so somewhat in response to dan's most recent post on wraetlic, and somewhat in response to eileen joy's lucent comments on my last posting, i should say a few things about my views on the way that certain fraught words (i'm thinking religious, i.e. god, faith, sacred, etc. but also any number of other words that are either over-popular or un-popular in academia) should function.
what i want to do is something like a re-thinking of derrida's idea of words "sous rature." with this term, derrida (after heidegger) allows for the fact that one cannot avoid talking about certain concepts which one wishes radically question using the terms that make a number of assumptions about those very concepts. thus: the strike-through. the word-made-ironic in a terribly controlled way. when i think of this term, i always think of language as a vessel (beware, very extended metaphor ahead!), and the act of putting something under erasure to empty the vessel while continuing to use it. but i think that this vessel metaphor allows us to focus in some interesting ways on the history associated with certain terms in a more hopeful way. it's not necessarily that i want to question the existence of that which the term names, but instead that i want to change what and how the vessel holds. in many cases, i want the vessel to crack (or for us to recognize that the vessel is already cracked), so that we are not placing the word under erasure but instead recognizing that it can fundamentally no longer hold what it once did. sometimes this means that we continue pouring into the vessel and it continues leaking. at any one moment it looks like it's doing what it once did (and this "once" is, obviously, in some ways an idealized case, but let's leave that for later), the liquid stays at the same level, but with attention over time, we realize that it is only our continual willingness to keep topping it off that keeps the vessel full. though there are lots of implications to this metaphor, i'm particularly interested in what happens if we (locally) allow the vessel to drain and begin using it differently even as others may attempt to keep it full (or to throw it out because it's flawed.) take, for example, a term like "faith." there are undeniable religious resonances in this word, even when it's used without direct reference to religion. many people continue to "keep the faith" despite increasing evidence that faith is less responsible (by which i mean unable to speak for itself) in light of philosophical, political, social, and religious developments over the last century-and-a-half or so. in "secular" academia, however, faith can easily be something of a dirty word. some cadres of critics want to attempt to throw it and its ilk out altogether. even to be derridean and put it "under erasure" is a certain kind of "throwing out," despite its (relatively) pragmatic value for discussion. so, i'd like to try to put faith in a space wherein i can play with the borders between its existence and nonexistence, coming from the negative side. i'd like to look at the shape of faith, the way it functions, its history, its possible future - everything encoded in the material of the word, and see if i can make it hold something flawed - i.e. by definition not faith. speaking specifically of religious terms, i think that secular criticism can come dangerously close to losing the possibilities for thinking that surround these words and concepts - jettisoning them as "not part of the critical project." certain schools of contemporary christianity (or even kierkegaardian) embrace the idea of "faith without faith" or "hope without hope" - but i find that they pull a crazy hat trick at the very bottom of all of it, wherein, like playing the daisy-game of "she-loves-me she-loves-me-not" after counting the petals, one always ends on the positive side. i want to do the same, from the negative.
but then, and this is where i think this addresses eileen, i think that i want to be able to do this in other situations, too. for example, there's the modernist and new-critical attempt for ahistoricity - the stuff is Art, especially in fragmented montage form, so it somehow transcends time. this is, of course, terribly dangerous and irresponsible. but i also think that the need to work at anchoring things historically, to continually look towards death, can become almost like a certain kind of faith. so, what i argue in the last post, is in some ways a call for certain modes of "time without time" or "history without history." i think that allowing for this mental-metaphorical space in which two mutually exclusive things can exist in the same place at the same time is hugely important for creative thought, but forcing it to be unquestioningly temporal or eschatological isn't a limitation that seems productive to impose there.
so i think that we should be able to remember, always, that history will end, and even that our lives will end, that other lives have ended. but we should also sometimes, temporarily, be able to simultaneously believe that time has stopped, or reversed, or become irrelevant, that history is entirely paratactic, that we will never die and that others have not died. this is, for me, a terrifically profound (and i think not irresponsible) mode of hoping.
i want to add as well (and here's where my response to dan comes in) that this all sounds terribly individual, but i don't think that's a limitation i want here either. on the contrary, it seems like this sort of "suspension of disbelief" allows for the formation of certain kinds of communities of thought that are temporarily less bogged down by the trappings of everyday or even (often) critical language. this is a poetic relationship, not even (for example) in dan's readings or robin's readings but in the silent spaces between, in which those poems were for a few moments less mutually exclusive, and when the audience and the poets were also less mutually exclusive.