Enough : Jacques Lezra

Let me now be a bit more precise about what this principle-that-is-not-a-principle, regarding sufficiency or enoughness that is not sufficient, and never in itself enough, might look like, in what way it may be said to be foundational for political concepts, and what sorts of politics might flow from it. The description I will offer returns to one of the key terms, which I have till now kept in reserve: the term “fabrication.” I draw it in part from the register of architectural and dynamic figures that we find in the South African Constitution, and in the documents surrounding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—which speak of “creating a new order” and of “providing an historic bridge between the past of a deeply divided society . . . and a future founded on the recognition of human rights.” The term, of course, has another sense, which turns it from the solid ground of principles, foundations, buildings and institutions erected upon firm soil, and toward the gossamer of fantasy, lie, literature, fiction, hypothesis: fabrication.13

Can the “future” from which it will be established that “enough of the truth” was produced be a “fiction”? A “fabrication,” in the sense of a lie, a mere fabrication, a myth, a fantasy? And would not an ethical disposition serving itself of such fictional, fabricated grounds be something like a mass delusion, a religion, a myth? We should not exclude this dangerous possibility a priori. Instead, we should seek to understand what we might call the sufficiency or “enoughness” of fabrication itself, in both senses of the term fabrication: a mere fabrication, a fiction; and a substantive structure built firmly, fabricated, expressing the labor of truths produced and reconciled.

Here “reconciliation” means something like what one intends when one says that an accounting must be “reconciled” with one’s bills and invoices, but it also means what we intend when we say that warring factions have “reconciled,” agreed to give up arms, achieved peace; and what I mean when I say that I am “reconciled” to the fact that I will not survive this or that catastrophe: the sufficiency or “enoughness” of fabrication reconciles truths to one another at times; to the states of affairs these truths describe; to the systems of expression they set in place; and to the joint labor of their fabrication in any case. To this end, the very real vulnerabilities of the twin principles of “enough” truth, or of enoughness, and of not-enough-truth, can be turned to advantage. To conclude and show you how such a fabrication might work, I will recall for you a well-known story.

Two men encounter a third. The story calls the third man “A Prophet” and he refers to himself by the name of Elijah. He asks the two whether they “Have shipped in that ship?”; he points to the Pequod, at anchor in the bay of Nantucket town; he asks, “What did they TELL you about [Captain Ahab]?”—referring of course to the captain of the Pequod. Ishmael, our narrator, answers him:

“They didn’t tell much of anything about him; only I’ve heard that he’s a good whale-hunter, and a good captain to his crew.”

“That’s true, that’s true—yes, both true enough. But you must jump when he gives an order. Step and growl; growl and go—that’s the word with Captain Ahab. But nothing about that thing that happened to him off Cape Horn, long ago, when he lay like dead for three days and nights; nothing about that deadly skrimmage with the Spaniard afore the altar in Santa?—heard nothing about that, eh? Nothing about the silver calabash he spat into? And nothing about his losing his leg last voyage, according to the prophecy. Didn’t ye hear a word about them matters and something more, eh? No, I don’t think ye did; how could ye? Who knows it? Not all Nantucket, I guess. But hows’ever, mayhap, ye’ve heard tell about the leg, and how he lost it; aye, ye have heard of that, I dare say. Oh yes, THAT every one knows a’most—I mean they know he’s only one leg; and that a parmacetti took the other off.”

“My friend,” said I, “what all this gibberish of yours is about, I don’t know, and I don’t much care; for it seems to me that you must be a little damaged in the head. But if you are speaking of Captain Ahab, of that ship there, the Pequod, then let me tell you, that I know all about the loss of his leg.”

“ALL about it, eh—sure you do?—all?”

“Pretty sure.”14

“That’s true, that’s true—yes, true enough,” we say in English, and by this we mean just this: that a statement or an observation conforms to the facts as we know them; that it coheres; that it will be acknowledged to match the case by everyone, by “all Nantucket”; and so on. (We say “That’s true enough,” and we mean in brief, or so it appears, that a statement is judged to be true according to principles of reference, coherence, or social agreement or doxology.)

And yet we say, “That’s true enough” with some reserve. It’s true enough, what you have been told and what you are telling me, it’s true enough, we mean, but not thoroughly true, or not true to the extensive facts of the case, or not exclusively true. I, the witness, the real witness, but also the prophet and—since I am asking you the questions—also the judge, I, Elijah, I know something more than that, or something other than that story you have told or that sentence you have uttered: I know something more than that to be true, to be true enough, to be at least as true.

So I say to you, “That’s true, what you say, that’s true—yes, both true enough.” True, true enough, we say, Elijah says and we hear—and we may mean that we judge that the story is not all told even here, where its local truth is manifest—that something has been left out, another story or other facts that, while “true,” are not material to the “truth” of the story or the observation or the proposition we have just heard. We answer to Elijah, who as a prophet and a witness is also in a position to judge the truth of our story, we answer him that we can be “pretty sure” that we know “all” about a story, and we can be equally sure, “pretty sure,” that we do not need to know anything more about it in order to judge that we know all that is indeed material to the truth of our story.

13. A parallel treatment of the politics of fantasy runs through the work of Slavoj Zizek, from his early The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989) through The Plague of Fantasies (London: Verso, 1997).

14. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (New York: Norton, 1967), 86-88.

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