Lyotard, Heidegger, Jews, and “the jews”–#1

7/20/09

Today is the first of three posts on Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”, translated by Andreas Michel and Mark Roberts (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1990; orig. French version 1988).  The use of the scare quotes and the lower case ‘j’ in “the jews” is intentional in the original French work and in its English translation.  By “the jews” Lyotard means the always already rejected, projected, and repressed “Other” of so called Western society.  According to Lyotard, it is only accidental, in a certain sense, that the Jews, meaning some actual, historical group of people, came to be identified with “the jews,” in the sense he has given to that phrase.

The entry below is one I first wrote in my philosophical  journal on the date indicated.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Years after I first read it, I am currently rereading Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews“.  Since first reading it, my focus has shifted to trauma, and I am reading it this time with an eye to that.  There are some thought-provoking passages, seen from that perspective of the focus on trauma.  One is on pp. 15-16, where Lyotard writes:

Nachträglichkeit [the “belatedness” that, according to Freud, characterizes trauma] thus implies the following:  (1) a double blow that is constitutively asymmetrical, and (2) a temporality that has noting to do with what the phenomenology of consciousness (even that of Saint Augustine) can thematize.

The double blow includes a first blow, the first excitation, which upsets the apparatus with such “force” that it is not registered. . . . The discovery of an originary repression leads Freud to assume that it cannot be represented.  And it is not representable because, in dynamic terms, the quantity of energy transmitted by this shock is not transformed into “objects,” not even inferior ones, objects lodged in  the substratum, in the hell of the soul, but it remains potential, unexploitable, and thus ignored by the apparatus. . . .

The first blow, then, strikes the apparatus without observable internal effect, without affecting it. It is a shock without affect.  With the second blow there takes place an affect without a shock.  I buy something in a store, anxiety crushes me, I flee, but nothing had really happened. . . . And it is this flight, that feeling that accompanies it, which informs consciousness that there is something, without being able to tell what it is. . . . The essence of the event:  that there is “comes before” what there is.

This “before” of the quod is also an “after” of the quid. For whatever is now happening in the store (i.e., the terror and the flight) does not come forth; it comes back from the first blow, from the shock, from the “initial” excess that remained outside the scene, even unconscious, deposited outside representation. . . . This chronologization of a time that is not chronological, this retrieval of a time (the first blow) that is lost because it has not had time and place in the psychic apparatus, that has not been noticed there, fulfills exactly the presumed function of a protective shield that Freud attributes to it in Jenseits [Beyond the Pleasure Principle].

Then, on the next page (17), he uses this to argue that, with regard the idea, in Freud, of “the scene of a seduction perpetrated on the child, in ontogenesis, and in several versions of a phylogenetic event (including the last glaciations), the common motivation of these hypotheses (always fantastic) is nothing else than the unpreparedness [in principle, I would add] of the psychic apparatus for the ‘first shock’. . . . It is in this  fashion that the principle of an originary–I would say ontological–‘seduction’ cannot be eluded (Laplanche), of a ‘duction’ toward the inside of something (of energy) that remains outside of  it.”

These passages, and even more the next one I will cite below, from  pages 26-27, add support to the suspicion I express in my “9/11 Never Happened” piece, about how the proliferation of images of 9/11, as earlier of Vietnam, served  only to cover over and avoid 9/11 and Vietnam.  Geared into that is my growing uneasiness in the face of all use of images of such things as the Holocaust,  9/11, or, in general trauma of whatever sort.

Here are the later passages  (pp. 26-27):  “But to make us forget the crime [of the Holocaust] by representing it is much more appropriate” than even the endeavor to “efface” it by “the criminals disguis[ing] themselves as courageous little shopkeepers [as did Eichman, for the prime example],” or to efface it by “‘denazi[ying]’ them on the spot [as the Allies did, I suppose would be a good example, when they moved to make Germany a central piece in the chess game of the Cold War], or else one opens a lawsuit for a reappraisal of the crime itself (the ‘detail’), [and] one seeks dismissal of the case” (as he discusses on the preceding page, 25).  [Making us forget the crime by representing it is “more appropriate” than any of those ways of trying to “efface” it,]

if it is true that, with ‘the jews,’ it is a question of something like the unconscious affect of which the Occident does not want any knowledge. It cannot be represented without being missed, being forgotten anew, since it defies images and words.  Representing ‘Auschwitz’ in images and words is a way of making us forget this.  I am not thinking here only of bad movies and widely distributed TV series, of bad novels or “eyewitness accounts.”  I am thinking of those very cases that, by their exactitude, their severity, are, or should be, best qualified not to let us forget.  But even they represent what, in order not to be forgotten as that which is forgotten itself, must remain unrepresentable.  Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah is an exception, maybe the only one. . . .

Whenever one represents, one inscribes in memory, and this might seem a good defense against forgetting it.  It is, I believe, just the opposite.  Only that which has been inscribed can, in the current sense of the term, be forgotten, because it could be effaced.  But what is not inscribed, through lack of inscribable surface, of duration and place for the inscription to be situated, . . . cannot be forgotten, does not offer a hold to forgetting, and remains present “only” as an affection that one cannot even qualify, like a state of  death in the life of the spirit.  One must, certainly, inscribe in words, in images.  One cannot escape the necessity of representing.  It would be sin itself to believe oneself safe and sound.  But it is one thing to do it in view of saving the memory and quite another to try to preserve the remainder, the unforgettable forgotten, in writing.

It is to be feared that word representations (books, interviews) and thing representations (films, photographs) of the extermination of the Jews . . . by the Nazis bring back the very thing, . . . in the orbit of secondary repression. . . . It is to be feared that, through representation, it turns into an “ordinary” repression.  One will say, It was a great massacre, how horrible!  Of course, there have been others, “even” in contemporary Europe (the crimes of Stalin).  Finally, one will appeal to human rights, one cries out “never again” and that’s it!  It is taken care of.

I suggest just that same thing in “9/11 Never Happened,” where I argue that the worldwide proliferation via the mass media of video images of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the immediate aftermath, including people jumping to their deaths rather than die in the fires raging in the towers–those video images with which we were globally assaulted even while the attacks themselves were still unfolding in “real time”–may as well have been deliberately designed efforts to gloss over the event, the trauma, itself, to deaden and divert us from it,  to make us forget the unforgettable by remembering little or nothing but those graven and craven images:  an idolatry!

As I also said in a footnote somewhere in “9/11 Never Happened,” about the television coverage of the war in Vietnam:  Far from bringing the war “home” to us,  bringing it into our very “living rooms,” as has often been claimed it did, the televisioning of the Vietnamese war actually did the opposite, burying the war beneath all those images, pushing it back so far as to be beyond recall–or almost!

That is “the horror, the horror.”

Repression, Recurrence, and Representation

3/18/09

Below are two entries I made in my philosophical journal last summer. They complete my journal reflections on Harvard psychologist Richard J. McNally’s Remembering Trauma (Cambridge:  The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), reflections which I began in the entry contained in my preceding post, “Recurrent Trauma and Representational Memory.”

At bottom, one might argue, all trauma is “recurrent,” so to speak. Insofar as trauma is characterized by Freudian “belatedness” (Nachträglichkeit), the very “occurrence” of trauma is characterized as re-occurrence, the coming back around again of what was denied a place to take place heretofore.  Trauma always has, phenomenologically, the structure that Jean-Francois Lyotard in Heidegger and “the jews”, translated by Andreas Michel and Mark Roberts (University of Minnesota Press, 1990) calls a “double blow,” which he describes this way (pp. 15-16):

The double blow includes a  first blow, the first excitation, which upsets the apparatus with such ‘force’ that it is not registered. . . . The discovery of an originary repression leads Freud to assume that it cannot be represented.  And it is not representable because,  in dynamic terms, the quantity of energy transmitted by this ‘shock’ is not transformed into ‘objects,’ not even inferior ones, objects lodged in the substratum, in the hell of  the  soul, but it remains potential, unexploitable, and thus ignored by the apparatus. . . .

The first blow, then, strikes the apparatus without observable internal effect, without affecting it.  It is a shock without affect.  With the second blow there takes place an affect without shock.  I buy something in a store, anxiety crushes me, I flee, but nothing had really happened. . . . And it is this flight, that feeling that accompanies it, which informs consciousness that there is  something, without being able to tell what it is. . . . The essence of the [traumatic] event:  that there is comes before what there is.

This ‘before’ of the quod [the “that”] is also an ‘after’ of the quid [the “what”].  For whatever is now happening in the store (i.e., the terror and the flight) does not come  forth; it comes back from the first blow, from the shock, from the ‘initial’ excess that remained outside the scene, even unconscious, deposited outside representation.

To this way of thinking, then, all trauma as such would  have the paradoxical structure of “the return of the repressed,” the re-turn, that is, of what was denied any turn in the first place (at the point of Lyotard’s “first blow” in the quote above):  All trauma would  be “recurrent” trauma. 

Yet, whatever one finally wants to say about such analyses as Lyotard’s, according to which the phrase “recurrent trauma” becomes redundant, authors such as McNally clearly have an obvious and important difference in mind when they differentiate “recurrent” trauma, trauma which strikes the same person  repeatedly, such as it recurrently strikes children in homes where abuse is the order not just of one day but of everyday, from trauma which strikes only once, so to  speak, such as the railroad accident that Freud himself uses in Beyond the Pleasure Principle to explain his notion of “belatedness” itself. 

The difference between those two defining examples is also what is in play, to give another good example, in a book I am currently reading, by clinicians for clinicians, called Treating Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders:  An Evidence Based Guide, (New York:  The Guilford Press, 2009).  Christine A. Courtois and Julian D. Ford, the editors of that volume, use the very distinction at issue in their diagnostic definition of what they, following Judith Herman, a longtime leader in the field of trauma studies and author of the now classic work Trauma and Recovery, call “complex psychological trauma” (p. 1): 

We define complex psychological  trauma as involving traumatic stressors that (1) are repetitive or prolonged; (2) involve direct harm and/or neglect and abandonment by caregivers or ostensibly responsible adults; (3) occur at developmentally vulnerable times in the  victim’life, such as early childhood; and (4) have great potential to compromise severely a child’s development.

In the Sophist Plato says that the philosopher is like the child who, when one offers her the choice between two gifts, one in each of two closed hands one holds out to the child, chooses both.  Well, at least in the present case, I can lay claim to that philosopher’s credential, the one of being like the child begging for both:  I want both what Lyotard’s analysis has to offer, and what the various authors in the “evidence-based guide” to treating victims of  “complex” trauma have to offer.

Whether and, if so, how to have both is the thought that is still struggling to get thought, as I put it in my preceding post, in many of the entries on trauma in my philosophical  journal, including those on McNally given below (from three different days, as indicated by the dates given). 

 Toward the end of the second entry below I refer to contemporary Canadian philosopher of  science Ian Hacking’s notion of an “interactive kind.”  By that he means a concept, or “kind,” the understanding and definition of which is altered by the very behavior of those who accept identification as belonging to the kind in question,their behavior after accepting that classification with regard to themselves.  

In The Social Construction of What? Hacking uses depression as an example of such a “kind,” writing on page 123: 

A person undertakes a certain regimen of  behavioral modification, intended to diminish the  symptoms  and  feelings of depression.  Numerous kinds of behavior are reinforced, all of which run counter to the  classification depressed.  The patient starts to live in this new way.  If the behavior modification works, then even our psychiatric understanding of  depression changes.  Yet simultaneously, by living in this way, adopting certain types of behavior, a certain chemical condition of the brain, thought to be correlated with depression, is alleviated.  We have a dynamic working at the level of classification and biolooping.

A few pages later (on p. 130) he goes on to argue that the emergence of such “interactive” kinds or concepts can actually alter the past itself: 

But the past, of course, is fixed.  Not so. . . . Events in a life can now [after the emergence of a new kind/concept] be seen as events of a new kind, a kind that may not have been conceptualized when the event was experienced or the act performed.  What we experienced becomes recollected anew, and thought in terms that could not  have been thought at the time.  Experiences are not  only redescribed; they are refelt.

A bit later, Hacking applies the idea of an interactive kind to victims of child abuse, even going so far as to argue that with the acceptance of the  identification of oneself as such a victim,  one’s very past itself is  changed.  Thus, he writes (p. 161), with the emergence of the concept of child abuse there occurs “the phenomenon of restrospectively seeing events as abusive which were not directly and consciously experienced as such at the time,” a phenomenon in which there takes place “a radical re-evaluation of childhood experience,  a reclassification, and in a way a re-experiencing of it.”  Regarding this phenomenon, he asks (p. 162),

What happens to the woman who now comes to see herself as having been sexually abused?  I am not referring to the person who has merely kept an awful private secret, who now may feel liberated by being able to talk about it, or oppressed by having it brought to surface consciousness again.  I am referring to entering a new world, a world in which one was formed in ways one had not known.  Consciousness is not raised but changed.  Someone now sees herself as abused as a child, because she has a new concept in terms of which to understand herself. . . . Child abuse is a new kind that has changed the past of many people, and so changed their very sense of who they are and how they have come to be.

With those explanations, I will now turn to the final entries on McNally’s book from my journal last summer.

 

 

Thursday, July 24, 2008

McNally, p. 88:  “Reviewing recent epidemiological studies, Rachel Yehuda [in “Post-traumatic stress disorder.”  New England Journal of Medicine, 346. 108-114] emphasizes that interpersonal violence tends to produce PTSD at higher rates than does other trauma.”

P. 96:  “The final proximal [sic.] cause of PTSD may be the way the person interprets the meaning of the stressor.  Ultimately, the psychological  interpretation of the event may be the crucial determinant of whether it produces PTSD.”

P. 110:  “In any event, if replicative nightmares are nothing more than compelling memory illusions [as he has been strongly suggesting], that dreams can seem to replay the event is an important fact about how people remember trauma.  [He’s onto something there.]  Only trauma survivors appear to report the memory illusion of having their traumatic experiences replayed with frightening regularity while they sleep.”

 

Friday, July 25, 2008

McNally, p. 173:  On “repression”:  “. . . it is often difficult to determine whether the missing information was encoded but is inaccessible, or whether it was never encoded in the first place.”

Even prior to reading this, I was thinking that the best way to take the notion of  repression positively–rather than just rejecting it, as he  does–might well  be to treat it as a matter of not seeing in the first place, rather than seeing (i.e., experiencing), and then pushing down and denying access to consciousness.

At any rate,  if nothing else, at least reading McNally has given me an impetus to return to what first and most interested me in the phenomenon of trauma–even before  I starting thinking of it in terms of [the word] “trauma,” for that  matter, and was just using “event.”  That is what Bergson calls “the impossible but real/actual”–the incomprehensibility, within the horizons [of understanding] it disrupts, of the event.  I want to steer clear of all the endless debate about “repression” and “forgotten[/recovered] memory” (and its counter–“false memory”) and all.

 

Saturday, July 26, 2008

McNally’s book belongs among such “debunking” volumes as those of Stanton Peel [e.g., The Diseasing of America] (whom McNally does not cite), or of Carol Tavris [e.g., The Mismeasure of Women] or Ian Hacking (both of  whom he does cite).  He does not make any use, however, of what I  find most interesting in Hacking’s discussion of “interactive kinds,” which McNally mentions on the very next to  last page (284) of his book–the notion, which, specifically, Hacking applies to child abuse victims for whom the  new emergence of the very category of such abuse gives them, as it were, a changed past.  That would not fit with McNally’s own axe-grinding operations, I guess, designed, as they are, just to trash notions such as repression, dissociation, or “recovered memories.”  (His discussion of Hacking’s notion of “interactive kinds” is just off kilter altogether, in my judgment.)

Recurrent Trauma and Representational Memory

3/16/09

Today’s post and my next one, planned for two days from now, on Wednesday, March 18, contain entries in my philosophical journal from last summer concerning a book by Harvard psychologist Richard J. McNally, in which he takes to task the idea of the repression of the memory of trauma.  Although in my journal entries below and to be posted Wednesday I am critical of what I understand to be McNally’s own position on the matter, the issues that he and various other scholars have raised perform a valuable service by pointing to crucial obscurities in the notion of repression itself.  Critiques such as his can thus spur us to refine our thinking about repression and related matters, even if they do not provide good grounds for rejecting the very notion of repression, as I understand McNally to be suggesting we do.

As McNally, of one, is well aware, the issue of repression cannot be separated from that of the nature of memory in general, and the connection of memory to representation. All three of those key terms–repression, memory, and trauma–are richly and essentially ambiguous. To my own way of thinking, formed as it has been by better than four decades of reading Heidegger, the challenge is not to remove that ambiguity or even to “control” it, so much as it is to respect it, heed it, and remain open to the flashes of insight that the interplay of the variety of meanings may continue to bring us.

At any rate, I have touched on the interconnections of memory, trauma, repression, and representation in a number of posts already made at this site. The interested reader should refer to the table of contents for this blog that has now been created and posted, to find those earlier discussions. What is more, I will revisit the same general issues many times yet in the entries from my journal still to be posted.

The reservations I express below concerning McNally’s position should not be taken as my final word on the matter of memory, tauma, repression, and representation–or even as any last word on McNally’s view, since my reservations below on that score are meant to be very tentative and exploratory. My own thinking on the whole complex of issues involved here is very much still in process. If and when that thinking eventually succeeds in becoming fully thought, I will no doubt post the news here.

    

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Richard J. McNally, Remembering Trauma(Cambridge, MA:  Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003, 2005).  P. 2:  “the  purpose of this book is to lay out the evidence that supports these [following 3] conclusions.”  To wit:  “First, people remember horrific experiences all too well.   Victims are seldom incapable of remembering their trauma.  Second, people sometimes do not think about disturbing events for long periods of time, only to be reminded of them later.   However, events that are experienced as overwhelmingly traumatic at the time  of their occurrence rarely slip from awareness.  Third, there is no reason to postulate a special mechanism of repression or dissociation to explain why people may not think about disturbing experiences for long periods.  A failure to think about something does not entail an inability to remember it.”

Even if we grant his 3 theses, I’ll be interested to see how–if at all–he addresses the issue of what, in effect, motivates not thinking about such experiences for long periods:  If they are so disturbing, why are they not thought about for such long periods so often?  The avoidance  of recollections of disturbing memories is a sort of willful ignorance of them, it would seem.  What does that say about us and trauma?

 

Some points of interest, at any rate.

P. 35:  “People with posttraumatic stress disorder suffer from involuntary explicit memory [rather than “implicit” memory] as exemplified by unbidden, intrusive recollection of horrific events from their past.  [Which, by the way, would run against the effort “not to think about” such events, surely!]  Involuntary explicit memory deserves more attention from psychologists in how people remember trauma.”

P. 36:  He introduces “what psychologist Ulric Neisser calls a repisodic memory–a memory constructed from repeated episodes of the same type,” and goes on to note:  “The more episodes of a certain type we experience, the harder it becomes to  distinguish among them.” However:  “While repetition makes it harder to retrieve any specific episode, it strengthens overall memory for the entire class of event.  Frequent flyers are highly unlikely to forget having flown on airplanes even though their memories of individual flights may blur together.  Likewise, a person  who suffers many beatings as a child may find it difficult to recall details from any particular attack–unless something unusual occurred during it–yet will never forget what it was like to be subjected to such violence.”  So far, I’d say, okay in general (though [one might wonder] why someone who cites evidence for whatever he can cites none here–for the point on flying or its extension to cover traumatic events as well as such non-traumatic ones today as air travel).  But what he goes on next to make of this is much more questionable:  He faults”some psychologists,” such as Lenore Terr (the only one he actually mentions), who “actually believe that the more frequently a person is traumatized, the less likely the person is to remember having been traumatized,” as, for example, Terr says that children who  experience repeated trauma “often forget,” and may even “forget whole segments of childhood–from birth to age 9, for instance.”

This, he says, “flies in the face of everything we know about memory.”  But I don’t buy that analysis.  Indeed, when I  first read his remarks about “some psychologists” and Terr, I  thought they were merely elaborating upon the points he had just recapitulated on “repisodic” memory–not contradicting them.  Then when I reread the paragraph after being thrown by his concluding remark about “flying in the face” of the evidence, I had to take him to  be meaning that, for Terr, all memory of having been abused would have to vanish, for what she says to be true, analogously to all memory of having flown in airplanes being erased by recurrent flying.

But even by that interpretation, what he claims does not necessarily follow.  It would only follow if there are no sufficiently powerful relevant differences between repeated travelling by air and repeated being abused–relevant with regard for possible mechanisms accounting for Tarr’s claim, even while granting “the evidence” on “repisodic” memory.  After all, for example, flying on airplanes is not as such traumatic (though it may be episodically so, if there is some trouble on a given flight), whereas being abused is as such traumatic.  Well, perhaps the overall numbing that would tend to accompany living in an abusive household flattens being abused itself out to the level of “normal,” which flying virtually never would be (one does not live on airplanes, as one can even on houseboats–and I can imagine someone who’d spent her whole life on a houseboat, surrounded by others living on houseboats, who  might “forget” that it was even a houseboat, and just remember it as a house), such that whole decades could just sort of be lived out, but without making any lasting impression on memory.

I’m not saying that’s how it is, just that that’s how it might be.  But the latter is all it takes to throw McNally’s claim out.

Our Relationships to the Dead: Some Remarks on Heidegger, Sartre, and Psychoanalysis

2/16/09

Today’s post contain entries, written earlier in my philosophical journal, occasioned by my reading of Colin Davis, Haunted Subjects:  Psychoanalysis and the Return of the Dead (New York:  Pallgrave Macmillan, 2007).  

 

Friday, May 30, 2008

Davis, p. 34:  “By projecting the violence of society onto an identifiable group of criminals, the forces of order can assure the intelligibility of evil, deny their own responsibility for it, and indulge their inclination to violence in eradicating it.”

That fits to a tee the approach/lack of approach of Bush and his administration to 9/11.

 

Sunday, June 1, 2008

[He misunderstands both Heidegger and Sartre] on p. 52, on death and the dead, when Davis writes that in Heidegger death is, by Sartre’s critique [which Davis misstates, in my judgment], “too much the property of the individual,” [since] in Heidegger death would never in any sense be said to be any such “property.”  Later on the same page Davis goes on:  “Sartre differs from Heidegger in maintaining that a relation with the other persists beyond death.”  Davis bases that remark on a misunderstanding of Heidegger’s noting that the dead are no longer there “in the world” with the Dasein that remains alive and in the world.  Davis puts that, a few lines earlier, this way:  “For Heidegger, the dead are no longer part of our world.”  So far, okay–but only when properly understood, whereas Davis shows he does not understand it properly by going on:  “For Sartre, on the other hand, the dead are all around us . . .”  That sets up his already cited remark that the issue is whether one can still relate to the dead, once they’re dead.  Well, of course the dead are no longer “part of our world,” but for neither Sartre nor Heidegger does that entail we do not continue to be “in relation” to the dead.

 

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Davis (p. 77) on Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok (of The Shell and the Kernel):  “In their study of the Wolf Man and their treatment of their own patients they came across what appeared to be signs of traumatized behavior which could not be traced back to any event in the life of the patient.  This lead to their most radical contribution to psychoanalytic theory:  the claim that the patient may be the bearer of someone else’s trauma.”

What if those “signs” are read differently, however, as pointing to the “structural” root of all trauma, whether it can be correlated to an “event,” in the relevant sense (i.e., some datable occurrence), or not?  What if trauma is thought as, say, the surfacing of the truth of the lie on which the entire edifice of Lacan’s Symbolic, and all that goes with it, including “sovereignty,” has to build itself?

 

P. 80, still concerning Abraham  and Torok:  “The dead do not return; what haunts us is the actively known injunction not to know what the dead bequeath us.   What we suffer from are the symptoms left behind by the secrets of others.”  P. 82:  “It is not the repressed which returns to wreck our lives, but the shame of others.”  What this forgets, however, us Heidegger’s lesson that I am myself, at least in my “everydayness,” one of those “others.”  And the model of repression here is still based on tracing repression to  some datable “event,” not to a structural fault.

 

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Davis, P. 89:  “To put it schematically, deconstruction is about learning to live with ghosts, psychoanalysis is about learning to live without them.”  Yet, as his own discussion goes on to indicate, that does not hold of Lacan; so at most it does for Abraham and Torok:  “The Lacanian analysand has to  learn that the ‘subject supposed to know’ in fact knows nothing, the Big Other’s most closely kept secret is that he does not exits.”

I do think, however, his critique of Derrida’s hauntology does have [some] weight.  P. 91:  “Derrida’s reluctance to cancel the debt [to the dead] and to lay the spectre can be traced back to a fear endemic in the post-postmodern world.  More terrifying than the return of ghosts may be the prospect that there is nothing to return, no survival, no resurrection, and no commanding voice from beyond the grave.”  Though the tenor is significantly different, this reminds me of my own refrain, in last fall’s trauma seminar [a seminar I taught at the University of Denver in fall quarter 2007 under the title “Philosophy and 9/11:  Sovereignty in Traumatic Times”], that “the trauma is that there is no trauma.”  His conclusion is good, on p. 92:  “Derrida is the philosophical  equivalent of the Big Brother contestant [on the TV program so named], willing to obey the ghosts’ commands even if he cannot yet quite discern what they might be.  And what returns, with the ghost, is the Big Other, the spectre of authority which we perhaps do not wish to learn to live without.”

A note, though:  the problem is not the idea of a debt to the dead that can never be paid.  Rather, it is the reduction of such indebetedness [to one] still calling to be paid, even if it can never be.  What needs to be abandoned is not the idea of an unpayable debt, but, rather, the idea that one should keep on trying to pay it anyway.