As I look back at Difference and Givenness, a book about which I have so many ambivalent feelings and from which I feel so distant, I think that if there is any accomplishment in this text it is to be found in the seventh chapter “Overcoming Speculative Dogmatism: Time and the Transcendental Field”. If I feel so ambivalent about Difference and Givenness, then this is because it is a book I believe to be populated by the sorts of micro-fascisms described by Foucault in his preface to Anti-Oedipus. It is a police book, filled with the desire to correct and dampen exuberant Deleuzians, assert academic hierarchy, and shackle them to constraint. It is a book that reeks of scholarship and a scholarly mentality, full of ressentiment directed at those who refuse to bow to the philosophical tradition and “practice rigor”. Rather than a book that functions as a “difference engine”, functioning to open up possibilities through aleatory appropriations that lead in surprising directions, instead it strove to maintain boundaries, borders, and possibilities. The book is shit in the psychoanalytic, object drive, sense of the word.
This had something to do with the context in which it was written. Overcome by an institutional framework dominated by phenomenology and Kant– indeed impressed by these things –I was, at the time, obsessed with the question of what entitled me to advocate Deleuze’s position. “How does the Deleuzian respond to the Husserlian”, I wondered. What a sad question, this question of authorization, as if we must first show our identification before passing through a series of gates or allowing ourselves to speak. As if we must first know in advance, ground things in advance, rather than engage in polemos. It is the question of an obsessional that is always preparing to begin without ever beginning, that is always deferring his encounter with his love as he gets the right career, becomes worthy, makes things right with the respective families (there’s always something left to do insuring that the eventual encounter is deferred), rather than simply passing to the act and letting the chips fall where they may.
But if there is something redeeming in this wretched, sad work of ressentiment and this sordid affair, if there is something that resists our academic machinery that only allows discipleship and slavish commentary, creating horrifying grey vampires and minotaurs that fight to the death, defending against any slight deviation, innovation or creation that isn’t beyond in some unobtainable realm recreating the rites of the sacred golden bull, it is to be found in the seventh chapter. Like all good obsessional phenomena it contains a marker of its own lie, the seed of its own undoing, an acknowledgment of its own fantasy, and this is what takes place in my seventh chapter. Like the rest of the passive work, it remains sad in that it contends that we must still pass through critical thought to reach speculative uncertainty. However, unlike the rest of the work, so obsessed with faux rigor coming from the Derrideans, the Husserlians, and the saddest creatures of all, the hermeneuts, it strives to undermine the very premise of all these approaches, showing that the difference between the critical and the speculative is indiscernible. In doing so, it sought to free the rights of the speculative, but was still ambivalent, as Nick Srnicek notes in his sensitive review of my book, so that the project of obsessional reflexivity might be abandoned once and for all. At least by me.
And oddly, it accomplished that goal, as uncertain or unconvincing as those arguments were. I can still recall, like a Spring day, my analytic session with Bruce Fink. Why did I choose a position at a two year school? “There”, I told Fink, “I will have academic freedom. I will be able to explore my interest in all styles of philosophy, psychoanalysis, biology, physics, history, literature, and so on without being required to be anything. No one will care what or where I publish, so I will be free to do what I want.” In his characteristic manner he said “hmmmm!!!”, making a honking sound like one of the squash horns my grandfather used to make for me as a young boy. At the time I thought that was a rationalization. Often I still do. I took myself out of the prestige game, though I still yearn for it sometimes. But what I was doing ultimately, I think, was giving myself the freedom to speculate. What a relief it was to read Bourdieu’s Homo Academicus years later! Perhaps, above all, what that seventh chapter gave me was the authorization to speculate without bowing before the obsessional alter of “Continental rigor” [editorial note: defense]. However, the fact that I would undermine my own work in this way must indicate that here there’s still something unresolved. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel embarrassment whenever anyone wants to discuss the work or wants insight into it.