Derrida on Dialectic and the Transcendent
“You refer to the pair transcendental-dialectical. If we take, for example, that which makes a dialectical process possible—namely, an element foreign to the system that transcends a group of categories (the transcendental as that which transcendit omne genus), an element more or less than a table or series of categories—this foreign element, more originary than the dialectic, is precisely that which the dialectic is to dialectize, taking it into and including it in itself. This is why the most dialectical formulations of the dialectic, those which in general are to be found in Hegel, are always both dialectical and non-dialectical: identity of non-identity and identity. The non-dialectical does not oppose the dialectical, and is a figure that recurs continually. I have constantly attempted to single out that element which would not allow itself to be integrated in a series or a group, in order to show that there is a non-oppositional difference that transcends the dialectic, which is itself always oppositional. There is a supplement, or a pharmakon—I could give many more examples—that does not let itself be dialectized. Precisely that which, not being dialectical, makes dialectic impossible, is necessarily retaken by the dialectic that it relaunches. At this point, we have to remark that the dialectic consists precisely in dialectizing the non-dialectizable. What we have, then, is a concept of dialectic that is no longer the conventional one of synthesis, conciliation, reconciliation, totalization, identification with itself; now, on the contrary, we have a negative or an infinite dialectic that is the movement of synthesizing without synthesis. It is, for example, what I call ex-appropriation, which is in principle an anti-dialectical concept; but it can always be interpreted as the nec plus ultra of the dialectical, as in La problème de la genèse.
And this is why, after that highly dialectizing first book of mine, whenever I insisted on a non-dialectizable difference, I remarked with discretion, but markedly, that it was not a question of opposing a dialectic. I have never opposed the dialectic. Be it opposition to the dialectic or war against the dialectic, it’s a losing battle. What it really comes down to is thinking a dialecticity of dialectics that is itself fundamentally not dialectical.
What I’ve said here about the dialectic is also true of dialegesthai,dialogue, intelligibility, justice, etc.; but, basically, we are dealing with two concepts or two figures of the dialectic—the conventional one, of totalization, reconciliation and reappropriation through the work of the negative etc.; and then a non-conventional figure, which I have just indicated. Clearly, between the two figures themselves there will have to be a dialectic—in this case, between the non-dialectizable and the dialectizable. And the non of the non-dialectizable itself splits in two: it may be thought as a non of opposition or as a non of irreducibility, of heterogeneity. Thus the non-dialectizable may be apprehended as dialectical or non-dialectical, as oppositional or heterogeneous.
What has always worried me is the heterogeneous, namely, that which does not even oppose: it may be called either the greatest force of opposition or the greatest weakness. I have often felt that the image of weakness offers less purchase to dialectic. It is the weak, not the strong, that defies dialectic. Right is dialectical, justice is not dialectical, justice is weak. Nietzsche in particular saw and understood better than others the process of conversion by which the greatest weakness becomes the greatest strength. Is it a dialectical proposition that the greatest weakness—philosophy, Christianity—prevailed over the greatest strength, and that this perversion is morality, the origin of debt and guilt, etc.? Is it a dialectical proposition or not, when Nietzsche says that dialectic is the victory of the weak, but is at the same time a manifestation of strength? I do not know whether this movement can be called ‘dialectical.’ Nietzsche, of course, would deny it—but wasn’t he himself being dialectical when he said it?
Is the given dialectizable? If that was the gist of your question, I think that, in a Hegelian sense, yes, the dialectic begins here: for something to be determined in intuition, the first determination of the this and the here-and-now is the absolutely incompressible, unarrestable beginning of the autonomous movement of the dialectic. The given is dialectical. But, clearly, one can think the gift [don] of the given [donné] as that which simultaneously precedes the dialectic and interrupts it. That is what I try to say about the gift in Given Time: the gift is precisely what must not present itself. In this sense it is never given, it must not be given as something, nor by someone. Whatever there is of gift in the given [de don dans le donné], it is not a given. Understood in this sense, or thought, or promised, the given is truly the non-dialectizable: it is what resists economy, circulation—it is what resists the circle. It can always be demonstrated that as soon as one attempts to say what one means by ‘gift,’ to determine or speak of it, one is in the dialectic. But here it is a question of thinking a thing that is not a thing, and that under the name of ‘gift’ can be neither known nor made phenomenal. The phenomenalization of the gift annuls the gift, and thus there is no phenomenality here, no phenomenology, no ontology (the gift is not a ‘present’—i.e. a present being). In defying ontology and phenomenology, the gift defies the dialectic. It is a gift that ought to have nothing to do with what is called the ‘given’ in philosophy—with what is present, what is here, and that temporal or spatial intuition can receive as a content or phenomenon.”
-Jacques Derrida, “I have a taste for the secret”