those beliefs
(Bell [1965],
p. 595, n. 6).

To sum up, the sociological approaches are centrally
concerned with ideology as a system of socially deter-
mined ideas, without necessary truth-value but with
great potential for social solidarity as well as for social
control, mobilization, and manipulation. In addition,
ideologies may serve to justify (or reject) a particular
set of goals and values and to legitimize (or denounce)
political authority. Some writers attach a derogatory
connotation to ideology, whereas others see it in a
neutral light.

Psychological Approaches. The psychological
theories see ideology primarily as a means of managing
personal strain and anxiety, whether socially or psy-
chologically induced. Among the most important of
the psychological theories are those of Sigmund Freud,
and of Francis X. Sutton and colleagues.
We may associate with Sigmund Freud a unique
approach to the concept of ideology, although to our
knowledge he nowhere undertakes an explicit analysis
of the subject. Page 557, Volume 2.

He does give a fairly extensive treatment of religion, and he does suggest that religion and ideology have much in common—indeed, that they
may belong to identical species of thought. Consider
the following statement, for example: "Having recog-
nized religious doctrines to be illusions, we are at once
confronted with the further question: may not all cul-
tural possessions, which we esteem highly and by which
we let our life be ruled, be of a similar nature? Should
not the assumptions that regulate our political institu-
tions likewise be called illusions?" (Freud [1957], p.
59). In a word, we would be well justified in substi-
tuting "ideology" wherever Freud uses "religion."
Freud's starting point is that man's life is governed
by instinctual drives, many of which are subconscious
or unconscious. These instincts are primarily of two
types: life instincts (Eros) and death instincts (Thanatos).
The demands of man's instinctual behavior are in con-
flict with those of society, culture, and civilization.
(The distinctions among these three concepts are not
crucial for our present purposes.) Indeed, the very
possibility of civilization lies in man's ability—volun-
tarily or otherwise—to divert, rechannel, and sublimate
his instinctual energies into more conventional behav-
ior. Culture and civilization demand sacrifices and
instinctual renunciations from the individual. This in
turn intensifies man's natural aggressiveness toward
society, so that "every individual is virtually an enemy
of culture" (ibid., p. 4). It also intensifies man's aggres-
siveness toward his fellow man, so that "civilized soci-
ety is perpetually menaced with disintegration through
this primary hostility of men toward one another"
(Freud [1958], p. 61). The ultimate consequence is war.
At the same time, aggressiveness creates a pervasive
sense of guilt under the pressure of the superego. If
culture and civilization are to exist, their prohibitions
must be internalized by the individual as an integral
part of his moral code. The individual must internalize
not only the prohibitions of culture but also "its herit-
age of ideals and artistic creations," for these ideals
offer "substitute gratifications for the oldest cultural
renunciations" (Freud [1957], pp. 71, 19; [1958], p. 15).
And now we come to the heart of Freud's argument:
"... the most important part of the psychical inven-
tory of a culture... is... its... religious ideas"
(Freud [1957], p. 20; cf. [1958], p. 38).

Religious conceptions are illusions. They are false-
hoods created to control man, restrain instinctual be-
havior, and perpetuate culture. Freud writes: "... re-
ligious doctrines... are all illusions, they do not admit
of proof, and no one can be compelled to consider them
as true or to believe in them.... [The] reality value of
most of them we cannot judge; just as they cannot be
proved, neither can they be refuted." The strength of
religious ideas lies in the fact that they are "fulfillments
of the oldest, strongest and most insistent wishes of
mankind; the secret of their strength is the strength
of these wishes" (Freud [1957], pp. 54, 51).

Religion (ideology), then, performs the function of
wish-fulfillment. It affords protection and security to
the individual; it controls instinctual behavior and
relieves man of his sense of guilt; it counteracts man's
alienation from society. (The concept of alienation is
implicit in Freud's argument that the undue demands
of civilization create a disjunction between man and
society, but he does not actually use the term.) Reli-
gious ideas "allay our anxiety in the face of life's dan-
gers, the establishment of a moral world order ensures
the fulfillment of the demands of justice, which within
human culture have so often remained unfulfilled, and
the prolongation of earthly existence by a future life
provides in addition the local and temporal setting for
these wish-fulfillments" (ibid., pp. 51-52).

Religion (ideology) is essential to man's psychological
well-being as well as to the continuity of culture.
Sutton and his colleagues offer a conception of ide-
ology as a response to strain generated by social roles.
Modern life, they argue, engenders a host of problems
and stress situations with which each man has to cope.
Individuals daily confront conflicting demands and
anxiety situations in the course of performing their
roles. Since human behavior is patterned in systems
of roles, so are the strains that these roles inescapably

Since man's reaction to strain is patterned rather
than random, individuals need some "guiding princi-
ples" in the light of which to react. Ideology is a system
of ideas that enables man to cope with strain. "Ideology
is a patterned reaction to the patterned strains of a
social role.... Where a role involves patterns of con-
flicting demands, the occupants of that role may re-
spond by elaborating a system of ideas and symbols,
which in part may serve as a guide to action, but chiefly
has broader and more direct functions as a response
to strain" (Sutton et al., pp. 307-08).

Although there is a basic relationship between ide-
ology and strain, the actual linkages are by no means
clear or simple, for the individual may react to strain
in a variety of ways, including pathological behavior,
Ideology is merely one way of responding to stress.
It is "a symbolic outlet" for emotional disturbances
generated by social and personal disequilibrium. This
includes release of emotional tension by displacing it
into symbolic enemies (e.g., scapegoatism). Ideology
performs the function of tension management and
sustains the individual in the face of continued stress.
The psychological approaches, then, focus on ideol-
ogy primarily in terms of its relation to the individual
and its consequences for social conduct. They are particularly interested in ideology as a means of stabilizing
the psychological makeup of the individual, equipping
him with an appropriate set of psychological reactions,
reconciling him to the conflicting demands of social
life, and providing relief from anxiety and strain.

Psychocultural Approaches. Among the psychocul-
tural approaches to ideology, the work of Léon Dion
and of Clifford Geertz may be examined. Dion refers
to ideology as "a more or less integrated cultural and
mental structure." By this he means a pattern of norms
and values that is both objective (cultural) and subjec-
tive (mental). More specifically:
Our hypothesis is that political ideology is a cultural and
mental complex which mediates between the norms associ-
ated with given social attitudes and conduct and the norms
which the political institutions and mechanisms tend to
crystallize and propagate. In other terms, political ideology
is a more or less integrated system of values and norms,
rooted in society, which individuals and groups project on
the political plane in order to promote the aspirations and
ideals they have come to value in social life
(Dion, p. 49).
Expressing dissatisfaction with the existing ap-
proaches to ideology, Clifford Geertz sets out to pro-
vide a more adequate nonvaluational theoretical
framework for its analysis. He approaches ideology in
terms of symbols and symbolic action, for he seeks to
show, at least in part, "how symbols symbolize, how
they function to mediate meanings" (Geertz, p. 57).
Geertz's initial assumption is that thought consists
of the construction and manipulation of symbol sys-
tems. Symbol systems, whether cognitive or expressive,
are extrinsic sources of information in terms of which
man's life is patterned (since intrinsic or genetic sources
of information are so few). Symbol systems are extra-
personal mechanisms for perception, judgment, and
manipulation of the world. Culture patterns—whether
religious, scientific, or ideological—are "programs"
that provide a blueprint for the organization of social
and psychological processes. More specifically, states
Geertz, "it is through the construction of ideologies,
schematic images of social order, that man makes him-
self for better or worse a political animal" (ibid., p. 63).
Ideology, in other words, is more than a mere psy-
chological response to strain; it embodies social and
cultural elements as well. Broadly understood, ideology
is a cultural symbol-system that aims to guide man in
his political life. The attempt of an ideology to render
confusing social situations meaningful accounts for its
highly symbolic form and for the intensity with which
it may be held. As such: "whatever else ideologies may
be... they are, most distinctively, maps of problem-
atic social reality and matrices for the creation of
collective conscience" (ibid., p. 64).
The psychocultural approaches, then, attempt to
unify the mental and the environmental elements in
ideology. In this view ideology requires both a psycho-
logical outlook and a cultural context. Its primary
function is to enable the individual to make sense of
the cultural symbol-system.

Summary. We have identified several approaches to
the concept of ideology and we have examined each
at some length. Each approach throws light on a
different dimension of the concept; together they re-
veal its extraordinarily rich and variegated intellectual
heritage. We may extrapolate from these approaches
a synthetic conception of ideology along the following
lines. Ideology is an emotion-laden, myth-saturated,
action-related system of beliefs and values about man
and society, legitimacy and authority, acquired as a
matter of routine and habitual reinforcement. The
myths and values of ideology are communicated
through symbols in simplified, economical, and efficient
manner. Ideological beliefs are more or less coherent,
more or less articulate, more or less open to new
evidence and information. Ideologies have a high po-
tential for mass mobilization, manipulation, and con-
trol; in that sense, they are mobilized belief systems.

Below we have a review of Derrida's inanities on aporia. There is much to write about this, of how the nihilism of "deconstruction" leads to quietism and defeatism of politically interested people. It leads to false positions of aporia as negatives that are in fact openings to further thought. Deconstruction is destruction in disguise.

Those who fall into the trap of Derrida's nihilist agenda are either driven to political despair or they are driven into nihilism as ideology. We'll leave it for the reader to decide what to make of it, open for now, undecided but optimistic about a further go round.

Aporia (=)

The words aporia and aporetic figure significantly and frequently in the writings of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) and in the deconstructive school of literary and cultural theory which his work inspired. Originating in the Greek, aporia involves doubt, perplexity and that which is impassable. Niall Lucy, in his A Derrida Dictionary (Blackwell: 2004), opens his entry on aporia with this definition: " aporia. A Greek term denoting a logical contradiction, "aporia" is used by Derrida to refer to what he often calls the "blind spots" of any metaphysical argument." The definition is useful, especially in alerting us to the issue of "blind spots", however it requires taking somewhat further. A more precise definition of the concept would be as follows: "a logical contradiction beyond rational resolution". We will see this more clearly if we add to Lucy's opening account the brief treatment of the term given in Nicholas Royle's Jacques Derrida in Routledge's Critical Thinkers series (2003). Royle begins by warning his readers not to immediately confuse the word aporia in Derrida's work with another word frequently employed by Derrida, abyss (see mise en abyme). Noting the Greek origins of the word ("a 'without', byssos 'depth' or 'bottom'"), Royle goes on to remind us that whilst an abyss is eminently passable (one in fact does nothing, if one falls into one, but pass through or down or up an abyss) an aporia, at least in its strict philological sense, is not passable. Royle states:

The abyss in this context thus corresponds with what might appear to be the quite contrary notion of aporia. "Aporia" is loosely a rhetorical term for "doubt" or "difficulty in choosing", but more precisely it means a sort of absolute blockage, a "No Way" ("aporia" again coming from ancient Greek, a "without", porous "way" or "passage"). Aporia, as Derrida has described it, is "a non-road" . . . In his terms, aporia entails "an interminable experience" . . . Like the experience of the undecidable, "the aporia can never simply be endured as such" (Aporias, Stanford U. P., 1993: 78).

Why Derrida would make that last statement, about the unendurable nature of the aporia or the aporetic, can be understood if we highlight within the concept the issue of reason and rationality. There are of course numerous definitions of reason: it is possible to say that the whole history of Western philosophy revolves around intense debates about the definition of reason. Despite this historical conflict over the word, there are many who would want to disallow any account of reason which did not in some way ground itself upon the Aristotelian law of non-contradiction. In Aristotle's law something (A) cannot at the same time be something else (-A, not-A). Any definition of a thing (say a species of animal) depends upon that thing not being something else; or, to put that more precisely, depends upon an exclusion of its other. In this sense our definition of say a cat will include, by implication, the fact that a cat is not any of the other definable animals on the planet: dogs, horses, elephants, monkeys, human beings, and so on. A cat (A) is defined on the law of non-contradiction by the exclusion of everything it is not (-A). This seems logical enough; in fact, this law of non-contradiction is the foundation of logic and thus of what we call reason and what we take to be reasonable. On this basis, one can understand why science, philosophy and indeed all intellectual disciplines have tended to ignore, or evade or even discount aporetic instances, aporetic phenomena. An aporia (a logical contradiction beyond rational resolution, beyond which we cannot pass) appears to challenge the very foundations of logic and thus reason. Aporias challenge our sense that we can describe, name, define and order the things which we encounter within the universe.

It is precisely this challenge to our sense of logic and reason which Derrida's deconstructive philosophy has always sought to highlight. Derrida does this, not because he is out to destroy the concepts of logic and reason, or because he is simply iconoclastic when it comes to reason; rather, he does this because of a profound understanding of the manner in which language and thought work within human systems and structures. We might, by way of example, follow up the example we have just utilised in order to establish the Aristotelian law of non-contradiction. On the basis of that law, we no doubt believe and would wish to state that a creature (say a cat) "A" cannot also be another creature (say a fish) "B" (or to express it properly within the law of non-contradiction, something cannot be at one and the same time A and not-A, and quite clearly a fish is not a cat). Our sense of distinction between species is, however, somewhat illogical in itself. As Jamie Shreeve, in an article on stem-cell research in The New York Times (April 10th, 2005), reminds us: "Ninety-nine percent of our genome is shared with chimpanzees. Thirty-one percent of our genes are interchangeable with those of yeast." Most of us have come a long way since Darwin's assertion of our relation to the other primates, and especially to the various species of apes and monkeys, caused such a theological melt-down in the nineteenth century. Yet, we still, for all our progress, do not walk around and live our lives thinking we are essentially hybrid animals or expecting to encounter what Shreeve calls "quasi-human chimeras." A chimera is, of course, a creature who defies the law of non-contradiction. In Greek mythology a chimera was precisely a monster: "1. A fire-breathing monster, with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail, killed by Bellerophon. 2. A grotesque monster. 3. A mere wild fancy; an unfounded conception." (OED) In modern usage a chimera is a fanciful, unfounded creature of the imagination. That's the modern meaning of the word. And yet we in ourselves are chimerical, from an evolutionary perspective. Moreover, modern science is increasingly capable of producing chimerical animals; that is, animals which, genetically, are part cat and part dog, or part chicken and part quail, or, much more disturbingly, sheep, mice, chimpanzees, pigs that, on a genetic level, are also part human. As Shreeve points out, "We have been engaging in unnatural acts upon nature for centuries, grafting plants onto one another or breeding dogs in visible shapes and sizes that diverge wildly from their natural state." But how far do we go with this kind of science? She asks: "What would you make of a sheep with a human face?" or a monkey able to sob in a distinctly human tone and manner? The answer is that you would feel uneasy at best, revolted and radically disturbed at worst. Human beings seem to need to construct a sense of order around them, which at the very same moment both the truth of how nature works and our own scientific explorations distinctly undermine.

It would appear that for science to exist we need logic and the law of non-contradiction. How could anyone operate as a scientist without this fundamental law? Yet it also would appear that today's science increasingly demonstrates that the species within the natural world (including ourselves) do not exist, and do not need to exist, within the boundaries which make up the law of non-contradiction. Science, in this sense, today confronts its own aporetic status; it is a discipline which depends upon and yet which cannot establish, and in fact keeps breaking, the very principles (of logic) upon which it is founded. Science is in this sense impossible, understanding that statement in its Derridean sense of aporetic: science must ground (define itself, operate on the basis of) logic, whilst it continually demonstrates the un-grounded (impossible) nature of that logic. In Derrida's work this experience of impossibility (working with and upon the foundation of a logic which is continually contravened and questioned) holds equally for philosophy and indeed for all the Human Sciences. In the work Derrida produced in the later years of his life, the aporetic experience of the impossible was also dramatically directed to the most profound ethical dimensions of human existence: to the law, to ideas of justice, of right, to ideas of hospitality, responsibility and friendship, amongst other issues.

In his The Politics of Friendship (Politiques de l'amitié 1994), for example, Derrida structures his discussion of friendship around the following statement traditionally attributed to Aristotle: "O my friends, there is no friend!" The statement encapsulates many things, including the traditional philosophical warning against having friends in too great a number. Such an issue alerts us to a major feature of Derrida's later work, namely the impossible (aporetic) nature of responsibility. In The Gift of Death (1995), for example, Derrida looks at responsibility in terms of Immanuel Levinas' phenomenological understanding of the Other. One has absolute responsibility towards the Other, argues Levinas. Such an idea is captured in the phrase tout autre est tout autre, which Derrida translates into English as every other (one) is every (bit) other. If one has responsibility towards an Other, as all human beings eventually do, then that Other is to be understood not as an example of humanity, not as an Other to whom one can switch on and off as one wishes, but rather as a unique, singular Other, demanding total (complete) responsibility. The most common relation in which such a total demand is experienced by human beings, of course, is in parental relations to children. One does not divide one's sense of responsibility between one's children, but rather thinks of each child as a unique, singular, complete Other. Derrida, however, takes the biblical story of Abraham and God's demand that he sacrifice his son, Issac, as a parable of the impossibility of such an understanding of responsibility. Abraham in the story, after all, is torn between two complete, total responsibilities, two complete, singular Others: his responsibility to God (which is total) and his responsibility towards his son (which is total). Most parents with more than one child have experienced in some form this "Abrahamic paradox" with one child in their bedroom requiring help with their homework, whilst another child in the garden demands assistance in repairing a punctured bicycle wheel! Unless the parent possesses the gift of bilocation, then they will inevitably experience their responsibility as an impossibility. Responsibility, when understood in terms of the phrase tout autre est tout autre, is aporetic, impossible. Yet that clearly does not mean that we, as ethical human beings, are excused from pursuing and meeting our responsibilities.

A similar aporetic quality is explored by Derrida in the ethics of hospitality. Again, starting with biblical and Greek precedents, Derrida demonstrates that hospitality depends upon the idea of welcoming the unwelcomed (the uninvited) guest: in Greek the xenos (the stranger or foreigner). If all one ever did was to welcome those guests one had in fact already invited then one could not really claim to be particularly hospitable. However, if hospitality depends upon welcoming the unwelcomed (uninvited) guest, the xenos, how can we safeguard our home and our nation from an unending flow of xenoi? The question, again, points out the aporetic nature of the law of hospitality (that one welcome uninvited guests), and as it does so it also foregrounds the manner in which ethical imperatives (like responsibility and hospitality) are necessarily undermined by the very thing which makes them active and possible in the world, that is the law. The law of hospitality, that is to say, may in fact be impossible to fully establish (constitute) as a law.

These examples of Derrida's more recent philosophical meditations on aporetic structures and principles are important in themselves, one could in fact go further and say they relate to the most pressing social and political problems which currently confront the nations of the world. They are also important, however, in that they demonstrate that Derrida's deconstructive philosophy, despite what is often said and written about it, is not solely concerned with problems of a purely linguistic character. It is true that throughout his career Derrida based a good deal of his most important work on following (tracing) the aporetic nature of key philosophical concepts: Plato's use of the pharmakon (both poison and cure), the hymen (both protective membrane denoting virginity and a concept denoting marriage), the supplement (a word involving that which adds to something and something that completes something), difference (a term which involves both difference and deferral) and so on. All these words (and they are chosen at random out of an arsenal of similar words in Derrida's work) are aporetic in that they present us with meanings which cannot be resolve into a singularity, a singular, stable meaning. One could add, of course, the word deconstruction itself, since, as Derrida has insisted on many occasions, it is a word which includes both destruction and construction within it.

To understand Derrida's work it is crucial that the reader understands the nature of aporia and the aporetic nature of deconstructive thinking and work. We would do well here to return to Nicholas Royle's brief discussion of aporia and abyss. Having apparently distinguished between these two concepts, on the basis that the former involves what is unpassable and the latter involves a constant passing through, Royle demonstrates how such an opposition is deconstructed in Derrida's work. If responsibility, friendship, hospitality, science, philosophy, language and law (in the sense of justice) are aporetic, then in fact we are always passing through aporias. As Royle suggests, quoting Derrida as he proceeds, if we cannot simply relegate the aporetic to the margins or to the trivial, if the most pressing and urgent of our ethical and intellectual activities involve a confrontation with the aporetic, then we will have to learn to put "in motion a new thinking of the possible". What this means is that we need to contemplate the possibility of living with and through what Derrida calls the impossible: whether it be in terms of science, identity, ethics, literature, philosophy, law or any other system which would attempt to define and to lay out the principles of our lives. An aporia is a logical contradiction without rational resolution: but it would appear that, if we follow Derrida's deconstructive philosophy, most of the things which are meaningful to us as human beings partake of such a definition. We have to attempt to be responsible, knowing responsibility is impossible (aporetic); we have to seek to be true friends, knowing friendship is impossible (aporetic); we have to seek to be hospitable, knowing that hospitality is impossible (aporetic), and so on. It is in this sense that Royle quotes what he styles "Derrida's extraordinary joint-proposition" from his Aporias: "The ultimate aporia is the impossibility of the aporia as such. The reservoir of this statement seems to me incalculable." Passing through (living through) (unresolvable) aporias, without succumbing to irrationalism; this is a viable description of what Derrida meant by deconstruction.

We hope you'll find things in the essays above that bring out questions. We leave the forum to our readers. Remember Keirkegaard's saying: "Not to decide is to think about it more."

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