Observing the contemporary theoretical terrain, there’s a certain operation that I find rather striking — both in its valorization and in its predominance. We might call this an operation of resuscitation, revival, or rejuvenation (though, for my own reasons, I would call it — or at least locate it within a field of — conversion). This operation is one in which a term, or point of reference, that appears to have become outmoded is taken up and (re)valorized. I imagine that there are a number of instances of such terms, but the ones that jump out to me most immediately include “universalism,” “normativity,” and “Hegel.” While there may be various differences between the specific versions of such revalorizations, I am interested in an overarching commonality among them. This commonality, once again, is operational: the revalorized term is advanced in connection with a readiness to turn aside critiques of the term as belonging only to the “bad version” of the term, but not to the revalorized term. In other words, the operation goes something like this: “of course I understand that you have a deeply critical relation to ‘universalism / normativity / Hegel,’ and you are absolutely right to maintain such a relation — provided that you come to realize that this critical relation belongs to the bad version of ‘universalism / normativity / Hegel,’ and thus not to my revalorized version of this term.” (Shorter versions of this include “trust that your problems have been recognized and — at least in principle — overcome” and “Dad is not so bad.”)
Instances of this operation have varying degrees of argumentation or explanation substantiating the differentiation made between the bad and revalorized versions. My point, here, is simply to call attention to the operation as operation — how it operates, and that it is so common. This operation seems to me to be inevitably conservative or — more analytically — to be tied to a certain historical narrative about theory, according to which it is said (explicitly or implicitly): “we’ve spent a lot of time on theories of difference, of poststructuralism, and of the interconnected attentiveness to questions of race, gender, and coloniality, and we’ve learned a lot from all of that, but it’s time, now, to get back to doing …” what, exactly? The debate, I’m saying, seems to be about how to complete that ellipse, which is to say the debate is no longer about all that stuff prior to the ellipse. In other words, the openness of that ellipse serves to foreclose (and to elide the foreclosure of) the sort of questions that were opened by what came before the ellipse.
This, then, is the striking narratival force of the operation. I would add that this narratival force is actually intrinsic to the logic of such terms themselves. What universalism, normativity, and Hegel have in common is the capacity — a capacity, by the way, that is grounded in nothing other than a sort of sovereign self-assertion — to present themselves in terms of neutral abstraction, or of intrinsic symmetry, and in doing so to set it up so that the field of disagreement about the term’s value is already enfolded within the field of the term. “Do you not see that your critique of universalism / normativity / Hegel, in order to realize itself, must (in some renewed sense) affirm universalism / normativity / Hegel?” So what we are seeing, with the operation I’m noting — the framing of all critiques of universalism / normativity / Hegel as belonging only (or, I’d add, to definitionally) to a bad version of universalism / normativity / Hegel — amounts to the bare assertion of these terms. Or, we might say, it amounts to the reproductive futurity not of the Child but rather of the Father, of the inherited name / name of inheritance, against which we must insist on: “stop.”