Avital Ronell, "The Worst Neighborhoods of the Real: Philosophy, Telephone, Contamination"

Excerpts from Finitude's Score: Essays for the End of the Millennium, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994).

THE MOVE: Philosphy's invasion of literature took place when the border patrol was out having a cigarette. And then, when philosophy got onto her premises, the guard who was supposed to be monitoring the screen dozed off. It's not that the surveillance systems were down, but Someone grew tired of them and became unconvinced of their usefulness. We didn't need the discipline. Anyway, the people they put there to handle what stays out were poor sorts, only doing a job, and were given no transcendental place from which to protect her sanctity. They were 

          on the job,
                    on a break.
[text omitted] 

Under the names of Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man, claims made on behalf of a philosophy that would be sheltered by phantasms of immunocompetence, received a crack. The economy of leaks from newspapers to newspapers, from old to current journals, and thus shredded through Gerede's loudspeakers, casts inflationary shadows. That which has primed itself on exposing -- deconstruction -- has been 'exposed.' Or so indeed it would appear, after a space of delay between the event of contamination and the phenomenal appearance of that which is to have created an irreversible mode of infectivity. If all this comes back now (even though it was never there -- deconstruction was not there to read collaborationist theories, fascism, or nazism) and is hitting the streets, it has something to do no doubt with national hygiene programs, an especially tensed rapport to leakage, body fluid, and invisible agencies of virological hit men. There is a general movement to close things off, to get back to where we belong, a desire to detect and bind orificial openings, the still festering wounds or cuts from which uncontrollable utterances might be stopped. One of the dreams shared by the body politic, the academy, and forces of the police force consists in shutting down the flow, and anyone who approaches the immense toxic waste sites should be properly vested, wearing plastic gloves, keeping rather clear and clean. The latency period of the archival, viral, and historical underground seems to be linkable to the structures maintaining a secretly cycling poison, the hidden terrorisms that have taken up residence in the rhetoric of bloodlines and bacillary negotiations, all requiring applications of hyperdetection and a new examination of the shit we keep on walking into. This sounds very remote indeed from the lofty peaks that you felt philosophy was scaling. You were wrong. You didn't read close enough, with your nose to the ground. 

Yet philosophy has always cruised the streest, moved in gangs or as a solitary punk looking for a dose of trouble and aporia. Or it traversed, when finishing itself off, Heidegger's mudfields. Philosophy never was where you expected to find it. In any case, it was not at home, but hanging out in the worst neighborhoods of the real; we know, for instance (because he talked) that Nietzsche found Socrates doing dialectics in some backstreet alley. There's one who refused to go home, but preferred instead to jump people who were not his own size. Philosophical thought was never not starting trouble nor beyond contamination, and this may be taken in the strongest sense, perhaps in a way that is most abundantly underscored in Nietzsche's pathos of distnace and hsi great politics of health. Philosophy was always exposed, which is also why each philosopher exposes his predecessor and is conversely exposed by a text that stakes him out. Exposure travels under many masks, there's a contract out on it, even when it stabilizes through the guise of Darstellung. The topography of thinking shifts, sometimes with a stationary mobility. Either it is not discoverable in the philosopher's book, or it hasn't taken up residence in the ideal, or else it's not living in life, not even in the concept; always incomplete, always out of reach, forever promising at once its essence and its existence, it is no longer a question of 'philosophy of value,' but philosophy itself as value, submitted, as Jean-Luc Nancy argues, to the permanent Verstellung or displacement of value.

These excerpts are part of the History of English Studies page (Rita Raley).