Postmodern Communities — The Politics of Oscillation

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Department of English
Vassar College
_Postmodern Culture_ v.4 n.1 (September, 1993)
Copyright (c) 1993 by Heesok Chang, all rights
reserved. This text may be used and shared in
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author and the notification of the publisher, Oxford
University Press.
Review of:
Vattimo, Gianni. _The Transparent Society_. Trans. David
Webb. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Agamben, Giorgio. _The Coming Community_. Trans. Michael
Hardt. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
I. Philosophical Homelessness
[1] Readers of the young Georg Lukacs may recall this
memorable citation from _The Theory of the Novel_:
“‘Philosophy is really homesickness,’ says Novalis: ‘it is
the urge to be at home everywhere.'”
[2] According to Lukacs that is why “integrated
civilizations”–where the soul feels at home everywhere,
both in the self and in the world–have no philosophy. Or
“why (it comes to the same thing) all men in such ages are
philosophers, sharing the utopian aim of every philosophy.
For what is the task of true philosophy if not to draw that
archetypal map?”^1^
[3] Needless to say (especially in the [virtual] pages of
the present journal) this endorsement of philosophy’s
“utopian aim” would not find many adherents today. If
anything, the “task” of contemporary philosophy would be to
debunk the notion of its universalizing, “archetypal”
vocation. The subsumptive mapping of the world by reason is
no longer an unquestioned telos of occidental thought.
[4] Today, especially in France, philosophy has addressed
itself to a nonappropriative understanding of exteriority, a
“thought from the outside.”^2^ Modern thought has
deterritorialized its claims to dialectical resolution; it
has become homeless, so to speak, once and for all. Against
the grain of philosophy’s utopian memory–its nostalgic
stance in being, its nostalgia for Being–the philosophers
of our moment urge a “nomadic” thinking.
[5] This sort of generalization about “postmodern”
philosophy (such as it is) is well known. Like journalism,
it is useful up to a certain point–let’s say until the end
of the day. But like all more or less accurate journalistic
descriptions it tries to say too much in one breath.
Decisive opinions about “postmodern” or “poststructuralist”
thought “today” leave the philosophical terrain largely
undifferentiated. For example, we might be overly hasty to
isolate “poststructuralism” from a certain “homesickness.”
This philosophical “malady” (%maladie du pays%) need not be
grounded in a Judaeo-Christian or Romantic nostalgia for
lost origins; it might point to a more urgent need to
rethink the social constitution of our being. I am thinking
here not only of Richard Rorty’s recent attempts to imagine
a “contingent” community (a sense of human solidarity not
founded on an essentialist understanding of the human, but
on an expanding recognition of human sufferance).^3^
[6] I am thinking particularly of those thinkers (again,
largely French) who write explicitly “within” a Heideggerean
idiom–or rather, those writers who continue to stage a
critical confrontation, an %Auseinandersetzung%, with
Heidegger’s thought. I am thinking, for example, of Jacques
Derrida’s recent meditations on spirit, friendship, and
today’s Europe; or Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe’s exemplary work
on the aesthetic assumptions informing modern national
identity formation (National Socialism). And I am thinking
of Jean-Luc Nancy’s extended research on the finitude of our
daily, nightly existence–our “being-in-common”–which has
given new rigor and new impetus to thinking about what
community actually means.
[7] Nancy’s appeal to rethink community could not really be
characterized as nostalgic (quite the contrary).
Nevertheless, something of the philosopher’s “transcendental
homelessness,” the registration of a shared pain or loss,
and therefore of a *desire*, is distinctly audible in these
words: “The gravest and most painful testimony of the modern
world, the one that possibly involves all other testimonies
to which this epoch must answer . . . is the testimony of
the dissolution, the dislocation, or the conflagration of
[8] This sentence could stand as a more or less appropriate
epigraph for both the texts under review (more so for _The
Coming Community_, less so for _The Transparent Society_).
Like Nancy, both Gianni Vattimo and Giorgio Agamben address
questions of our contemporaneity on a very broad scale.
They too write in response to this epochal demand: not to
“be at home everywhere,” but to free the very idea of
“home,” of a certain belonging, from the planetary
administration of techno-economic forces. And like Nancy,
both authors draw considerably on Heidegger to articulate
not only their diagnoses of our (post)modernity, but also
their prescriptions for rethinking our being-in-the-world.
[9] Despite marked differences in tone, style, content, and
indeed, quality, _The Transparent Society_ and _The Coming
Community_ contribute to our *political* imagination, to our
ideas about “freedom” and “singularity,” “heterotopia” and
“community.” With varying success, they outline new ways of
being at home in a world that is increasingly no longer,
quite simply, “ours.”
II. Hermeneutic Oscillations
[10] English readers of Gianni Vattimo’s previously
translated work–particularly the later essays collected in
_The End of Modernity_–will not discover much that is
radically new in _The Transparent Society _ (but given
Vattimo’s thesis about the impossibility of a definitive
overcoming, an %Uberwindung%, this should certainly come as
no surprise). Those who are unfamiliar with his writing, or
who have only heard his name in association with the
miserable label “weak thought” (%pensiero diebole%), will
find this book a lucid and economical (120 pages of largish
type) summary of his latest views on “the postmodern
[11] The brevity of his text does not inhibit Vattimo from
fielding a wide range of academic topoi: the evolution of
the human sciences, the modern resurgence of myth, the
privilege of “shock” in aesthetic experience, the
disappearance of utopian models, the centrality of
interpretation in a radically plural society. These
discussions do not dwell on example and illustration (with
the exception of a brief and unexceptional look at _Blade
Runner_). Rather, Vattimo engages his
interlocuters–Nietzsche, Heidegger, Benjamin, Adorno, Apel,
Habermas, Gadamer–at a pace of brisk generality we might as
well call journalistic.
[12] Despite the liberal scope of the contents, however, the
book’s eight chapters elaborate a consistent
politico-philosophical vision. At the risk of
oversimplifying, I believe Vattimo’s essential argument is
encapsulated in this sentence from the opening chapter: “To
live in this pluralistic world means to experience freedom
as a continual oscillation between belonging and
disorientation” (10). I will direct my review of the book
towards a critical gloss on this sentence.
[13] _The Transparent Society_ takes up where the last book
left off–namely, at “the end of modernity.” Vattimo
elegantly defines modernity as “the epoch in which simply
being modern became a decisive value in itself” (1). This
cultural capitalization of the new, which emerges in art
with the cult of genius, is eventually incorporated into a
greater narrative of human progress and emancipation.
Within a unilinear, Enlightenment conception of history the
intrinsic value of anything modern consists in its being
simply the latest, the most advanced, the nearest to the
ends of man.
[14] In a hypothesis which clearly resonates with
Jean-Francois Lyotard’s, Vattimo states: “modernity ends
when–for a number of reasons–it no longer seems possible
to regard history as unilinear” (2). In _The End of
Modernity_ the “reasons” he gives are confined principally
to philosophical ones–in particular, the forceful
anti-foundationalist thinking of Nietzsche and Heidegger.
In the present work, however, the advent of postmodernity is
no longer an emphatically “theoretical” event. Vattimo
foregrounds two major sociological causes for the
dissolution of unilinear history.
[15] First, decolonization. The global rebellion against
European colonialism and imperialism renders the very notion
of a single, centralized story of human progress “%de facto%
problematic”; “The European ideal of humanity has been
revealed as one ideal amongst others, not necessarily worse,
but unable, without violence, to obtain as the true essence
of man, of all men” (4).
[16] Second, planetary mass media. Vattimo seems to regard
this factor to be more decisive in ending modernity than the
emergence of post-colonial voices because (although he does
not say this explicitly) the former is the technological
condition of possibility for the latter. A “society of
generalized communication” must be in place for
multiculturalism to get on the map. The relentless
expansion of informational media enables “Cultures and
subcultures of all sorts [to step] into the limelight of
public opinion” (5).
[17] According to Vattimo, this “giddy proliferation of
communication” seems to equip the world for actualizing a
fully “transparent society.” We should note, however, that
the book is misleadingly, or at least provocatively, titled.
For “the transparent society” does not name Vattimo’s vision
of a utopian postmodernity. Rather, it describes the
belated, *modernist* ideal of our socius championed by every
postmodernist’s favourite straw men: Karl Otto Apel and
Jurgen Habermas.
[18] Vattimo argues that Apel’s community of “unrestricted
communication” and Habermas’ universe of “communicative
action” are informed by the old dream of a self-transparent
society. More specifically, their normative ideals of
communicative rationality are modelled on the communal drive
for self-knowledge exemplified by the human sciences.
“But,” Vattimo objects, “can one legitimately model the
emancipated human subject, and ultimately society, on the
ideal of the scientist in her laboratory, whose objectivity
and disinterest are demanded by what is at bottom a
technological interest and who conceives of nature as an
object only to the extent that it is marked out as a place
for potential domination . . . ?” (24).
[19] Here Vattimo sides with the Frankfurt School (and
Heideggerean) critique of instrumental reason. The
Enlightenment ideal of a perfectly self-transparent
society–in which the subject (the Subject) seamlessly
enframes the world as an object of reflexive knowledge–does
not augur human liberation. Instead, it installs a logic of
domination. Man is not emancipated from his social labour,
but dehumanized by technology. The transparent society is
the totally administered and regulated society.
[20] Now does the ungovernable or “giddy” expansion of
information technology today mean we are on the verge of
realizing such a transparent society?
[21] According to Vattimo, no.
[22] Adorno’s pessimistic vision of an increasingly
instrumentalized modernity is well taken. But “–and this
is what Adorno missed–within the communication system
itself, mechanisms develop (the ‘rise of new centres of
history’) that make the realization of self-transparency in
principle impossible” (23). Vattimo does not specify what
these “mechanisms” might be. Instead, he testifies
repeatedly that the generalization of communication
guarantees the dissolution of a monolithic history of human
knowledge; “the freedom given by the mass media to so many
cultures and %Weltanschauungen% has belied the very ideal of
a transparent society” (6). In postmodernity, it seems
everyone gets to step up to the mike.
[23] We should object here that the “liberation of
differences” Vattimo has in mind–a sort of “giddy”
multicultural polylogue–does not necessarily entail a
radical challenge to the existing order.^6^ The fact that
everybody now can have their “say” does not automatically
disrupt the present constitution of our public sphere.
Perhaps real political differences, differences that won’t
make a difference by their mere “say” are everywhere today,
to borrow Claude Lefort’s phrase, “dissolved into the
ceremony of communication.”^7^
[24] Vattimo acknowledges this objection, but hastens to
emphasize the “irreducible pluralization” (6) accompanying
the veritable explosion of mass media in our daily lives.
Moreover–and here we return to his central
argument–emancipation today should not, he urges, be
thought on the model of self-authentication (this would
return us to the dream of self-transparency). What is
liberating about postmodernism is not the parading of
different identities %per se%.
[25] Rather, “The emancipatory significance of the
liberation of differences and dialects consists . . . in the
general *disorientation* accompanying their initial
identification. If, in a world of dialects, I speak my own
dialect, I shall be conscious that it is not the only
‘language,’ but that it is precisely one amongst many” (9).
In this irreducibly multicultural and heterotopian world I
carry around a “weakened” sense of my “reality.” Freedom
here does not come from asserting the particularity of my
(linguistic) being. Rather, I experience freedom in a
totally new way: by “oscillating” continually between
feeling at home in my language and sensing how thoroughly
finite, transient, and contingent it actually is.
[26] Without commenting on the viability of this weird
notion of “freedom” (how could such a thing be judged in all
rigour?), I would like to close out this discussion by
dwelling a bit on the key word “oscillation.”
[27] The figurative movement of vibrating or fluctuating is
certainly not new to Vattimo’s thinking. Indeed,
oscillation in the present work may well be read as a
spatial translation of the temporal or (post)historical
notion of %Verwindung% which is described in the last essay
of _The End of Modernity_. Readers of that work may recall
this Heideggerean word signifies a going-beyond of
metaphysics which is not a complete overcoming of
metaphysics (the modernist myth), but rather a sort of
deepening, healing resignation to its tracelike survival.
Amongst %Verwindung’s% other lexical meanings Vattimo points
out “twisting” and “distortion.” We experience Being in
postmodernity not as an emancipated presence, but as an
ironic twist or distortion. Being is only approachable in
its estrangement from our nostalgic grasp–as a constant
oscillation between revelation and concealment.
[28] In _The Transparent Society _ Vattimo fleshes out this
meaning of oscillation as ongoing estrangement by referring
us to the realm of the aesthetic. The fluid play of
differences we find in postmodernity is likened to the
disorienting encounter with the artwork–the blow (%Stoss%)
or “shock”–described by Heidegger and Benjamin. Vattimo
explicitly gives ontology and aesthetic theory a defining
role in conceptualizing the oscillation and disorientation
peculiar to postmodern being.
[29] But I would suggest the metaphor of oscillation in
Vattimo’s argument does not only derive from his
interpretations of philosophy and postmodernity.
Oscillation is a crucial feature of his interpretive
methodology itself.
[30] An implicit aim of _The Transparent Society_ (but made
explicit in the final chapter) is to defend a ramified
understanding of Gadamerian hermeneutics. To move very
quickly here, Vattimo wants to rescue hermeneutics from
unacceptable axioms like this one: “To recognize oneself (or
one’s own) in the other and find a home abroad–this is the
basic movement of spirit whose being consists in this return
to itself from otherness.”^8^ Hermeneutics’ universalizing
appropriation of other worlds can only be corrected by
breaking its circular understanding. Thus, the hermeneutic
circle gives way to a trembling arc of interpretation. The
figure of swaying between the poles of belonging and
disorientation, home and away, assure Vattimo’s hermeneutic
procedure “cannot appear . . .[under the] logics of
[31] But this metaphor of oscillation is hardly a postmodern
twist on interpretation. The methodological notion of
oscillation appears at the pre-Gadamerian beginnings of
hermeneutics. As Werner Hamacher has noted:
“Schleiermacher’s concept for the delicate relationship
between the general and the individual, within which all
verbal and language-generative acts manifest themselves, is
called the ‘schema of oscillation between the general and
the particular.'”^10^
[32] Vattimo’s hermeneutic oscillation guarantees his
understanding of postmodern alterity will remain
disoriented. But this does not allow other “dialects” to
appear outside the sway of hermeneutic understanding (no
matter how “weakened”) itself. In this oscillation
differences can only appear as trembling versions of
themselves–as different or “contaminated” identities^11^
–and not as differences indifferent to identity. To borrow
a term from Agamben, nothing *singular* may appear.
[33] It does not occur to Vattimo that the postmodern
experience of freedom may be *post-hermeneutic* as well.
III. Whatever Being
[34] “Marginality and homelessness are not, in my opinion,
to be gloried in; they are to be brought to an end, so that
more, not fewer, people can enjoy the benefits of what has
for centuries been denied the victims of race, class, or
[35] Edward Said’s words testify, in their own way, to what
Nancy calls “the dissolution, the dislocation, or the
conflagration of community.” Said here is criticizing the
politics of identity–the “unreconstructed
nationalism”–that grips not only the academy, but the
postcolonial world at large. Reclamations of cultural
identity were useful and necessary for asserting
independence from colonial rule. But, today, nationalist
affirmations of identity for their own sake act only in the
interests of a clamorous separatism. Nancy concurs with
this diagnosis when he remarks that “the emergence . . . of
decolonized communities has not . . . triggered any genuine
renewal of the question of community.”^13^
[36] Unlike Said, however, Nancy does not presuppose the
question of community to be a question about reclaiming our
humanity. He does not think community on the traditional
humanist model of a lost or broken immanence (“what has for
centuries been denied”) which must be restored. Like
Vattimo, he does not imagine our future in the direction of
a “transparent society.”
[37] But what other than a local or universal affiliation–a
sense of belonging to this tribe, this nation, this race, or
to the human race as a whole–could form the basis for any
meaningful community? This is where Agamben’s latest book
makes, I think, a fundamental contribution to our political
thought. _The Coming Community_ delineates the topos of
*belonging* without mobilizing identity politics and without
falling back on the %idees fixes% of humanist discourse.
[38] It is impossible, in the space that remains, to give
the reader an adequate sense of the immense scope of
Agamben’s philosophical and philological learning. The
expected readings of Kant and Heidegger, Benjamin and Kafka,
are supplemented at every turn with astonishing examples
drawn from medieval logic and analytic philosophy, Talmudic
tales and Provencal poetry.
[39] Dense though it is, Agamben’s writing is never turgid
or pedantic. Rather, his terse, fluid style is reminiscent
(the likeness has been drawn before and will be drawn again)
of Walter Benjamin’s.
[40] And like Benjamin (at least in this latest book),
Agamben probes contemporary social phenomena–technology and
media, the society of the spectacle and the modern fate of
social classes, a stocking commercial and Tiananmen
Square–in the light of his theoretical expositions.
[41] A lengthier discussion would need to sample some of
these exemplary readings (and this entire text proceeds
through the by-play, the %Bei-spiel%, of examples). It
might be more useful here, however, to summarize for the
reader, against the grain of the text’s singular movement,
the gist of the argument. To enhance the critical
significance of such a reductive reading, I will place
Agamben’s conception of “the coming being” in relation to
Nancy’s groundbreaking ideas about community.
[42] In order to rescue community from its nostalgic (and
finally Christian) assumptions we must, Nancy thinks, return
to ontology (first philosophy). A serious reflection on
community requires we answer the call to rethink–at the
most mundane level–what it means to be-in-common.
[43] For Nancy this call does not arise from a utopian or
humanist appeal for a reorganization of social relations in
which community is posited as the end result, the work, of a
subject labouring on itself. The obscure exigency of
community comes from the existential position of our
being-there, thrown into the world. This being-there is not
a punctual self-presence, a being-oneself. Community or
being-in-common is not a predicate of an essentially
solitary entity. Rather, being-there (%Dasein%) is none
other than a being-with (%Mitsein%). The very possibility
of my being alone depends on my ontological potential to
share my existence.
[44] Emphasizing Heidegger’s differential and relational
definition of Dasein in order to underline our constitutive
being-in-common may be easy enough to follow. What is much
more difficult to grasp is that for Nancy, our strange
built-in sociality does not provide any groundwork for
building a community in any identifiable sense. On the
contrary, the fact that we *are* (ontologically) only in
relation to one another thwarts–or *resists* (a key word
for Nancy)–in advance any self- or communitarian
identification with this or that identity trait (being red,
being Italian, being communist–to cite Agamben’s examples).
Our being-in-common is a limit-experience, a feeling for our
finitude. What we share at the end of ourselves,
ecstatically (so to speak), is not our shared individuality,
but our uncommon *singularity*.
[45] The experience of this sharing should not be understood
as a selfless fusion into a group (both Nancy and Agamben
write continuously against the unsurpassed danger of our
political modernity: fascism, Nazism). Rather, our shared
singularity takes the form of an *exposure*. We are exposed
to the absence of any substantial identity to which we could
belong. Exposure to singularity: that means to be scattered
together, like strangers on a train, not quite face-to-face,
oscillating between the poles of communion and
disaggregation.^14^ It is this banal relation without
relation that exposes our pre-identical singularity, our
[46] Coming now to Agamben, I believe his work helps us to
approach this renewed question of community from another
angle. Specifically, he gives positive content to what
Nancy is inclined, I think, to describe negatively: namely,
the concept of singularity.
[47] _The Coming Community_ opens like this: “The coming
being is whatever being. In the Scholastic enumeration of
transcendentals (%quodlibet ens est unum, verum, bonum seu
perfectum%–whatever entity is one, true, good, or perfect),
the term that, remaining unthought in each, conditions the
meaning of all the others is the adjective %quodlibet%. The
common translation of this term as ‘whatever’ in the sense
of ‘it does not matter which, indifferently’ is certainly
correct, but in its form the Latin says exactly the
opposite: %Quodlibet ens% is not ‘being, it does not matter
which,’ but rather ‘being such that it always matters.’ The
Latin always already contains, that is, a reference to the
will (%libet%). Whatever being has an original relation to
desire” (1).
[48] The basis of the coming community, the singular being,
is whatever being–not in the sense of “I don’t care what
you are,” but rather, “I care for you *such as you are*.”
As *such* you are freed from belonging either to the
emptiness of the universal or the ineffability of the
[49] In Agamben’s elaboration of singularity, human identity
is not mediated by its belonging to some set or class (being
old, being American, being gay). Nor does it consist in the
simple negation of all belonging (here Agamben parts company
with Bataille’s notion of the “negative community,” the
community of those who have no community). Rather, whatever
names a sort of radical generosity with respect to
belonging. The singular being is not the being who belongs
only here or there, but nor is it the being who belongs
everywhere and nowhere (flipsides of the same empty
generality). This other being always matters to me not
because I am drawn to this or that trait, nor because I
identify him or her with a favoured race, class, or gender.
And certainly not because he or she belongs to a putatively
universal set like humanity or the human race.
[50] The other always matters to me only when I am taken
*with all of his/her traits, such as they are*. This
defining generosity of the singular means that %quodlibet
ens% is not determined by this or that belonging, but by the
condition of belonging itself. It belongs to belonging.
The singularity of being resides in its exposure to an
unconditional belonging.
[51] Such a singularly exposed being wants to belong–which
is to say, it belongs to want, or, for lack of a less
semantically burdened and empty word, to love: “The
singularity exposed as such is whatever you *want*, that is,
lovable” (2).
[52] We must be careful here not to conflate Agamben’s
exposition of whatever being with a more familiar discourse
on love: “Love is never directed toward this or that
property of the loved one (being blond, being small, being
tender, being lame), but neither does it neglect the
properties in favor of an insipid generality (universal
love): The lover wants the loved one *with all of its
predicates*, its being such as it is. The lover desires the
*as* only insofar as it is *such*–this is the lover’s
particular fetishism” (2).
[53] But what could a thing with all of its predicates look
like? Agamben gives us the example of the human face.
Every face is singular. This does not mean a face
individuates a pre-existing form or universalizes individual
features. The face as such is utterly indifferent to what
makes it different and yet similar. It is impossible to
determine from which sphere–the common or the proper–the
face derives its singular expressivity.
[54] In this the face is not unlike handwriting in which it
is impossible to draw the line between what makes this
signature at the same time common and proper, legible and
unique. We cannot say for certain whether this hand and
this face actualize a universal form, or whether the
universal form is engendered by these million different
scripts and faces.
[55] Whatever being emerges, like handwriting, like the
face, on “a line of sparkling alternation” (20) between
language and word, form and expression, potentiality and
act. “This is how we must read the theory of those medieval
philosophers,” Agamben writes, “who held that the passage
from potentiality to act, from common form to singularity,
is not an event accomplished once and for all, but an
infinite series of modal oscillations” (19).^15^ The coming
community is founded on the imperceptible oscillations of
whatever being.
[56] But what, finally, might the *politics* of whatever
belonging be?
[57] Agamben envisions the coming politics not as a
hegemonic struggle between classes for control of the State,
but as an inexorable agon between whatever singularity and
state organization. What the State cannot digest is not the
political affirmations of identity (on the contrary), but
the formation of a community not grounded in any belonging
except for the human co-belonging to whatever being.
[58] “What was most striking about the demonstrations of the
Chinese May,” Agamben points out, “was the relative absence
of determinate contents in their demands” (85).
[59] Here Agamben surely also has in mind the singular
example of May 68. I would even say _The Coming Community_
is (not unlike Vattimo’s book) a belated response to the
radical promise–let’s say (using the wrong idiom perhaps),
the promise of human happiness–exposed in that event.
[60] In these works by two important Italian thinkers,
philosophy becomes once again, perhaps, a kind of
homesickness, a longing to belong. To a permanent
disorientation. To oscillation. To whatever.
^1^ _The Theory of the Novel_, trans. Anna Bostock
(Cambridge: MIT UP, 1971), 29.
^2^ This phrase, “%La pensee du dehors%,” is the title
of Michel Foucault’s important essay on Maurice Blanchot
(first published in _Critique _ 229, 1966). Gilles Deleuze
elaborates on the theme of exteriority in his excellent book
on Foucault (_Foucault_, trans. Sean Hand [Minneapolis: U of
Minnesota P, 1988]). See especially the chapter entitled
“Strategies or the Non-stratified: the Thought of the
Outside (Power)” where he links up this early essay with
Foucault’s later and better known piece on Nietzschean
^3^ _Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity_ Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 1989.
^4^ This is the opening sentence of “The Inoperative
Community” (trans. Peter Connor, in _The Inoperative
Community_, ed. Peter Connor [Minneapolis and Oxford: U of
Minnesota P, 1991], 1).
^5^ I take this phrase from a blurb on the back jacket
of the book: “‘This book is of major importance to the
debate on the postmodern question.’–Jean-Francois Lyotard.”
^6^ For a recent–and typical (that is, typically
anti-academic)–articulation of this objection see David
Rieff’s piece “Multiculturalism’s Silent Partner: It’s the
newly globalized economy, stupid,” _Harper’s_ 287 August
1993: 17-19.
^7^ _The Political Forms of Modern Society:
Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism_ (Cambridge: MIT
Press, 1986), 226.
^8^ Hans-Georg Gadamer, _Truth and Method_, ed. Garrett
Barden and John Cumming (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), 15.
^9^ This quote, not to mention my understanding of the
role of oscillation in hermeneutics, comes from Werner
Hamacher’s essay “Hermeneutic Ellipses: Writing the
Hermeneutical Circle in Schleiermacher,” trans. Timothy
Bahti, in _Transforming the Hermeneutic Context: From
Nietzsche to Nancy_, ed. Gayle L. Ormiston and Alan D.
Schrift (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990), 190.
^10^ Ibid. 190.
^11^ In an essay entitled “Hermeneutics and
Anthropology” Vattimo is careful to underscore the
ideological nature of ethnographic otherness. Anticipating
the theme of generalized communication he writes: “The
hermeneutic–but also anthropological–illusion of
encountering the other, with all its theoretical
grandiosity, finds itself faced with a mixed reality in
which alterity is entirely exhausted. The disappearance of
alterity does not occur as a part of the dreamed-for total
organization of the world, but rather as a condition of
widespread contamination” (_The End of Modernity_ 159).
This sobering reminder about the Westernization of third
world cultures seems to drop out of Vattimo’s discussion in
_The Transparent Society_ where the emphasis falls on
heterogeneity not homologation.
^12^ Edward Said, “The Politics of Knowledge,”
_Raritan_ 11 (Summer 1991): 31.
^13^ Nancy 22.
^14^ “Passengers in the same train compartment are
simply seated next to each other in an accidental,
arbitrary, and completely exterior manner. They are not
linked. But they are also quite together inasmuch as they
are travelers on this train, in this same space and for this
same period of time. They are between the disintegration of
the ‘crowd’ and the aggregation of the group, both extremes
remaining possible, virtual, and near at every moment. This
suspension is what makes ‘being-with’: a relation without
relation, or rather, being exposed simultaneously to
relationship and absence of relationship” (Nancy, “Of
Being-in-Common,” trans. James Creech, _Community at Loose
Ends_, ed. Miami Theory Collective [Minneapolis: U of
Minnesota Press, 1991] 7).
^15^ “Oscillation” is an entirely appropriate word to
use in this context for, as Hamacher points out, “%oscillum%
is in fact a derivation of %os%, mouth, face, and thus means
little mouth, little face and mask. Oscillation, understood
in its etymological context, would indicate that ‘originary’
movement of language in which it is allotted to something or
someone, which has neither language nor face, is neither
intuition or concept” (190).
^16^ This sentence concludes, in parentheses:
“(democracy and freedom are notions too generic and broadly
defined to constitute the real object of a conflict, and the
only concrete demand, the rehabilitation of Hu Yao–Bang,
was immediately granted)” (85).