Volume 15, Number 1 (November 2018)
Author: Diane Rubenstein
“But can one ever write with perfect tact or perfect taste?”1
I affirm that any sustained reflection upon Gerry Coulter’s writing as evidenced in his many “Passing” articles in the IJBS is an unqualified assent: “YES!”
Let me offer a bit of context. I intended to contribute an article in honor of Gerry2 for this special issue that would focus on a Baudrillardian reading of President Donald Trump. I decided to situate my reading in some oblique way to Gerry’s articles published in IJBS as an extended introduction. I found myself transfixed by the “Passings” notes, by their generosity, insight, and given my interest in the work of Jacques Derrida, in the way these many writings formed a corpus within the corpse. At once intellectual history, partial autobiography, they are a work that, both apart from and in relation to, Gerry’s other books, editorials and articles called out for particular attentiveness. For me, they represent a companion volume to Jacques Derrida’s The Work of Mourning, a collection of eulogies, letters of condolence, memorial conference papers addressed to fourteen recently deceased friends.3
Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas describe the implicit politics as well as the specific risks of this curious genre: “… the funeral oration is thus more than a powerful genre within a given social and political context; it constitutes or consolidates the very power of that context…” (WM 19) Memorial writing comprises stakes that are political as well as personal. At times, these stakes are in direct relation to the risks- of “morbid taste or shameless curiosity,” of “political calculation, personal retaliation, narcissism, attempts at achieving a good conscience…” (WM 6-7) “Death writing4 ” as practiced by Gerry Coulter and Jacques Derrida “reckons” with the deceased. “To reckon; that is to say, to recount, relate or narrate, to consider, judge, or evaluate, even to estimate enumerate, and calculate.” (WM 2)
1. “How to reconcile this plural? How to concede, grant or accord it?”
As a felicitous “coincidence”, the first “Passings” in IJBS (January 2005) concerned Jacques Derrida. In wondering why this word was in the plural, I recalled that Derrida’s first public memorial was addressed to Roland Barthes, an author that Gerry admired and saw intimately linked with Baudrillard’s thought and poetic writing. Entitled “The Deaths of Roland Barthes,” Derrida argues for his use of the plural form: “And as for myself, at that very moment I allowed myself to order a plural for these deaths, I too had to give myself over to the law of the name, the law of numbers… Death inscribes itself right in the name, but so as to immediately disperse itself there, so as to insinuate a strange syntax- in the name of only one to answer as many.” It is the singular proper name that conventionally designated the departed, underlining the “unique disappearance of the unique…the singularity of an unqualifiable death.” (WM 34) Freed from its immobilization as inscription on a sepulcher, pluralizing allows the referent to travel to many elsewheres.
“Passings: Taking Derrida Seriously” begins with a citation taken from a conversation between Derrida, Barthes, and other attendees of the 1966 symposium at Johns Hopkins, “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man, following the presentation of Barthes’ “To Write: An Intransitive Verb?”: “You were reticent about saying “I am dead.” I believe that the condition for a true act of language is my being able to say “I am dead.” Citation plays a role in mourning rites and writing as it enables testimony without “giving into some narcissistic ‘we’ or ‘me’” as we grant the departed the last word. It is an act of healthy mourning as opposed to melancholia- a way of incorporating and interiorizing the other while recognizing that quotation, paraphrase or citation, like forms of mimesis, is: “… at once a duty (to take him into oneself, to identify with him in order to let him speak within oneself, to make him present and faithfully represent him.” (WM 9) Citation enables posthumous fidelity.5
In many ways this first memorial essay is paradigmatic of the genre. Gerry quite lucidly presents what “deconstruction” is: not a method nor a critique but as writing that took criticism as its object. He indicated the effects of this thought; “it disturbed norms, none more so than those of academic thought and writing.” He iterates defensive postures that will be found in the other essays. Derrida “made us more aware of things we were protecting our students from and for this reason some have sought to protect their students from him. (italics mine) This theme of institutionalized thought, as a Nietzschean “triumph of the reactive forces” also appears forcefully in his essays on Murray Bookchin and Baudrillard: “Many professors on both Right and Left protected us from Bookchin and Baudrillard.”6
Gerry also carefully distinguishes between a message and an example (as he will elaborate the problem subtending Sontag’s misprision of Baudrillard’s critique of her trip to Sarajevo.) Derrida “was more of an example than a message and we were free to take or leave the example. I chose to leave it but from time to time there is nothing on earth like reading Derrida and I for one am glad he will be with us for as long as there are libraries and students to share his work with.” If only the theoretical community who are followers of a particular theorist or body of theory could approach “examples” with Gerry’s incision, detachment and magniminity! In a post- Jerry Maguire idiom: Gerry had me at the end of his first paragraph.
To make this point ever more acutely, the main body of the essay addresses the media’s reception of Derrida’s death as a symptom of the death of the social, of willful media blindness in a “transpolitical, transhistorical, transeconomic and transjournalistic” age and of the cruelty of contemptuous obituaries. Derrida himself had noted in his article on Roland Barthes’ deaths, that the funeral oration has been superseded by “declarations in newspapers, on radio and television; we could analyze the recurrences, the rhetorical constraints, the political perspectives, the exploitation by individuals or groups, the pretexts for taking a stand, for threatening, intimidating or reconciling…” And Derrida offers the sorry example of a French weekly that upon the death of Sartre called out intellectuals who either had not taken a stand on his passing or who said “the wrong thing” by publishing their photos as a form of accusation that “they were still afraid of Sartre.” (WM 51)
Gerry noted how both Right and Left “loathed” Derrida but for differing reasons; for the left it was his seeming lack of “politics” and for the right it was the “dense-ness” of his prose. Both of these issues- the tension between theory and activism and the between thinking and writing- were addressed in many other of the Passings articles. Gerry quite accurately saw that Derrida’s writing was really about thinking– “and thinking about thinking and the hard and joyous labour that thinking about thinking is (the writing is an interesting by product.)”7
What does it mean – precisely- to take a philosopher seriously? Gerry ponders this question with Rorty, Sontag, J.G. Ballard, Jean Baudrillard- and offers various formulations and hypothesis. For Derrida, it is beautifully straightforward; “To take Derrida seriously, one had to accept him as an honest person living an honest intellectual life.” Baudrillard was someone who took Derrida seriously, paying him the “ultimate respect… of taking him seriously for the singularity that he is and speaks honestly to his work.” Gerry reminds us here that one form of posthumous disrespect or infidelity to the friend is to “whitewash” pertinent disagreements. These must be articulated as a form of testimony that concedes difference while in no way diminishing one’s friendship or admiration. Thus both Gerry and Baudrillard remained critical of Derrida’s attachment to the real and the interminability of deconstruction as a productivist (rather than a subtractive) process. Most importantly, “taking Derrida seriously” enables recognition of “his incredible generosity” which Gerry relates to his “own experience of the generosity of Baudrillard.”
2. “Pity all those inconsequential people like Belgians or Canadians!”8
An American Triptych: Sontag, Rorty, Bookchin
Au contraire! The failure to take a philosopher seriously is nonetheless instructive. While figured as a missed encounter or “dialogue of the deaf,” Gerry’s essays on American thinkers displace a seeming impasse towards generative questions. As an American9 , I have learned much from Gerry’s Canadian extimacy (here he joins with such other noteworthy Canadian philosophers such as Arthur Kroker and George Grant). The location of the journal in Québec at Bishops informs his hospitality to French thought while his Canadian-icity (a Barthesian neologism) places him in metonymic relation to both (North) America and the Commonwealth; he draws his examples from France, the United States and the UK.
The second Passings essay on Susan Sontag, situates her conflict with Baudrillard over her humanitarian intervention in Sarajevo away from name calling “(“Baudrillard is a political idiot. Maybe a moral idiot too …”) towards a more capacious reframing of national traditions of thought: “What is to be learned about the state of the intellectual art in America through an examination of Sontag’s refusal to engage seriously with Baudrillard?”
What intrigues Gerry about Sontag is as an example of an American “dissent – in a culture that distrusts intellectuals.” Gerry does take Sontag seriously- as a talented writer and he offers glimpses of her better angel: the exquisite introduction to E.J. Bellocq’s Storyville Portraits or to Introduction to 100 years of Italian Photography and her 2002 revision of her humanitarian intervention in “Where the stress falls”: “You want it to be about them, and it turns out –in media land- to be about you.” Gerry lauds her courageous assessment of 9/11, situating it as a Chomskyian patriotism even if he is critical of her later support for the war in Afghanistan.
Sontag is presented as “an unapologetic high modern,” highly Europhilic and cosmopolitan- a “citizen of literature… an international citizenship…” She represents a limit case, its paroxysm: “Sontag never gave up on America, but occasionally she goes as far as any American intellectual in the late twentieth century to attaining escape velocity from it.” If thinkers since Alexis de Tocqueville have reiterated how antithetical intellectualism is to American identity, (repeat after me: President Donald Trump) Sontag seems to have “achieved the near impossible- she was a European intellectual in America.”
Yet, the brilliance of Gerry’s essay is not to let Sontag rest among her European friends, but situate her in relation to the two national American traditions of critique. He elaborates on these parallel genealogies. There is the Frederick Douglas-Noam Chomsky one: a “hopeful (if domesticated) dream of a better America- a truly utopian America that would …realize its propaganda.” This is complemented by its reactive or protectionist version: in Emerson-Camille Paglia’s rejection of outside (read: European) influences. Both are Franco-phobic. For Chomsky, the French have a “highly parochial and remarkably illiterate culture.” Gerry is provocative in aligning these parallel traditions around their shared “deep-seated love of the idea of America.” America is potentially the best nation on earth but some “thing” keeps holding it back. And he ups the ante with a mind-blowing conjunction: “For both Bush and Chomsky, America is an unfinished project of greatness.” I expected a different couplet with Bush and a proper name beginning with Ch.
Now re-located within an American “thought protectionist” climate that defends against Baudrillard, Sontag’s resistance to Baudrillard’s challenge becomes an object lesson for affect theory. “Why did Sontag not get Baudrillard’s point? Why did she persist…as late as 2001 on Baudrillard’s ‘bad conscience’ and ‘ignorance’ (seven years after …his article in Libération?”) Sontag’s lack of a “proper reply”- one worthy of the best moments of her thought is a “sad chapter in an otherwise engaging intellectual life” and Gerry mourns her with intellectual generosity and a hopefulness that this was a missed dialogue interrupted by death and in some “infinite interview” she would have engaged him: “Perhaps she would have and I like to think so.”
Gerry emphasizes that Sontag’s behavior towards Baudrillard was aberrant and paradoxical- “she functioned as an operative of the anti-intellectual America she so detested.” It also had consequences upon her thought and writing. Reading the late Sontag on Abu Ghraib or Regarding the Pain of Others, Gerry is saddened by her pathetic clichéd moralistic writing. Unlike Baudrillardian disparition/disappearance (or Derridean survivance/living on), Sontag’s physical death is belated- she is a “creature living past her time.”
Sontag’s anomalous behavior is exemplary as affect. What fuels her lack of critical engagement with Baudrillard’s challenge is anger. If her anti-intellectualist reply was on the level of a “tantrum,” if she “failed to live up to her own standard”, it was “possibly the only time she allowed to be so directed by anger…” (my emphasis) Sontag’s difference (or différand) with Baudrillard turns less on their disagreement on the real versus the symbolic as upon “anger as an instinctual response among many Americans … Serious intellectual engagement sacrificed for wounded feelings.” Anger sutures national unity around the derided abject: “Jean Baudrillard: finally something Paglia, Chomsky, and Sontag can agree upon.” Gerry concludes this remarkable précis of a life and thought with musings on forgiveness- what ‘dissipates” anger is irony and he provides places to look within both Baudrillard’s and Sontag’s writing. He offers the thought that Sontag’s “last gift for American intellectuals was the lesson of her failure to live up to her own standards of excellence…”
“Where then is the public American intellectual who can take Baudrillard seriously? Until s/he emerges, how can we take American intellectuals seriously? What are we to say of the nation that has stockpiled the greatest cache of deadly weapons in the history of the world and routinely produces intellectuals who respond to provocation with anger?”10
It was- ironically- an American thinker, Richard Rorty, that was at the origin of the IJBS. In his essay on Rorty (“Richard Rorty and the Voluntary Servitude of Philosophy”) Gerry narrates his intellectual trajectory from ‘critical’ to the ‘radical’ thought of Baudrillard. The somewhat odd bedfellows of Rorty and Nietzsche were his two “destabilizing” influences as an undergraduate, his gateway drugs towards Baudrillard. We witness Gerry’s capacity for ambivalence as it is the very same paragraph – an assessment of Foucault – that attracts him (Rorty’s ability to render complexity into “lovely prose”) and the pragmatism which repels him.
Pragmatism is a “quintessentially American” philosophy. Synonyms for pragmatic- “practical,” expedient,” “common sense,” “uncomplicated,” “matter- of – fact,” “simplicity”- are at the antipodes of continental thought. Even in Rorty’s adroit conceptual hands, pragmatism is “parochial” and “limiting.” Again, it is not Rorty’s caution as thinker that interests Gerry but the way pragmatism territorializes and contains his thought into the “more comfortable confines of the discourse of citizenship and democracy.”
In many ways, Rorty is an apposite figure to Sontag. Both are unconventional, “strong” theorists. Rorty is the “best American thinker of his age,” a hero of sorts, who “rescued philosophy from it analytic constraints…” Unfortunately, this involved a subservience to the polis. Rorty is ultimately a tragic figure who could not reconcile his anti-foundationalism with the claims of humanism and social justice. Rorty remained hostage to a form of American exceptionalism that defers to “civil society, democracy and institutions of ‘country building.’” Ultimately, the critical difference between Rorty and Baudrillard is less a quibbling over philosophemes than having the courage not to believe in society’s (and perhaps one’s own) convictions. Rorty could see how scientific realism and religious fundamentalism stemmed from the same impulse but not extend this insight to humanism. But this is also American: “pragmatists do not like to be alone with their thoughts but at work on the general public.”
Simply put: he could not take up the Nietzschean dare. Gerry generalizes this insight: “Why has so much American thought, I wonder, never gotten past the middle of the nineteenth century?” One could extend this thinking towards Europe’s “divine left” or progressive American democrats who cannot develop a fatal strategy to defy ambient neo-liberalism. Rorty’s resistance to French theory generates the following hypothesis: “The ability to take Jean Baudrillard seriously is directly linked to the ability first, to take Nietzsche seriously.” We are exhorted to learn the Nietzschean/Baudrillardian lesson: that one “need not give up on the human… to pass through humanism.” Yet, as with the Sontag essay, Rorty’s pragmatism subverts any easy binary opposition between French/Continental theory and Anglo-American analytic philosophy as it introduced “eighteenth century utopianism and nineteenth century empiricism” into a non-foundationalist age.
This price exacted by politics on radical thought and strong writing is foregrounded in Gerry’s essay on “Murray Bookchin- A Political Philosopher Among the Ruins of the Transpolitical.” If I were alone on a desert island and could only keep one Passings article, this would be it. Who else but a Canadian of peasant origins would make me think of this American original! As with Rorty, Bookchin was an author he enjoyed as a student. Gerry’s way of offering “a fitting way to say good bye” is to read Murray Bookchin against the example of Baudrillard- to ask a fundamental philosophic question: in a transpolitical age, “how does one live a political life?”
Gerry’s homage to Bookchin queries the divide between the so-called “theory” people and “political” activists. The trajectory of Baudrillard and Bookchin is structured chiasmically- as a return reversal between “the wise peasant and factory worker” and another peasant suspicious of modernity. Both Bookchin and Baudrillard took leave of orthodox Marxism11 – (for Bookchin, it was the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact, followed by his experience as an autoworker and union organizer (CIO) that led to his doubting of the revolutionary (“vanguard”) character of the working class.) Both thinkers remained “academic outsiders” whose theoretical challenge went beyond critique. Yet Baudrillard after May 68 turned away from activism and towards “theory and writing as challenge” while Bookchin remained a committed activist.
In the first engaging sentence, Gerry situates their divergence with reference to the book title that “best captures his spirit and driving impulse as a writer and activist,” Reenchanting Humanity: “Bookchin, despite all the evidence that encourages one to do otherwise, could never give up on his species.” It is not that Baudrillardians do not care about those sentient beings “with whom we share the planet,” but is, rather, an attitude towards existence recognizing that “the only true compassion is to suffer in silence for others”12
“Domination,” however, was a central problem. Bookchin refused to accept that human’s capacity and willingness to dominate each other might be as likely an outcome as socialism. Gerry saw how his left anarchism and especially, his often overlooked ecology revitalized “tired leftist movements of the West.” Anarchism and ecology were intertwined- no realization of one without the other. Environmentalism could only be a “partial” solution to capitalist pathologies. And he affirms what would be Bookchin’s utopian legacy of inclusion, post-patriarchal feminism and all that goes beyond the prism of class analysis. Bookchin as a “dialectical naturalist”, a sort of “non- hierarchical populist” warrants renewed scrutiny now in a Trump era pastoral apologia towards the “white working class.” Bookchin’s brand of bottom up communalism also responds to the current moment of the Trump resistance, with its call for a local, “confederally organized, and together with popular assemblies, it will build up an opposition to the existing power, the state and class rule. I call this approach libertarian municipalism.”
While laudable as a vision, this view of collective action contains a large blind spot- “exactly how a collectivist movement will not mutate into totalitarianism.” Bookchin, in this regard resembles Rorty and Sontag in that he is unable to transcend a crucial aspect of American-ism- “that Vermont and thoroughly pious idea of the small town and the rural seeing its ‘small is better’ philosophy as transportable to the city.” Gerry’s peasant background comes back into play; if one grows up in a rural town, one has an easy familiarity with surveillance society. (The city at least affords some impersonality.) The virtues of “smallness and rural life,” if not overrated, ignore that “some of the most nasty and petty politics we ever encounter is in on the local level.” Just imagine popular municipal assemblies on the order of an academic department meeting! It overlooks the structuring effects of the family as an ideological state apparatus. It neglects the anthropocene critique that even in a non-authoritarian, non-hierarchical socius, a new egalitarian society can still wreak havoc on the earth. And that democratic egalitarianism can undergird the new repressive strictures of neoliberalism.
But most importantly, this orientation cannot conceive that some of us (myself included) “can only understand and experience collective action as authoritarian impulse.” Doesn’t this make us disavow a most important political lesson: “Is there anything that the twentieth century taught us to fear more than the mobilization of collective action towards new forms of governance?” It is the “faith in popular social movements that separates the “theory” people from the activists.” Bookchin’s vehement refusal to interrogate the risks of his own ideal of collective action could be read as a hold- over of the “traditional Marxism’ he supposedly broke with. Or it could be a variant of a “popular American” strain that Gerry designates as fundamentalist: “You shall live this way or perish!” It is not at all surprising that this didactic certainty can provoke a negative therapeutic reaction.
Bookchin’s utopianism, however sincere, shields him from the catastrophe of modernity. “What separates a theorist like Baudrillard from the more hopeful activist tradition is the willingness to take seriously the problem the very catastrophe activists are seeking to avoid, may have already taken place- and that an important part of this catastrophe is the eclipse of the political.” The Trump reality show presidency is only the most recent manifestation of the transpolitical. Gerry refutes the prevalent canards among non-readers of Baudrillard: that he celebrates rather than diagnoses this state of affairs and that he has contempt for activists. Rather he expresses what many of Americans feel as so dispiriting of the present Trump moment: individual resistance is indeed possible but organized political resistance is exceptional, like the Women’s March in D.C., which was indeed, a singularity creating “holes, interstices, voids, etc. in the metastatic fullness of culture.” We would be remiss to see this- or the spontaneous irruption at airports after Trump’s travel ban- as coalescing into some sort of global anti-power. Believe me, both ‘theory’ people and activists are frustrated by this.
Again, what appears to separate these two groups is affective response; Bookchin/American activists are angry; Baudrillard/’theory’ people are “coolly indifferent.” In a transpolitical time, the latter affect seems more relevant. Although noting how constricted thought led to disappointing writing in the later Bookchin, Gerry ends on an affirmative note, that he deserves to be read after his death as a font of questions for a politics to come, for a possibly “disenchanted social movement.13 ”
I see Gerry’s own utopian impulse in his reimagining how the very best version of themselves might have been realized had they died later on or otherwise. (Perhaps this interpretatively generous reading is a “Canadian” thing?) Given another 10 years, Bookchin might have acceded to “his admirable way of turning on causes to which he belonged” and no longer would believe in his once prescient social ecology; perhaps given more time, Sontag would “live up to her standard of excellence” and “properly respond to Baudrillard’s challenge;” and in some parallel universe, perhaps Rorty’s work exists in its strongest state no longer cloistered by his “voluntary servitude to pragmatist thought.” I suggest that we read these alternate endings either as Borgesian fables or Ballardian science fiction- both eminently fitting responses to a transpolitical age.
Coda: Passings: Robert McNamara- To Speak The Name of Evil
I have been tracing a particular American path through Gerry’s memorial writing. For in his selection of thinkers to honor in the pages of IJBS, Gerry is revealed not only as a superb reader of Jean Baudrillard, but of American ideology as well. None more so than his outstanding essay on Robert McNamara with which I conclude.
The first sentence explicitly situates McNamara’s importance: “Robert McNamara’s CV is one of the more impressive of the entire 20th century.” As a brilliant, young Harvard professor, he is recruited as a military strategist during WWII (Lieutenant-Colonel; Legion of Merit); postwar President of Ford Motor Company; one of JFK’s “best and brightist”- the secretary of defense for both Kennedy and Johnson during the Vietnam War; President of the World Bank. Gerry displaces this focus away from Vietnam towards the so called “good war” of “the Greatest Generation”: “His passing provides one of the last opportunities to reflect upon some of the deeper meanings in the bombing of European civilian populations as an accepted part of the rules of engagement during World War Two.”
As with the essay on Derrida, Gerry’s focus here is on the media’s preoccupation with his role as architect of the War in Vietnam and his moral responsibility for the deaths of 58, 181 Americans, over 5 million Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians, and 4.8 million exposed to Agent Orange (400,000 deaths/disabilities and 500,000 birth defects.) The mainstream obituaries focused upon his moral responsibility and his later reassessment of his role in Vietnam. However, Gerry sees McNamara’s self- accusation as a war criminal due to his role in the fire bombings of WWII (seen in Errol Morris’ 2003 film, The Fog of War14 ) as what is the most important lesson to be drawn from this man’s death. And this insight is inextricably linked to an ever more relevant Baudrillardian concept of Radical Evil.
It should be noted that this essay is presented as a photo montage, with its sections separated by iconic photographs in a manner akin to W.G. Sebald, working in counter-point to the narrative- Wolfe Strache (Air Raid – Berlin 1942), Lee Miller (Buchenwald Concentration Camp 1945), aerial photos of the Dresden and Tokyo fire-bombings, London during the blitz, Hiroshima after nuclear detonation, the US Navy’s Mushroom Cloud Over Nagasaki 1945. This is the only Passings essay that does not end with a photograph of its subject. The few humans that appear in the array of inhuman, catastrophic damage are figurants, extras or refuse among bombing’s remains. We see their backs or in profile, but not their faces.
Gerry asks why is it that the fire bombings continued after the Allied objectives in both Japan and Germany (destruction of civilian morale, durable disruption of activities) were proved ineffectual? Why did they culminate in the “most significant war crime in history to not face criminal prosecution?” Rather than the conventional explanation of “revenge, Gerry posits Evil. The senseless bombing nonetheless sent a message to the Axis forces: “you may be evil- but we are capable of as much evil, or more, than you are.” The Allied forces were able to defeat the Nazi evil because “it encountered an enemy more evil than itself.” This evil need not exist solely in fire bombings and the use of nuclear weapons; American torture in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib testify to the “reserves of evil flowing through Western societies.” One can wager that evil will be met with an even greater evil; this is not so much the logic of détente but of potlach, of a furious overbidding (surenchère).
As I write this, American power is challenged by the nuclear capacity of North Korea, President Trump’s hyperbolic language of “fire and fury” evokes both Dresden and Hiroshima/Nagasaki and taunts Kim Jong-un. The National Security Council is mulling over the possibility of either a preventative strike or a retaliatory one, including a nuclear one, leaving Seoul as well as Guam as civilian collateral damage. The logic of overbidding is omnipresent. Just who is crazier Kim Jong- un or Trump?
We would do well to reflect on Gerry’s opening citation from Jean Baudrillard: “In a society given over to the principle of Evil, there is no presumption of innocence.”
1 – Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, “To Reckon with the Dead: Jacques Derrida’s Politics of Mourning,” introduction to their edited volume, Jacques Derrida, The Work of Mourning, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001, 7. (Hereafter abbreviated as WM.)
2 – Although the use of his first name (Gerry) might connote a relation of informality more proper to a friend or close colleague, I do not recall ever meeting Gerry. I do remember my pleasure when he wrote asking me to join the editorial board of IJBS. However, through following his writing and especially these past months while reading and rereading the Passings, I do feel as if I have lost a dear friend. The use of his last name- Coulter- seemed far too distant, especially as I am addressing these thoughts to his close friends and readers of the journal.
3 – Gerry’s “Passing” articles provide a similar count of 13 proper names: Jacques Derrida, Susan Sontag, Murray Bookchin, Jean Baudrillard, Richard Rorty, J.G. Ballard, Harold Pinter, Claude Levi-Strauss, Louise Bourgeois, Jeanne Claude Denat de Gullebon, J.D.Salinger, Lucien Freud, and Helen Frankenthaler. Each one is worthy of a close reading- for the selected accompanying illustrations, for the cross-genre pairings in essays that deal with artists, for his feminist approach to woman visual artists.
4 – I am using the term “death writing” to connote another form of the genre of “life writing”: biography, auto-biography, autobiogriffures (Sarah Kofman’s felicitous phrase), memoir, as it pertains to obituaries, eulogies and forms of memorial testimony.
5 – I am ignoring the negative side of the ambivalent formation that is incorporation concerning its murderous pulsion. I feel this is warranted in Gerry’s writings (in contradistinction to Derrida in The Work of Mourning) as- with the exception of Jean Baudrillard- the subjects are interlocutors, but not friends. Thus the ambivalence is more of a theme or assessment than a structure and is acknowledged with honesty.
6 – “Passings: Murray Bookchin- A Political Philosopher Among the Ruins of the Transpolitical”, IJBS, Volume 4, Number 2 (July 2007).
7 – This distinction between writing and thinking was made by Paul DeMan. As recounted by Gayatri Spivak when she felt inadequate to Derrida’s literary example, DeMan retorted; “Gayatri, you don’t want to write like Jacques, you want to think like him. (There is too much pathos in the writing.”) Personal notes from lecture at Cornell University.
8 – “Cool Memories of Susan Sontag: An American Intellectual”, IJBS Volume 2, Number 2 (July 2005).
9 – It is for this reason that I have selected for this essay only those Passings that treat American intellectuals or public figures.
10 – Writing this insight at the time of the Trump presidency and especially of his provocative taunting of Korea is chillingly instructive.
11 – See his left libertarian Listen Marxist!
12 – Jean Baudrillard, Fragments: Cool Memories III (1990-95), New York: Verso, 197: 70.
13 – In the late 80s I regularly taught Baudrillard at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I became faculty adviser to some of my students who attempted to imagine such a disenchanted social movement in the midst of the both Reaganism and an American leftist subculture: it was called the “Nihilist Worker’s Party.” It might warrant reviving.
14 – “We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo- men, women, and children. LeMay said ‘if we lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminal.’ And I think he’s right- and I’d say- we were behaving as war criminals.” Robert McNamara’s interview with Errol Morris.