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Erasing "economy": Derrida and the construction of divine economies.

In a pre-emptive verbal strike rejecting calls by foreign leaders for the U.S. to join the international effort to back the Kyoto agreement that aims at curbing global warming through the reduction of [CO.sup.2] emissions, George W. Bush stated: "We will not do anything that harms our economy." (1) Though hardly a surprising revelation, this blunt, unapologetic phrase, perhaps even creed, is strangely intriguing to me. In fact, I have been tempted to cross it out, and emphatically so, ever since I read it in the New York Times. It seems to me that Derrida's practice of erasure as described by Gayatri Spivak could serve as an analytical tool to mark "the economic factor as irreducible" in the formation of a counter-economic theological position in Late capitalism.

In her preface to Of Grammatology, the book's translator, Spivak, writes about her attempts to translate Derrida's practice of crossing out certain concepts:

My predicament is an analogue for a certain philosophical exigency that drives Derrida to writing "sous rature," which I translate as "under erasure." This is to write a word, cross it out, and then print both word and delection.

A word, so Spivak further explains comes "sous rature," if it is seen as "inaccurate but necessary," if it unveils "unfamiliar conclusions" as we examine "familiar things," if it uncovers that "our very language is twisted and bent even as it guides us." (2) Almost twenty years later, in her recent A Critique of Postcolonial

Reason, Spivak calls the reader to cross out the economic:

In the face of the possibility that the intellectual is complicit in the persistent constitution of the Other as the Self s shadow, a possibility of political practice for the intellectual would be to put the economic "under erasure," to see the economic factor as irreducible as it reinscribes the social text, even as it is erased, however imperfectly, when it claims to be the final determinant or the transcendental signified. (3)

For Spivak, who is indebted to Derrida, deconstruction becomes an analytical tool for political agency, helping to uncover what constitutes and enables certain contemporary constructions of economy. The "explanatory power of economics" (4) in Bush's statement is meant to communicate to the reader "economy's" final determinacy, where the lifting up of "our economy" claims to suffice and render unnecessary any further explanations or comments. Bush's phrase, in a handy nutshell, seems to encompass the policy of neo-classical globalizing economies on the tireless search for growth and expansion. Perhaps it might make sense to deconstruct this nutshell, to crack its properties and to mis/appropriate "economy" for the perhaps yet "misunderestimated" (5) field of constructive theology.

Derrida's texts, I find, hover somewhere between philosophy, close readings of literary texts, even midrash. Indulge me then, for a moment when I wonder whether Derrida also writes a kind of economics and ask how Derrida's "economic" thought might contribute to the task of reconstructing what I have called a theology of Divine Economy. In the following I suggest that Derrida's economy of differance may help to map the space for a constructive theology of Divine Economy that locates itself in the complex network of postmodern local and globalizing economic structures and seeks to find ways to embody an effective witness that refuses to reduce these complications to dichotomic oppositions but provides a more flexible instrument to reread early Christian scriptural traditions as well as to embody possibilities for a modest, but decisive Christian economic ascetic witness in a contemporary context.

"What Is Economy?" Approaches from Derrida's Texts and Beyond

Mapping Derrida's investigations of economy, one would find that, depending on the phase of his oeuvre and on what texts he interacts with, or "inhabits," Derrida's musings on economy take on remarkably different shapes. Economic concepts already grasped his attention early (Writing and Difference, Of Grammatology, Margins of Philosophy). The trading capacities of language, the central characteristics shared by money and writing, fascinate Derrida. Thus he writes in Of Grammatology:

Money replaces things by their signs, not only within a society but from one culture to another, or from one economic organization to another. That is why the alphabet is commercial, a trader. It must be understood within the monetary moment of economic rationality. The critical description of money is the faithful reflection of the discourse on writing. In both cases an anonymous supplement is substituted for the thing. (6)

Derrida maps his own economic approach in relation to texts by Hegel and Bataille. Bataille distinguishes between the concepts of restricted and general economy, where a restricted economy is limited to commercial values while a general economy extends to the political realm. Derrida applies this distinction to the theory of language and writing and redefines a restricted economy of language as the attempt or conviction that all meaning can be accounted for, that all signs hit their targets, to speak with Saussure, whereas a general economy refers to the loss, the expenditure, the expropriation of meaning, the production of excess of meaning. This excess, in part signified by the word differance, is an "unheard of," but visible double-entendre, and stands as one of the ways in which Derrida has attempted to map both the loss and excess of meaning.

Yet, where is the precise location of this economy of differance? Whereas Arkady Plotnitsky has identified differance with the general economy, it seems worth asking whether differance might be better located somewhere between or beyond both of those economies? (7) Such a location might be indicated by Derrida's probably most famous text, Differance. Here, Derrida speaks of "relating" both "restricted and a general economy" which, according to Derrida displaces "the very project of philosophy, under the privileged heading of Hegelianism" through an Aufhebung, a suspension as well as a retention of meaning. Differance, so Derrida, attempts to think together the "economical and the noneconomical" which "cannot be thought together" and is thus, I venture, located between or beyond restricted and general economy. Differance is furthermore divided by a "strange cleavage": a "differance that can make a profit on its investment and a differance that misses its profit." (8) Thus, I argue, in distinction to Plotnitsky and I think with the early Derrida, that differance relates economy and non-economy, perhaps even economy and gift. Differance, would then come to stand between/beyond, in a third space between opposites, thereby "resisting the opposition" between economical and noneconomical, between the same and the other, between restricted and general economy, between presence and absence, profit and loss, lack and excess, between appropriation and expropriation, the proper and the improper. (9)

In his nineties texts, however, Derrida might appear to shift positions. While he still uses concepts akin to restricted and general economy (he differs between the circular, Odyssean structure of "economy" and that of the gift which he wishes to place entirely outside "economy"). "Economy" in this context, first of all refers to the distribution and partition of resources, and to the idea of exchange, circularity, and return, that with or without delay returns to its point of origin. It is this presumed circularity, this law of return that seems to preoccupy some of his further musings on the term, in texts such as Given Time, and The Gift of Death, texts written in the nineties of the past century. In them, Derrida seems to exhibit a strong longing for the gift, for its impossible possibility, for the exit from the economics of retribution and sacrifice, and thus, so it appears, from all economic relationships. Already in the seventies, feminist theorists Irigaray and Cixous had interpreted economy and gift as gendered expressions of modes of material and psychological relationality. Economy comes to stand for the masculine, hom(m)osexual process of exchange between men, while the gift stands for the rebellious feminine departure from this phallic economy that has excluded women and attempts to inscribe the different relationality of women. Yet, while the idea of the feminine gift is pondered in their texts, Cixous also calls for women's own currency, language, economy, and thus appears to locate women more complexly, imagining that women will create a different economy.

These feminist texts as well as Derrida's Given Time form part of the wider discussion of Marcel Mauss' classical volume The Gift. Derrida soon deconstructs Mauss' description of gift, uncovering that it is never really a "true" gift, that it always comes with strings attached, with the expectation of a return gift. Subsequently, Derrida describes his conception of the absolute gift: "For there to be a gift, there must be no reciprocity, return, exchange, countergift, or debt." The gift that "puts the other in debt" appears to poison the relationship, so that "giving amounts to hurting, to doing harm." (10) Thus, what has been called the gift in anthropology does not seem to deserve its name, or perhaps rather does, if read as the German word gift/poison, as it poisons future relationships between parties, indebting them to each other. Mauss's The Gift fails to show the way back to a romanticized, originary relationality of gifting among peoples, it is far from the hoped-for exit from the circular reasoning o f the economy of exchange, as it, too, brings back the "sacrificial bidding war," and eventually aims to once again close the circle. Similarly, in The Gift of Death Derrida puts his deconstructive finger on the stigmatic wounds of the "economics of redemption" in early Christian texts where the heavenly reward reimburses the initial investment by a thousandfold through an "infinite, heavenly, incalculable, interior, and secret" reward for what was given up below. For Derrida, it thus seems that earthly and heavenly economies simply represent immanent and transcendental versions of each other, alike in shape, different merely in terms of currency, and with a an extremely good exchange and growth rate, if the investment will pay off.

But what is the initial investment in the heavenly economy? The willingness to sacrifice another life, such as one's own child or the life of strangers? Derrida's meditation of Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling seems to indicate that the divine requires a terrible sacrifice to be paid for redemption. Responsibility to God seems to require the sacrifice of another responsibility, that towards the Other. "I cannot respond to the call, the request, the obligation, or even the love of another without sacrificing the other other, the other others." (11) And here, I want to respectfully disagree again, want to contest that the responsibility for another must always lead to the sacrifice of other others, though we might certainly find the alternatives formulated as grossly and reductionistically as Derrida states them. The only choices seem to be Either-Or, to speak with Kierkegaard once more. But what if it were not either-or? What if we could deconstruct the above statement as based on a false alternative?

Remember Bush's statement: "We will not do anything that harms our economy." Here "our economy" functions as the "final determinant" of a sacrificial economy that weighs global warming against the purported prosperity of a nation. The false alternative between economic growth and environmental protection is a fatal flaw, a case of misconceived Either-Or that silences the differance, that space in between the extremes, between the fatal tyrannical oppositions that suggest that we either protect "our economy" or the environment, a reductionism so gross it amounts to a lie. The devil here, as so often, is not in the details, but in the gross generalizations that fail to acknowledge differance, that fail to question who "we" might be, what "not to harm our economy" might mean, and what "our economy" might stand for.

But back to Derrida for a moment, through the urge to cross out, to erase this sentence has temporarily overcome me again. In God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, Derrida, Caputo and Marion debate the intricacies of the gift. Though Marion and Derrida differ about God, they both agree that God and the Gift must be located "outside the economy." But what if we, along with constructive theologians Cobb, Meeks, and McFague claimed that economy is exactly not "transcendent" in the traditional sense, but that God is involved in economy, not beyond or above it. Might we see in this attempt to escape a covert flight into transcendence? And, alternatively, could the tension between gift and economy then be seen as a handle that hints at the many shapes economies might take?

We might wonder whether the gift, given without return and reciprocity truly represents a desirable alternative to economy. Can restitution and return of a gift ever weigh up what was initially given, or does not Derrida's difference intervene here as well? Is an "untied" gift in any way salvific for our relations? Exploitative economies have often depended upon the nonreciprocity of women or slaves to be the willingly or unwillingly "gifting" contributors of what Bourdieu calls "symbolic capital," so that those in power could convert this symbolic capital that came to them as a "gift" that could be converted into realized capital owned by those in power. Is not part of the problem in economies that they have not respected enough the need for a somewhat balanced reciprocity, that women, slaves, creation, environment have been excluded from a truly reciprocal and inclusive economy? Perhaps, thus, we need a different way to think economy, possibly even multiple economies.

We might then differ from Derrida and his anticipation of the impossible, unrecognizable, yet possible gift, questioning its desirability as it is imagined and appears connected to a transcendentalized ontology of God, a God who, like the gift, at least for Marion, appears beyond the horizon of "earthly" human economies of reciprocity, a God ex nihilo, and a gift ex nihilo. Derrida, unfortunately, limits his theological meditations to traditional theist notions of God, thus speaks for example of the donum dei given without a thought for return. This God appears to be placed outside of creation, thus outside of economy, appears not only as an unmoved mover, but also as an "ungiven giver," if you will. Derrida's attempts to isolate the gift from all polluting economy appear restrictive, if not almost oppressive in what seems a drive for purity and transcendence. Where Derrida still appears to inhabit and strive for a version of Hegel's absolute, that which ab-solves itself from giving and remembering, I can no longer follow.

Rather, we might find more helpful for our purposes the "economy" the earlier Derrida suggests, that differantial "economy that is ambiguous enough to seem to integrate noneconomy." (12) Are not most economies far "dirtier" and fuzzier, more chaotic than even the master of deconstruction describes? May not the economy of differance be quite fruitfully connected to postmodern scientific theories and process theologies, as well as new ventures such as "chaos theologies"? Derrida's circumlocutions around the economy of differance in which he describes, so we might argue, a kind of "counter-economy" suspended between the "perfect return" and the "irreparable loss" of either the odyssean structure of economy or the expenditure of the gift might be of eminent constructive use. (13) In this "counter-economy in which who ever loses wins, and in which one loses and wins at every turn," we count our losses and wins at the same time. (14) We may "win some, lose some" and yet never stay the same.

Willkommen/Bienvenue/Welcome Fremder/Etranger/Stranger

Perhaps Jesus may, at times, be found to inhabit this counter-economic space? As we heard from Derrida earlier, both monetary currency and semiotic signification re-present--make present again--something that is absent. The coming of the basileia, announced by a prophetic Jesus through many economic images as perhaps already present-among you (Lk 17:21)--yet still seeming mosfly present only in absentia, has kept believers, exegetes and theologians over the millennia on the edge of their seats puzzling over the parousia and its seemingly unending deferral, the continued absence--apousia--of the kingdom Jesus proclaimed.

Absence/apousia always already interferes with presence and meaning. Jesus remains elusive as the texts offer us a complex set of images. (15) Whether it is departure from the oikos or a reform of household management that functions as a sign of the coming basileia, its liminality, its creative edge lie perhaps in a third space between patriarchal oikos and the ascetic pull towards the road: in commensality and hospitality. Might we not observe the contending powers of a "street law" that calls disciples onto the road challenging the "law of the Father"? Might we observe this stranger Jesus through the lens of Derrida's "Foreigner"? Derrida writes:

The Foreigner shakes up the threatening dogmatism of the paternal logos: the being that is, and the non-being that is not. As though the Foreigner had to begin by contesting authority of the chief, the father, the master of the family, the "master of the house," of the power of hospitality[.] (16)

Might not Derrida's "Foreigner" resemble the itinerant Jesus and his disciples, contesting and challenging the law of the father? Might it be possible to preliminarily posit Jesus as a stranger who pulls both house rules and street law towards the edge of chaos? Here the "incoming," "l'invention" of the Other renders residents of the oikos vulnerable, displacing the known. (17) The "Foreigner" upsets the patriarchal oikos--twice--by leaving their own home and by entering another house as a stranger in need of hospitality. Thus, the itinerant stranger yet depends on hospitality, and on the existence and continuity of the oikos. With the stranger's advent "differance"--Derrida's term for both temporal deferral and non-identity--enters and changes the oikos. Might one location of counter-economic space be found in hospitality? Might divine economies--then and now--happen here?

Building on a variation on Catherine Keller's counter-apocalypse, we might proceed to bring together elements of Derrida's economy of differance with Keller's counter-apocalypse to formulate what I call a counter-economy or counter-economies. (18) It is in the vulnerable space of possibly conflicting versions and visions of "divine economy" that we might discern a countereconomic theology, with all the energy and possibilities of the liminal stage on the edge of chaos. Positioned at the threshold (between the road and the oikos,) between complete resistance to contemporary economic policies and an unqualified accommodation to them, the countereconomic space is admittedly devoid of any purity we might wish to inhabit, its kairos in a space of continual tension between God and Mammon.

In her account of apocalyptic interpretive structures, Keller has stressed the profound effects of the metaphor of revelation--or apocalypse--on Western and especially American ideas on history, hope, catastrophe and future. (19) Whether we are aware of it or not, whether we want it or not, Keller insists, the shape of Western Christian cultures and societies is unthinkable without John of Patmos's productive text. Moving somewhat parallel to Keller's counter-apocalyptic inquiry, I will look at how manifold economic images, exchanges and transactions underlie a Western, mostly Christian matrix of thought patterns. I can neither be tempted to anti-economically de-economize faith and place God essentially outside of economic relations, (20) nor to hyper-economize the Divine and argue its identity with the disheveled movements of monetary systems. (21) Rather, beyond the sometimes too confident neo-economic enunciation of a "social justice Jesus" from a selective reading of Christian traditions, (22) I find myse lf having to deal with God the economist's counter-economic, ambivalent salvific trades and their influence on how Western Christian society and (eventually) Western late capitalism have been scripted. (23)

Intersexual/Intergender/Intertextual Economies

This counter-economic, strategically essentialist space might be a space of inter-gender, inter-sex economies, blurring, perforating, shifting but not completely erasing boundaries. Serene Jones's application of the notion of strategic essentialism to feminist theology might be enlisted to aid the move towards the sanctification of women, though she appears to stop short of Irigaray's notion of "divine women." We might further hope that "divine women" become invested in the construction of divine economies, rather than merely reinscribing the ambivalent myth of the woman as the "designated giver." Wasteful these economies may still seem to the logic of neo-classical economic theory; but not to the more inclusive economies exemplified in McFague's Life Abundant which proposes that new approaches such as ecological economics may help to reconstruct a Christian theology that too long has portrayed God the economist in the image of classical economic theories.

The counter-economic space would then describe a place in which Irigaray's "divine women" can participate in building divine economics of many shapes and colors, heeding Keller's recommendation of Spivak's strategic essentialism and Jones "eschatological essentialism" help complicate and solidify feminist theologies that move beyond simply liberationist rhetoric towards a more complex description and reaction to the lives of those left out of reductionist notions of "our economy."

The assumption that "our economy" would fundamentally be standing in opposition to protecting the environment witnesses to barely more than shortsighted, exclusionary, elitist and inflexible understanding of "economy"; it reveals that this phrase is merely a stand-in, a euphemism for the interests of a small elite that profits from the continued production of [CO.sup.2]. A more inclusive understanding of economy might interpret the phrase "we will do nothing to hurt our economy" to mean: we will do nothing that hurts the future ecology of the planet, of women, the poor, the aged, and of our children, that we will find creative ways to invent divine economies that reduce the use of the planet as they recognize that all the other Others are part of this general, and unrestricted economy that knows no borders--neither for weather, pollution, droughts and economic crises nor for any attempt to sincerely implement more equitable, modest, and ascetic divine economies.

Notes

(1.) Associated Press, "German Leader Questions Bush Plan," The New York Times, 29 March 2001.

(2.) Gayatri Spivak, "Translator's Preface." in Of Grammatology, Jacques Derrida (New York/London: Routledge, 1998), xiv.

(3.) Gayatri Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 266.

(4.) Spivak, Critique of Postcolonial Reason, 221.

(5.) Associated Press, "Bush Plan."

(6.) Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, Corrected ed., translated by Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Press. 1997), 300.

(7.) Arkady Plotnitsky, Reconfigurations: Critical Theory and General Economics (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1993), 14-23.

(8.) Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, translated by Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 19.

(9.) Derrida, Margins, 5.

(10.) Jacques Derrida, Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money, translated by Peggy Kamuf (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 12.

(11.) Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, translated by David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 68.

(12.) Derrida, The Gift of Death, translated by David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 109.

(13.) Derrida, Margins, 19.

(14.) Derrida, Margins, 20.

(15.) From ch 2.

(16.) Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond, Cultural Memory in the Present (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 5.

(17.) John D. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997), xxiii.

(18.) Catherine Keller, Apocalypse Now And Then: A Feminist Guide to the End of the World (Boston: Beacon, 1996), 19.

(19.) Keller, Apocalypse Now And Then.

(20.) Several theoretical variations on Marcel Mauss's The Gift still remain oddly dedicated to a however deferred possibility to regain or eschatologically hope for a way to step outside economic relations. Examples are the texts of Mauss, Jean-Luc Marion, and, in some more unexpected ways various locations in Derrida and Meeks. See Richard Kearney, "On the Gift: A Discussion Between Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion," in God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, edited by John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 59, 60, passim.

(21.) The main examples for this approach are Derrida's and, depending on him, Mark C. Taylor's texts. I have, however, observed an odd tendency in their texts to occasionally flip over into what I call an "eschatologically deferred vision of anti-economy," that imagines, however impossibly, noneconomic relations, whether divine or human. See for example: Mark C. Taylor, About Religion: Economies of Faith in Virtual Culture, Religion and Postmodernism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 43. Derrida, The Gift of Death, 112.

(22.) Here I refer to Cobb's and Meek's readings. I am largely in solidarity with their readings but cannot find myself be quite convinced as to their interpretation and application of early Christian texts, which lacks a detailed account and reconstruction of their texts' resident ambivalence and complicity towards structures of domination.

23. This would the equivalent of Keller's counter-apocalyptic positioning regarding engagement with apocalyptic texts and patterns. Keller, Apocalypse Now And Then, 19.

References

Associated Press. "German Leader Questions Bush Plan." The New York Times, 29 March 2001.

Caputo, John D. The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion.

Derrida, Jacques. The Gift of Death. Translated by David Wills. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997.

----. Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

----. Margins of Philosophy. Translated by Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

----. Of Grammatology. Corrected ed. Translated by Gayatri Spivak. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Press, 1997.

----. Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond. Cultural Memory in the Present. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Harvey, Irene. Derrida and the Economy of Differance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

Jones, Serene. Feminist Theory and Christian Theology: Cartographies of Grace. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000.

Kearney, Richard. "On the Gift: A Discussion Between Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion." In God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, edited by John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon, 54-78. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Keller, Catherine. Apocalypse Now And Then: A Feminist Guide to the End of the World. Boston: Beacon, 1996.

----. "A Christian Response to the Population Apocalypse." In Population, Consumption, and the Environment: Religious and Secular Responses, edited by Howard Coward, 109-21. Albany: SUNY, 1995.

Plotnitsky, Arkady. "Re-: Re-Flecting, Re-Membering, Re-Collecting, Re-Selecting, Re-Warding, Re-Wording, Re-Iterating, Re-et-Cetra-Ing (in) Hegel." Postmodern Culture 5, no. 2 (1995). Http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/postmodern_culture/v00/5.2plotnitsky.htm l.

----. Reconfigurations: Critical Theory and General Economics. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1993.

Spivak, Gayatri. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge: Harvard Univerisity Press, 1999.

----. "Translator's Preface." In Of Grammatology, Jacques Derrida, ix-xc. New York/London: Routledge, 1998.

Taylor, Mark C. About Religion: Economies of Faith in Virtual Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Marion Grau is Assistant Professor of Theology at the Church of Divinity School of the Pacific, a member school of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. She is working on a manuscript entitled Miraculous Exchanges: A Constructive Theology of Divine Economy.
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