The complicated conjunction between “principle” and “anarchy” is motivated on the alleged or suspected fact that the so-called “hypothesis of metaphysical closure,” and the consequent loss of any recourse to principles or principial thought, do not immediately condemn us to an a-principial world, since, on the “transitional” line, at the line but not beyond the line, we can only think, our language can only offer us to think, the lack of a recourse to principles through the painful enunciation of the principle of anarchy, the principle of non-principles. This is not a trivial affair. If, as Reiner Schürmann establishes at the end of Broken Hegemonies, a hybristic insistence on the maintenance of principles as constant presence equals something like (non-ethical, non-moral, but nevertheless overwhelming) evil, the principle of anarchy might also be considered historial evil—is it not after all a reluctant recourse to principles in the last instance? A desperate clinging to the principle—an irremediable and yet bogus extension of its presence—under the ruse of anarchy? How are we to negotiate the ultimate catastrophe assailing the hypothesis of closure?
I do not mean to answer that question. Let me only point out a curious circumstance. Emmanuel Lévinas, whose work could be considered committed to the awakening of goodness in his sense, published Autrement qu’Ëtre in 1974. His Chapter 4 opens with a section on “Principle and Anarchy” (Otherwise Than Being, 99-102). It could be expected that any posterior attempt at dealing with the “and” in Lévinas´ phrase would refer back to that work and those pages. And yet Schürmann’s Le principe de l’anarchie. Heidegger et la question de l’agir (1982) devotes only one footnote to Lévinas (in the English translation, page 346, on the difference between originary and original Parmenidism), and, let us say, half of another one, whose main thrust is a sharp critique of Derrida: “Among the company of writers, notably in France, who today herald the Nietzschean discovery that the origin as one was a fiction, there are those who espouse the multiple origin with jubilation, and this is apparently the case with Deleuze. There are others who barely conceal their regret over the loss of the One, and this may indeed be the case with Derrida. It suffices to listen to him express his debt to Lévinas: ‘I relate this concept of trace to what is at the center of the latest work of Emmanuel Lévinas,’ Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 70. The article by Emmanuel Lévinas to which he refers announces in its very title—‘La trace de l’autre,’ the Other’s trace—how far Derrida has traveled from his mentor. For Derrida, the discovery that the ‘trace’ does not refer back to an Other whose trace it would be, is like a bad awakening: ‘arch-violence, loss of the proper, of absolute proximity, of self-presence, in truth the loss of what has never taken place, of a self-presence which has never been given but only dreamed of,’ ibid., p. 112” (Schürmann, Heidegger on Being and Acting, n. 44, 321-22). As you have just seen, there is no mention of Lévinas’s take on “principle” “and” “anarchy.” Unless we take the implied, indirect critique to Lévinas’ notion of the trace as referring to an Other understood as neighbor, always already nostalgic of the pure presence of the One, as a terminal disagreement at the level of conceptualization. But the footnote does not really warrant it. So we can only hypothesize.
For Lévinas “consciousness” does not exhaust the horizon of being and should not be, against modernity, considered the being of beings. Or perhaps it can, but then the positing of a me-ontological region, beyond being, certainly beyond consciousness, becomes obligatory. Within that structure, “principle” is very much on the side of consciousness: in fact, subjectivity is the principle. “Being a theme, being intelligible or open, possessing oneself, losing itself and finding itself out of an ideal principle, an arché, in its thematic exposition, being thus carries on its affair of being. The detour of ideality [Lévinas has just said that ‘even an empirical, individual being is broached across the ideality of logos,’ 99] leads to coinciding with oneself, that is, to certainty, which remains the guide and guarantee of the whole spiritual adventure of being. But this is why this adventure is no adventure. It is never dangerous: it is self-possession, sovereignty, arché” (99). If there were to be an “spirituality” beyond “the philosophical tradition of the West,” it would have to be found beyond consciousness, that is, beyond always already archic being. It would be the place of “anarchy.” Of a dangerous and adventurous anarchy.
Anarchy is a persecution and an obsession. “The subject is affected without the source of the affection becoming a theme of representation” (101); “Anarchy is persecution. Obsession is a persecution where the persecution does not make up the content of a consciousness gone mad; it designates the form in which the ego is affected, a form which is a defecting from consciousness. This inversion of consciousness is no doubt a passivity—but it is a passivity beneath all passivity” (101). Far from being a hypertrophy of consciousness, it hits us as irremediable and always unwelcome trouble. It comes from outside. It is not domesticable, tamable, it admits of no reduction to arché. It is an absolute passion: “This passion is absolute in that it takes hold without any a priori” (102). Do we want it? But the question is only a question posited to consciousness, to the archic. Beyond consciousness we cannot resist it.
What is it? Lévinas calls it “a relationship with a singularity” (100). It therefore irrupts from a “proximity” we cannot organize or measure, and it is a proximity beneath all distances (“it cannot be reduced to any modality of distance or geometrical contiguity,” 100-01). It is the “trace:” “This way of passing, disturbing the present without allowing itself to be invested by the arché of consciousness, striating with its furrows the clarity of the ostensible, is what we have called a trace” (100).
Is this commensurate to Schürmann’s thought of the principle of anarchy? Does it come under the indirect critique of his footnote? Yes, without a doubt, it is “arch-violence, loss of the proper, of absolute proximity, of self-presence, in truth the loss of what has never taken place, of a self-presence which has never been given but only dreamed of.” Schürmann’s critique may hint at the notion that any surprise in this regard would be always naïve or feigned. It is true that Lévinas makes it dependent on the encounter with the other as neighbor (“What concretely corresponds to this description is my relationship with my neighbor,” 100). This is what Derrida is said to depart from, and what Schürmann seems to take for granted as correct. The irruption of anarchy should not for him, any more than for Derrida, be reduced to an encounter with human otherness, even if the encounter with human otherness could trigger it every time, or some times, also as a persecution and also as an obsession. In Lévinas the persecutory obsession of relational anarchy does not seem to be triggered by unspecified being—it is always a relationship with a singularity that does it. But, leaving Lévinas’ ultimate position aside, there is something else in Schürmann’s gesture of (non)citation that should be questioned.
Schürmann seems to naturalize the persecutory aspect of me-ontological anarchy by positing (displeased) surprise at Derrida’s feigned surprise and celebrating Deleuze’s jubilation in the face of it. As if there were nothing particularly painful in being thrown over to an anarchic relation. As if, therefore, the resources of subjectivity—the subjectivity of the thinker—were or could be enough to keep the dangerous adventure of anarchy at bay, under control. But, if so, the principle of anarchy emerges, plainly, as principle, and principle of consciousness. Anarchy runs the risk of becoming yet another form of mastery. At the transitional time, posited as such by the hypothesis of metaphysical closure, metaphysics still runs the show as consolation and consolidation. But this may not be good enough. It is not exposure but counterexposure.