Wednesday, 8 April 2009

From "Confessing identity \ belonging to difference"

By William E. Connolly.

A favorite practice in the academy is to convict others of the "performative contradiction," whereby they are said to affirm in practice what they deny in theory. When everything proceeds smoothly the critic eventually pulls the opponent to a place where the latter must accept the positive thesis of the critic. The move in philosophical discourse parallels a familiar one in religious disputes where those who deviate from your faith are convicted of a definitive fault to de-moralize it and bolster the necessity of your own. One can hardly avoid light use of the performative contradiction, to pose questions to others even as you identify sore spots and paradoxes in your own existential faith. But its use as the master tool of critique reflects the tacit assumption that the world conforms to a logic to be grasped through precise concepts. Theorists who play such an earnest game forget to ask whether those so convicted may find something positive in the very experience of paradox, as Augustine, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Deleuze do when they treat paradox as a sign of something efficacious in the world that exceeds conceptual reach. At other times [...] heavy dependence on this tool reflects an implicit narrowing of options available to the adversary to those the critics already recognize as possibilities. Thus, those who do not embrace a transcendental basis of moral authority are often said by critics to reduce morality to desire or preference; for that is what morality would become to the critic if its transcendental basis were subtracted. Once that fateful representation is installed, conviction of a performative self-contradiction is only a step away. In Foucault's terms, polemicists proceed "encased in privileges [they possess] in advance and will never agree to question."

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