Saitya Brata Das
[The writer was one of the discussants in a recently organized session at C.S.D.S. , New Delhi, on the occasion of the release of Soumyabrata Choudhury’s book—Theatre, Number, Event: Three Studies on the Relationship between Sovereignty, Power and Truth. Here is the text that the writer has shared with HUG]
I feel honoured to be here today on this occasion of the book launch of Soumyabrata Choudhury’s much awaited book Theatre, Number, Event: Three Essays on the Relationship between Sovereignty, Power and Truth. The book is much awaited, especially for his privileged friends like me, friends who know that Soumyabrata has been working on a book for a long time. Some of us , and I am one among this “ us” , are fortunate enough to have had glimpses into the book in the process of its gestation and unfolding, a process from which certain “violence” is inseparable albeit a creative violence it is. Such violence seems to be inseparable from a book like this, given the formidable ambition and accomplishment of it, as we will be able to see now properly in the light of its publication. Such violence is audible in the very language of the work that does not welcome us immediately and the reader has to think a lot to decide whether she should pick up the book to read at all, not out of disrespect but precisely out of a profound respect, respect that we know to be a certain experience of distance or withdrawal. Such an “unattractive” or rather “attractive” quality of the book can be disadvantage only if the book does not have such formidable ambition and is thus impatient in soliciting the reader’s immediate attention and instant gratification. Sometimes such “indigestibility” or “unattractive” character proves to be good for the health of a work, especially if it merits serious attention from the reader who wants to read in a responsible manner.
Given the formidable character of the book that takes the reader into a labyrinth that seems to have a secret password connecting so many paths and counter paths, lanes and by-lanes and thereby weaving an intricate network of concepts, spaces, and times, it is impossible for me to talk about the book in a comprehensible manner. Moreover, one should leave the reader to the risk of the book, the kind of risk, or “wager”- a word that Soumyabrata is in love with – wager that book itself assumes. I should therefore let each reader to judge her/himself whether such a risk that the book undertakes is at all worth taking and whether the researcher has succeeded or failed in his attempt. I will just speak, within some minutes of clock-time, of one of the problems that book raises in a manner of a glimpse or in the blink of an eye. Obviously, it is going to be insufficient and even, perhaps, unworthy of me since I do different things, and raise some different problems in my works. So I will take up one problem, the problem with which the books begins, the problem that I am somehow more interested and little-bit more connected, which is: the problem or rather the scandal of “sovereignty” and the question of the political-theology.
The question that Soumyabrata appears to me to have raised is not so much to ask: ‘what is sovereignty or even, who is the “sovereign” so as to arrive at the “axiomatic” understanding of sovereignty or at the concept of the “political” as such.In fact, a good deal of the book is devoted to the even more preliminary discussion of the “axiomatic”, bringing out carefully the precarious or fragility that adheres in the “axiomatic” as such, the poros or the aporetic that ties and unties its claims to the status of the “immemorial”. The book rather raises the following uneasy question: ‘why is it that, and in what manner is it at all that the concepts/figures/modes of sovereignty assume the status of the “axiomatic” in such a way from which a certain claim of the “immemorial” is inseparable?’ Now this assumption of sovereignty and this intrigue of relation between sovereignty, axiomatic and immemorial itself, while being structural, is also historically variable, not just in a quantitative manner but in a manner of qualitative discontinuities. Thus from the liturgical foundation of sovereignty to the later Christus-Fiscus parallelism that justifies sovereignty, there is a discontinuity, in fact a violence that Soumyabrata delineates carefully with the help of Ernst Kantorowicz in a manner that will surely evoke much admiration for the reader. To answer the question he asks, Soumyabrata traces out a history or perhaps better, a genealogy of apparatuses of inter-linking practices and discourses alike by means of three interlinking fictions of concepts – “theatre”, “number”, “event” – to reveal the thread that tie and untie the “axiomatic” to the “sovereignty” and “sovereignty” in turn to the “immemorial”. It appears here as if the porosity or fragility of the one immediately brings porosity to the others: the porosity and aporetic binding or unbinding of the axiomatic claims of sovereignty to the immemorial.
Soumyabrata conceives that it is the philosophical task par excellence, the task of this strange discourse called “philosophy” – here I don’t go too far with what he understands by “philosophy” – to envisage, or better welcome the “new immemorials” that are eventive, aleatory and ever new contingent eruption that breaks into the historical continuum of the world. Here and this now of this “breaking into” is the place of the “new”, a space without a pre-given parameter of measurement and a time without pre-given measure of numbers. Such a possibility of thinking, for Soumyabrata, is given by a strange mathematics, now released from a dominant version of the “mathematizable” in the sense of the countable mathematics of number, a “contingent” or “situational” mathematics if at all one can use these words, mathematics that is not alien to “the logic of multiplicity” that constitutes and potentially deconstitutes each situation, each topos, each denomination, making hegemony of each and any nominative denomination broken. What, then, Soumyabrata seems to me to be concerned with are bruises, wounds or injuries that affect any claim of the worldly powers to sovereignty. If you read the text attentively in its performative gesture – and we all know that Soumyabrata is a great performer, a great actor – without hurrying to catch up with the core content or doctrine abstracted from the verbal character of the book, then you see these terms abound – especially the words like “wound” and “torsion”, beautiful words they are, but also violent. For Soumyabrata, each axiomatic claim of the sovereign to the immemorial is wounded and is potentially broken, and by a strange logic, is marked by a paradox, by paradoxes, because these immemorials are never true immemorials. Therefore this discourse called “philosophy” needs to be infinitely restituted in the name of the “new immemorials” wherein immemorial has nothing much to do with something that has passed by beyond memory, but an immemorial , or rather immemorials to come which will never be part of any speculative memory and will therefore never be appropriable to sovereignty.
This is his hope, and it is this hope and this promise that gives the energy and dynamis to Soumyabrata’s thought. In so far as such hope is unconditional, it can never be demonstrated or even validated by measures or numbers of what already exist as countable; they can thus only be “fictions”, not “fictions” opposed to “truth” but “fictions” that do not need to oppose to “truth” at all, but rather welcome it, immemorial and infinite truth. Where, in what discourse, in what trembling language, in what tonality and gestures, in what rhythms and caesuras that such “fictions” may break into and be seized if not in “philosophy” itself, this abyssal and dizzying landscape wherein fabulization of the world may be taking place even though it is the very discourse that wants us to be disenchanted with the mythic foundation of the world?
Here comes the strangest paradox among all the paradoxes: philosophy alone is the discourse that, precisely by absolving from the immediate stakes of the world in a immediate manner of urgency – and therefore for philosophy alone such a task of the immemorial can at all be a task, a unique and so absolutely singular task – such a discourse alone in a profound manner exposes us to the absolutely contingent, so irreducibly aleatory and such precarious moments of life as they appear to us without any pre-given measurement of numbers and without the calculability of the “count as one”. This is the problem of mortality. Soumyabrata never has raised this question in this manner, but he is so attentive to this strange paradox that ties and unties all sovereignty in advance. The sovereign must transcend any given situation that immediately exists as a generalizable order of law; as if the “halo of perpetuity”, the term that he borrows from Ernst Kantorowicz, has never ceased to determine sovereignty as such, even if such a doctrine is historically applicable only to a specific formulation of sovereignty. But at the same time, mortality haunts each figure, each contour, each icon, each idol of sovereignty, bruising each figure with the wound of mortality. If so, the immemorial task of philosophy to welcome the “new immemorials” can only be bruised, wounded, and therefore a mortal immemorial, the immemorial that is haunted by the sting of mortality, with the possible death of the world. How to think this connection between mortality and the immemorial in such a way that each and every hegemony founded upon the sovereignty of principle – principle beyond all principles – is destituted, in so far as the question of sovereignty is essentially the question of principle, of thetic and thus is of the nominative?
I will conclude my talk by taking you from Soumyabrata’s book to another work. In the posthumously published magnum opus, Broken Hegemonies – a book that Soumyabrata has not referred in his work – Reiner Schürmann calls us to be attentive to the connection between thetic, denomination, nominative and nomos , a connection that establishes the an-Archic arché of sovereignty , constituting thereby each linguistic regimes of hegemony. But mortality haunts each of such instituting and founding acts of natality, as if like an undertow, destituting each hegemony in turn and thereby rendering each situation, each historical condition tragic. Such a tragic is for Schürmann the true philosophical task of thinking that welcomes what he calls ‘singularization to come’.
Perhaps the time has come to ponder anew over the tragic condition of our existence, one that is historical, in such a manner that we never cease welcoming such singularity to come , a never ceased destitution of all institution in the name of such a ‘to come’. I congratulate my lovely brother and my dear friend – and I must now speak in this personal manner – for giving us such a work that will inspire to think such difficult questions once again. Thank you.
Saitya Brata Das is Assistant Professor, Centre for English Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, JNU, New Delhi.