The Death Penalty, Volume I : The Seminars of Jacques Derrida
The two month wait has finally come to an end, bringing joy and dread in equal measure. Joy that I have forty years of a comic strip to read, enjoy and savour and dread that I have to start writing, researching and coming up with interesting ideas. It’s a monster of a book, as can be seen when compared to a normal-sized paperback, and it’ s just as heavy, not something you can easily slip into your pocket. A wheelbarrow might come in handy. So now the research and writing can begin in earnest for a collection of critical essays on Doonesbury to be published by Manchester University Press (MUP) later on in the year.
Chronicling America since 1968 and undoubtedly the great American novel, Doonesbury is ideally situated to explore themes, such as democracy and economic influence. As the voice of the dwindling American left, Doonesbury has continually provided hard-hitting commentaries on pertinent issues, causing controversy on a number of occasions, however, one of the central issues, the article will argue, is the relation between democracy and the impact of economic consideration on democratic decision making. It is this relation that needs thoroughly thinking through in order to arrive at a clearer understanding of democracy, considering Derrida’s argument that we have never had democracy: democracy is always ‘to come’. The recent storyline concerning Mitt Romney and Bain Capital, the private equity firm, highlights the fundamental differences in intention, creating profit at the expense of others as opposed to the intention towards working for the benefit of the American public.
Negotiating Derrida’s understanding of the gift and differance, the article will trace the fundamental issues of economic consideration in relation to democratic reasoning. It will then consider Derrida’s understanding of absolute risk, where the only way to act ethically and responsibly is to put one’s self in jeopardy, with the difference being more than what Trudeau defines as ‘class warfare’; it is central to violence in general. Outlining Derrida’s engagement with Emmanuel Levinas’s ethics of ethics and his delineating of tout autre est tout autre (every other is every (bit) other) will lead to an understanding of democracy as necessitating an opening to the other as absolutely other, a venture into absolute risk and potentially destroying oneself in order to do what is responsible and ethical. This idea is opposed to Bain Capital’s thirst for profit at the expense of jobs and the livelihood of thousands of Americans.
Tracing this theme throughout Doonesbury will allow a deeper exploration of the relation between profit and responsible decision-making to inform other themes at a fundamental level. Derrida’s messianic without messanism has been argued by Fletcher and Bradley (2010) as, ‘the last – and perhaps even the best – means of keeping open a relation to an absolute, unforeseeable future in the face of every political, theological or economic attempt to foreclose upon that future.’ The role of private equity firms and considerations of monetary gain, it will be argued, limit future outcomes and prevent alternative methods of approach and it is only by questioning these themes that a responsible way forward may be forged.
So now it’s a matter of writing it.