Beyond Derrida: The Autoimmunity of Deconstruction because “it is in the name of justice that we deconstruct, and you cannot deconstruct that in the name of. Here is where the cruel autoimmunity with which sovereignty is affected begins, the autoimmunity with which sovereignty at once sovereignly affects and cruelly. Derrida argues that the idea of democracy suffers from a fatal “autoimmunity”: its freedom and equality requirements cancel each other out.

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Real and Symbolic Suicides, he defines the autoimmunitary processes of democracy as follows: It is especially in the domain of biology that the lexical resources of immunity have developed their authority.

As for the process derrida auto-immunization, which interests us particularly here, it consists for a living organism, as is well known and in short, of protecting itself against its self-protection by destroying its own immune system. Whereas Derrida claims that during autoimmuntary processes the protective system of the body destroys itself i. HIV the human immunodeficiency virus is not like deconstruction, and cannot be used as a political metaphor.

Derrida and the Immune System

However, AIDS stands in an uneasy, almost spectral relationship with autoimmune diseases. However, the figure of autoimmunity is introduced in order to subvert the ideology of nationalism, and becomes associated with the work of deconstruction itself.

It enables an exposure to the other, to what and who comes — which means that it must remain incalculable. Without autoimmunity, with absolute immunity, nothing would ever happen or arrive; we would no longer wait, await, or expect, no longer expect another, or expect any event.

Since the ways in which Derrida actually theorises, or asks questions about, the relationship between autoimmunity and democracy, [12] autoimmunitj else, the way in which he posits autoimmunity as both the condition of and the consequence of democracy, is far beyond the scope of the present argument, [13] I will restrict myself to a few introductory remarks.

Consequently, the introduction of the figure of autoimmunity in the ethico-political discourse suggests that the political body always contains within itself the possibility of its own undoing. At the same time, autoimmunity not only entails the potential destruction of the protection of the self as both the object and the subject of the suicidal event and of the events still to comebut it is also something ddrrida has always already compromised the supposed integrity, or else, ipseity of the self.

Project MUSE – Derrida and the Autoimmunity of Democracy

As he puts it: In Rogues, Derrida gives two examples for the suicidal tendencies of democracy, which immediately indicate that autoimmunity, rather than necessarily auhoimmunity a threat, can be best understood as risk. On the one hand, there is always a potential suicide involved in democratic institutions themselves, since democratic elections may well lead to the rise to power of anti-democratic forces that thus gain the right to put an end to the very institutions that made their victory possible in the first place.

On the other hand, democracy can always, temporarily, suspend itself in order to protect dertida following the logic of autoimmunityand prevent the rise to power of such anti-democratic forces.

For instance, democratic leaders in Algeria suspended the democratic elections to prevent the rise of an Autoim,unity party that would have put an end to all democracy.

As Derrida puts it: For these latter, while restricting democratic freedom under the pretext of protecting democracy, have failed to recognise that the risk is always already inside, and, therefore, cannot be definitively erased. In a plea for the unconditional renunciation of sovereignty in the democracy to come, Derrida discusses the autoimmune vulnerability of juridical performatives as follows:.

I just referred in passing to the distinction between the constative the language of descriptive and theoretical knowledge and the performative, which is so often said to produce the event it declares. Now, just like the constative, it seems to me, the performative cannot avoid neutralizing, indeed dertida, the eventfulness of the event it is supposed to produce. A performative produces an event only by securing for itself […] the power that an ipseity gives itself to produce the event of which it speaks — the event that it neutralizes forthwith insofar as it appropriates for itself a calculable mastery over it.

If an event worthy of this name is to arrive or happen, it must, beyond all mastery, affect a passivity.

It must touch an exposed vulnerability, one without absolute immunity, without indemnity; it must touch this vulnerability in its finitude and in a nonhorizontal fashion, there where it is not yet or is already no longer possible to face or face up to the unforeseeability of autoi,munity other.


For autoimmunity is not only about vulnerability, the vulnerability of juridical performatives, but being itself a performative, it also stages this vulnerability: How to examine, then, the autoimmunity of the term autoimmunity? And what are the unforeseeable events that it produces but, indeed, cannot master? According to immunologists, the basic function of the immune system is to fight off foreign derida but tolerate self tissues.

At the same time, low level self-reactive immune cells also play a role in surveilling uncontrolled cell growth, and may thus reduce the incidence of cancer.

The Democracy To Come: Notes on the Thought of Jacques Derrida

On the other hand, autoimmune diseases are associated with high level auto-reactive immune cells and the subsequent loss of immunological tolerance towards the self. Hence, when the immune system is healthy and natural autoimmunity is properly controlled, some immune cells recognise and tolerate the self, while others attack the non-self.

Hence, the political implications of the medical or biological approaches to autoimmune diseases i. And this, as history has so often shown us and still does sohas disastrous consequences with regard to democracy.

To be more specific, it could well include the banishment, or deportation of elements considered as non-self. Transplants are necessary for our survival, which indicates that Derridean autoimmunity, as has already been suggested, is a risk: It maintains that the immune system gives distinctive responses to self and non-self unless this process is inhibited by immune-depressant drugs.

Thus, biological tolerance does model indeed the way tolerance works in the existing, actual socio-political sphere.

However, Derrida clearly rejects any idea of democracy functioning according to the binary logic of tolerance and intolerance: As he puts it in Rogues: Among the figures of unconditionality without sovereignty I have had occasion to privilege in recent years, there would be, for example, that of an unconditional hospitality that exposes itself without limit to the coming of the other, beyond rights and laws, beyond a hospitality conditioned by the right of asylum, by the right to immigration, by citizenship, and even by the right to universal hospitality […] Only an unconditional hospitality can give meaning and practical rationality to a concept of autoimmjnity.

Unconditional hospitality exceeds juridical, political, or economic calculation. But no thing and no one happens or arrives without it. In what follows, I am going to show first that Derrida draws, in fact, his arguments on autoimmunity from the discourse of AIDS.

In the framework that I propose, the first question to be answered will be whether it is possible to regard HIV, which clearly comes from the outside, as a metaphor for something that blurs the distinction between friend and autoimmuity.

The major targets of HIV are immune cells called helper T cells a type of white blood cell developed in the thymus. Helper T cells play an essential role in the self-protective system of the body, because they are involved in activating and directing other immune cells.

Project MUSE – Derrida’s Politics of Autoimmunity

During HIV infection, the virus infects and thereby destroys precisely those immune cells that are responsible for the immune response as a whole. Dedrida, since not all of the helper T cells are infected at the same time, the healthy ones can still activate the immune cells specific to the virus.

These, in their turn, start to destroy those helper T cells that are infected by HIV. As a dedrida, the major helper T cells are attacked on two fronts: Despite this double attack, the body could still gain victory over HIV infection, since the immune cells specific to the virus could very well eliminate all the infected helper T cells.

However, since HIV derrisa a mutating virus, that is, it can constantly drrrida its antigen the very thing to which the immune system specifically respondsby the time the immune cells specific to the virus could destroy all the infected helper T cells, another, new type of HIV emerges, which needs another kind of specific immune response.

This process, that is, the mutation and remutation of HIV, the resulting infection of new helper T cells, and the concomitant development of new types of immune responses can last for years and decades, but, eventually, the immune system gives up the fight. In the end, the whole immune system aautoimmunity destroyed by the parallel attacks of HIV and the specific immune response eliminating all the infected immune cells.

Secondly, the fact that the virus keeps mutating and remutating all along, in an unforeseeable, incalculable way, and without ever being identifiable once and for all, parallels the unidentifiable, anonymous character of terror.


There is no virus without the immune cells that act as hosts, in other words, there is no other without the self. This is exactly the reason why the immune system, infected by HIV, has to destroy itself, which destruction obviously entails both the death of the other, the virus, and the death of the protective system of the self.

He outlines the relationship between autoimmunity and the vain, performative attempts to master, or neutralise the event — as well as the events still to come — in the following way:.

And so many autoimmunitary movements. Which produce, invent, and feed the very monstrosity they claim to overcome. What will never let itself be forgotten is thus the perverse effect of the autoimmunitary itself. The more the immune system struggles to overcome traumatism, the more it becomes entangled with it, and the more it becomes exhausted by the vain struggle to neutralise it. As Derrida puts it:.

As if the openness resulting from the autoimmunity the vulnerability of democracy always potentially entailed the unforeseeable arrival of the virus, of any virus. In this sense, Derrida seems to imply that infection is the potential risk generated by a protective system that is always already autoimmune. Consequently, the imperative of unconditional opening becomes always perverted by the conditionality of the same opening: As he goes on to say, anticipating, again, his argument on the traumas of terrorism past and still to come.

At the same time, Derrida also warns us: He would starkly oppose all identification between terrorists humans and a virus, or terror and AIDS. First, the analogy between the terrorist and the virus autlimmunity always already undermined by the human agency he attributes to terror: This might be one of the reasons why one has to have recourse to the metaphor of autoimmunity, which, for Derrida, implies a body, augoimmunity community always open to its own undoing, to an undoing that may happen, from within, even without enemies outside.

Autoimmunity thus becomes a catachresis that points to the question of the relationship between politikon and bios, but averts the terrifying consequences, so well remarked by Derrida, of any transfer between viruses and humans, as well as that of any parallel between the functioning autoimmunnity the self-protective systems of biological and political bodies.

According to the latest findings of immunology, the processes of natural autoimmunity indicate that the binary between self-protection and auto-destruction is untenable.

The immune system, in short, responds to its own responses […] This is correspondence. Correspondence is decision-making derrda committee. This, however, would also necessitate a universal alliance or solidarity that extends well beyond the interests of the nation-state: As he puts it:.

To be responsible, to keep within reason, would be to invent maxims of transaction for deciding between two just as rational and universal but contradictory exigencies of reason as well as its enlightenment.

Consequently, it is only by considering the physical body as a metaphor for a universal community understood as a web of carefully orchestrated decisions, responses and responsibilities, which respect the always shifting needs, that the analogy between the animate and the political bodies can escape the trap of biologism. Still, as has been suggested all along, the metaphorical transfers between the processes of biological body and those of the political community are far from being easy ones.

These are difficult transfers, transfers that respect distinctions more than similarities. Fordham University Press University of Chicago Press, Polity,73, n Hillis Miller warns us that biologists actually ddrrida the terminology from the social world: They were immune, indemnified, just as those who took sanctuary in a church were immune from arrest or just as legislators in some democracies today are immune from prosecution for some crimes.

Interviews, —ed. Peggy Kamuf et al. Stanford University Press, For, as Mitchell rightly claims: A Discussion with Jacques Derridahttp: It has to be mentioned, however, that democracy is, among others, precisely the right to self-questioning, the questioning of democracy itself, which equally follows the logic of autoimmunity: Especially when detrida right thus implied entails the right to self-critique — another form of autoimmunity — as an essential, original, constitutive, and specific possibility of the democratic, indeed as its very historicity, an intrinsic historicity that it shares with no other regime?

Yale University Press Farrar, Straus and Giroux,5, my emphasis. Semmelweis, Yehuda Shoenfeld and M. Amsterdam, ,