In commemoration of the 45th publication anniversary of Jacques Derrida’s Signature Event Context, the world renowned scholar on Derrida, Paul Patton, delivered a lecture titled, “Derrida’s Political Philosophy: From Unconditionality to Limited Sovereignty” last 6 September 2016, at the Martyrs’ Hall, Ecclesiastical Faculties, University of Santo Tomas. It was attended by members of the Department of Philosophy, and students from the Graduate School and the Faculty of Arts and Letters.

Patton (right) receives certificate from Faculty of Arts and Letters dean Michael Anthony C. Vasco, PhD. Joining them on stage is Department of Philosophy chair Paolo A. Bolaños, PhD.
Patton (right) receives certificate from Faculty of Arts and Letters dean Michael Anthony C. Vasco, PhD. Joining them on stage is Department of Philosophy chair Paolo A. Bolaños, PhD.

Patton’s lecture revolved around Derrida’s critical engagement with politics. Specifically, he discussed the political configuration of Derrida’s well-known philosophy of deconstruction. According to Patton, “Deconstruction seeks for the invention of entirely new concepts.” He emphasized the development of Derrida’s political philosophy and argues some of the salient rethinking of the concept of the “futurity of the Other” found in his concept of “L’avenir.” Derrida’s thoughts cannot be separated from the political in as much as the mediative nature of deconstruction already invokes a displacement of stabilized concepts and norms.

In concretizing deconstruction to analyze contemporary society, it assumes the form of becoming-democracy. Essentially, becoming-democracy does not provide universal guides that will engender the achievement of an ideal democratic society. Rather, it critically diagnoses traditional democracy, which is based on the concepts of absolute sovereignty and the androcentric tradition. In doing so, it envisions a democracy without sovereignty and arborescent structures, in a way that it develops into an equal ontological plane for the rhizomic interplay of various people, relations, and forces.

Moreover, becoming-democracy analyzes the contradictions or tensions immanent in our understanding and practices of democracy, justice, governance etc. towards a people-to come. However, Patton elucidates, that this radicalized brand of democracy opens us to an absolute future characterized by pure becoming. It leads us to an unforeseeable future, since its possibility is always deferred by its historical concretization.

Patton contemplates Derrida’s anticipation of a receptive form of democracy in which cosmopolitanism provokes our thoughts on the possibility of living together in a community of plural identities with their respective plural norms. This thought is not only timely in a era of migration and political asylums, it also evokes the necessity of vigilant anticipation and reception of a future Other to come. In a similar vein with Nikolas Kompridis’ receptivity towards the new, Patton proposes that the challenge of today’s democracies is not merely to curate the inclusion of different identities, but also to maintain the continuous possibility of difference for those who are about “to come.” In this case, we see the anticipative role of hospitality as a continuing guarantor of a democracy of the future. Patton’s reading of Derrida gives this ethical turn of receptivity a critical continuity in Derrida’s latter texts. In contrast to Levinas, Derrida’s conception of différance as a starting point for establishing the possibility of mutual receptivity between “host” and “guest” in a cosmopolitan democracy. By establishing this subtle economy of relations, Patton sees Derrida’s thoughts as a viable theoretical foundation for ethics in a democracy that has yet to come.

A Scientia Professor in the School of Humanities and Languages, University of New South Wales, Patton obtained his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Sydney and his postgraduate study at the University of Paris (VIII). Known as the translator of Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, he has published widely on French poststructuralist approaches to political philosophy, especially the work of Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, and Nietzsche.