Derrida 1997

The Chosen One
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Derrida cites an interesting passage from Levinas that begs a question about the practices of contemporary police debate.  Approaching the other in discourse

is to welcome his expression, in which at each instant he overflows the idea a thought would carry away from it.  It is therefore to receive from the Other beyond the capacity of the I, which means exactly: to have the idea of infinity.  But this also means: to be taught.  The relation with the Other, or Discourse, is a non-allergic relation, an ethical relation; but inasmuch as it is welcomed this discourse is a teaching.  But teaching does not come down to maieutics; it comes from the exterior and brings me more than I contain.  (Adieu to Emannuel Levinas, p. 18)

How then does this relate to contemporary policy debate?  Debate is plagued by a non-rigorous, not the same as valueless, exercise where the activity is assailed by one of the teams as being exclusionary because it privileges certain forms and/or contents.  Usually these debates focus upon the link of the criticism, but that is not the heart of the debate because the criticisms are usually correct, there is a privilege in debate.  The location of the privilege shifts from round to round and team to team and these criticism need to become more particular instead of the universal ‘Debate is Bad, juhudge.’

The Levinas passage though begs the remedy of these arguments.  I have often wanted to see a traditional affirmative tell the negative that their criticism is with merit but it is not a winning argument because merit/a link is a necessary but not sufficient reason to win the debate.  Does the above passage make this very argument, that simply by hearing the argument and criticism we have been changed and altered and we opened ourselves up for that alteration?  If so, then what function does winning the round serve?  Derrida includes this passage in an essay about welcoming and should the more welcoming team, the one advocating the more inclusive form of debate, be therefore truly welcoming and self-effacing?

The easy response to this argument is that approaching the other in discourse is not satisfied by debate because it is not genuine.  Supposedly the traditional team does not really care and hence is not approaching but merely standing within.  I am not persuaded by this argument because I always find claims of (in)sincerity suspect due to their immeasurability.  I also find this argument wrong because even an orientation of ‘standing within’ discourse is an opening.  The traditional team has to understand the rejoinder in order to respond to it.  However, if my argument above is accurate then maybe I have actually empowered a standing within orientation because the answer is generic and universal in its approaching, denying the need to really understand the rejoinder.

We can take this argument out of policy debate and apply it to presidential debates or any other debate in our worlds.  In the movie Primary Colors there is a scene where Governor Clinton is invited to a debate and the frontrunner is furious because that is a granting of legitimacy.  If ever there was potential for an insincere approach to discourse this would be it and yet the frontrunner has to approach the debate genuinely because people are watching and evaluating.  The mere presence of Governor Clinton is also an opening by the front-runner because the front-runner did not refuse the debate, as has happened, even recently, see McCain in last ear’s election.  Being at that debate is an acceptance of Clinton and the differences Clinton represented.

The old axiom “negative attention is better than no attention” is a run-off of this welcoming theory.

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