Plus d’Un:¹ Deconstruction and the Translation of Cultural Studies – Stefan Herbrechter

These Humanities to come will cross disciplinary borders without dissolving the specificity of each discipline into what is called, often in a very confused way, ‘interdisciplinarity’ or into what is lumped with another good-for-anything concept, ‘cultural studies’. (Derrida, 2002c: 230)

Et cetera — Cultural Studies ‘and’ Deconstruction

The ‘disseminal and’ is the ‘plus d’un’– (Derrida, 2000: 301)

Jacques Derrida, it seems, is no fan of cultural studies. Neither have or has (the undecidability between singular and plural will be of greatest importance throughout this essay because it shows exactly what is at stake in the deconstructive formula of the ‘plus d’un‘2) cultural studies been very keen on embracing deconstruction. However, when Derrida speaks of the challenge of the ‘new humanities’ (or the ‘humanities to come’) he uses precisely the kind of language that probably describes most adequately the distinctiveness of what practitioners would see as a ‘cultural studies’ approach. He asks if a ‘new humanist’ perspective would not have to proceed ‘as if’ the ‘structure and the mode of being of all objects belonging to the academic field called the Humanities, whether they be the Humanities of yesterday or today or tomorrow’ (Derrida, 2002c: 212) was its object. This very ambitious scope will certainly sound familiar to anyone who has either taught, followed or read any ‘introduction to cultural studies’. The list of things Derrida wants to see included in the new humanities’ investigation contains ‘all the discursive idealities, all the symbolic or cultural productions’ (213).

It seems therefore that, on the one hand, Derrida criticises (what he designates as) ‘cultural studies’ for its lack of definition (the eternal question, always resisted by cultural studies practitioners: what is cultural studies? What is its ‘essence’? This is of course related to the issue of cultural studies’ singluar-plural referred to above) and that, on the other, he quite openly embraces what may indeed be called the dominant cultural studies perspective (i.e. what (most) cultural studies practitioners would understand by cultural studies: the critical study of all symbolic and cultural forms, (signifying) practices, etc.) and in turn proposes it as that of the ‘new humanities’ or ‘the humanities to come’.

Despite this very specific instance of what could be called a ‘contest of faculties’, a compatibility between cultural studies and deconstruction seems entirely possible and desirable (very much because of and not despite the scepticism raised by Derrida). But what this paper seeks to do is to call for some time for more critical analysis: can the two — cultural studies and deconstruction — simply be ‘combined’, in a kind of ‘encounter’, scenario, or maybe a ‘dialogue’, as an ‘and’ would undoubtedly suggest (in some form of alliance between ‘deconstruction and cultural studies’)? What emphasis, what value for the ‘and’ in this phrase? Deconstruction ‘and’ cultural studies — an impossible conjunction, unless one addresses the problems of ‘simultaneity’ and ‘compossibility’ of what seem to be quite different ‘things’, which cannot or at least should not become part of some dialectic process aimed at a ‘mutual overcoming of differences’ or some other form of ‘inoculation’, but might indeed be better grasped by the somewhat more ‘performative’ metaphor of ‘articulation’.

The linking that the ‘and’ performs is in danger of silencing two problems which are linked to two forms of symbolic ‘violence’ that demand to be deconstructed first, before one could maybe reinscribe the ‘and’ as a ‘disjunctive conjunction’ (even though one cannot be sure whether such a conjunction would still be able to ‘join up’ anything): first, the question of the im/possible ‘one’ (the plus d’un) without which no deconstruction can ‘take place’ (the entire ‘project’ of Derridean deconstruction is to show how ‘Western’ thought and the ‘project of modernity’ as such have been based on an impossible but necessary principle of unity and a privileging of the concept of the ‘One’ — one God, one Reason, one Truth, one Reality, etc. But for deconstruction it is not just a question of simply abandoning the one for a revalued concept of the ‘many’ or plurality per se because a critical notion of universalism today seems at once more desirable and more improbable than ever). The second aspect is the question of the (non-dialectisable) relation, and more specifically the or (as for example in ‘Oui, je n’ai qu’une langue, or, ce n’est pas la mienne’ — Yes, I only have/speak one language, but/thus it is not my own (Derrida, 1996: 15)). The unresolvable paradox in the double ‘link’ of this (French) conjunction or (i.e. logical necessity and contradiction) is related to a certain experience of the im-possible (the ‘possible-impossible’).

I am well aware that many working in cultural studies will have little ‘patience’ for this kind of argument. But Derrida’s insistence on debunking the aporias in the formative texts of Western thought and culture is not just fancy ‘playfulness’, intellectual ‘mannerism’ or some form of theoretical ‘luxury’ in a time that demands first and foremost political activism. There is instead a most serious ‘existential’ and ‘ethical’ principle at work in any deconstructive approach that constitutes a kind of pedagogical ‘self-transformation’, namely that any possibility of justice is closely related to the experience of such an impossibility that is at once a necessity — an aporia, or an ‘existential contradiction’ in which two contradictory truths demand to be acknowledged. It is vital to take the time and think through the aporia without ‘resolving’ or cutting through it, every time there is necessity, e.g. for a decision, and at the same time an impossibility, i.e. when a ‘just’ decision also commits injustice. However desirable a resolution of an aporia appears — there is always (pragmatic, logical, political, etc.) necessity — justice demands to think the impossible, hence deconstruction’s radical ‘hospitality’ towards an ‘otherness’.

Partage — A Little Bit of Derrida?

It appears that behind the phrase ‘cultural studies and deconstruction’ lies a desire and thus also an anxiety. The desire may be a desire for hospitality, an invitation to cultural studies to accommodate its deconstructive other. If that desire were fulfilled, ‘cultural studies and deconstruction’ would really mean ‘deconstruction in cultural studies’. The anxiety, on the other hand, resides in the implied ‘what if?’ — what if cultural studies continues to disregard deconstruction? It seems that the question concerns the survival and place of (critical and cultural, literary, social, media, etc.) ‘theory’ in and possibly outside cultural studies. But what this paper wants to investigate and challenge is the utilitarian aspects of ‘mutual benefit’ that lie behind this logic of ‘accommodation’. There might be more at stake in an encounter between deconstruction and cultural studies. Certainly, a combination or amalgamation would completely change the ‘one’ and/or the ‘other’, or indeed both. This seems to be exactly the hope that lies behind the phrase ‘cultural studies and deconstruction’. My main claim here, however, is that the ‘one’ does not and cannot simply ‘translate’ into the ‘other’.

Gary Hall, in Culture in Bits (2002) argues very convincingly the case for persisting in theoretically informed cultural studies practice. It seems that the best chance for (speculative) ‘theory’ to survive today is in cultural studies departments. However, a widespread ‘post-theoretical’ condition — which is at once theory canonized (an understanding of post-theory as a critical awareness of theory being the new ‘doxa’, which implies an orthodoxy with all its stylistic and institutional-political fixations) and the resulting disenchantment with theory (a certain post-theoretical desire to ‘overcome’ theory) — makes a survival of theory, and hence also of its potential ‘keeper’, cultural studies, increasingly unlikely (at least in its present form). It seems that Hall articulates a wide-spread (post-theoretical) desire/anxiety about the survival of theory and would like to propose deconstruction as a way ‘forward’. It is certainly true that deconstruction has never occupied a significant ‘space’ within cultural studies. As Hall shows, for example, the current debate between theory-friendly ‘constructivists’ who are occupied with ‘textuality’ and those who advocate a return to empiricism, social science and political economy, rarely finds the time for a serious engagement with deconstruction, undoubtedly because that would lead to a questioning of the very possibility of the distinction between ‘text’ and ‘world’ on which the whole argument on both sides is based. As a result, Hall proposes a non-dialectical rethinking of cultural studies’ relation to deconstruction: ‘a rethinking that avoids the simple binarism of recent attempts to translate between or even combine theory and practice’ (Hall, 2002: x). It is not a simple ‘incorporation’ of deconstruction that is needed — cultural studies is not ‘in need of’ deconstruction as a method it may simply add to its already impressive catalogue of teachable concepts and discourses (e.g. psychoanalysis, feminism, postcolonialsim, new historicism, Marxism, postmodernism, etc.). To put it crudely: deconstruction is cannot just be an(other) ‘-ism’.

On the other hand, deconstruction cannot seek out cultural studies as its ‘object’, because deconstruction is neither the subject nor the object of any practice that implies the ‘application’ of a verifiable body of knowledge by a knowledgeable body (like a subject or a ‘practitioner’). Neither ‘mention’ nor ‘use’ of deconstruction — neither ‘deconstructionspeak’ nor ‘application of a method’, then. But what, it will be legitimate to ask, would the deconstruction of cultural studies be for? For whom? To refine cultural studies’ pedagogy? To give cultural studies an ethical dimension as opposed to its often naïve claims towards political transformation as if it was the (institutionalised and sole) inheritor of revolutionary practice, of Marxism, theories of liberation and social justice? Because deconstruction takes place or occurs in cultural practice, including the cultural practice of cultural studies practitioners? Because the practice of practitioners needs constant deconstruction (as a kind of vigilance)? Or is it to turn cultural studies’ ‘reading technique’ into a radical opening towards the over-quoted and inevitably ventriloquised ‘other’? (Surely, if the ‘other’ is really ‘other’ then he/she/it cannot speak for a ‘self’?) To invoke a mysterious ‘performative’ (as for example the famous ‘lived experience’ or Williams’ ‘structure of feeling’)? It is none of these, one might say, but rather, following Gary Hall and also Bill Readings, a certain understanding of cultural studies as ‘the contemporary institution’s way of thinking about itself’ (Hall, 2002: 13). Thus understood, deconstruction may help cultural studies to think its place within the ‘university of excellence’, or, in a more de Manian sense, it will help it address its ‘blindness in theory’. It might even assist cultural studies in addressing its reliance on a rather naive notion of ‘interdisciplinarity’ while keeping the notion of ‘culture’ radically open (so that it may contain and embrace its ‘undecidabilities’) or, indeed, simply to understand itself as a kind of cultural studies for the ‘culture-to-come’.

Any cultural studies practitioner, including myself, can only marvel at the impeccable logic of this venture and ‘we’ will immediately start dreaming of this ‘cultural studies of the future’, ‘as if’ despite the inevitable invocation of the future’s ‘monstrosity’, the dream could be shared by a rallying around the aporia. We would indeed have deconstruction ‘in bits’ here, you might say: in the form of the religious or cultish image of a sharing out of deconstruction by the host to the congregation — cruel ‘hospitality’ of cultural studies indeed.3 This ‘dream’ of cultural studies has to be dreamt with extreme scepticism, however, first of all because, quite obviously, no dream can be trusted. What language, for example, would this dream (of cultural studies) be dreamt in, and would it matter which language it was? The utopia of a future cultural studies may even hide a nightmare from which ‘we’ would be too afraid to wake up — namely the illusion of a community or a ‘we’ that simply cannot exist beyond a pre-critical and pre-conscious notion of ‘togetherness’.4 The question arises whether a different form of utopian thinking, a different understanding of such a communal dream is possible. Is there an ethics or a politics of this dream that would give in neither to the imaginary nor to utopianism, and which would thus not be resigning, irresponsible and escapist? Nevertheless, no ‘we’ of this sort can give up dreaming because it is only in dreaming that the possibility of the impossible can be ‘thought’.5

There thus seems an unbridgeable gap between deconstruction’s radical openness towards the future as alterity (as a non-utopian dream, ‘messianism without messiah’ or simply ‘messianicity’ (cf. Derrida, 1994: 32)) and any dream about the ‘future of cultural studies’. This gap is articulated in many ways: in the use of literature, in the understanding of culture ‘itself’, in the ways of thinking about identity, community, the institution and technology and, first and foremost, in the question of language, all of which pose formidable problems within the articulation of the phrase ‘cultural studies and deconstruction’. In what follows this paper will try to address some of these issues.

Oui, nous — Cultural Studies and Language

–one cannot appropriate a language. (Derrida, 2001b: 84)

If there is an ‘axiomatic’ in (Derridean) deconstruction, the plus d’unwould occupy a central position in it. The plus d’unis related to the question of spectrality, hauntology and différance, on the one hand, and to the central ‘necessity’ of fidelity, the very possibility for a ‘lien social‘ (hospitality, the ‘we’) and the im-possible ‘belonging’ to (a) language.6 As cryptic and ‘Derridean’ as this terminology may seem, it is of crucial importance to any analysis of ‘culture’ because every analysis (whether it is an analysis of a ‘text’, a ‘practice’, a ‘phenomenon’ etc.) necessarily has to take place inone language. Cultural studies speaks a (national) language, but it constantly speaks about both language ‘as such’ and about other languages. It translates often without being aware of it either as translating agent or as the object of translation. It may promote diversity, translation, hybridity, even multilingualism, but does so in a (one) language. After all, speaking about ‘cultural studies and deconstruction’ is being done in English and in the English-speaking academy. The very term ‘cultural studies’ does not translate easily, which is why it is kept in many other (national) academic contexts. But if cultural studies is to have any sense it must certainly be interested in questioning this nationalism in the time of ‘global’ culture. It must be ‘self-consciously’ comparative. What are the implications of this?

Confronted with the deconstructive plus d’un, cultural studies has indeed a lot to answer for, above all in its frequent forgetting of language. This does not mean that cultural studies has not been engaging with linguistics, on the contrary: but it is one thing to speak about linguistic relativism or the Saussurean arbitrainess of the sign, quite another to think about the implications of one’s own usage of language. There are certain existential implications as soon as you question the ideology of monolingualism (the combination of one language, one culture, one nation etc. without simply advocating a Babelian utopia or glossolalic ‘speaking in tongues’). The central point here is the degree of visibility accorded to translation, and deconstruction’s plus d’un is mainly aimed in this direction. No language and no cultural studies is ‘complete’ nor completable. Translation is in fact what seems to allow for the illusion of one language’s identity (and arguably for identity in general) as opposed to another’s to exist in the first place. Cultural studies in the English-speaking academy would not exist without the translation of a variety of intellectual systems into a new context. What is usually forgotten is that through translation both ‘original’ and ‘target’ context are changed, especially when this translation process is later reversed, as is the case with the current ‘exportation’ of cultural studies into the non-English-speaking world (for only a few European examples see Kramer, 1997; Hörning & Winter, 1999; Mattelart & Neveu, 2003). This re-translation occurs just as much thanks to globalisation and cultural imperialism as it is critical of these processes. So while cultural studies is going ‘global’ there is very little sign of it becoming more international, multilingual, multicultural or cosmopolitan itself.

A ‘deconstruction of cultural studies’ (if there is ‘any’: i.e. neither ‘one’ nor ‘many’) would indeed have to start here, from a certain impossible experience of language (in general, communication), in every (particular) language, and therefore already ‘in’ translation. Plus d’une langue, is what Derrida puts forward (not without a certain irony of course) as the one ‘definition’ of deconstruction’s paradoxical relation to language (Derrida, 1988: 38). Deconstruction’s undecidability occurs around an impossibility and necessity of thinking this ‘one’ (culture, language, identity, truth, reality, etc.). Cultural studies, with its own undecidability between singular and plural, instead often seems to cherish the ‘postmodern’ multitude (or ‘many’). But despite or maybe because this radical multiplicity normally simply denies the existence of any ‘one’ (e.g. in the current rather dogmatic ‘anti-essentialism’ and ‘(radical) constructivism’ in so much current cultural studies ‘practice’), the result often is homogeneity. It may be liberating to think about identity as ‘socially or culturally constructed’, but that still does not resolve the necessarily essentialist question of what this thing called ‘identity’ is and why people apparently cannot do without it, and also why it has to be necessarily understood as one (at least one at a time), unless you want to let go of the term completely (but then a probably no less problematic replacement would be needed).

Another example is the kind of interdisciplinarity cultural studies promotes, namely with a desire to transgress boundaries; this is supposed to create hybridity and programmatic transformation. But how can this transgression occur as long as one remains largely oblivious of disciplinary specificity (or the singular ‘idiomacy’ of a discipline, a language, culture, etc.). The challenge is to think multiplicity and singularity together, as mutually ‘inhabiting’ each other. As long as ‘postmodern’ cultural studies (and has there ever been any other form of cultural studies, at least so far) hails plurality and ‘cherishes’ difference it cannot address its own role in the complex process it calls ‘globalisation’, which is amongst many other things also the ‘globalisation of cultural studies’. It thus remains blind to its translation and its forgetting of the fact that it is not a metalanguage nor indeed a ‘metaculture’. In short, how can cultural studies talk about the specificity of culture(s) at the very moment when culture as a critical concept is about to disappear and dissolve into the phantasm of a (one?) ‘global’ culture? In which language would cultural studies want to analyse such a global culture if it was not English, simply accepted as a ‘transparent’ metalanguage?

Plus d’un on the other hand means: ‘there are at least two. Because there are, for the best and for the worst, division and iterability of the source’ (Derrida, 1998a: 65). But in terms of ‘calculability’ the plus d’Un ‘is at once more than two’, the possibility of ‘radical evil’, monstrosity, but at the same time the very possibility of any ‘lien social‘ (social bond), as Derrida explains: ‘A certain interruptive unravelling is the condition of the “social bond”, the very respiration of all “community”‘ (Derrida, 1998a: 64). An often rather naive ‘postmodern’ championing of difference, hybridity, multiplicity, etc. is not only the enemy of the ‘one’, but may also jettison the necessary but ‘impossible’ possibility of ‘singularity’ that lurks behind the opposition between ‘one’ and ‘many’, or identity and difference. However, it appears that it is this (radical) singularity, this other that is neither one, nor many but plus d’un which is the most likely source of anything ‘new’, of change, or of a true ‘third’ possibility and alternative, and thus also the only hope for saying ‘we’ with some confidence (the ‘community to come’). In what form would cultural studies have to ‘appropriate’ deconstruction’s ‘fidélité à plus d’un‘ (fidelity to more than/no longer/less than one) and still dream about transformation? It would have to understand itself as a ‘plural singularity’ and as deconstruction:

‘Deconstruction’, if there is any, and even if it remains the experience of the impossibile, is not one. ‘If there is any’, as one always has to say, I think, and according to the irreducible modality of the ‘perhaps’, the ‘perhaps possible-impossible’, there is more than/no longer/less than one, and it speaks more than/no longer/less than one language. That’s its calling. From the beginning it was clear that ‘deconstructions’ would have to be said in the plural. Every moment of this experience is linked to figures of singularity — and in particular to that of the idiom. (Derrida, 1998b: 221)

Deconstruction’s ‘fidelity’ or loyalty is twofold, according to the double imperative of translation as singularity and iterability: ‘to respect the untranslatable irreducibility of the idiom, certainly, but at the same time to apprehend differently this untranslatability’ (Derrida, 1998b: 224). In short: there is untranslatability in every language and culture that asks to be translated. Cultural studies’ task would be to translate while promoting awareness of the singularity of each translation process (the ‘event’ of a translation). The experience of untranslatability on the one hand and the non-appropriability (the ‘social’ but not necessarilynational character) of one’s ‘own’ language (English does not ‘belong’, has never and will never belong to the ‘English’, nor the ‘Americans’ for that matter) on the other, constitutes the aporia in which any act of language has always already been inscribed (or ‘signed’) and which has to be affirmed (‘countersigned’) again each time. This is what Derrida’s formula: ‘I only ever speak one language but it is not my own’ (Derrida, 1996: 15) seems to spell out. The affirmative countersignature constitutes the singularity in an otherwise radically plural (i.e. full of possibilities) context.7

If cultural studies really shares (‘some’ of) this aporia between singular and plural with deconstruction8 then it must be in a similar position regarding the question of translation, namely in having to respect the idiom, while unhinging it in view of a ‘universal political chance, a universality that would not be a crushing of the idiom’ (Derrida, 1998b: 224), if that is possible, without relying on any equation between idiom and identity or propriety. If cultural studies were in such a position would it still be possible to speak of ‘culture’ at all, would there still be ‘a’ culture to ‘study’ — does culture not always presuppose a property, or propriety and a community? However, cultural studies is first and foremost the analysis of (a) culture. Or (yet, and thus; see below) cultures are plus d’une — more than/no longer/less than one (especially at a time of their globalisation). If culture and language are inseparable, do they ‘suffer’ from the same kind of nostalgic ‘idiomacy’ of which Derrida speaks? Or — as most cultural studies textbooks would probably claim — is culture merely a ‘conflict’ or even the sum of its conflicts? The study of culture, if it has to be the study of ‘a’ culture and, following on from there, ‘culture’ in general (or the ‘cultural’), even from a comparative point of view, is neither a ‘metalanguage’, nor is it (a) ‘metaculture’. This is of course, and this needs to be repeated, because cultural studies always takes place in (a) language. Today, however, this language is predominantly English. Or — it seems that the English of cultural studies (and the place of ‘(French?) theory’) is no longer at one with itself.

What are the implications of this for cultural studies as a ‘theoretical practice’? The question of boundaries (interdisciplinary but also (inter)national or indeed intercultural) and the question of language (‘in’ translation) — the question of the ‘or‘ (that is, how to link the unlinkable, a relation without relation) and of the plus d’un (the impossibility of identity ‘in’ translation) seem to pose cultural studies’ greatest challenges (see also Herbrechter, 2002).

Possible-impossible — The Translation of Cultural Studies

In the concrete context of (socio-cultural, techno-scientific and politico-economic) ‘globalisation’ or ‘mondialisation‘9 even such a seemingly uncomplicated word-concept like ‘world’ is no longer translatable without loss and/or gain (cf. Derrida, 1998b: 243). However, in the process of translating the (one?) world on a global scale cultural studies is as much an agent or subject as it is an object of translation. The language question therefore, more than ever — even ‘before’ the problem of cultural imperialism and hegemony — is the most urgent and the most difficult question to address, ‘in between’ an outgrown national context and an impossible but desirable universalism:

how to cultivate the poetic character of the idiom in general, one’s home, one’s oikos? How to save the linguistic difference, be it regional or national? How to resist the international hegemony of a language of communication (Anglo-American)? How to oppose the instrumental utilitarianism of a language that is purely functional and communicative without, at the same time, giving in to nationalism, to state-nationalism or to the idea of sovereignty of the nation-state, without returning these old and rusty weapons to an identitarian reaction and to all the old ideologies of sovereignty, communitarianism and differentialism? (Derrida, 2002a: 25)

If there is any articulation between cultural studies and deconstruction then cultural studies will have to ask itself about its own ‘idiom/s’. What language does (the) cultural studies (of the future) speak, how does it translate (itself)? Can it follow the logic of expropriation that underlies deconstruction’s plus d’un?

Deconstruction is not untranslatable but rather tied to the question of untranslatability. It always ties itself to the idiom but not to the idiom as a singularity that is intact, but rather to an idiom that is being translated, and is thus operating the alterity by which it is inhabited, by an inescapable movement of ex-appropriation. (Derrida, 2002a: 253)

How much scope and time is there in contemporary cultural studies for this kind of questioning when the Anglophone ‘axis’ of cultural studies (America, Britain and Australia) dominates the agenda and seems more consolidated in its phantasm of a global(ised) English than ever before? Will the cultural studies to come have time for translation (and not simple appropriation — i.e. a mere politics of translation) and also for that which resists translation (the untranslatable — i.e. an ethics of translation)?

To be sure, ‘global’ English neither belongs to the ‘globe’ nor to any Anglophone culture, or even to cultural studies. Language does not belong. Full stop. Not just because there are no (cultural, national etc.) boundaries around a language, not just because there is always more than one language at work, even in ‘one’ language, but because the phantasm of the one language itself remains unthinkable. The plus d’un unhinges the unity of the one just as much as the (ac)countability of the many: ‘More than one language is more impossible, more than impossible’ (Derrida, 2001a: 300). The challenge for cultural studies in times of globalisation is: at what price can it accept this ‘non-identity to itself’ of any language? What seems clear, however, is that the current, ongoing and intensifying Anglo-Americanisation in cultural studies and through cultural studies needs to be (and certainly will be) resisted, not only because of its undeniable neo-imperialistic cultural and economic effects, but also because ‘this Anglo-American (language) violates not only other languages but even a certain English or American genius’ (Derrida, 2001b: 87). For the love of English, a certain monolingualism must be resisted. How to do so in the current climate in which, for example, a very specific ‘national’ model of a multi-communitarian society is promoted in combination with a well-established neoliberal economic (or even economistic) hegemony and juridico-military force, dominated by the only remaining ‘superpower’ (which is clearly on a collision course with any Kantian, read ‘European’, vision involving cosmopolitanism, world peace and international law — principles that may, however, be well worth defending, even if they may seem problematic)? This seems to be what is at stake in current geopolitics (in which the United States are confounding their national interest with Weltinnenpolitik).10 How, in other words, to preserve cultural specificity without nostalgia:

The difficulty for politics is: how to be in favour of the greatest idiomacy– while defending oneself against nationalist ideology? How to defend linguistic difference without giving in to patriotism, at least a certain patriotism, and to nationalism? (Derrida, 2001b: 86)

In the context of this essay, these questions seem particularly urgent in relation to the international expansion cultural studies has been witnessing, and also in the critically constructive role it could undoubtedly play in inter- or transnational (maybe ‘post-national’) processes like European integration, or to be more precise: ‘How could a new kind of inter-nation like Europe find a way to resist any linguistic hegemony, and in particular the hegemony of Anglo-American?’ (Derrida, 2001b: 86). It is indeed surprising how little cultural studies has to say about Europe, how few cultural studies practitioners seem to be interested in a critical commentary on the cultural dimension that any further European integration must inevitably take.11 What, for example, is one to make of this hyphenisation in the use of Anglo-American, especially with regard to the role of ‘English’ (language and culture) inside and beyond Europe (i.e. the political ‘place’ of Great Britain) and the role of ‘philology’ in any (European) cultural studies (if there was ever going to be such a thing)?12

Since cultural studies seems by now firmly implanted within the academy (either as ‘non-, anti-, or post-discipline’), its double challenge — interdisciplinarity and its translation — has to be set in relation to its role in the (globalised) ‘university of excellence’ (as analysed by Readings and also by Hall). The exact ‘leverage’ for deconstruction in this case is the untheorised nationalism in much of cultural studies’ work (which is also of course related to the nationalism at the centre of the ‘modern university of culture’ which is, pace Readings, far from being simply superseded by its postmodern and ‘post-historical’ successor). Again, this must be addressed first and foremost as the question of language in cultural studies.13 What Derridean deconstruction can make accessible in this respect, through attending to the aporia of the plus d’un, is the separation of (national) language from idiom, the impossible fidelity to the more than/no longer/less than one idiom (the universal/plural/singular). This is of particular importance if cultural studies is to develop any further as a ‘just’ critical discourse of globalisation, mondialisation or even ‘mondialatinisation’ (i.e. the question of the ‘Latinity’ and ‘Christianity’ of the very concept of culture, cosmopolitanism, universalism, democracy, humanity, human rights, freedom, etc.; see Nancy (2002)).

Meanwhile a relatively ‘straightforward’ translation of any cultural studies approach, outside the Anglo-American context, seems unlikely to produce critical results in relation to this plus d’un. After all, outside the English-speaking world, cultural studies is usually institutionalised in English departments (e.g. as ‘Area Studies’, ‘British Studies’, ‘American Studies’) and will thus always be safely ‘othered’ (and hence remain ‘descriptive’ rather than critical and normative) through a view from ‘outside’, e.g. in terms of ‘Landeskunde’ or ‘civilisation’ (see Herbrechter, 2003). Translations of ‘ideas’, travelling theories, are usually recaptured within some kind of safe national framework. It is a big step from the study of a foreign language and culture to a translation of a complete intellectual paradigm which itself has usually been developed as some kind of ‘self-critique’ or for a culturally specific strategic ‘purpose’ (as is undoubtedly the case with both cultural studies in Britain and the US).

Nevertheless, this translation of (Anglo-American) cultural studies is certainly taking place, and it is occurring at a time when cultural studies, in order to survive (following the neo-liberal drive of globalised ‘base’), has to enter into a ‘transnational’ phase of expansion, by translating itself into as yet ‘unconquered’ territories (which nevertheless all have their own and different intellectual and critical traditions). This is happening not without a certain linguistic (and translatory) ‘idealism’. One particularly symptomatic moment in this process may be glimpsed in Stuart Hall’s enthusiastic use of ‘(re)translation’ in the sense of ‘re-articulation’, put forward in an interview given after the ‘Trajectories: Towards a New Internationalist Cultural Studies’ conference in Taipeh (1992). Not only has cultural studies’ internationalisation, in its dominant English-speaking form, taken away much of its original political edge, it may also have become less conscious of the political context in which it translates (itself):

I am delighted to find that rush of cultural/political blood to the head, so to speak, once it finds itself in a new cultural/political space, confronting differential times, histories, trajectories. Whatever the culture you are operating in, cultural studies will always be involved in contesting traditional roles, the traditional boundary lines of sexuality, of subjectivity, etc. In this sense, in this general process of contestation, there is something like a general language of cultural studies beginning to emerge. Though it is not a universal language, it is a language in which the tensions between similarity and difference can be negotiated, by people in different positions. (Hall, 1992: 407-408)

As desirable (and utopian) as these formulations may (still) seem, one may question the position from which this statement could be made, for, in this very place, it may be worth remembering that there is no metalanguage, no hors-texte, and the joy in cultural studies’ apparent (international) ‘sanguinity’ is a mixed blessing to say the least.

Different forms of translations are certainly imaginable. On the one hand, one should, of course, heed Stuart Hall’s advice not to accept the national as the only or predominant category in which the translation of cultural studies is to take place. Cultural studies cannot simply replace any institutionalised form of Landeskunde or civilisation. It will always be too ambitious and too self-reflexive for this framework. On the other hand, this does not mean that national, as much as infra- and international, tensions should not become a major issue to be addressed by cultural studies. The fact that cultural studies would mean something different translated into various cultural and geo-historical, geographical and geo-political contexts may one day enable a strictly comparative and contextualised and at the same time ‘cosmopolitan’ approach within cultural studies practice. For this to happen, however, cultural studies would have to gain an active, but not unproblematic, place in international politics and international relations, in the discussion of international and human rights, democracy and its future (the ‘democracy to come’), i.e. the plus d’un with its impossible ‘politics’ of universal/plural/singular and the ‘disjunctive’ mode of this strange conjunction — or–

Or — Cultural Studies ‘in’ the New Humanities?¹⁴

Or adv. [(hac) hora, à cette heure] dès aujourd’hui/maintenant — désormais: henceforth, from now on.

Or conj. Marquant un moment particulier d’une durée ou d’un raisonnement; sert à introduire la mineure d’un syllogisme, un argument ou une objection à une thèse : now, whereas, therefore. (Le Petit Robert)

If cultural studies is to open itself up to deconstruction there is still more to be done. Once the problem of the plus d’unhas been acknowledged, if cultural studies is to seriously engage with deconstruction a few other spectres that currently ‘haunt’ the globe, and which can only be listed here, await.15 There is first of all renewed emphasis on the question of what constitutes ‘humanity’ and the legacy of ‘humanism’. This most important of all challenges, because it seems to erode the very legitimation of the ‘humanities’ (old, current or new), comes in the form of various ‘posthumanisms’ (anti-, non-, trans- etc. humanism).16This is mainly because ‘after postmodernism’ the very concept of a shared ‘humanity’ is in crisis, and, at the same time, techno-scientific developments radically extend possibilities that challenge humanist notions of what constitutes ‘humanness’ (i.e. a certain ‘cyborgisation’ and ‘virtualisation’ of everything cultural). There is the question of what political form this ‘posthuman’ will take, or the question of how open the concept of democracy is and in what kind of spaces such a radical questioning can take place (i.e. the future of the university, literature, art, the ‘critical’ media etc.). And there is the daunting problem of the ethical implications of the previous points, of how to make ‘choices’ in a ‘world’ in which uncertainties proliferate.

More specifically, what is important for the present context are the institutional implications of all these ‘posthuman’ questions, namely: is cultural studies (merely) another ‘humanities’ project? Could cultural studies find its place in any ‘humanities to come’? What any form of ‘posthumanist’ cultural studies (inside or outside any ‘new humanities’) has to address is whether the current (tele-)techno-scientific capitalist globalisation process is in fact a new form of ‘humanisation’ or merely a cynical ‘dehumanisation’. And what role would there be for the humanities (to come) both as part of this process and as critical discourse to it? It is clear that the true interdisciplinary stakes are not within the humanities (old or new) alone but between the humanities and the social sciences, and between both of these and the ‘natural’ sciences — not to mention the equally problematic transdisciplinary venture of ‘media studies’ (including the ‘new media’ which are largely responsible for the increased ‘virtualisation’ of culture both on an inter-subjective and intra-subjective level (i.e. concerning the relation between self and others and one self’s relation to itself)).17

Thus cultural studies as a by now institutionalised movement faces at least two uncertainties: on the one hand, the effect of its alliance with (what Bill Readings calls) the ‘university of excellence’ (or the challenge of interdisciplinarity), and, on the other, cultural studies’ role in the complex mixture of discourses and practices that constitute globalisation or mondial(atin)isation (namely, the challenge of translation). With regard to both of these uncertainties, cultural studies cannot be ‘safe’ from deconstruction, if this were possible or even desirable.

Interdisciplinarity is related to the question of cultural studies’ place within the (new) humanities, the current crisis and transformation within the humanities, and thus also with the question of democracy (i.e. how should ‘we’ live?) and the democracy to come (or ‘who is this “we”‘?), together with the ongoing problematic of an ‘imperialism’ at the very heart of this, by now ‘global (or globalised)’ post-Cold-War notion of democracy, which ‘coincides’ (but without coincidence) with the era of ‘international terrorism’ and a certain ‘end’ of the nation-state (and the resulting conflict between sovereignty and international law). The order for the transformed ‘new humanities’, in which cultural studies could make a major impact, is tall indeed:18

These new Humanities would treat– the history of democracy and the idea of sovereignty, that is also to say, of course, the conditions or rather the unconditionality under which the university and within it the Humanities are supposed (once again the ‘as if’) to live. The deconstruction of this concept of sovereignty would touch not only on international law, the limits of the nation-state, and the limits of its supposed sovereignty, but also on the use made of them in juridico-political discourses concerning the subject or the citizen in general– (Derrida, 2002c: 231-2)

And the question of sovereignty is not a question that can be asked outside (a) language, and thus requires constant translation and awareness of it. Can one speak ‘democratically’ about democracy — and in which language would that be? This is where the translation of cultural studies is seen to be closely related as long as it ‘performatively’, so to speak, presupposes (a) culture, and thus some kind of ‘community’, even if it is merely a ‘community of strangers’ (Kristeva, 1991) or ‘a community without essence of a community’ (Nancy, 1991: 8), a ‘community without closure’ (Couldry, 2000), etc. Culture already seems to presuppose a ‘we’ exactly where this ‘we’ has to be first deconstructed (be it a community of culture, of politics (e.g. democracy), or of ethics and law (e.g. humanity)).19 On the one hand, there is no hospitality without (a receiving) culture, no idiomacy without a language (see, for example, Derrida, 1997a: 42-4). On the other hand, ‘every culture is haunted by its other’ (Derrida, 1984: 116), and is non-identical to itself (Derrida, 1991: 16), and is thus necessarily based on some form of political ‘violence’ (Derrida, 1996: 68).

The challenges, thus far enumerated, which the phrase ‘cultural studies and deconstruction’ raises, are already quite daunting. But even if cultural studies were to take its place in the humanities to come, even if it were to achieve the impossible ‘fidelity’ to deconstruction or the plus d’un, even if it was to assume the challenge of thinking the democracy to come and thus cross through its own national and cosmopolitan, particularist and universalist ideals, there still awaits one more question, maybe the most challenging of all: the question of a community in or of cultural studies (and thus also the question whether cultural studies can transcend its current preoccupation with identities and their ‘construction’).20

This ‘we’ to which cultural studies is at once addressed and which it performatively creates. There must inevitably be an underlying presupposition that says ‘we can’, an addressee or a costituency to which the very phrase ‘cultural studies’ is addressed — a kind of performative legitimation that cultural studies exists: can’t you see, it is happening, we are already ‘doing’ it — but which in fact may resist any further development, any ‘self-transformation’, any major event from happening in and to cultural studies), has to remain open to the future (as) alterity. But this ‘yes, we’ (Derrida, 2001c) must not be ab initio (mis)understood as ‘dialogical’, ‘intersubjective’ or ‘communal’ as such (Derrida, 1995a: 40). It cannot ‘originate’ or refer to any place in particular while presupposing a ‘we’ that would already imply a dialogue and a universalism. Cultural studies, if it should be ‘in’ deconstruction, will have to be d’ailleurs, from elsewhere, can only occur in exile from any such community, a stranger to it(‘s)self.21

So if the order is this tall, what good could come of it? What could deconstruction possibly ‘do’ for cultural studies? In the nature of a true ‘friend’, it could do cultural studies the biggest favour possible, namely to ‘sharpen the resistance to itself’.22


1 The French phrase ‘plus d’un‘ is explained in detail below as maybe the best ‘formula’ for Derridean deconstruction. The use of bilingual captions in this essay seeks to address the main concern in this context: namely a certain uncritical monolingualism, a lack of linguistic awareness and a disregard for the problematic but inevitable process of translation in cultural studies today. However, the overall intention behind this essay is one of encouragement for a better articulation between cultural studies and deconstruction. The best ‘summary’ of the ‘incalculability’ that is involved in the plus d’un (i.e. no longer/less than /more than one) can be found in Derrida (1998a: 65).

2 I would have liked to have kept the ambiguity of cultural studies’ number (singular and/or plural) throughout the essay. However, this would have put too much strain onto the syntax of what is already quite a complex argument. This does not mean that the numerical ambiguity should not be taken into account each time the phrase ‘cultural studies’ is pronounced. On the contrary, the future of cultural studies as an institutionalised academic practice lies very much in recognising the tension that lies in designating a (radical) plurality by a singular name.

3 For a deconstruction of such totemistic ‘fraternal’ communities see Derrida (1997c: passim) and (2003: 67-92 and passim).

4 See Derrida (2002a: 17-18):

It [the worst nightmare] will have made us think the irreplaceable, a truth or a meaning that our consciousness may hide from us when we awake, and may thus send us back to sleep. As if the dream was more vigilant than wakefulness, the unconscious more thoughtful than consciousness, literature or art more philosophical, or more critical at least, than philosophy. [All translations are mine unless indicated otherwise].

5 For a problematisation of the ‘thinking we/nous (oui nous)’, see Derrida (2001c: 169-96).

6 For a short summary of this problematic see Derrida (1997c: 18).

7 Derrida again insists on this affirmation, this unconditional ‘yes’, which is so crucial to any explanation of deconstruction’s notion of ‘otherness’, in Derrida (2002b: 34):

Thus, this ‘yes’ to language allowing one to truly speak to the other is monolingual, strange in a sense; it is language speaking of itself. Language speaks of itself. I would not say this of spoken language. I would say this of the mark in general, in order not to limit things of language to language itself. And thus, there is a ‘yes’ of the mark that (furthermore) can be erased, and this ‘yes’, or erasable mark, is before language; it is presupposed by any language; it is not yet a dialog. Nor is it identical to itself, nor enclosed in itself, because it is already difference. But this difference, this affirmation in difference, is not yet dialogical.

8For a collection of statements on the singular-plurality of deconstruction, see Derrida & Malabou (1999: 219-221; cf. ‘Plus d’une déconstruction’).

9 ‘Globalisation’ must be understood in terms of longue durée here, namely as a process that started with and therefore cannot be dissociated from a certain ‘latinity’ in its Christian form. Thus both the English globalisation and the French mondialisation derive from Latin concepts and carry two thousand years of ‘Christian’ history. See Jean-Luc Nancy (2002) and Derrida (1998a) on ‘mondialatinisation‘.

10 A careful reading of Derrida’s recent Voyous (2003), with its elaboration and problematisation of the phrase ‘democracy to come’, would have to occur at this point.

11 For a possible beginning see Étienne Balibar’s recent work (Balibar, 2001 and 2003).

12 In this context it would be essential to discuss in greater detail Étienne Balibar’s Nous, citoyens d’Europe? (2001), and especially his claim that English, as a ‘world language’, cannot be the ‘language of Europe’. Instead, the language of the inter-nation called Europe would have to be a ‘system of constant transformation of hybrid usage [usages croisés], or indeed, translation’ (Balibar, 2001: 318). The idea of linguistic hybridity on which this notion of Europe would have to rely seems incompatible with the logic of Derridean ‘idiomacy’.

13 This is particularly pressing if cultural studies is really serious about ‘theory’, since, as already Paul de Man knew: ‘the resistance to theory is a resistance to the use of language about language’ (De Man, 1986: 12). For an extended comment on the ‘(Ir)resistibility of Theory’, see Herbrechter & Callus (2004; forthcoming).

14 The problematic of interdisciplinarity in the (trans)national institution and the humanities is already opened up by Derrida in 1991 (see Derrida, 1997a).

15 What follows is an adaptation of two such lists, one in Derrida (2002c) and the other in Jean-Michel Rabaté (2002: 147-149).

16 Much of what is currently grouped rather loosely under the label ‘posthumanism’ is more forgetful of theory and its anti-humanist history than anything else. A certain ‘posthumanism’ has been part of theory at least since Derrida’s ‘The End of Man’ (Derrida, 1982) and the Colloque de Cerisy on Les Fins de l’homme (Lacoue-Labarthe & Nancy, 1981). However there are many philosophical predecessors from Nietzsche, Freud and Marx to Heidegger right through to Lyotard. Neil Badmington’s selection of texts (2000) and also Halliwell & Mousley (2003) are rather exceptional in tackling posthumanism historically in this way.

17 In this respect, it would probably be very beneficial to verify what the exact effect of the infamous ‘Sokal Hoax’ has been as far as the possibilities for such interdisciplinary posthumanist cultural studies is concerned (cf. Sokal & Bricmont, 1997).

18 See Derrida (2003: 114):

As soon as I speak to the other, I submit to the reason of giving/to giving reason, I share a virtually universalisable medium, I divide my authority, even in the most performative language which always needs another language in order to gain authority through convention. The paradox — which always remains the same — is that sovereignty is incompatible with universality even though it is always called upon by any concept of international (and thus universal or universalisable, and thus democratic) law. There is no sovereignty without force, without force by the most powerful, whose reason — the reason of the most powerful — is to be always right/to overcome everything.

19For the exact reason why Derrida is so sceptical of notions like ‘community’, ‘identity’, etc. see for example Caputo (1997: 106-124, cf. ‘Community Without Community’) and, recently, Derrida’s Voyous(2003), with their emphasis of (communal) ‘ipseity’ and the ‘auto-immunitarian’ character notions of community often contain.

20 Nick Couldry’s understanding of a future, ‘truly comparative global discipline’ of cultural studies (understood as a ‘community without closure’), with a ‘broad notion of citizenship — a sense that we are obliged to listen to each others’ cultural experiences’, based on the ‘need to share many things if we are to appreciate our differences’, may constitute an even more nightmarish dream in that it seems to involve an idea of an (a priori, forceful?) ‘dialogue across difference’ (Couldry, 2000: 134ff.).

21 On the ‘ailleurs‘, see Derrida & Fathy (1999: 74).

22 Cf. Peggy Kamuf’s ‘Introduction: Event of Resistance’, in Derrida & Kamuf (2002: 7); see also Paul de Man (1986: 19): ‘Nothing can overcome the resistance to theory [or cultural studies, as the contemporary ‘keeper’ of theory; see above] since theory [or cultural studies?] is itself this resistance.’


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