The Reject: Community, Politics and Religion After the Subject by Irving Goh (review)


It is rare these days to read a book as ambitious as Irving Goh’s The Reject. Taking up the question that Jean-Luc Nancy posed in 1988—”Who comes after the subject?”—Goh’s study proposes a theory of “the reject” as a crucial figure through which to reconceptualize modern critical and political theory’s reliance on the centrality of the subject. Engaging in a reading that charts this figure through a range of contemporary French philosophers, the study simultaneously attempts to articulate how “the reject” might help to posit, as Goh puts it, “another ethics, another ‘religion without religion,’ and another politics, all ‘without the subject’” (23). Not content merely to articulate a coherent theory of “the reject,” Goh’s study also attempts to suggest how such a figure might help us to revise our understanding of the political purchase of post-humanism, animal ethics, and network theory. This is a tall order for a single volume, and given all the touchstones it tries to include, the commentary stretches itself thin in places. Nevertheless, the book is highly provocative, striving as it does to invent a new conception of a politics without the subject. As such, it should interest a range of readers—from those interested in philosophy and religion, to readers of contemporary critical and political theory.

Goh’s study is divided into six chapters: the first introduces the project as a whole; chapters 2-4 (the backbone of the book) develop readings of “the reject” in contemporary theory; chapters 5-6 figure as a prolegomena for how “the reject” might be brought to bear on questions of “posthumanism,” and a conclusion, respectively. The second chapter, “(After) Friendship, Love, and Community,” attempts to uncover a theory of the reject in Derrida’s Politics of Friendship, in Deleuze’s thinking about community (specifically his conception of “nomadology”) and in several of Cixous’s texts from the 1990s. The chapters that follow, “The Reject and the ‘Postsecular’ or Who’s Afraid of Religion” and “Prolegomenon to Reject-Politics: From Voyous to Becoming Animal,” proceed to work out how the figure of “the reject” reorients the significance of the recent so-called “religious turn” in French thought, and how it reimagines the nature of resistance in contemporary political theory. Goh’s justification for concentrating on Derrida, Deleuze, and Cixous, centers on the way these authors all purportedly minimize the role of the subject. Though Goh also deals obliquely with Irigaray, Badiou, Balibar and Rancière, for example, these thinkers, he claims, all have conceptions of “the reject” that are repressed insofar as, for them, “the reject” is deployed only in order to re-imagine the nature of subjectivity. Goh’s gambit, in other words, is to insist that “the reject” replaces the subject as the starting point for politics, religion, conceptions of the community, and so on. Rather than destabilize these concepts from within, “the reject” is presented as an alternative, a space or figure through and from which one can overcome tout court the role that the subject, however “destabilized” or “deconstructed,” plays in political and religious thought.

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