Monday — 05.21.01 – Reading Group at 16 Beaver — Thomas Keenan

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Monday — 05.21.01 – Reading Group at 16 Beaver — Thomas Keenan

(Attached: Chapter from Thomas Keenan’s Fables of Responsibility)

1. About This Monday (book by Steven, chapter by Susan)
2. Description of Book
4. About efax Reader (How to Open the attached file)

1. About This Monday

This Monday we will build off of our discussions a few weeks ago of Thomas Keenan’s texts.

Below you will find a description of Fables of Responsibility. We will be reading the chapter that
uses Aesop’s fables as a point of departure (to receive the second part of reading, please see
READING LIST section in this e-mail)

2. Description of Book

This book offers an analysis of the ways a linked set of ethico-political concepts – responsibility, rights, freedom, equality, and justice – might be re-thought, in view of the linguistic deconstruction of their underlying principle, the individual human subject. In a series of readings of contemporary thinkers and their philosophical antecedents the author argues that an encounter with the difficulties of reading language, precisely what resists the immediate comprehension or mastery of a subject, enables in turn a new thought of rights and responsibility. The book is driven by a sense that literary and theoretical questions, and the ideas or concepts they appeal to or provoke, play a critical role in the way we think about and experience politics. The author seeks to harness this specialized discourse in order to consider what ethical and political thinking might learn from literature and its theorists.

Chapter Contents
Introduction: literature and democracy; 1. Left to our own devices: on the impossibility of justice; Part I. Fables: 2. Examples of responsibility: Aesop, with philosophy; 3. Freedom, the law of another fable: Sade’s insurrection; Part II. Rhetoric: 4. The point is to (ex)change it: reading capital rhetorically; 5. The ‘paradox’ of knowledge and power: Foucault on the bias; Conclusion: no man’s land – ideology, between ethics and politics; Notes; Index.

Spivak: “brilliant and lucid book…begins with a theory of reading and
ends with a stunning analysis of the conditions for political action… The
readings of Marx, Foucault, and Aesop would themselves be enough to
recommend [it]”

Zizek: “Are not serious responsibility and political committment possible
only if one presupposes a firm universal set of values? And is the lesson
of deconstruction not that any such set is always contingent, worm-eaten by
its opposite, dispersed, violently imposed …in short, not obligatory?
Against this cliche, Keenan’s book sets the record straight once and for
all. The absence of unambiguous universal standards is the precondition of
ethical responsibility: it forces us to engage ourselves fully, without any
metaphysical alibi. The lesson of deconstruction is not that we are not
responsible since we are merely ‘spoken by’ the Text, but, on the contrary,
that every apparently neutral position already hinges on an unacknowledged
ethico-political choice. …”

Butler: “…brilliant engagement… The return to Marx astonishes and
promises, a clear tour de force.”


If you are already on the READING LIST, please disregard

To prevent flooding people’s e-mails with large files,
I am assembling a list of people who would like to receive part 2 of this week’s reading.
I am also starting a list of people who do not mind receiving the full readings each week.

If you would like to receive this week’s reading, you have two choices:

1. Just this week!
Just send an e-mail to sixteenbeaver@aol.com with subject heading “Keenan”. Please indicate within the e-mail message to which e-mail address you would like it sent.

2. Always & Forever!
If you would like to be placed on a list that always receives the readings (in full). Then send an e-mail to sixteenbeaver@aol.com with subject heading “reading list”


For Mondays we often like to distribute work, notes, readings to accompany presentations. In these cases we use this messenger as a simple and cost efficient way of distributing the materials. The download is short (it is a small program) and quite simple to use. It allows you to read digital faxes (and of course to print them). When you follow the link below, please make sure to download the correct viewer. There is one for Windows and one for Mac. The one for Mac will take a bit longer to download. Here is the link: