Richard Burt Duly Noted or Off the Record?

The Unreadability of Secrecy

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The Unreadability of Secrecy

What follows from my notion of the secrecy of the law? Perhaps most importantly, the law is rendered resistant to reading. As Vismann says in a somewhat literary turn of phrase, the law produces truth only through writing that “writes itself” (2005, 56-57

A secret that is not necessarily completely legible or a complete story the distinction between reading it and not reading it is no longer easy to read, as it were. The secrecy of the law must be un/read indirectly through allegory, whether in Wilhelm Jensen’s novel’s Gradiva and Sigmund Freud’s essay on it, with a “fictional” autobiographical passage; philosophy crosses over into literature, as Derrida very subtly makes evident in his pseudo-autobiographical conclusion to Archive Fever, or in other media such as narrative cinema. The law is not immediately accessible, and it is not immediately readable. Another name for allegory is “un/reading.”

The unreadability of the law, its rerouting of access through allegory, bears directly on the presumed indivisibility of sovereignty. In Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, Derrida undertook a deconstruction of the indivisibly of sovereignty in political theory from Plato to Carl Schmitt. And in his essay “Force of Law,” a close reading of Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence” and The Politics of Friendship, Derrida acknowledges the power Benjamin’s and, in different ways, Schmitt’s withering critiques of existing modern democracies. Derrida nevertheless held out for a “democracy to come” (1994). According to Derrida, “the ‘to-come’ not only points to a promise but suggests that democracy will never exist, in the sense of a present existence: not because it is deferred but because it is aporetic in its structure. . . . As for the ‘democracy to come,’ it actually announces nothing” (2005, 86; 90). Yet it is not clear to me that Derrida can save democracy from modern democracy by offering it in the form a promissory note that can never be cashed. And even if one allows that Derrida does saves democracy through “the secret of irony”--by permanently deferring its arrival because it can n/ever arrive—one has to ask if Derrida is not playing out his own version of Kafka’s man of the country standing before the law until the door is shut, placing himself before democracy to come and hoping the door will never be shut. 4 Is Derrida waiting for something like Habermas “effective history” (2002) that will some day (who knows when), render judgment retrospectively? Is exchanging the failure of existing modern democracies in return for a “democracy (not) to come” anything more than a way of severing democracy from the question of the “force of law,” from the violence on which all which modern democracies have been founded, even if that deferral is in some ways more than one could hope for?5 I am not prepared to decide these questions here (or anywhere else, no doubt). I will, however, ask preliminary observations about the way allegory deconstructs the law’s putative legibility, accessibility, and indivisibility through a non-linear, non sequential narrative. Allegories of the law’s unreadability follow from its divisibility and mediacy.
Before even speaking of force, would justice be reducible to law[droit]? What about the law [Quoi de droit]? . . . just who has the right to give or take some right, to give him- or herself some right [droit] or the law [droit], to attribute to or to make the law in a sovereign fashion? Or the right to suspend law in a sovereign way?

--Jacques Derrida, “Preface: Veni,” Rogues: two Essays on Reason, Stanford, 2005), xi

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