In 1968 I had the impression that the action of the students (which was not that of the workers) to provoke a revolution was unrealistic, and that it could have dangerous consequences. . . . What really bothered me was . . . the spontaneist eloquence, the call for transparency, for communication without relay or delay. . . . The mistrust with regard to all those things that I witnessed in 1968 corresponded not only to a philosophical-political position, but also what was already, for me, a kind of crypto-communist inheritance, namely the condemnation of ‘spontaneism’ in Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? In rereading Lenin’s texts recently, in an altogether
different context, I rediscovered this critique of spontaneism.
Derrida, A Taste for the Secret
At issue is ‘spontaneity’ or rather, ‘spontaneist eloquence’ and the denunciation of institutions (like the Party or unions). It is the rhetoric of spontaneity that Derrida dislikes most. Rhetoric: the elevation of spontaneity to the status of a value, an operation that conceals the divisions, stratifications, ‘delays’ and mediations at the heart of an immediate relation to self. For spontaneity is another name for the immediate presence to self of a subjectivity in actu, coinciding with itself in the vitality of its upsurge or its insurrection. It is another name for what Husserl called the ‘living Present’ of temporalisation, the ‘absolute beginning’ that – this is from Husserl’s The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness – ‘does not come into existence as that which is generated but through genesis spontanea’. To this spontaneity Derrida opposes the notion of the institution. From his earliest work on Husserl, beginning in the early 1950s, institution’ (or, in the language of Husserl and Heidegger, Stiftung) has signified nothing less than memory, relation, trace in general, the very possibility of history itself. It will be necessary to denounce, critique, deconstruct even this or that given institution in the name, always, of an institution ‘to come’ – not in the name of an absence of mediation or representation, or in the name of ‘direct’ democracy.