Derrida's Lumps

These opening moves for a talk on Derrida for the Met, which I want to twist to a discussion of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire, Mao and Eldgridge Cleaver on the Lumpen – the rogues, the riff raff (voyous, translated as rogues or louts – just what minister Sarkozy called the Parisian suburban youth)…

Derrida’s Lumps: they cannot be represented.

I want to start my discussion of Derrida in France with a film that interrupts, in order to multiply the performative options available to a reading of Derrida that should serve – if I have my brief correctly – as an illustration of method and an application. Well, even if I have not understood correctly what was required, I feel I can twist this project to my own ends in this way anyway. I want to meditate on the way – on the path, the road, the – you will have guessed what it is by now – the boulevard.

So far so good, so far so good.

Ash Sharma and Sanjay Sharma wrote perceptively in the Kassowitz film La Haine (TCS 2000 vol 17 no 3), whose opening quote I just mention here. Writing about music and race, the Sharma’s were not thinking of Derrida in that essay, and its not clear that Derrida will be able to explain much at all really (he is dead of course, but there are strangely prescient comments in Rogues), but just because I was asked specifically to talk about Derrida, I wanted to bend the topic to something relevant and think about La Haine, street protest, burning cars and the youth of Paris – the better material will be about the organisation of these youths, that they are not necessarily all Muslim, certainly not all organised by Islamist groups (but could be if no-one else does)…and some comments on the way of Mao (yes, I apologise already if I drive too fast).

The first scene of La Haine is one where a molotov cocktail (we shall not be detained by thinking of Molotov – from the Russian molot, “hammer” – and the importance of his name for that preferred weapon for the confrontation of the street, first of all by the Finns, borrowing the technique from Spain, but adding the name from the Commissar. Later, the symbol of Paris 68). Fast forward to 2005: some say the ‘riots’ were not noticed for the first few days by Parisians because they have become so used to thinking that burning cars are a normal part of suburban life, they just went about their business, sipping their cocktails with elegant poise. Sipping café-au-latte in the cafes along the boulevards of course is an easy image to lampoon in this context. And the mention of Boulevards should alert us to something of a wider importance.

Before going down that road, let me interrupt, however, to read the text provided to pave the way for this talk. It is from Rogues, Derrida Chapter 5….


2 thoughts on “Derrida's Lumps

  1. “On October 27th, Bouna and Zied died of electrical burns when they fled from the police. Riots broke out in Clichy-sous-Bois and other housing estates across France. This is the first time since May 1968 that there has been urban violence of this magnitude; it is also the first time that young people from the neighbourhoods have risen up together, realizing that they share a common fate. This fate can be summed up as having no future but unemployment, low-income housing, daily humiliation and police racism, a ghetto culture that makes us outcasts, but which on a certain level is also a source of pride, because it’s ours”

  2. Not sure Derrida was thinking as generously as he once used to here… [Though its also probably a mistake to think that Marx’s comments on the Lumpen were so negative]:Here is JD’s list:‘The word voyou has an essential relation with the voie, the way, with the urban roadways [voire], the roadways of the city or the polis, and thus with the street [rue], the waywardness [dévoiement] of the voyou consisting in making ill use of the street, in corrupting the street or loitering in the streets, in “roaming the streets”, as we say in a strangely transitive formulation … Today the voyou sometimes roams the roadways [voies] and the highways [voiries] in a car [voiture], that is, when he or she is not stealing it or setting it on fire’ (Derrida 2005:65). and:‘Voyoucracy is a corrupt and corrupting power of the street, an illegal and outlaw power that brings together into a voyoucratic regime, and thus into an organised and more or less clandestine form, into a virtual state, all those who represent a principle of disorder … a threat against public order … This milieu, this environment, this world unto itself, gathers into a network all the people of the crime world or underworld, all the singular voyous. All individuals of questionable morals and dubious character whom decent, law-abiding people would like to combat and exclude under a series of more or less synonymous names: big man, bad boy, player … rascal … good-for-nothing, ruffian, villain, crook, thug, gangster, shyster … scoundrel, miscreant, hoodlum, hooligan … one would also say today banger [loulou], gangbanger [loubard], sometimes even outside the inner city, in the suburbs, the suburban punk [loubard des banlieues]’ (Derrida 2005:66).

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