The exception and the rule : fictive, real, critical

06 Sep 2016

Walter Benjamin’s famous statement in the eighth of his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” that “the state of [exception] in which we live is not the exception but the rule,”1 has become as normalized as its proposition asserts. Few turns of phrase have become as easily convertible, turning the “special property” (of the definition of a Greek idioma) through collocation into an implicit signified conventionalized by common usage. In the phrases turning on the elements “the exception” and “the rule,” the antonyms are being assimilated to each other, neutralizing their oppositional relation—not as a matter of a mystical “attraction of opposites,” nor even as a matter of a special type of Schmittian complexio oppositorum, but rather, in Michael Marder’s terms,2 as a matter of a “metonymic abuse of modernity.” Without examining the antonymic relation between the terms, their specific figural emergence tends to be relegated to oblivion. This process of conventionalization is transported into the philosophical discourse in which these terms acquire further attributions. The semantic fields of “the exception” and “the rule” have provided fertile ground for such transpositions—prime examples being the phrases “the exception proves the rule” and “the exception has become the rule.”