Vol. 27, No. 1 (Spring 2023)

Guest Editor: Rick Elmore

JEFFREY GOWER, What Are Thinking and Acting Beyond the Theory/Practice Pair?


This article rehearses Derrida’s articulation in Theory and Practice of an analogy between Althusser’s and Heidegger’s treatments of the theory/practice pair. The analogy motivates a question about what remains for thinking and acting in the wake of Marx’s 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, when the traditional sovereignty of theory over practice becomes untenable. In the seminar, Derrida develops a line of inquiry about the edge distinguishing theory from practice, which philosophy would presumably overflow as it ceases to merely interpret the world and begins to change it. The article shows how Derrida’s analogy between Marxist philosophy and Heideggerian thinking exposes some pitfalls of any attempt to definitively escape prescientific philosophy or metaphysics while also opening up the possibility of allying Heidegger’s destruction of technological humanism and retrieval of an originary ethics with the Marxian imperative to change the world.

VERNON W. CISNEY AND RYDER HOBBS, To Have Done With the Death of Philosophy: Derrida’s Theory and Practice Seminar


In this essay, we read Derrida’s Theory and Practice seminar against the backdrop of the theme of the “death of philosophy,” prominent in 1960s French philosophy. This theme takes two forms—one Nietzschean-Heideggerian and the other Hegelian-Marxian. We summarize both before turning to Derrida’s treatment of Althusser’s views on the Hegelian-Marxian form of this death. Althusser posits a distinction between theory in the general sense and Theory as a designation for Marxist dialectical materialism. Derrida gives two specific criticisms of Althusser that we discuss: (1) Althusser commits himself to a tautology, by arguing that Theory only makes explicit what is implicit already in Marxist practice; (2) Althusser ultimately establishes the priority of practice over theory. We refute both of these charges before concluding that, prior to the distinction between theory and practice, is the world itself; and presenting itself to us as unthinkable, the world places the demands upon us that it be engaged with, in theory and in practice.

DAVID MARUZZELLA, Derrida’s Speculative Materialism / Marxism’s Promethean Scientism


This paper examines the relationship between deconstruction and Marxism by turning to recent attempts to read Derrida as a materialist philosopher. Following Martin Hägglund, I propose that Derrida’s critique of logocentrism implies a commitment to certain seemingly materialistic philosophical positions, most importantly, the radical foreclosure of an entity exempt from a transcendental field of differences. However, Derrida’s materialism remains speculative to the extent that it results in a philosophy of infinite finitude itself premised upon a transcendental style of argumentation excluded from scientific verification or falsification. By contrast, I suggest that Marxism with its commitment to Promethean scientism—the claim that all limits on human theory and practice are relative and subject to possible transformation—offers a more radical form of philosophical materialism.

THOMAS TELIOS, Shrapnels: Jacques Derrida’s Theory and Practice: Towards an Enigmatic Materialism of Hope


Jacques Derrida’s lectures on Theory and Practice leave a lot to be desired from the perspective of historical materialism. Yet, one can nonetheless find in them the germ of a genuine understanding of materialism. More specifically, following the systematic use of the word “enigma” in the text, I show that this term serves as the heuristic device for articulating an originally Derridean materialism, one which I name “enigmatic materialism,” and which, I argue, is genuinely collective, insofar as it opposes any form of monism. Moreover, this materialism has profound repercussions for the concept of hope developed in these lectures. Hope, from the perspective of an “enigmatic materialist,” becomes a collective endeavour that avoids the pitfalls of solipsistic individualism through the joint effort of the subject and its/the Other.

AMMON ALLRED, Pedagogy and Politics in Derrida’s Theory and Practice Seminar


In what follows, I outline the role that pedagogical concerns play in how Derrida structures his Theory and Practice seminars. Framing my discussion with Foucault’s criticism of Derrida’s pedagogy as overly textual and quasi-despotic, I show how Derrida accepts elements of that criticism in his description of his pedagogy. Moreover, by treating these seminars as model exercises for students rather than as a philosophical text advancing a thesis, we can identify connections with Derrida’s commitment to a more radically democratic institutional politics, insofar as the supposed “limitless sovereignty” of the quasi-despotic pedagogue is a self-conscious fiction, deployed strategically to challenge other forms of sovereignty. In this way, Derrida draws a parallel between his own textual and pedagogical practices and those of Heidegger, an attempt both to open his practice up to genuine interruptions and gaps and to contest the neoliberal “disruptions” of the academy.

ROBERT BRIGGS, Deconstruction Overflowed: Doing Undoing from Philosophy’s Outer Edge


This article seeks to characterize deconstruction (and “theory” generally) as a practical activity in order to assess its potential effects in view of Marx’s 11th Thesis on Feuerbach. Taking its cue from Derrida’s reference to the “inner edge of philosophy” in Theory and Practice, the article juxtaposes Derrida’s ostensibly philosophical approach with the contentious, historiographic approach taken by Ian Hunter. Reflecting on the activity of deconstruction from the outer edge of philosophy, as it were, the discussion first reviews Derrida’s diagnosis of the philosophical impulse to monopolize authority over all theory and practice, then interprets this move via Hunter’s “empirical” attempt to situate and analyze different modes of philosophizing as concrete exercises in self-problematization. The discussion highlights the surprising convergences in Derrida’s and Hunter’s arguments before adopting this view from the outer edge of philosophy in order to reassess where and how deconstruction’s practical effects may be registered.



DEBORAH ACHTENBERG, Creator or Creature? Shestov and Levinas on Athens and Jerusalem


Shestov and Levinas share a preference for Jerusalem over Athens—specifically, for a movement of spirit other than knowledge that is not oriented toward the past, as knowledge is, but toward the new. They characterize that movement differently: Shestov opts for faith and the exercise of creative powers based on his interpretation of Adam and Eve eating of the tree of knowledge, while Levinas prefers a suspension in which we marvel at the created other, an idea, influenced by Husserl on suspension, which presages Levinas’s later notion of welcoming or being cored out by the absolute other.

ALEX OBRIGEWITSCH, Wherefore An-Other Communism: The Communication of Literature and Politics, Between Blanchot and Mascolo


The question of communism as a real political possibility, if not the most necessary political possibility, seems entirely foreign or strange in our world today. Just as striking is the claim that communism is inextricably linked with literature. But both of these claims are made by the often-overlooked and as-yet untranslated French thinker and political activist Dionys Mascolo. By examining and explicating Mascolo’s strange (re)conception of communism, with the aid of the thought of his friend Maurice Blanchot concerning communication and friendship, this article will explore an-other communism, between politics and literature—a communism of the future, a communism of thought, which approaches human need in a manner radically different from the common conception of communism.

ANNEMARIE MOL AND ADA JAARSMA, Empirical Philosophy and Eating in Theory: An Interview with Annemarie Mol


This interview, conducted over email, is an exchange between Annemarie Mol, a philosopher and Professor of Anthropology of the Body at the University of Amsterdam, and Ada Jaarsma, associate editor of Symposium. While the questions reflect Jaarsma’s interests in Mol’s account of “empirical philosophy” and its import for contemporary Continental philosophy, Mol’s responses raise questions, in turn, about how phrases like “Continental philosophy” betray geographical and canonical presumptions. Reflecting on the import of wonder, of reading, of intervening in philosophy’s set tropes, and of de-centring the subject, Mol draws readers into an array of ways to reconsider the cultural repertoires and social realities by which philosophical activities take place.