June 2007

SO none of my promised posts have quite made it to fruition but given I’m so hazy, it’s probably all to the good. I have one pondering the whole five-year lease and permit abolishment part of the Liberal’s plan ‘for’ indigenous communities, but I have to read up a wee bit more (though even then it’ll probably be holey as all get out) before I’m willing to stick it up. And having written vaguely cheerful things on the back of people’s essays til very late last night (something about marking—I always promise I’ll give myself more time and not leave it til the last minute and do a really properly rigorous job, then run out of time) and marked too many late ones today, I’m completely buggered. Far too tired to attempt to regain any of my awake understandings of the Derrida and Nancy stuff I promised. Besides, I’m feeling like I should really get around to explaining Levinas on ‘compassion’ as the counterpart to ‘Suffering Others’ before I forget again. All the weary has meant packing has been a slow and laborious process strung out over hours (‘Do you really need so many black tops, WP?’ ‘Well, what else am I going to wear?’ ‘Why not mix it up with some red?’ ‘Oh, alright fine, but if I have to pay extra for luggage tomorrow, WP, I’m blaming you… um… wait a sec…’) though pleasantly mellowed by a friend’s gift of Patricia Barber.

But in the true tradition of exhausted bloggers, I have a couple of places to send you off to: first, if I’d been more coherent, I would have responded to this post over at Slant Truth, because I both agree and wonder how refigurings of communities beyond commonality might work in the context of activism; second, partly because it relates to the Slant Truth post, and partly because the organisers are just so damn fine, the second CORA.

I figure they have to have proper net access somewhere in Adelaide, but posts might be intermittent til I find one close to where I’m staying. But decent new posts are coming, I promise, all boilin’ up inside… Til then!

CRAZY marking mode hath descended, and will be sticking around tomorrow as well which means I’m a tad boring/postless. More Derrida and (gasp!) some Nancy is up-coming (I’m reading a wee bit of him with some friends). I go away for a little while after that, and posting will be intermittent due to lack of toobular access. In the meantime, I’ve half-invaded Foucault is Dead (what is it with me that my comments should really just be posts, they’re so long?), so if you’re interested in Irigaray, Baudrillard, gifts, irrelevance, the nature of critique, anything vaguely poststructural and (I know, shocking they go together!) feminist, and insignificance, head over!

JUMPING from the last post to here is a little… abrupt for me, so bear with me. I may not be able to manage a whole lot more than a series of quotes I marked with ma widdle pencil. But I’ll figure that’s better than nuttin. All from Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money by Jacques Derrida with Peggy Kamuf translating.

“The King takes all my time; I give the rest to Saint-Cyr, to whom I would like to give all.”

So saith the epigraph, which forms the lynchpin around which the whole discussion turns. It comes from Madame de Maintenon (I think he likes that ‘Maintenon’ is close to ‘maintenant’ = now; D mentions it sometime later), the mistress and morganatic wife to the Sun King Louis XIV. I had no idea what ‘morganatic’ means, and the footnote was only a little helpful on this matter. As it turns out, morganatic marriages were ones in which the lower class/rank member got nada out of the whole deal except (at least originally) the ‘morning gift’ the husband gave the wife the morning after they were married (and yes, it would seem that, unsurprisingly, the wife was almost always the lower class/rank member of the marriage). More about the question of gifts and asymmetries later.

First, Derrida begins to prise open the relation between time and the gift. He spends quite a bit of time playing on the double (triple, actually, probably) meaning of present (as gift, and as here, and as now). So he asks questions about “my time,” what could this mean?

“The king takes all my time,” she says, a time that belongs to her therefore. But how can a time belong? What is it to have time? If a time belongs, it is because the word time designates metonymically less time itself than the things with which one fills it, with which one fills the form of time, time as form. It is a matter, then, of the things one does in the meantime [cependant] or the things one has at one’s disposal during [pendant] this time. Therefore, as time doe snot belong to anyone as such, one can no more take it, itself, that give it. Time already beings to appear as that which undoes this distinction between taking and giving, therefore also between receiving and giving, perhaps between receptivity and activity, or even between the being-affected and the affecting of any affection. Apparently and ccordig to common logic or economics, one can only exchange, one can only take or give, by way of metonymy, what is in time. (p. 3)

Saint-Cyr, by the way, is a charity for down-and-out but well-bred girls. Then D spends quite a bit of time pointing out the sense of the remainder in Madame de Maintenon’s words: the king takes all her time, yet that which is left over is given to Saint-Cyr. And then, the play on ‘present’:

Her desire would be there where she would like, in the conditional, to give what she cannot give, the all, that rest of the rest of which she cannot make a present. Nobody takes it all from her, neither the King nor Saint-Cyr. This rest of the rest of time of which she cannot make a present, that is what Madame de Maintenant… desires, that is in truth what she would desire, not for herself but so as to be able to given it [pour le pouvoir donner]—for the power of giving [pour le pouvoir de donner], perhaps so as to give herself this power of giving. She lack no lacking time, she lacks not giving enough. She lacks this leftover time that is left to her and that she cannot given—that she doesn’t know what to do with. But this rest of the rest of time, of a time that morevoer is nothing and that belongs properly to no one, this rest of the rest of time, that is the whole of her desire. Desire and the desire to give would be the same thing, a sort of tautology. But maybe as ell the tautological designation of the impossible. Maybe the impossible. The impossible may be—if giving and taking are also the same—the same, the same thing, which would certainly not be a thing.(p. 4)

We begin to see, here, what he goes on to elaborate on throughout the chapter: the gift as entirely bound to the impossible. The impossibility of giving is the focus, because, as we shall see, any gift recognised as gift by donor or donee entails return (in some form) and thus is an exchange, not a gift; and this means that the present can never be present if it is, indeed, to be (a) present. In this complex way, the essence of the gift lies in its impossibility. And so we will look at Being, time (and Being and Time) , and presents, presence, gifts, given things and economies.

Just because I promised up above: Rosalyn Diprose’s critique of this Derridean take on the logic of the gift is that while recognition of the gift may be impossible, it does nonetheless occur, and has deeply political effects. She points out that the recognition of gifts occurs asymmetrically: the gifts of those already recognised as generous (the privileged, in a variety of ways) tend to be ‘memorialised’ while the gifts of those who are not privileged, and thus not generous, tend to be forgotten. More on this in a separate post later, but for now: what does it mean for Madame de Maintenon to recognise her own gift-giving as a gift? For Derrida it would mean it is no longer a gift; yet in some ways, the gift-giving of women to the relationships they are in is so often un(der)recognised that her claim to be giving, rather than the fantasy of her merely kind of naturally exuding all the things she does (which is what the naturalisation of women as nurturers permits) could then come to be read as a political act. But is this act then trapped back within the logic of exchange? Ah, tangled webs!

PS I liked my ‘j’ today: that’s why it so big! 🙂

QUITE often these last couple of days (weeks, months, years!), I am feeling like the world shifted and got ugly while I wasn’t looking. It’s not at all true, of course, just a mark of the ways privilege inflects my life. But I can’t seem to shake the despondency that shudders up a gear into anger occasionally. Well, I’m going to try writing some of it out, and see how that goes. And then I’ll follow it (hopefully) with some notes on ‘The Time of the King’ so my hopefully not too horrible self-indulgence doesn’t sit at the top of the blog.

One of the worst things, actually, about the wake of the announced ‘national emergency’ is the demonstration of how very big the world is. I think WOC Blog is one of the only non-Australian blogs I read that mentioned anything about Howard’s sudden concern for childhood innocence (yeah, I know, it might just be the stuff I read, I get that); the rest of the blogosphere seems to not have recognised that this is happening, or perhaps it’s just not close enough to home to really matter. But the cheerfulness of some of the blogs I read has felt grating the last two days. It’s a bit like grief (and that’s probably not a coincidence): can’t everyone see the world has changed?

And of course it hasn’t, not precisely. To suggest that is to suggest that the plans being put into place for the Northern Territory had no precedent, when probably the scariest thing about them is that they are merely the extension of existing logics. Normalising logics. Assimilatory logics. White logics. The logic of guilt and innocence. The extraordinary thing is that the Liberal government has managed, in the midst of all this, to claim their own innocence. And not least over the latest death in custody horror: the erasure of the death of Mulrunji Doomadjee in this new plan for the NT ensures the acquittal of Hurley (and the government, really) remains uninterrogated; the declaration of innocence gets to stand because those indigenous people are just so guilty. Really. I mean, how long have they been in power? I don’t think I’ve voted in an election where Labour won (altogether too depressing a thought). But the point is, they’ve had more than ten years in which to actually begin (or, you know, not just undermine every single move towards) the amelioration of the sources of justified white Australian guilt. But without a ‘sorry,’ they move cheerfully on, marginalising entire communities of people until they find a space/Cause terrible enough for them to be able to declare their innocence (an innocence that they thereby make to extend back in time), a space which will allow them to deploy race yet again in service of the ‘tough on x’ election spin. All the better when what they’re doing can be ‘tough on Aboriginals’ at the same moment as being ‘tough on child sex abuse.’ You can catch the racists and the little-l liberals that way (and of course the pretty overlap between those two groups); and it’s the perfect way to crack the Labour lead (though given that… what, two? of the recommendations of 96 in the Little Children are Sacred are actually being taken up, you’d think that Labour would be able to suggest something other than manky ‘bipartisanship’! (I can’t remember where I read this, so I’m sorry; if you know/remember/wrote it(!), let me know, and I’ll edit it in.)) Not that I’m recommending those recommendations; just pointing out that there is, actually, an already-legitimised political platform they could use to stand on and perhaps even (gasp!) vaguely against Howard.

But it’s in the sweet dovetail the government has managed between small-l liberals and racists that the real pinch lies, I think. The introduction of draconian* measures which are apparently (though without real causation, as s0metim3s pointed out in the comments on the last post) in aid of ‘obvious’ liberal goods: no child sex abuse (huh! see dot-point 2 for a hint on the fact that we might want a national initiative on this front; can you imagine what that would look like? Rather different, I suspect!), kids attending school, sobriety and ‘proper’ sexuality means that a discussion of and disagreement with the means (let alone the assimilative tendencies of the ends) becomes a querying of that which the ends seek to ‘fix’. That is, it’s all too clear a risk to start asking too many questions. In the current climate, we’ve seen how this works: questions about the why of ‘terrorism’ are cast as disrespectful to the dead; questions about the why and why like this here get cast as a failure to act at best, and an approval of child sex abuse, alcohol and substance abuse, house ‘disrespecting,’ porn use and so on at worst. Or they will do.

In this context, there’s no space for responding the specificity of the situation: there’s no space to wonder about how unambiguous are the goods of education (especially after a Western liberal framework), for example. There’s no space to think critically about the ends we’re implicitly aiming to engender (it’s really not just about child sex abuse now, is it?), about how and why we can’t conceive of subjectivity let alone community done differently. Now, I know there’s complexities here that I’m treading all over with very big boots, but these are just the pained turning over of ideas: why is it so impossible to find spaces and ways to think the intersections of cultures? I know it’s very complicated, truly, and I’m not anywhere near well-versed enough in critical race studies to know if there are answers already (fill my parentheses in the comments, please!), but in amongst the discussions I am reading, I can’t help but wonder: are there really no ways to think through and negotiate the relations between cultures and communities (and I don’t just mean the ‘white’ and the ‘indigenous’ because they are already too homogenising and leave out a rather large chunk of the population besides (kinda my point)) in ways that don’t simply become assimilative, that don’t merely attempt through differently violent means (is that too strong?) to attempt to produce the same, the Same, the Same? Is it so impossible to enable (and I mean big-p politically, I’m not so naive as to imagine it’s not already happening) the envisaging of indigeneity, whiteness and community in ways that neither erase difference nor reify or romanticise it? In the end, I get the need to move forward; I’m just worried the PM is up to his usual tricks of leading us into the past in the name of a future comforting only because it’s familiar, because it’s already envisaged on the fantasies of that past, one we (well, some of us) know too well was and is a problem. We can only move forward from here, and I get that the intentions of some—perhaps even most, though I don’t really feel that generous—arise from the concern to make a viable future; but I think that to forget the past that brought us here can mean that we forget the specificity of the future we continue to envisage; and worse, to forget that what is actually needed is to find other (non-assimilative? hey, I can dream!) ways to think, dream, live, be other (and maybe unknown) futures.

Sigh. And my heart hurts.

*(y’know, I really like that word, but the context it’s used in means it almost always has bad associations. But dragons, really, on the whole, I suspect would do a better job)

SO apparently when Crikey links to you (for something which was really pretty ordinary, I have to say!), it blows all stats out of the water! Half of me is deeply grateful (hi to all those who’ve come by to say hi from crikey) and half of me knows that the little graph wordpress.com gives me each day is going to look a lot sadder from now on coz the scale’s been messed with. Still… I’m grateful.

I’m actually (when I’m not marking) just starting to read Derrida’s Given Time, which I know, should already be read before now. But expect some posts full of excerpts soon. The concept of the gift is kinda key to my thesis, so it’ll make for interesting reading, methinks, and hooks in rather nicely to the idea I and others have been kicking around of bodies and body politics being formed through contract…or are they? And I might even be able to find something to say about temporality! (I’m crossing fingers, because that’s chapter 4!).

But for today, I’m just going to feel a little horrible; my gut curls around itself and the lines between my brows won’t ease. Nor should they. As it turns out, the title of my last post was a little too accurate, as s0metim3s pointed out in the comments. Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley was yesterday (I think) acquitted not just of manslaughter but even of the assault of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004. He died of internal bleeding caused because his liver was split in half by his spine being shoved through it. Yet another death in custody that remains legally OK’d. I can’t think of much to say about it, really, except to point you here for some clear observations of the patterning of guilt and innocence, and to just repeat that there’s something truly hideous about the way that the innocence of ‘Australia/ns’ is earned and reiterated in and through death.

NEAR the end of s0metim3s’ post about the creepily titled “Little Children Are Sacred” report on child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities, she draws attention to a disturbing dynamic which emphasised how much the guilt/innocence binary works to homologously inform and reinforce the function of so many others. In this case, the distinction between ‘Australia/ns’ (designating the intertwining of white Australian bodies with the imagining of the body politic; see earlier posts for clarification) and Aboriginal/s works, as s0metim3s points out, to ensure the innocence of ‘Australia/ns’ with regard to sex abuse. It informs the horror expressed at the way ‘Muslims’ ‘treat their women’ (a phrase intriguing for the proprietorial inflection produced). Especially, as was pointed out at a forum at UTS a while ago (the ad for which I, under my pre-blogger pseudonym and with probably terrible blog etiquette, stuck in a comment on the archive (linking coz I can’t remember which speaker said it)) in the Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly case (see October 2006 comments; and please don’t take this link as advocating a position, I didn’t read the details): Howard expressed horror at the comments made, as if the well-she-wore-a-short-skirt-so-she-deserved-it rhetoric weren’t alive and well in ‘Australia/ns’ and affecting our truly horrifying rape conviction rates (estimated 1% of all sexual assault ends in conviction). It informs the proposed new cut-welfare regime for Aboriginal people, because innocent ‘Australia/ns’ always ‘respect housing’ (giggle: I’m sorry, that’s just such a ridiculous concept!), make sure their kids attend school and never ‘abuse substances’ in contrast to guilty indigenous communities. It informs the characterisation of pedophilia as merely a product of ‘monstrous individuals’ in the churches (“no, no, we are innocent; they, they are guilty, nothing to do with us or how we produce sexuality! (And we don’t like that Foucault guy!)”). The scapegoating of the already-othered other as a way of disowning responsibility for issues entire tangles of cultures and people and economies are actually responsible for is horribly problematic most of all because it works, appealing to and reinforcing bodily (in)tolerances, appealing to and reinforcing the imagined body of ‘Australia/ns.’ Over and again, innocence is claimed merely in the act of pointing out the guilty; and the configuring of the innocent as innocent in and through that move is never drawn attention to, because everyone’s too busy looking at the awful people they’re pointing at.

It reminds me a little of some comments the totally awesome Susan Stryker made at a conference in Brisbane in April, when discussing (an image taken from) 300. I didn’t see the movie, so I can’t speak to it directly, but she pointed out the characterisation of Xerxes (with his hand on the Spartan dude’s shoulder): kinda camp, kinda queer, kinda feminine, kinda giant, kinda animalistic, kinda Oriental and always hedonistic. The horror of a totally-guilty other composited of all the others against which the Spartans became innocent and good; and authentic, and straight, and masculine, and normal, and human, and white (implicitly, at least) and disciplined. An image for our times (and no, I didn’t keep up with the Zizek debate, sorry, so if I’m repeating/crossing debates I’m unaware of, feel free to comment and fill in my unexamined parentheses!)

RECENTLY, WordPress.com retired its ‘feed stats’ page. They claimed it was terribly inaccurate anyway, but it’s sad loss to a new blog, I have to say. I didn’t think I’d be so drawn into the whole stats thing, given that my commitment to the blog was really not based on whether people read it or not, but strangely, watching the line go up and down is a little exciting (and thanks to my linkers for their generous sharing of blog traffic, which caused the ups!). And it became involving. When it dropped low, at least I could comfort myself that the feed stats balanced it out a little. So I’ve burned my feed (seriously, da ‘tubes are responsible for some bizarre new language uses) with feedburner. If you feel like letting your reading me be a tiny ego-stroke, use the RSS in the right-hand column. If you feel you don’t know me nearly well enough to do any stroking of anything, feel free to use the link in your browser bar (that remains the wordpress one.)

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