A Dream of Reason V- Part 4 Embattled Reason

Embattled Reason (1985)


            Reason attacked “from the right” for questioning tradition is now attacked “from the left” as ground and support of hierarchy. Some enemies on the left attack reason from within.

1.1. Methodological Interlude

Foundational exploration and secondary commentary are distinct tasks. Yet there can be fruitful dialogue between them.

We proceed through the work of two commentators, Lazlo Versenyi and Victor Descombs. Versenyi interprets the sophist Gorgias. Descombs interprets Jacques Derrida…. We will, for purposes of discussion, assume that these comments adequately “represent” their “originals.”

2. Versenyi, Gorgias, Sophism


            Versenyi writes of the sophist Gorgias:

From Hesiod to Protagoras, we can observe the development of logos into the opposite of physical violence, as the humane alternative to brute force… Now Gorgias partly reverses this state of affairs and reveals the word itself as having its own kind of violence. Logos becomes merely a superior form of violence …The word itself…may dwell in a somber realm of its own. (Versenyi p 44-45)

He quotes Gorgias:

The power of Logos is great, but it is a power only to sway, move, and influence, not to enlighten and give knowledge. (Ibid, p 47-48)

If Gorgias (as interpreted by Versenyi) did not exist in the space opened by reason, a space in which the logos was inch by inch worked free from its embeddedness in common life, his insights would be unsayable (although as shaman or politician he might enact them).

2.2. Descombs, Derrida: Neosophism

            Descombs quotes Derrida as remarking that it is only to reason:

That an appeal against it can be brought, only to itself that a protest against it can be made; on its own terrain, it leaves us no other recourse than to stratagem and strategy…Only able, as soon as it appears, to operate at the interior of reason, the revolution against reason has only ever the limited sense of what is called precisely in the language of the Ministry of the Interior: unrest. (138)

He continues in his own words:

Derrida begins in a very close contest against a formidable master, whom he might think certain to win at a game with rules he himself has fixed. Derrida opts to play a double game (in the sense that a “double agent” serves two sides)…feigning obedience to the tyrannical system of rules while simultaneously laying traps for it, in the form of a problem, which it is at a loss to settle. (138-139)

James Kirk versus the super computer…. This is not the stratagem of a double agent but of an annihilator from within, “a fifth columnist.”

Descombs quotes Derrida:

Between the moment at which the dilemma obliges the “speaking subject” to speak for reason and order, and the moment when, trapped, The Master is put in check and can only garble his arbitrary essence –between these two moments, then, a silent arriere pensee must have guided the strategist. In silence the strategist has thought what he could and could not say, namely that the true is not truly true (but often false) that the lawful and the arbitrary are indistinguishable, etc. (139)

The dissemblance required by this strategy is:

The dissemblance of the dissemblance (to pretend I actually do the things: I have therefore only feigned pretence). In the second place, the question here is to pretend to speak the Master’s language in order to kill him… If a traitor pretends to assassinate the tyrant then the crime has not taken place; but if he feigns the pretence, then he kills in earnest, and the actor was concealing an assassin all along. (139)

Derrida’s dissemblance of dissemblance recalls a standard science fiction plot dilemma, “how to destroy a telepath.”

I hear that often through long pursuit the stalker becomes so sensitive to the victim – especially, near conquest, to its weakening struggles to stay alive as its most secret strategies are searched out and thwarted – that, despite all defenses, behind commitment to destroy, the killer comes, impotently, to love.

Othello never listened to Desdemona outside the machinery of clue and interrogation structured by Iago.

The assassin of reason need not dissemble and dissemble his dissembling to evade the agents of reason. They are not telepathic. He is telepathic to himself.

It is not reason as technique – or even as language – that its murderer must avoid. What must be avoided is “the beautiful face of reason,” reason as “Thou.”

To be held powerless in inarticulate defiance, the fate that Derrida reserves for the master, is not the worst fear of the committed assassin. It is to surrender oneself to the enemy through love.

3. Conclusion in Process

            We have, with Versenyi and Deschamp, abstracted from Gorgias and Derrida the project of annihilating reason through its own natural processes (tricking it to feed upon itself).

According to Versenyi, Gorgias recognized poetry as permitting passage beyond conventional assumptions. He quotes:

…The power of incantations uniting the soul’s opinion to others persuades and transports by means of enchantment. Tragedy creates a deception in which the deceiver is more just than the nondeceiver, the deceived wiser than the undeceived. (p. 49)

In Gorgias, recognition of the wildness and self-will of logos – its power to twist us un-consenting to its service … its roots in dark underground currents – generated a value neutral technology of control. In Socrates and Plato this recognition deepened reason.

Reason reaches for dialogue beyond itself.

Exert from A Dream of Reason by Avron Soyer, Continue Reading A Dream of Reason VI: Walking in the World: Entering through Foundational Regional Explorations


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Writings and Interviews by Avron Soyer

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