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The culture of polemic

The culture of polemic
Misrecognizing recognition
Alexander García Düttmann

One would like to be recognized as this or that individual, according to this or that description, since
recognition promises to overcome the splitting of what
is to be recognized, to facilitate the incorporation
of what is split into some unified identity or unified
life-context. According to María Zambrano in her
book The Agony of Europe, first published in 1945,
ʻEuropean manʼ strives ceaselessly towards a projected
self that is yet to be, while fleeing constantly from
another self that still continues to lead a shadowy
existence within him. That is why we can supposedly
describe European history as the story of a heresy
which procures the birth of the European individual.

The human being who splits apart into a doubled self
(a given self and a projected self) is a ʻEuropeanʼ
because he or she decides to exist, to exist independently of every already prevailing order. This self
is grounded in a deficiency, in an absence, in a lack:

it represents a violence of existing.1
From the perspective of reflections such as these one
might also understand the demand for recognition, and
not merely the confession of which Zambrano speaks,
as a historical attempt to overcome that splitting and
diremption of the human being which results from this
resolute decision to exist. The limits of recognition
would then constitute the limits of decision and of
resolution, because a resolute and decisive existence
always presupposes a self which decides to exist, a
self which constitutes itself precisely in and through
this founding act. There is a double limit here: first,
the limit of the birth and death of the historical or
ʻEuropeanʼ subject as the limit of two comprehensive
orders (pre- and post-historical); second, the limit
inherent in any recognition which would enable the self
successfully to overcome its splitting into a given self
and a projected self. Projects directed towards successfully ʻaccomplishedʼ recognition only perpetuate the
history of the deciding, projecting, recognizing and

overcoming subject: they neither conceive the limits of
this subject nor seek its transformation.

For this subject and this theory of recognition the
question arises as to how, where and when such recognition can be recognized. When can one say, and when
can one know, that an individual or a group has indeed
been recognized? That the group or the individual is
no longer recognized? Or is yet to be recognized? Is
recognition intrinsically bound to a shared experience, to a regulated practice, to certain gestural or
specifically linguistic conventions and rules, to legal
entitlements and socio-political institutions? Or does
the process of recognition perhaps evince resistance to
its own recognizability, to the subject and the theory
of recognition which would seek conceptually to grasp
that process? Might the struggle for recognition be
permanently bound to a testimony which cannot be
measured through recourse to unambiguous criteria?

‘We’re queer, we’re here, so get fuckin’ used
to it’
Take the slogan currently circulating in North America,
ʻWeʼre queer, weʼre here, so get fuckinʼ used to itʼ, at
once elliptical and utterly unambiguous. As long as
it works as a slogan, a caesura which cannot simply
be bridged over by transferring and integrating the
offensively and polemically intended phrase into a
legitimate, legitimated and legitimating discourse, this
exclamation effectively testifies to a struggle for recognition. But if this slogan, this phrase, this exclamation
works merely as a provocation, one which ultimately
lives, like every provocation, off a secret complicity
and solidarity with what it seeks to provoke; if those
who proclaim this slogan bear an already presupposed identity, confess themselves as such bearers
and thereby direct themselves toward bearers of a
different identity, precisely in order to secure equality
of treatment and status for themselves through legal,

Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)


social, institutional and political recognition – then
the struggle for recognition disappears in a reformism
which only accepts, and only can accept, differences
on the ground of some more fundamental unity. It
disappears in the purist and puritanical equality of a
ʻpolitical correctnessʼ that is merely the complement
of misinterpretation, exclusion and oppression. Yet a
reformism that excludes the process of recognition
finds itself confronted with the difficulty of procuring
recognition for that fundamental unity, which does not
have to be substantial, but which can simply exist on
the assumption of a formal equality in principle. Thus
every reformism risks slipping into that very struggle for recognition, the uncertain outcome of which
it attempts to transform into stability and security
precisely through regulation, limitation and direction.

Although reformism seeks to incorporate the struggle
for recognition within itself, it simultaneously exposes
itself to this struggle.

Who is it that generally raises this demand for
acceptance and what is intended by it? If there is
indeed no unambiguous, but merely a more or less
plausible or probable, answer to either of these questions, and if the plausibility and probability of any
possible answer depends upon some contextual insertion (for which there can be no ultimate criterion),
then the resulting dissemination of this demand can be
regarded as an effect of iterability. The interpretation
of the demand itself demands and needs recognition.

To interpret is to recognize. Yet it is just this need
for a recognitive interpretation and an interpretive
recognition – the dissemination of the demand, the
iterability – that allows the demand to be raised as a
demand at all. We could never even raise the demand
ʻWeʼre queer, weʼre here, so get fuckinʼ used to itʼ, we
could never even interpret the phrase as a demand,
as the intrication of an assertion and a demand, if it
were possible to determine unambiguously what the
demand in question signified; if it could be shown
indubitably that it represented nothing but a demand.

For a demand without the moment of uncertainty
remains inconceivable.

ʻWeʼre queer, weʼre here, so get fuckinʼ used to
itʼ: if this phrase implies a demand for recognition,
then it seems, like all demands for recognition, for
confirmation and institution, to be torn through by a
contradiction, to be suspended by a certain irony – it
is demanded that one recognize what one no longer
needs to recognize. We who demand recognition are
already what we are, not merely someplace else, somewhere to which you have no access, or which you
could simply avoid, and that is precisely why we are


Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)

demanding recognition here in your very midst. On
the other hand, only when you, to whom our demand
is addressed, get used to something you must get used
to, something which in a certain sense you already
have got used to, only then are we what and who we
are, in your very midst. The necessary contradiction
harboured within the demand for recognition allows us
to translate the phrase in the following way: We, who
raise our voice in our own name, because this name
and this voice are not yet our name and our voice,
because we must first appropriate them for ourselves,
we are here without being here, we are what we are
without being what we are, and this is why we demand
that you recognize us and get used to our being here
as what we are. Only when you have got used to our
being here, and that we are what we are; only when
you have thereby recognized us, whom you do not
even need to recognize since we are already here, in
your midst – only then shall we be able to say that we
are here, that we are what we are, and that we have
a name and a voice.

The demand for recognition is a demand for confirmation and institution. The phrase in question
at once binds and separates assertion and demand
through the paradoxical blind spot of the ʻsoʼ. The ʻsoʼ
marks the simultaneity of a continuity and a caesura,

of a closing and an opening. The contradiction, the
irony, the diachrony within this simultaneity robs
speakers and agents of any possibility of straightforwardly counterposing their own ʻweʼ to the ʻweʼ of
others, of any possibility of marking an unambiguous
distinction between those who make the demand and
those upon whom it is made, between those who are to
bestow recognition and those who are to receive it. The
skandalon of the phrase, its irreconcilable polemic,
the illegitimacy it possesses prior to any possible
legitimacy and legitimation, lies in the equivocation
it generates in conflating the ʻweʼ of those to whom
the demand is addressed and the ʻweʼ of those who
make it. At the same time, the latter seem to segregate
and delimit themselves all too unambiguously, for they
constitute the ʻweʼ who hurl the phrase like a shaft
which, once the others recognize the danger of its
whistling flight, has already struck home.

ʻWeʼre queer, weʼre here, so get fuckinʼ used to itʼ:

a recognisable phrase and a barely intelligible exclamation; an impertinent suspicion and an act of violence
beyond all argument; a declaration of war and a declaration of love; an exclamation whose pointed contours
permit no divided, wrangling or sentimental foes to
take its measure; an exclamation whose measure can
only be taken by that foe whom Jean Genet sought out
in his imaginary newspaper advertisement – one who
is ʻblind, deaf and dumbʼ, because he is permitted no
possible room for manoeuvre, ʻwithout legs, without
arms, without a stomach, without a heart, without a
sex, without a headʼ.2 On the one hand, there is hardly
any doubt who the demanding subject is and what the
demand consists in. On the other hand, the boundaries
between these subjects, who are not yet subjects, prove
to be shifting and impermanent. The demand cannot
immediately be re-cognized (Wiedererkennen).*
This unsettling opening up of borders and limits is
furthered once we grasp ʻfuckinʼʼ as the object of that
habituation which is demanded: get used to a different
kind of fucking! Again, the ones who proclaim the
phrase suddenly become those who recognize, while
those who encounter it and to whom it is addressed
suddenly become those who require recognition and
have to struggle for it. From this perspective, those
who are targeted and struck by the phrase must themselves struggle to earn the recognition from those who
recognize only with reluctance and for that very reason
are themselves recognized as bestowers of recognition.

Bestowers of recognition who are not ʻreluctant giversʼ,

* The distinction between Anerkennen (recognition) and Wiedererkennen (re-cognition) is awkward to render in English.

Anerkennen has the sense of acknowledging.

as Michael Walzer puts it;3 bestowers of recognition
whose generosity does not consist in their miserliness,
their hesitation, their reticence, their reluctance, in a
sense of responsibility – such bestowers of recognition
stand more in need of recognition than those who are
still to be recognized. This open economy of recognition harbours a certain undemocratic moment, a
one-sided dependency, which renders it unsuitable for
procuring a closed economy of reciprocal re-cognition in which that moment of dependency could be
overcome or ʻsublatedʼ in a Hegelian fashion.

This does not imply that the process of recognition exercises a disintegrative effect. On the contrary,
to the degree that the process of recognition never
comes to a final conclusion; to the degree that it is
constantly unsettled and placed in tension by a onesided dependency, by an asymmetry, by a relationship
of heterogeneous forces, it seems rather to solicit that
decisionistic resistance which exercises an integrating
effect that is crystallized in a servile collective solidarity with what is arbitrarily recognized. A thinking
and a politics of recognition that underestimates or
is even incapable of perceiving the danger of such
decisionism remains impotent against it, precisely
because this thinking and this politics confuse the
process of recognition with a process of simply recognizing (Wiedererkennen).

The insuperable difficulties which the exclamation
and expression ʻWeʼre queer, weʼre here, so get fuckinʼ
used to itʼ presents for both a theory and a subject of
recognition are clearly revealed where this exclamation
and expression functions as a privileged example for
other possible demands for recognition, and where
it strives to ensure and maintain an accomplished
relation of recognition as a familiar and habitually
accepted fact. A demand for recognition cannot just
represent a demand for the establishment of a relation
of recognition which brings the struggle for recognition to an end. For it must also represent a demand
for the maintenance of this established relation, since
without such maintenance the fulfilment of the demand
would merely prove to be a further postponement. In
other words, when we ʻget usedʼ to what is recognized,
then this process of habituation and familiarization
– which permits the establishment of the relation of
recognition and is simultaneously suspended by its
unfamiliarity, an unfamiliarity which first makes the
act of recognition what it is – must eventually come
to an end. It must produce something utterly habitual
if the demand for recognition is to be properly and
effectively fulfilled. No subject of recognition would
ever be secure if the process of habituation – where

Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)


those who recognize get used to those who are to be
recognized, and those to be recognized get used to
those who recognize them – itself failed to become
habitual. The fatal character of this necessity, however,
lies in the fact that such habitual familiarity threatens the very re-cognition of recognition upon which
the permanence of the already established relation of
recognition rests.

Does not the very process of habituation destroy
the act of recognition which requires that process?

Is it not inevitable that the discriminating indifference and the concealed domination should assume the
form of habitual recognition? And is it not the case
that such habitual recognition renders the recognized
invisible and obliterates them in their very difference?

Is there any more effective remedy for recognition or
means against it than that process of habituation without which there can be no recognition? Acceptance
through habit: the monument and ruin of recognition.

Even a theory of recognition; a historical, conceptual,
historico-philosophical investigation – an investigation
which must always also exempt itself as such from the
struggle for recognition and attempt to justify its own
exemption on the grounds that this is the only way of
doing justice to recognition itself – can be denounced
as an oppression, a repression, an eradication, a per-


Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)

version inflicted upon those who are to be recognized;
as an unacceptable, ideological, politically strategic
and controlling subsumption of recognition under a
process of exclusive and excluding re-cognition.

The expression ʻWeʼre queer, weʼre here, so get
fuckinʼ used to itʼ is a speech act which is incapable
of being controlled. It is an exclamation that one can
appropriate for oneself, but only at the cost of relinquishing it to a different process of appropriation,
in the very moment of appropriation, domestication,
coordination. ʻWeʼre queer, weʼre here, so get fuckinʼ
used to itʼ is a contrary expression, a very queer phrase
indeed, a homeless orphan that always behaves otherwise than its family expects, an irregular combatant, a
deracinated and deracinating partisan, a fighter whose
extreme mobility defies enclosure and containment,
whose tactical agility even displaces and unsettles the
ʻtellurianʼ character and the defensive posture of the
ʻclassical partisanʼ (Carl Schmitt). But it is because
the act of recognition is one of confirmation, and
simultaneously one of institution, that every demand
for recognition resembles this exclamation and this
expression; that every attempt at thinking recognition proves to be a queer and contrary thinking, a
contrary thinking of the queer. One who demands
recognition has already arrived, has already reached
the destination still to be attained, and does not require
the recognition that is demanded. The polemical presumption here lies in the way in which the one who is
to be recognized transforms those who are to bestow
recognition into those who require recognition. The
roles, the functions, the positions in question thereby
find themselves caught up in a constant and uncontrollable process of exchange – in the final analysis
it is impossible to decide who should be recognized
here and now and who is recognizing whom here
and now.

‘Spain is different’
The pressure exerted on this here-and-now is all the
more exacerbated by the fact that there is no longer any
horizon from the perspective of which that exchange
could either be recognized as deviant or perverse, or
be transformed into a more regular and acceptable
one. Thus the process of recognition, duplicating every
integrating effect with a disintegrating one, but without
permitting this integration and disintegration to be
captured by any positive dialectic, does not properly
lend itself to any all-englobing act of identification
which would ensure stability. Yet recognition is indispensable if one is to identify oneself with a group,
with a people, with a country, with a state, with a

tradition; if one is to be capable of identifying these
in the first place, capable of re-cognizing them, of
re-cognizing oneself in them, of being re-cognized
by them. For all identifications must transgress a
limit. They therefore require an act of recognition if
that re-cognition to which they aspire is to be made
possible. Recognition thus intersects and transfixes, for
example, every attempt to justify a form of nationalism, even that supposedly enlightened ʻnationalism
of the presentʼ or ʻcontemporary nationalismʼ which
Oriol Pi de Cabanyes, the director of the Institució de
les Lletres Catalanes, would like to derive from the
ʻinterrupted identityʼ of a people.

Instead of simply opposing ʻthe Catalan traditionʼ
to other traditions; instead of attempting to anchor
the sense of national ʻbelongingʼ in the ʻdense texture
of the pastʼ or to acquire it from ʻplanning the futureʼ
– Pi de Cabanyes addresses himself to the present. The
here-and-now of a Catalan ʻversionʼ of the universally
human is supposed to furnish the basis for an appropriate contemporary nationalism.4 Such a ʻcontemporary nationalismʼ springs from fears of nationalistic
extremism, ʻdiseased forms of nostalgiaʼ and ʻfuturistic
fanaticismʼ. But if this idea of an ahistorical, purely
ʻpunctualʼ or instantaneous here-and-now – which
appeals to a suprahistorical and utterly abstract conception of human essence without effectively clarifying the relationship between the universality of this
essence and the particularity of its specific versions and
manifestations – proves to be unconvincing, then such
vaunted ʻcontemporary nationalismʼ proves equally to
be a familiar nationalism after all, and thus already to
represent the extremism it was supposed to contain.

The symptoms of contamination here vividly reveal
themselves when Pi de Cabanyes speaks of those
ʻundesirableʼ cases of interference and interruption
which his ʻcontemporary nationalismʼ would have to
exclude from the ʻinterrupted identityʼ of the Catalans.

The identity of the Catalans is an interrupted one.

Like all forms of identity, it cannot insulate itself against
the irruption of an alien externality or foreign element.

If this identity could insulate itself against such forms
of irruption, it would only ossify immediately. Pi de
Cabanyes distinguishes between heritage, experience
and interruption in order to emphasize the violent and
unavoidable moment of ʻinterferenceʼ, of interrupting
and disrupting intervention. But if the identity of a
people is essentially an interrupted one, a non-identical
one, then it can appeal neither to an organic totality
grounded in a past nor to the frictionless or seamless
appropriation of a future. The justification of its interrupted identity leads necessarily to the projection of

such a ʻcontemporary nationalismʼ. But as a nationalist
project this justification tends to promote a certain
extremism, an exclusive appropriation of a totality,
a positing of boundaries which would mark some
permanent belonging, through which interruptions are
subjected to control and by which the sentiment of
diverse identity only comes to serve an undisturbed
self-assertion. The interrupted identity, the identity
which is exposed to the dynamic of recognition and
finds itself suspended there, finally transforms itself
into a unified identity, into the identity of a re-cognizable and (self-) re-cognizing subject. The plan, the
projection, the programme of the new nationalism
is the ideological projection of a unification without
interruption, of a will to undisturbed self-presence
which would place past and future alike in its own

The full responsibility for what we shall be at every
moment will fall all the more clearly to ourselves.

In the precise and appropriate conscious awareness
that we have been Catalans for a thousand years,
that we are precisely what we are, that we shall be
what we wish to be, our own grasp of temporality will be more evenly developed. This sense of
equilibrium will in all probability prove to be our
strongest protection against all presumptuous forms
of interference, against all forms of undesirable
interruption and intervention.5

Legal indifference
But even if the one demanding recognition is the
one bestowing recognition, and the bestower of recognition is the one requiring recognition; even if the
here-and-now of recognition is also a there-and-then
– why can we not interpret this internal splitting as
an equilibrium or balance of reconciling completion?

Why must we insist upon the vertiginous movement
of an uncontrollable exchange of positions, upon a
universal resistance and displacement? Because the
difference between the confirmation and institution
of what has been demanded is a difference between
heterogeneous acts, and this heterogeneity can only be
bridged by the dogmatic or postulated presupposition
of a re-cognizable unity and a unified re-cognition,
by the elimination of the process of recognizing. The
phrase ʻWeʼre queer, weʼre here, so get fuckinʼ used
to itʼ represents a caesura charged with tension, an
interruption which cannot be bridged over, an invasive
and invading presumption, a queer and contrary selfdisowning exclamation, elusive over and against all
attempts to own or appropriate it.

Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)


Consequently it would be a euphemistic interpretation, an essential domestication, if one were to
reduce this expression to a demand for pacifying and
habitual recognition, for the willing readiness to put
up with something, for the reasonable acceptance and
toleration of those nameless individuals intended by
the first-person-plural pronoun. As little as one can
or should exclude an interpretation which regards the
expression as a demand for the ʻtransformation and
reconfiguration of socially binding rules and regulationsʼ, for the creation of that in-difference of nameless
recognition which alone is capable of doing justice to
difference within society,6 one must equally recognize
that there always remains something unacceptable
and unreasonable about the phrase, something which
is directly connected to the exclamatory character of
the expression itself. For the latter resists both the
ideological preformation of the legal system, which
disadvantages those who raise the demand, and the
anonymity of a social cohesion regulated by legal
norms, the ʻin-differently bindingʼ character of all
rules and regulations, whether it is purely ʻformalʼ or
substantively ʻeffectiveʼ in nature. For this ʻin-differently bindingʼ validity is either selective in character,
and has its condition of possibility in the by no means
ʻin-differentʼ decision concerning who can actually be
intended by the regulation in question, or, alternatively,
it possesses an undifferentiated ʻin-differently binding
validityʼ which intends in principle everyone, so that
no real recognition transpires at all. In truth this
means: by virtue of the indispensable and constitutive
selection mechanism involved in it, this ʻin-differently
binding validityʼ of nameless individuals represents the
binding validity of a virtual normality, a normality
which saves and keeps itself intact, which builds up
an arsenal of power, which has already withdrawn
from its exclusionary, minimalizing and marginalizing
manifestations once we attempt to call it by its proper
name. As in Andrew Sullivanʼs apologetic pamphlet
Virtually Normal ,7 the difference of the recognized,
in which the virtuality in question has accumulated
and concentrated itself, is merely that distance which
allows normality to assert itself all the more fiercely
and inexorably.

Of course one does not have to pay the price of a
naive intentionalism or contextualism, if one wishes
to distinguish ʻpolitical recognitionʼ from another
kind of recognition and to utilize this distinction
in order to mark a difference between the sphere
of namelessness and the sphere of names. But one
does fall back into a naive intentionalism or contextualism if one claims that the name of ʻthe politicalʼ


Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)

should be reserved for the anonymous social order
which is always presupposed by the ʻnon-politicalʼ or
ʻsub-politicalʼ spheres of recognition. For the opening
which repeatedly suspends recognition, the opening to
which the challenge of that unpredictable and uncontrollable expression ʻWeʼre queer, weʼre here, so get
fuckinʼ used to itʼ bears testimony, itself belongs to
the political dimension and to the politics of recognition. It is precisely this opening which makes politics
necessary. Must the effective political securing of
that open domain we supposedly require in order to
experience the significance of what has already taken
shape in the ʻnon-socialʼ, ʻsubsocialʼ, ʻnon-politicalʼ
and ʻsubpoliticalʼ forms of recognition,8 must this too
not remain exposed to the possibility of suspension
and disturbance if such ʻin-differently binding validityʼ
over against difference is not ultimately to lead to a
levelling process of assimilation, to the namelessness
of eradicated names?

If the framework within which differences exist
is quite obvious; if it is obvious that there is an
overall framework which comprehends and includes
these differences; if it is already decided, for example,
that it is exclusively ʻrelationships of adult love and
friendshipʼ9 which effectively characterize a determinate ʻnon-socialʼ, ʻsubsocialʼ, ʻnon-politicalʼ, ʻsubpoliticalʼ open domain of recognition; then difference has
already been robbed of what makes it different in the
first place. Difference has been domesticated and the
phrase ʻWeʼre queer, weʼre here, so get fuckinʼ used
to itʼ has been deprived of its political virulence. It
is not merely in the juridical sphere that the phrase
represents a caesura that cannot simply be bridged,
but rather in all spheres in which recognition proves
to be decisive. Certainly, the irreducible tension in
the process of recognition is a tension between asymmetry and symmetry (otherwise the recognition would
be nothing more than a re-cognition), so that the
demand for effectively secured political spaces of
openness and free play, for a certain leeway, is just
as inscribed within the struggle for recognition as
is the destabilizing disjunction of play and space.

Politics is nothing other than the name for sustaining
and enduring the conflict within this tension, between
name and anonymity.

Asymmetry and symmetry, confirmation and institution, do not have the invariant form of a concept.

Rather, they are stabilized elements of a recognition
which is and must be distinguished from mere re-cognition, a recognition whose tensile character consists
in the fact that dissolving it into an accomplished
form of recognition only eliminates the difference

between recognizing and re-cognizing. But the possible
modes and opportunities for recognition, which result
from the constellations and configurations of the elements involved, cannot in principle be located within
a hierarchical relationship, within any relationship of
precedence or derivation, presupposition or dependency. Recognition precisely promotes the subversion
of such relationships wherever they have assumed a
fixed and independent existence. It makes a difference
whether we are speaking of the recognition accorded
to a people struggling for its own autonomy or the recognition involved in love or friendship; but the various
forms of recognition and their respective configurations
are nonetheless simultaneously subject to a process of
deformation. They are themselves part of a movement
whose dynamic cannot be grasped either by concepts
of form or by concepts of formlessness. Recognition is
misconceived if we attempt to divide it up into forms
and modes which are laboriously segregated from
one another in order thereby to control the process of
recognition. Recognition is misconceived if we make
the reformist attempt to relate it to the underlying unity
of a universal ʻin-differently binding validityʼ or of an
accomplished and effective recognition. Recognition
is misconceived if we believe we can simply know or
re-cognize it, or even measure the misconceiving of
recognition against this possibility.

Against majorities and minorities
The misconceiving of recognition which is involved in
the reformist conception of the latter, a misconceiving
which cannot even be thought without the continual
destabilization of recognition, has one important consequence: drawing distinctions between the various
majorities and minorities that struggle for recognition
may well serve as a reformist strategy within the
overall horizon of a unity based upon formal equality, but it also afflicts the majorities and minorities
struggling for recognition with a perilous social blindness. For anyone who distinguishes majorities from
minorities and ascribes him- or herself to this majority
or that minority, can only address the essentially
incommensurable and measureless moment which is
harboured within the very movement of recognition by
attempting to reduce this resistance to all measurability
precisely to some measure, to a range of quantifying
and identifying factors. In an essay discussing the
question of measure, of minorities and majorities in
the debate concerning multicultural societies, Werner
Hamacher writes:

For any claim that is incommensurable with a
purely quantitative representation according to
equivalents, there is a voice which still ineluctably
makes itself heard precisely in this representation
– an other voice, and perhaps something other than
a voice. The commensurable must render itself incommensurable, and the countable uncountable.10

Minorities that struggle for recognition, and the
majorities that recognize them, must intrinsically blind
themselves before the anarcho-revolutionary power of
the measureless. Expressed in another way: a group
that identifies itself as a minority can, fundamentally
speaking, no longer struggle for recognition and has
already become powerless in this struggle. When someone on the street of a North American city shouts
ʻHey, faggot!ʼ to a supposedly recognized individual,
the latter feels outraged. Alternatively, someone who
makes no appeal to the recognition of a fixed identity
invents other, more novel, war machines.

The suspicion that no one is more powerless
than someone who has struggled for recognition as
a member of some minority or majority, adducing
more or less convincing reasons and obtaining more
or less successful results – the suspicion that, all
appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the one
who has achieved recognition is the most powerless
of all – this suspicion is transformed into an insight
once we perceive that recognition, precisely because it
only remains recognition to the degree that it does not
solidify and objectify itself as recognition, suspends

Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)


the possibility of the ʻasʼ: the possibility of ʻrecognition asʼ. The moment of equilibrium, of equality in
the struggle for recognition, may repeatedly promise
or even open up this possibility, but it also suspends
it precisely because it can never be wholly isolated
or dialectically defined as a determinate result. The
pre-predicative or linguistically articulated ʻasʼ which
determines what is present in its specific quiddity gets
separated from itself in the struggle for recognition,
even before it can constitute itself as a unity, as the
ʻasʼ itself, as the ʻasʼ of an originary or subsequently
modified understanding.

Following a suggestion of Michael Walzer it would
appear useful to distinguish an explicit and complex
ʻrecognition as this or thatʼ from a ʻsimple recognitionʼ,11 from the universal expectation with which
one member of society may reasonably approach and
engage with another. But every recognition which is
supposed to serve the successful establishment of an
equilibrium, an order or a framework, which is supposed to satisfy universal expectations, is implicitly
or explicitly a form of ʻrecognition asʼ, a recognition
through which the recognized party can be re-cognized as a member of that group whose parameters
are circumscribed by the framework and which is
sustained in equilibrium by the order. Thus the struggle for recognition reveals itself as a struggle for
the ʻasʼ, for the structure of the ʻas-suchʼ; it reveals
itself as a struggle for revealing-oneself-as-something.

Consequently we should not confuse the reification of
recognition – something which eliminates the process
of recognition and merely grasps recognition itself
as the repetition and confirmation of a presupposed
identity, precisely as ʻrecognition asʼ – with recognition and the struggle for recognition itself.

In the last analysis ʻrecognition asʼ proves inevitably
to have concealed or excluded the alterity of the
process of recognition. As a consequence of this concealment and this exclusion one no longer recognizes
nor is recognized, because fundamentally one only
ever recognizes oneself: the struggle for recognition
becomes the struggle of the subject which strives either
to include otherness within itself or to exclude otherness from itself. The politics of recognition becomes
a fundamentalist and immanentist politics, irrespective
of the intentions or the means with which it operates. Another limit to recognition: the annihilation
of otherness through an absolute re-cognition, which
is precisely what my struggle, mein Kampf, has in
its sights.

Translated by Nicholas Walker


Radical Philosophy 81 (Jan/Feb 1997)

This essay is excerpted from Alexander García Düttmannʼs
book Zwischen den Kulturen. Spannungen im Kampf um
Anerkennung (Between Cultures: Tensions in the Struggle
for Recognition), Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 1997.

1. María Zambrano, La agonía de Europa, Mondadori,
Madrid, 1988, p. 42.

2. Jean Genet, Lʼennemi déclaré, Gallimard, Paris, 1991,
p. 9.

3. Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice, Basic Books, New
York, 1983, p. 254.

4. Oriol Pi de Cabanyes, Repensar Catalunya, Edicions 62,
Barcelona, 1989, pp. 88–9.

5. Ibid., p. 91.

6. Christoph Menke, ʻWarum und wie?ʼ, in Babylon, no.

13–14, Neue Kritik, Frankfurt am Main, 1994, p. 92.

7. Andrew Sullivan, Virtually Normal: An Argument about
Homosexuality, Picador, London, 1995.

8. Menke, ʻWarum und wie?ʼ, p. 94.

9. Ibid., p. 92.

10. Werner Hamacher, ʻOne 2 Many Multiculturalismsʼ,
manuscript 1994, pp. 30–31.

11. Walzer, Spheres of Justice, p. 258.

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