Deleuze Studies, Volume 2 Issue 2 | Deconstruction | Jacques Derrida

General Editors’ Note

The aim of Derrida Today is to see Derrida’s work in its broadest possible context and to argue for its keen and enduring relevance to our present intellectual, cultural and political situations. Its aim is not to conceive of Derrida’s work as merely a major development in thinking about textuality, nor as simply belonging to the specific philosophical discussions in the name of which some philosophers have reclaimed it. Derrida Today attempts, therefore, to have the broadest possible reference, from the philosophical and theoretical through the most aesthetically innovative to the most urgently political. It seeks to consider work that is rigorous and provocative, exact and experimental. It will be prepared to consider any approach to the reading of Derrida’s work and the application of deconstruction, as long as it produces valuable and useful insights. It aims not to be narrowly pedantic about approach, topic or style, or to police the Derridean legacy for its orthodoxy or purported accuracy or fidelity to a specific set of conclusions. Given this, the journal is not only about what we as general editors decide it to be, it’s life and trajectory will also be determined, even perhaps, unpredictably, by the topics and styles contributors offer. In this sense, we hope the journal will promote the ethical commitment of deconstruction; to an openness to the ‘event to come’. Nicole Anderson and Nick Mansfield

Conference Issue Statement

This issue of Derrida Today contains papers originally delivered at the inaugural ‘Derrida Today’ Conference, held in Sydney between 10 and 12 July 2008 (organised by Nicole Anderson and Nick Mansfield). The conference attracted over 150 delegates. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who presented papers at the conference, and who sent in submissions for this issue, even though they could not all be included. We would also like to thank the many people who contributed to the success of the conference: Professor Judyth Sachs, who launched the journal at the conference; our keynotes Andrew Benjamin, Catherine Malabou and Martin McQuillan, and all those who helped with the organisation, especially Stephen Barker, Niall Lucy, Elaine Kelly, Lara Palombo, Ravi Glasser-Vora, Elaine Laforteza, Vanessa Fredericks and Jon Seltin. Our deep thanks to Claire Colebrook and Stephen Barker, who launched Joanna Hodge’s Derrida on Time and Martin McQuillan’s The Politics of Deconstruction and Deconstruction Reading Politics at Gleebooks during the conference. Finally thanks to the Department of Critical and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney, for its generous support. The next ‘Derrida Today’ conference is planned for London in July 2010 (keep checking for details).

Extra Time and the Death Penalties: On a Newly Arisen Violent Tone in Philosophy

Martin McQuillan
Abstract In light of recent writing on politics and violence within contemporary continental philosophy, this text revisits Derrida’s frequently articulated philosophical opposition to the death penalty. This essay expresses dismay at a certain theoretical discourse today that finds within itself the resources to mount a defence from within the humanities of political violence and by extension an overt justification of the death penalty. Slavoj Žižek’s essay on Robespierre is unpicked as one such representative text. It is contrasted to Derrida’s scrupulous reading of Kant as an advocate of the death penalty. This essay seeks to name and question a new Maoist, thanato-theological current in contemporary theoretical writing and should be considered as an opening salvo in a sustained future challenge to such thought. * I am on the side of life — Hélène Cixous (Cixous 2010, forthcoming) While the evidence tells me that the death penalty does little to deter crime, I believe there are some crimes – mass murder, the rape and murder of a child – so heinous, so beyond the pale, that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment. —Barack Obama (Obama 2008, 57) You would think that it would be a straightforward thing to oppose the death penalty in Theory today. You would think that this would be an unproblematic and uncontroversial thing, today, in the context of the

today being another day from the today in which this was written for ‘Derrida Today’. for international law and against the invasion of Iraq. in the early twenty-first century. in my view it is a symptom of a wider tendency.134 Martin McQuillan university. It must be named as such and denounced as such. which also has to be named and so brought within the spotlight of rigorous critical examination. he was for the release of Nelson Mandela and Mumia Abu-Jamal. he has a complex relation to animal rights and for the openness of Europe. (McQuillan 2008. he was against Le Pen and for the rights of immigrants and so on. Such an inquiry is completely apposite to the question at stake for us today (this is the fourth mention of the ‘today’ in my opening paragraph). and even to make a philosophical defence of the death penalty. However. he is suspicious of the papermachine of bureaucracy in education and for the teaching of philosophy in the Lycée. Let me begin by quoting myself from the inaugural edition of the journal Derrida Today. You would think! Apparently not. apparently it is necessary to turn to the question of the death penalty today and to do so not as a response to the numerous states which still practice capital punishment (the punishment of the cap. This defence in itself is shocking and calls for exposure. 123) What strikes me today about this sentence now. You would think! You would think it unnecessary to have to make a philosophical defence of the abolition of the death penalty and even more unnecessary to make a defence of a philosophical defence of abolition. of what remains of Derrida today. he is critical of the state of Israel but condemns those who would see it destroyed. he condemned Milosevic and worked with clandestine intellectuals in repressive regimes. You would think such things did not need to be said and that to be against the death penalty would be a given of the liberal humanist bubble we inhabit. It is totally germane to the problem that we are calling here ‘Derrida Today’. and of what the ‘today’ might mean for Derrida.1 In edition one of Derrida Today. in the text ‘Derrida and Policy: Is Deconstruction Really a Social Science?’ If I begin by quoting myself it is not out of an abyssal egotism but out of respect for the journal that gathers these texts together today. given no place to hide as philosophy or so-called ‘Theory’. amongst philosophers and theorists. of what is to be done with Derrida today. I wrote: The political views that Derrida expresses in his texts are reassuringly liberal and thus equally familiar and banal: he is against the death sentence. day zero or day one perhaps. or the head) but as a more local response to fellow travellers who find within themselves the resources to defend the death penalty. .

mediatically and pedagogically today. I even name his work on the death penalty twice in this sentence as exemplary of his political views: many people were for the release of Nelson Mandela but not everyone was for the release of the death-row prisoner and ‘Black Panther’ Mumia Abu-Jamal. The other risk with addressing this essay today in this space is that in addressing stupidity. of which Žižek is only a part. On another occasion I might not disagree with them but here I am less concerned with the arguments of Žižek’s text itself. and which I will later call ‘the new Political Theology’ also ‘the new Maoism’. it would seem that an opposition to the death penalty will be required to be revisited as a live philosophical issue in the humanities today. that I have in my sights today. I think the point that this fatigued sentence was intended to make was that one would expect Jacques Derrida to defend prisoners on death row and that this in itself was not a controversial or necessarily ‘radical’ political position (this obscure term ‘radical’ will require some unpicking on another occasion). but with what they exemplify institutionally. one hesitates before beginning a reading of a text such as this. I will have more to say on this presently. of which there can be nothing to say and which should be obvious beyond question as a first principle. such as they are. publicly and prominently.’ This will not require reflection at a future date. that is to say the most liberal and the most banal. such positions that Derrida took and arguments that he made were the sine qua non of the decent liberalism with which he was frequently and mistakenly confused. the time of (Derrida to)day.’ as . is his opposition to the death penalty. newly arisen violent tone in theoretical discourse. And yet. Is this not the very demonstration of his liberalism. to discuss such stupidity is in some sense to give credit to that stupidity as something worthy of that time.Extra Time and the Death Penalties 135 is that of ‘the political views that Derrida expresses in his texts’ and which I have the temerity to name here as ‘reassuringly liberal’ and even ‘familiar and banal’ the first to be listed. to take the time. I am thinking here of Slavoj Žižek’s spectacularly misjudged introduction to a collection of texts by Maximilien Robespierre. The force that lies behind this sentence is that of the ‘you would think. ‘Robespierre. stupidity will return a stupid answer and in its ignorance mistake the time spent on this essay as an affirmation of its own importance (misrecognizing rebuke for attention) or as indicative of an antagonism between ‘camps. is it not the most banal thing. the time of day. the “Divine Violence” of Terror. It is this wider. Even so. as it were. our precious time. This is true and some readers will say that today there are things more worthy of our time than Slavoj Žižek. or.’ Now. On the one hand.

cowardly and ignoble of ways. count me out. and in his promotion of Robespierre as a figure whose writing we might be required to account for today. ‘is precisely to reinvent emancipatory terror’ (Žižek 2007. or with Derrida. It seems to me that the stakes of what Nicole Anderson and Nick Mansfield have termed ‘Derrida Today’ reside in some important way in just such an encounter and examination. even at this point. I will even call it a philosophical justification (this is important). it should be named and denounced and the criteriology under which it operates examined as part of a wider current of erroneous thought in the academy today. says Žižek in other words. rather it emerges out of an extreme un-ease I have been feeling of late concerning the present direction of theory and those of my generation who are currently engaged in the writing of its future. What is the relation between this so-called ‘virtual content’ of terror and its actualization? Since when was the virtual limited in this way? How is one to prevent the actualization of terror having identified this virtual kernel. I would like to say. Now. and an apology for capital punishment. I may well have cause to say a great deal about Žižek or even to find myself defending Žižek. Our task today. Allow me to repeat myself in order not to be misunderstood.’ This reinvention of terror must be a theoretical reinvention of terror since others are presently doing a perfectly good job of reinventing terror all over the world. No debate could be more sterile or un-interesting. along with Bartleby. I’d rather not. as we shall see they are not. before we have really started. He describes this as ‘our task today. but they are reserved for an aside at the end of the essay in the most oblique. xii–xiii).136 Martin McQuillan if to be for Derrida meant to be against Žižek (and others) and vice versa. to redeem its virtual content from its actualization? It can and should be done’ (Žižek 2007. On another occasion and in a different context. Žižek’s text is. The implications for the ‘reinvention of terror’ today cannot be lost on Žižek and indeed. As such. my interest here is not in Žižek as such or in an attack on the expanded corpus of Žižek’s writing. a justification of political violence. or is there a way to repeat it in today’s different historical constellation. xxi).2 This is not a project I would like to participate in. as if such a set of metaphors were in any way sustained or rigorously upheld in the face of the empirical? And what would one do with a . is to justify theoretically terror as a revolutionary act. ‘does the (often deplorable) actuality of the revolutionary terror compel us to reject the very idea of Terror. He asks. I will argue. Žižek’s avowed aim in this essay.

how can the present arrangement of western democracy be simultaneously both ‘postpolitical’ and a ‘biopolitics. Žižek’s position is a strict Maoism. Thus. as Derrida notes in Rogues. ‘politics’ in this phrase has two contradictory and exclusive meanings? To be ‘postpolitical’ in this sense means to be after a model of political antagonism between identifiable and seemingly monolithic blocks of a revolutionary or emancipatory ‘left’ and a ‘right’ that defends the interests of capital.’ that is to say both beyond politics and a political practice? Surely. It would take another period of extra time to take a diversion into Agamben’s misreading of the tricky and precarious distinction between bios and zoë in Plato and Aristotle that Agamben. anymore than Derrida can. reduces to a strict opposition as the basis of ‘the quasi-totality of his argument about sovereignty and the biopolitical in Homo Sacer’ (Derrida 2005. there is no political position from which one can adequately respond to Žižek. it might be worth asking at this moment of Žižek’s position here. This will become apparent in the course of our present investigation. Žižek’s position as a position exempts itself from the present terrain of politics by dismissing all available positions as the mere administration of biopolitics in favour of a transcendental affirmation of a non-position of pure negation in which no position is pure enough to correspond to the imaginary space of the lapsed world of the imagined ‘pre-postpolitical’. .Extra Time and the Death Penalties 137 localised and virtual ‘terrorism’ other than then actualise it? The relation between virtual terror and real terror can only be like the relationship between the Mother of psychoanalysis and real mothers. Now. closed and impervious to critique.4 That is to say.3 The reason to wish to reinvent terror for Žižek is the challenge that such a violent irruption would pose to what he calls the ‘postpolitical’ biopolitics that administers bare life in western democracies and through them orchestrates globalisation. In this sense. whereby the former does not refer to any of the latter but all real mothers are de facto subsumed by the Mother whenever it is announced in a relation without relation that is nevertheless and because of this a relation. However. insofar as this critique of western democracy and capital comes from a certain appreciation of Agamben’s reading of Benjamin. any real position available today being always outflanked by his own transcendental revolutionary position as a mere defence of bourgeois biopolitics. 24). as if this were not a cartoon version of the political or even an adequate understanding of the deferred logic of the ‘post’. neither Agamben nor Benjamin can be held responsible for the varieties of nonsense that are spoken for or against their writing.

one should fearlessly identify divine violence with a positively existing historical phenomenon. thus avoiding all obscurantist mystification. say.’ ‘divine violence.138 Martin McQuillan Žižek’s argument begins with an attempt to offer concrete form to what Benjamin calls in the ‘Critique of Violence. Žižek states: Well and good. gentlemen critical theorists. do you want to know what this divine violence looks like? Look at the revolutionary Terror of 1792–94. x) I very much doubt whether Robespierre and his fellow lawyers can be said to have been in anyway outside of the structured social field. to the terror of the Khmer Rouge. (Žižek 2007.’ ‘when those outside the structured social field strike ‘blindly. what is interesting here is the ellipsis of the series that runs on from the Red Terror of 1919 (again a bit of a delay after the storming of the Winter Palace). ) That is to say. or ‘left-wing’ examples? Revolutionary terror as divine violence is surely not unique to ‘the left. I could not agree more. from the very beginning of this treatise. That was the ‘Divine Violence’. does indeed stand for the bloody run of history. Paraphrasing Engels on the Paris Commune as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and addressing liberal critical theorists such as myself who may have been interested by Benjamin’s essay. even if this would alter the nature of philosophy itself. . How does the series run? From 1919 to the terror of the Cultural Revolution. Žižek is unusually coy here. Žižek’s interpretation of Benjamin’s notion of ‘divine violence’ is not limited to ‘good examples’. And yet. .’ demanding and enacting immediate justice/vengeance’ (Žižek 2007. to the terror of Iranian revolution. In reclaiming . has Žižek made the correct identification of ‘divine violence’? Would not the storming of the Bastille. it would seem that this ellipsis. but on that point of identifying divine violence with a real event.’ as if it were ok for the left to kill people but not the right? Did I miss a day at Theory Camp when it became acceptable to say this sort of thing? Just because the Terror of the guillotine occurred in 1792 that does not mean it is an event redeemable as ‘divine violence’ any more than year zero and the killing fields of Cambodia would be. (And the series goes on: the Red Terror of 1919. The question is however. x). to the terror of the Taliban? Surely. the unsaid in Žižek’s essay. ‘right-on’. It has always been my contention that philosophy should account for its systematic and universalising gestures by putting them at risk through the analysis of positive historical phenomena. be divine violence by Benjamin’s definition and the considerably later Jacobin Terror not be something else entirely? Something like a premeditated inaugural violence that founds a state? However.

one could begin by picking at this very idea of the inside/outside division which Žižek and Robespierre have quickly assembled as an apparatus to justify the calculability of the revolutionary decision. for saying count me out. innocence itself – exempting oneself from the decision. my heart is free from fear. that wishes to be considered revolutionary. insofar as the shift from ‘we’ to ‘I’ can effectively be . going on as if the struggle I am witnessing does not really concern me – is the highest treason. He is quick to defend Robespierre from our modern liberal bourgeois sensibilities and thus from the claim. xvi) For Žižek here the decision seems to be in someway calculable and thus rational. He goes on: One should nonetheless move beyond the quick dismissal of Robespierre’s rhetorical strategy as the strategy of ‘terrorist culpabilization’ [all members of a corrupt society are guilty]. say. That is to say. Robespierre. Žižek continues: In short. in such moments. Robespierre. and if I were to die.’ this fear itself. irrational (or just plain bourgeois or counter-revolutionary) to fear that one will become caught up in the machinic violence of revolutionary terror because this would be to position oneself in a relation of exteriority to the revolution and thus act counter to the revolution. because. demonstrates that my subjective position is external to the revolution. All subjectivity. is not afraid to die – his eventual death will be a mere accident which counts for nothing: ‘What does danger matter to me? My life belongs to the homeland. There is no room. that he unleashed a violent terror that he was unable to control and ultimately fell victim to. it is that he.Extra Time and the Death Penalties 139 Robespierre and reinventing terror. for Žižek.’ Consequently. while he. as the killing machine of the revolution gets under way. I would do so without reproach and without ignominy. that he is not afraid of this fate. (Žižek 2007. Now. how can Robespierre be sure that the process he has unleashed will not swallow him up? It is here that his position takes on a sublime greatness – he fully assumes the danger that now threatens Danton will tomorrow threaten him. This would seem to be the most logo-centric of revolutions (and thus the least revolutionary of revolutions). Žižek clearly wants to tell us a parable for our time. that I experience ‘revolution’ as an external force threatening me. is not that Danton was a traitor. is pure. should subordinate itself to the machinic computational logic of the revolution. the fear of being accused of treason is my treason. The reason that he is so serene. because. even if I ‘did not do anything against the revolution. And to discern its moment of truth: there are no innocent bystanders in the crucial moments of revolutionary decision. It is on the contrary. a direct embodiment of the people’s Will. So. the fact that it emerged in me.

one should assert it as also constitutive of a radical revolutionary position. the French term for suicide bomber is of course ‘kamikaze’. Is this a serious proposition in 2008? Let us not even start the task of unpicking this logic of ends and means and of equivalences and of all the logical confusion evident here. (Žižek 2007. are you serious? Is this not a Swiftian comic performance of an absurdism to demonstrate the absurd politesse of academic conventions? If only it were.’ (Žižek 2007. to consider that it might be problematic to collapse all of these singularities into a continuous and homogenous dialectical history and that the question of the so-called ‘suicide bomber’ today might be raised as singular occurrence with its own history. there was me mistaking the pathology theocratic death cults with Fascist militarism. xvii).140 Martin McQuillan determined as the moment when the democratic mask falls down and when Robespierre openly asserts himself as a Master . xviii) Sorry. At this point Žižek cites Japanese soldiers during World War II who conducted their own funerals before going to war. the term Master has to be given here its full Hegelian weight: the Master is the figure of sovereignty. it does not matter that the revolutionary terror of mass execution has gone so far out of control that its author and instigator be put to death because through this cleansing ‘divine violence’ the revolution will be achieved and any lives lost in the event are of no significance because the idea and purpose of the revolution are of greater importance. the one who is not afraid to die. Let us not even pause. who is ready to risk everything. In other words. I can now see that this fascination with death constitutes the true sublimity of the suicide . However. xvii) At this point I am beginning to wonder if I have missed a whole week at Theory Camp. a Zen priest. Žižek continues. To recap. the ultimate meaning of Robespierre’s first-person singular (‘I’) is: ‘I am not afraid to die. Instead of dismissing this feature as part of Fascist militarism. because we have now seamlessly slipped from the position of the revolutionary to that of the warrior. because Žižek does not. . but simply ask following the cultural revolution. . He may as well be (and indeed by inference he is) talking about the videos of suicide bombers. following the Khmer Rouge and Taliban. that the truly revolutionary position is not to take care during a time of terror but. Žižek presses on: This pre-emptive self-exclusion from the domain of the living of course turns the soldier into a properly sublime figure. how bourgeois of me. ‘to consider oneself dead beforehand’ (Žižek 2007. quoting Yamamoto Jocho.

xviii) I can now see that I had not in fact missed a week at Theory Camp but in fact was at an entirely different school altogether. by the events of history. but from the revolutionary point of view the dialectic of contingency and necessity retrospectively confers on an event like the Terror. I cannot speak to this transcendental subject because it does not exist. terror simply put is not a bad thing for Žižek. But Žižek has more to say when he cites Mao as exemplifying this terroristic sublime when he states that the US nuclear arsenal could destroy the whole of China and blow up the entire world but still not quench the revolutionary spirit: There evidently is an ‘inhuman madness’ in this argument: is the fact that the destruction of the planet Earth ‘would hardly mean anything to the universe as a whole’ not a rather poor solace for the extinguished humanity? The argument only works if. is operative as a virtual point of reference. the form of not an aberrant episode but an occurrence that was determined before it took place. or. There is no negotiating with an argument that recognises itself as ‘inhuman madness’ but continues anyway to posit a non-real. ‘what would a Jacobin politics which took into account this retroactive-contingent rise .Extra Time and the Death Penalties 141 bomber. despising even. True it replaces the administration of life with the computational extermination of life. the Fatherland and so on? But the problem for Žižek is not terror. it does not suffer from the difficulties of bare life that one might be required to defend or to emancipate. in a Kantian way.’ (Žižek 2007. In what way is the virtual revolutionary subject here different from other virtual subject which might as easily substitute for it. as Saint-Just formulated in an unsurpassable way this indifference towards what Benjamin called ‘bare life’: ‘I despise the dust that forms me and speaks to you. as the substantialization of the general will. one presupposes a pure transcendental subject unaffected by this catastrophe – a subject which. such as the state. Its position is one of strict and pure terror as it regulates and justifies a closed and violent system of death. as the principle by which the ‘authenticity’ and ‘truth’ of the revolution should be measured. Indeed it is to be welcomed because it breaks out of the biopolitical administration of life. although non-existing in reality. non-existing revolutionary transcendental subject unaffected by the slaughter going on around it. Every authentic revolutionary has to assume this attitude of thoroughly abstracting from. the imbecilic particularity of one’s immediate existence. This sounds to me like a post hoc ergo propter hoc justification of violence but it remains Žižek’s guiding question. This is nothing but a strict onto-thanatotheology of state terror.

The logic of the purity of revolutionary virtue is quite dizzying here. those who laud it as the present state of theory and those even foolish enough to oppose it to something like deconstruction. which would interrupt the depoliticization of today’s middleclass. Thus. the revolution against biopolitical administration returns to a familiar model based upon a revolutionary avant-garde of contemporary Jacobins who will act on behalf of the people to achieve what democracy cannot achieve because it is compromised by the sovereignty of the state. those who would associate themselves with it. His answer is to accord terror the virtue of virtue itself. xxiv). let us do what . In other words. However. In this sense. which regulates elections that reduce the will of the people to a ‘mechanical collection of individuals’. for example. as the defender of these universal axioms. Rather the ‘truly radical’ stance for Žižek would be to break with ‘the biopolitics of fear’ that is the current status quo through ‘a politics based on a set of universal axioms’ (Žižek 2007. non-existing subject of the revolution? As I said. Passing through Kant once more he summons up the categorical imperative as the injunction by which one should subject oneself to the revolutionary will but at the same time it would be un-revolutionary to seek a guarantee of what the general will might actually be because this would be. and in complete contradiction to his own argument. confusingly. as Danton defined it the Jacobin terror was not divine violence at all but a ‘state terror’ as a pre-emptive action ‘whose true aim was not to seek revenge against the enemies but to prevent the direct “divine” violence of the sans-culottes. say. to subject oneself to the big Other: the revolution will not be authorised by a democratic plebiscite. allow me to point to a few implications of all of this for Žižek’s position. of the revolutionary with the guillotine at hand and the virtue of the transcendental. xxvi) that should be pursued regardless of the general will. For Žižek the opposite (as we have seen he is keen on oppositional thinking) of biopolitical administration is the dictatorship of the proletariat. is truly virtuous and the use of terror is justified because it is a virtuous use of violence. non-real.142 Martin McQuillan of universality look like? How are we to reinvent the Jacobin terror?’ (Žižek 2007. which merely seeks to sustain its way of life. of the people themselves. you would think that this did not need deconstructing at this particular moment in history and indeed I will draw this trawl through Žižek’s essay to a close presently rather than waste any more of your time with it. the revolutionary radical. which when presented with revolutionary truth will realise its error. as Žižek admits twenty-nine pages into his essay. How can one distinguish between the personal interests and economic interests. Thus.

By such a logic. what am I saying! He is presumed to be so until he has been tried.Extra Time and the Death Penalties 143 the people demand us to do so that they will not do it themselves’ (Žižek 2007. if Louis can still be put on trial. Even though in so doing the revolutionary authorities immediately reinstate a model of sovereignty effectively unchanged and merely passed from the King to the Committee of Public Safety or even to the people. By this reckoning. it is synonymous with politics itself. then he can be acquitted. what becomes of the revolution? (Žižek 2007. Žižek quotes Robespierre: Proposing to put Louis on trial. xxx) This is to say. However. rather than naming this as a pre-emptive violence of revenge. by which the purity of divine violence can be mediated and represented by a presumptive virtuous avant-garde. In fact. both corrupting the revolution and auto-immunising itself against/for future revolution. for it means putting the revolution itself in contention. Žižek has long since abandoned the divine violence of the mob and has now moved on to the straight-forward justification of state terror. The definition of divine violence is now becoming somewhat over-stretched. the American military forces in Iraq were quite right then to execute Sadam Hussein as a symbol of an illegitimate regime swept away by the American army acting on behalf of the Iraqi people so that they would not have to do it themselves. all state violence from the Burmese generals to Serbian nationalism is justifiable. xxx) he quips. he may be innocent. xxix). in whatever way that could be done. that it is quite right for the revolution to guillotine the king because it is so revolutionary that according to its criteria all previous historical legal processes were illegitimate and the king (not as a person but as a virtual subject) should be put to death because his continued existence in itself places the new legal authority of the revolution into contestation. ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ is another name for the violence of the democratic explosion itself’ (Žižek 2007. He goes on to justify the execution of Louis XVI as a usurper of the general will (unlike the revolutionary avant-garde). would be to regress towards royal and constitutional despotism. it is a counterrevolutionary idea. this is what Žižek calls ‘democracy’ because in so far as it intensifies the antagonism against the status quo. if Louis can be presumed innocent. ‘the more “authentic” . arguing that he should not be accorded a trial by a revolutionary court because such a trial would de facto legitimise the rule of the king as a legal entity. But if Louis is acquitted. A model of sovereignty that then leaves the new authority open to exactly the same critique of usurpation by a transcendental revolutionary subject which has still to arrive.

. (Žižek 2007. the “informer” who denounces the culprits to the authorities’ (Žižek 2007. xxxix) Political violence is fine as long as it’s virtuous! Are you serious?! What sort of pathology is this? One should be suspicious of the mobilization of virtue not only because it is a historically gendered and Euro-centric term but because it is impossible to defend an idea of the purity of virtue in the face of its exercise in the real world by real un-virtuous individuals. Žižek cites the example of the whistleblowers at Enron here. For those who would be wary of Robespierre’s sincerity and virtue.144 Martin McQuillan the rebellion is. the more “terrorist” is its institutionalization’ (Žižek 2007. The logic is inexorable and endless. xxxvii). as was clear to Robespierre. not under the sincere Muslim fundamentalists ready to fully commit themselves to their projects . etc. Žižek ends his by now almost openly contradictory argument with a final swipe at the forces of biopolitics by reminding us in passing of another form of present day terror. says Žižek. . etc. going on to salute Robespierre’s attempts to rewrite the calendar and the invention of the religion of the Supreme Being as radically revolutionary positions and not the foundational pantomime of inaugural state violence. He does quote Badiou’s Logiques des Mondes with approval (again another period of extra time would be required to respond adequately to this book although it and its reception are part of this wider tendency of Theological-Maoism that concerns me here5 ) as another theoretical reinvention of terror as the ‘ruthless will to crush the enemy of the people’ to the point that. but what insane logic of equivalence and calculation is at work here when ethically-informed citizens who report financial crimes to market regulators (surely the very agents of biopolitical administration) are likened to the terror of the cultural revolution? The informer is of course virtuous and does not care if they are informed on in turn etc. Žižek does not say what he thinks of the Khmer Rogue’s imitation of these Jacobin policies. as a combination of terror and trust in the people. a revolution ‘is just a noisy crime that destroys another crime’. without which. he writes: Happy we who live under cynical public-opinion manipulators. the reactivation of one of the figures of all egalitarian revolutionary terror. combining terror with what he calls after Badiou ‘trust in the people’. xxv) he notes. what better proof of the ethico-political misery of our epoch whose ultimate mobilizing motif is the mistrust of virtue! Should we not affirm against such opportunist realism the simple faith in the eternal Idea of freedom which persists through all defeats. ‘One should not be afraid to assert. .

‘to kill a man is not to defend a doctrine. It’s as if great swathes of human experience had never happened. . but to kill a man’. He states in the text ‘Homo Sacer as the object of the Discourse of the University’ published in the New York Times in 2003 that ‘today’s growing rejection of death penalty’ is sustained by a ‘hidden “biopolitics” . and is the consequence of the combination of biopolitical administration and a postmodern ‘respect for the vulnerable Other brought to extreme. quite logically. . psychological. ideological. defending it against the threat of transcendent powers which parasitize on it’. As the Spanish theologian and physician Michael Servetus first said in the sixteenth century.. the notion that the ultimate goal of our lives is life itself. however. since (violently putting another human being to) death is. etc. unsafe sex and so on. individuals are not responsible for the crimes they commit. Nowhere is the complicity of these two levels clearer as in the case of the opposition to the death penalty – no wonder. given that Žižek seems to think along with Robespierre that atheism is aristocratic]. the abolition of the death penalty is merely an ideological ruse to defeat the inexhaustible will of the people who otherwise would be lined up to sacrifice their mere dust for the revolutionary cause. he notes: What the two poles share is precisely the underlying refusal of any higher Causes [such as the truth of the revolutionary will. Such liberalism for Žižek is merely the administration of bare life. the obverse of this thesis not that those who control the circumstances control the people? (Žižek 2003) Thus. The two positions being one and the same thing for Žižek. the politics of the administration of life. is the abolition of death penalty not part of a certain ‘biopolitics’ which considers crime as the result of social. To put it in Foucauldian terms. the ultimate traumatic point of biopolitics. constantly exposed to a multitude of potential “harassments”’. un-healthy food. of the attitude of narcissistic subjectivity which experiences itself as vulnerable. or ‘I was behaving pathologically’ are surely not defences for either suicide bombing or capital punishment! It’s as if deconstruction never happened. drugs. so they should not be punished? Is. When one thinks of all the scrupulous and careful arguments that Derrida made about the deconstruction of phallogocentrism and its non-conceptual orders in the West and the frequent public and institutional pillorying . This world of biopolitics leads to the prohibition against smoking.Extra Time and the Death Penalties 145 ‘I believed in what I was doing’. circumstances: the notion of the morally/legally responsible subject is an ideological fiction whose function is to cover up the network of power relations. the theological reference here is key. Those who assert the “sacredness of life”.

151). the question of the principle of reason. their incommensurability. around this calculation of an immeasurable equivalence between crime and punishment. bestiality – to produce a principle of equivalence. . to my knowledge. as the ‘principle of reason. it is also. has any philosopher. in my view. . of the interpretation of reason. on sex crimes – pederasty. . He calls this ‘the most significant and the most stupefying – also the most stupefied – fact about the history of Western philosophy’. as a question held in store by philosophy. ‘never. 145–6).146 Martin McQuillan he took for doing so. never has any philosophy as such contested the legitimacy of the death penalty’ (Derrida 2004. Derrida wishes to attend to the death . The question of the death penalty is not only that of the political onto-theology of sovereignty. However. This is a gesture of Derrida’s late writing that one might want to hold up to inspection. And here I get to the crux of the matter. Žižek’s or Obama’s a strict accounting attempts to remove rationality from the exercise of the death penalty and to submit it to a predetermined calculation or machinic and irresponsible computation. one can only wonder at how this sort of thing can pass unremarked upon in The New York Times and celebrated as the wellspring of Theory today. Derrida says of Kant’s support of capital punishment: ‘Kant [in ‘The Metaphysics of Morals’] fails. rape. Derrida suggests in the book with Elizabeth Roudinesco. may be a question now put to philosophy by Derrida that philosophy as such or philosophy on its own cannot answer. on questions that are moreover often sexual. an impossible evaluation of the debt . In this respect Slavoj Žižek and Barack Obama sing from the same hymn-sheet. This is not to say that no philosopher as a citizen or even as a writer or public person has never contested the death penalty or taken account of the animal. . In an argument such as Kant’s. and therefore of calculability . The language used here is most precise and I am puzzled by the insistence on the philosophical as a privileged mode of writing even though the death penalty. This is a sum that Žižek and Obama seem quite comfortable with doing in their heads. We see it in the text on the autobiographical animal when he says that no philosopher as a philosopher has ever taken account of the animal. The reason it is allowed to pass in normative discourse is that it shares with that journalism and political culture an assurance around the question of a measurable calculation and of equivalence that has always been at the heart of the question of the justification of capital punishment.’ and of this latter as the principle of calculability’ (Derrida 2004. in his or her own strictly and systematically philosophical discourse. as a philosopher.

limited abolitionist discourse.’ we will be confined to a precarious. provisional in relation to a particular context. as an end in himself. and if it were not commanded by a jus talonis to be reinterpreted. in its essence. without concern for interest. Rather. 148). without socio-political interest of any kind. 149–50) That is to say. in the rigour of the concept. As long as the flaws of such a line of argument are not made to appear from inside. of the sort Žižek attempts to erect here around Kant (Kant himself being a proponent of the death penalty). understand. also deconstructible. without any concern for utility. as long as a discourse of the Kantian or Hegelian type. if you prefer’ (Derrida 2004. even call for the punishment. without reference to the least utility. the guilty party should acknowledge the reason of the sentence. Kant believes that he recognizes in the ‘categorical imperative’ an a priori idea of pure reason in criminal law that would not be possible if the death penalty were not inscribed within it. The categorical imperative appeals to the human person. situated within a logic of means and ends. approve. as a citizen and a rational subject. he would have to acknowledge the juridical reason that gets the better of him [a raison de lui] and leads him to condemn himself to death. is not ‘deconstructed. that for Derrida it would not be enough to cite the problematic history of revolutionary terror to counter Žižek’s defence of the death penalty as principled or virtuous. should. falling short of strict juridical rationality. that in rendering a properly philosophical and deconstructed (and so more-than-philosophical) defence of the abolitionist position it will be possible to strip the death penalty of its onto-theological scaffold. which claims to justify the death penalty in a principled way. To follow this consequence . says Derrida: requires that the guilty party be punished because he is punishable. conditioned by empirical facts and. seems to me greatly perfectible. it would be necessary to demonstrate its internal incoherence as an argument by suggesting that in relation to the distinction between self-punishment [peona naturalis] and hetero-punishment [poena forensis] in Kant the guilty party. including the ultimate penalty (as Žižek’s Robespierre and Mao do): This transforms all institutional and rational punishment coming from outside (forensis) into automatic and autonomous punishment or into the indiscernible confines of interior punishment (poena naturalis). in its present state. That is to say.Extra Time and the Death Penalties 147 penalty because as he puts it ‘the abolitionist discourse. ‘This dignity’. philosophically and politically fragile. (Derrida 2004. in his ‘dignity’ (Würde).

nothing but self-execution. Badiou and the reception of recent translations of Carl Schmidt is coalescing around the invention of a new Maoist onto-theology. (Derrida 2004. 150) The point for Derrida is not that this is simply suicide or conversely murder in any easy sense but that the undoing of this logic of the inside/outside and demonstrating the permeability and undecidability of Kant’s borders offer no easy re-instatement of other reassuring oppositional distinctions of the sort we find in Žižek’s argument between the kamikaze and the king. I would like to say no to the terror of an ultimately non-revolutionary and reactionary type that opposes those democracies in the name of a medieval theo-thanatology. There would be. and it would seem that not only has no philosopher as a philosopher ever contested the legitimacy of the death penalty but that philosophy continues in certain forms to find the resources to defend the death penalty. declares. for the autonomy of juridical reason. It is as if the guilty party committed suicide. in the face of the intolerable stupidity and cruelty of Žižek’s text this deconstruction may be a moot point. the leader of the impounded chickens. I would like to say no to any terror that opposes itself to those democracies as the presumptive avant-garde of a certain revolutionary violence. yet. The execution would be like a sui-cide. I am not. the guilty party would symbolically execute the verdict himself. I would like to say no to the so-called war on terror that justifies depoliticisations and . Agamben. Faced with a choice between compliance with biopolitical administration or sublimation to the will of revolutionary terror. I am reminded of the line from Nick Park’s Chicken Run when Ginger. and without further reading.148 Martin McQuillan to the end. even to make a virtue of it. However. There would be much to say here about this new Political Theology which in the texts of Žižek. accusing Agamben and Badiou of producing the singular nonsense that Žižek does in this essay but I am putting down a marker that would wish to contest this newly arisen violent tone (virtual or actual) in contemporary so-called continental philosophy. ‘we will die free chickens or die trying [to escape]’ and a dissident voice from the multitude replies ‘are they the only choices?’ I would like to say no to the terror that polices the vital force of political dissent in western democracies. making a point of dismissing Derrida and the deconstructive legacy (this could be demonstrated in several precise ways in relation to the Žižek text discussed above) in a fashion that demonstrates simultaneously both an elementary misunderstanding of the text of Derrida and an abyssal unacknowledged debt to his writing.

Hélène (forthcoming). I want to say no to all of these things firstly because it is my democratic right to do so. then Love has no place in the world. or. Jeff Fort. Edinburgh: Canongate Press. history as progress requires us to imagine the possibility of revolutions without blood and of the perfectibility in principle of public institutions and of democratic structures. London: Verso. 1/1. Slavoj (2007). the “Divine Violence” of Terror’. Jean-Luc Godard is right when in response to the question ‘why don’t humane people start revolutions?’ he offers ‘humane people don’t start revolutions they start libraries and grave yards’.lacan. Jacques (2005). trans. Jacques and Elizabeth Roudinesco (2004). trans. ‘Death Penalties’. I want to say no to all of these things. I think. This text was first presented at the inaugural ‘Derrida Today’ conference. Derrida. ‘Robespierre. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. On the contrary. References Cixous. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. . The Audacity of Hope. . Barack (2008). Notes 1. when presented with the emergence of a new onto-thanato-theology such as this. Žižek. Eric Prenowitz. . Virtue and Terror (Revolutions): Maximilien Robespierre.Extra Time and the Death Penalties 149 suppressions of dissent across the globe. I wish to remain on the side of life and this. Slavoj (2003). Perhaps. it may be so. Stanford: Stanford University Press. I do not need a Jacobin vanguard to decide this for me. secondly. I do not accept the premise that the new Political Theology seems to treat so easily that the long march of history demands blood. in For What Rogues: Two Essays on Reason. A version can be found at www. ‘Homo Sacer as the object of the Discourse of the University’. 25 September 2003.6 I want to say as Father Gabrielle does in Robert Bolt’s screenplay of The Mission that ‘If might is right. 119–30.htm Žižek. pp. McQuillan. The New York Times. but I don’t have the strength to live in a world like that’.7 I want to say all of this because as with Cixous. is what it might mean to be for Derrida Today. Martin (2008). Sydney July 2008. The Book I Do Not Write. organized by Nicole Anderson and Nick Mansfield – my thanks and endless debt to them. It may be so. ed. because they are all un-deconstructed onto-theologies of the closed book that open themselves onto no future other than the pre-ordained ends their bloody means will have latterly justified. Macquarie University. Stanford: Stanford University Press. A Dialogue. Derrida. Obama. ‘Is Deconstruction Really a Social Science?’ Derrida Today.

June 2007. The Mission. The University of Chicago Press. 2001). The Logic of Worlds: Being and Event II. trans. See for example J. Notre Musique (Avventura Films. ‘The Deaths of Roland Barthes’ in The Work of Mourning. McQuillan et al and the book first published by Slavoj Žižek as The Fright of Real Tears: Krzystof Kieslowski Between Theory and Post Theory (London: BFI Publishing. by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Roland Joffé (Warner Brothers. On this point see the difference between Post-Theory: New Directions in Criticism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.150 Martin McQuillan 2. 6. Hillis Miller’s account of Derrida’s institutional commitments in “‘Don’t Count Me In”: Derrida’s Refraining’. ed. 2004). 279 –94. Robert Bolt. 3. 2009). director and writer. dir. 1999) ed. 4. 7.3366/E1754850009000487 . Issue 2. pp. and trans. 5. See Jacques Derrida (2001). Volume 21. DOI: 10. Alberto Toscano (London: Verso. screenplay. M. See Alain Badiou. Jean-Luc Godard. 1986). Textual Practice.

By articulating the distinctions that Derrida elides. and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. he repeats a gesture that he himself has insightfully criticized in other philosophers. and they knew that they were naked. human faultiness becomes a sign of our exclusive capacity for self-consciousness. such as Levinas. He describes himself standing naked and ashamed before the little female cat who follows him into the bathroom every morning and regards him with a steady . freedom and awareness of mortality. Throughout ‘L’Animal’. In so doing. —Derrida 2002. but also continues Derrida’s project. In the absence of any absolute criterion for distinguishing between humans and other animals. While Derrida’s argument is compelling. Thinking perhaps begins there. Derrida analyzes the paradoxical use of discourses on shame and original sin to justify the human domination of other animals.’ and between the biblical figures of Ish and Adam. —Genesis 3:7 In ‘L’Animal que donc je suis’. I suggest a way of reading Genesis which avoids this difficulty. he neglects to explore the connection between the human domination of animals and the male domination of women. Derrida equivocates between ‘man’ and ‘humanity. 397 Then the eyes of both were opened. Animals and Women Lisa Guenther Abstract In ‘L’Animal que donc je suis’. * The animal looks at us. Derrida begins his meditation on animals with a playful recapitulation of the Fall. and we are naked before it.Who Follows Whom? Derrida.

and perhaps even disentangling. the relation between the human domination of animals and men’s domination of women. language. Derrida repeats a gesture that he has insightfully criticized in other philosophers. without an explicit awareness of this nakedness. reason and so forth. and no absolute separation between humans and other animals.2 This is not to say that we cannot identify meaningful differences. or even the capacity to feel shame and the desire to cover one’s nakedness – there is ultimately no exclusive property of the human. despite centuries of philosophical reflection on the properties that separate us from other animals – reason.152 Lisa Guenther but inscrutable gaze. we need to reflect on the relation between Derrida’s encounter with his cat and the biblical narrative upon which it plays. Derrida’s analysis of shame as both a sign of vulnerable exposure and a provocation to exploit the vulnerability of others. Throughout ‘L’Animal.1 Derrida suggests that part of what makes him ashamed before the animal is the feeling that. Precisely because they are naked without knowing it. but rather that there is no definitive difference between humans and all other animals. Derrida makes this argument not by invoking empirical evidence of animal language. but rather to their proper way of being. In order to understand the full implications of shame before the animal. he is unable to follow the movement of his own analysis through the narrative of original sin towards a differentlystructured relation between humans and other animals. because it is merely naked. ‘At least that is what is thought’ (Derrida . but by deconstructing the opposition between naked and clothed. 373. makes an important contribution to feminist critiques of the links between anthropocentrism and phallocentrism. And yet. their nakedness does not refer to a scandalous or improper lack of clothing. I argue that Derrida flirts with the narrative of original sin without fully interrogating its resources for articulating. politics. 374). other animals are not naked in the same sense as human beings. and on the shame that both expresses this nakedness and disavows it. and between women and men. As a result. What is there to be ashamed of before a cat who seems impervious to shame. oblivious to the distinction between naked and clothed? Derrida suggests that he is both ‘[a]shamed of being as naked as an animal’ and also ‘ashamed for being ashamed’ before this shameless animal (Derrida 2002. often with violent consequences for the animals who remind us of our own animality. such as Levinas and Heidegger. In what follows. in other words. is not naked because it is naked’ (Derrida 2002. By conflating men in particular with humanity in general. ‘The animal. therefore. 372).’ Derrida reflects on the significance of nakedness before the animal.

Derrida locates a ‘place of intersection’ between the general singularity of the ‘I’ and the general singularity of ‘the animal. 373). 374). Animals and Women 153 2002. and he claims that this delay ‘has only just begun doing us harm in the area of the science of good and evil’ (Derrida 2002. For example: ‘In principle. or following it in order to track it down like a hunter (Derrida 2002. given our past and current understandings of the human-animal relation. if for different reasons – man is not naked even when he is naked. for example. . no animal has ever thought to clothe itself’ (Derrida 2002. 374). is following the animal? For the most part in ‘L’Animal que donc je suis.’ Derrida analyzes the relation between man and animal as if women were simply a part of man in general. which could be translated as either ‘The animal that therefore I am’ (as if I were brought back to my own animality. condemn us to always either following the animal or insisting that it follow us? Can I be the animal that I follow? Can I catch up with the animal that I am? These questions are complicated by the ambiguous position of woman in relation to both ‘man’ and animal.Who Follows Whom? Derrida. raising the question of whether ‘being’ an animal and ‘following’ the animal can ever coincide. Derrida identifies a temporal delay or contretemps between the shameful nudity of man and the shameless nudity of the animal. But at other points in the text. would only be a man to the extent that he was able to be naked. to know himself to be ashamed because he is no longer naked’ (Derrida 2002. and so – like the other animals. with the exception of man. . Derrida argues that this awareness turns on a feeling of shame which already covers the human body with cultural techniques that modify nakedness and mediate it in innumerable ways. This delay is expressed in the ambiguous title of the essay. 374). and yet. he uses the same term homme to refer to male human beings in particular. or ‘The animal that therefore I follow’ (as if I were following the animal on an evolutionary timeline. 380)). through the encounter with a cat).’ arguing that both terms gather a multiplicity under a . When is a woman also part of ‘man’? Only when she. For example: ‘[W]hy would a man be both more and less modest than a woman?’ (405). homme is presumably identified with humanité. or what distinguishes us from other animals. Human beings would seem to be distinctively aware of their nakedness. Later in the text. Here. or following in obedience and submission. that is to say to be ashamed. Does not the very attempt to define what is special about the human. ‘Man . The double meaning of ‘je suis’ functions more like a split in this context. Man only becomes aware of his nakedness at the moment when he feels the need for clothing that shame provokes. too.

In Genesis 1.5 But however one reads it. and ‘he’ is created in the plural. in many ways. and the implications of this difference for women. or some mixture of these. the Adam of Genesis 1 cannot be simply identified with an exclusively male human being. In this narrative. which tries to sort out whether the name ‘Adam’ in this verse refers to a single man. male and female he created them. but the difference between these two narratives. and finally humanity [ha-adam]. Ha-adam. 113) in order to emphasise the non-specificity of this first creature and its relation to the dust of the earth (ha-adamah) from which it was created. animals. 417–18). as a ‘they’ which is both male and female.4 Some commentators translate ‘Adam’ as ‘earth creature’ (Trible 1978. God grants this ambiguous earth creature(s) dominion over all the animals. then creating plants. and fill the earth and subdue it. both Jewish and Christian. is striking. But where does this leave the general singularity of ‘man. nor the responsibilities that may be involved with this dominion. the creation of humanity is complicated by an ambiguity between the singular and the plural. emphasis added). And God blessed them. separating light from darkness and the land from the sea. or an androgynous person. ‘Be fruitful and multiply. or ‘the adam’ is created last after all the other animals. The Genesis of Sexual Difference Genesis 1 and 2 tell and retell the story of creation. inaugurates the ‘science of good and evil’: the biblical text of Genesis.’ and the sexual difference which it both articulates and obscures? In order to understand the position of the woman in relation to ‘man’ and animal – and in order to understand why Derrida grasps the man/animal distinction in terms of a contretemps or specifically temporal delay – we must read his essay alongside a text that.3 There is a long history of biblical commentary. God creates the heavens and the earth. . celestial bodies. and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth’ (Gen 1:27–8. in the image of God he created him.154 Lisa Guenther single heading (Derrida 2002. but does not specify what this dominion entails. and God said to them. or an originary male-female couple. or all of humanity. and also between the neutral human being and the sexual specification of man and woman: So God created man [ha-adam] in his own image. 80) or even ‘clod’ (Bal 1987.

Who Follows Whom? Derrida, Animals and Women


In Genesis 2, the story of creation is told again in a completely different way. This time, ha-adam is created before the other animals, formed from the dust of the ground and placed in the garden of Eden as a kind of groundskeeper. Ha-adam – still alone – is commanded not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge; but immediately after giving this command, God says, ‘It is not good that the man [ha-adam] should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’ (Gen 2:18). God creates all the other animals of the world, bringing them one by one to be named by Adam; but no fit helper is found among them. Finally, God puts Adam to sleep and removes a rib, fashioning another creature out of it. Upon waking, Adam says: This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman [Ishah], because she was taken out of Man [Ish]. (Gen 2:23) The word Ish does not appear in the bible until a specifically female human being has been created. In other words, ha-adam (translated in most English versions simply as ‘the man’) identifies itself as Ish, or specifically male, only after identifying this new creature as Ishah, or specifically woman.6 Until the creation of Ishah, there is no mention of a specifically male human being or Ish in the Bible. Therefore, Adam is not simply identical to Ish, even if after the creation of Ishah, the previously ambiguous term Adam or ha-adam will come to refer to the male human exclusively, and be attached to him as a proper name. But until the duality of male and female exist, it makes no sense to specify the ‘human’ or ha-adam as male.7 This is not to say that Adam is sexually neutral, but whatever sexuality Adam has at that point cannot be determined as simple maleness. Who follows whom on this reading of Genesis 2:23? On one hand, Ish follows Ishah, since he can only be distinguished as a sexuallyspecific human being in response to a sexually-different other. But, on the other hand, the text tells us that the new creature ‘shall be called Ishah because she was taken out of Ish’ – not because she was taken out of Adam or ha-adam. The implication seems to be that the creation of a sexually-different human being does not leave the past untouched; rather, this new differentiation is projected back onto the pre-differentiated earth creature, such that ha-adam becomes in retrospect – but only in retrospect, and only by his own account, not by God’s decree – a proto-Ish. According to the human being who finds

156 Lisa Guenther
himself specified as male by the creation of a female, Adam will have been Ish; humanity will have been prototypically male; the woman will have followed the man. This structure of the future anterior suggests that, even if man is posited as an earlier and more originary version of humanity than woman, he acquires this status only at the price of never quite coinciding with himself as such. Man becomes himself only when he catches up with the creature who ‘shall be called’ woman, the creature who will have granted him both his specificity as a male (by coming before him) and his identification with humanity in general (by coming after him and from him). In order to be first, man must follow woman relentlessly, hunting her down in a future that never quite arrives; his desire to be first puts him in second place, lagging forever behind the woman who would guarantee his priority. The implications of this temporal delay or contretemps between man and woman, or between man and his own humanity, for the contretemps between human and animal, are rich and complex. And yet, in his reading of Genesis in ‘L’Animal,’ Derrida treats ha-adam as a specifically male human being, in which case he and he alone would have named the animals, dominating them and incurring whatever faults may follow from this naming. Derrida claims (without a biblical proof text) that it is not only Adam or the sexually ambiguous earth-creature who names the animals, but ‘also Ish preceding Ishah, man before woman’ (Derrida 2002, 384). He repeats this several times, identifying Ish with Adam: ‘[God] lets Adam, he lets man, man alone, Ish without Ishah, the woman, freely call out the names’ (385); ‘Ish all alone, Ish still without woman, was going to get the upper hand with respect to the animals’ (386). But as we have seen, Ish is not simply prior to Ishah; Ish also follows Ishah, both of whom follow the earth creature (Adam, or ha-adam) out of which two distinct, sexually-specific human beings were created. Throughout ‘L’Animal,’ Derrida equivocates the distinction between Adam and Ish. For example, he writes that ‘Adam, alias Ish, called out the animals’ names’ (390, emphasis added), and he refers to ‘the freedom accorded Adam or Ish to name the animals’ (410, emphasis added). Only once does Derrida specify ‘the animality named by Adam’ without immediately appending ‘Ish’ to Adam, and this is with reference to Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the muteness and ‘deep sadness’ of animals who receive their names in passivity and silence, as if it were a death sentence (Derrida 2002, 388–9). And yet, the only context where it would be accurate and appropriate to say that ‘man alone, Ish without Ishah’ names another creature, is when Adam/Ish names the woman Ishah (Gen.2:23), then renames her Eve upon being cast out of Eden

Who Follows Whom? Derrida, Animals and Women


(Gen. 3:20). Woman is the only creature named by ‘Ish preceding Ishah’ or ‘Ish all alone;’ every other animal is named by the ambiguous earth creature, Adam, prior to the emergence of Ish as a distinctively male human being. This naming (and renaming) of the woman enables man to position himself as the one who will have named all of the animals by himself – as the one who follows them, hunts them, and issues their death sentence.8 Woman is both the first and the last creature to receive her name – twice – from Ish alone. And yet, the ‘deep sadness’ of this woman, and her ambiguous position between human and animal, remains silent in Derrida’s text. Or does it? Derrida marks the proximity between woman and animal, albeit fleetingly, in a number of places. For example, in his assessment of writers on animality, Derrida places more of the blame for ignoring the address of animals on men than on women; he contrasts ‘all those males but not all those females’ who deny being seen by the animal, with those ‘men and women who admit taking upon themselves the address of the animal’ (Derrida 2002, 382, 383; emphasis added). Derrida seems to suggest that women are more open to animals, closer to their own animality, not quite as fallen as men. This point is emphasized by the femaleness of his little pussycat, and the femaleness of the hybrid beast, Chimera, the latter of which becomes his privileged example of the animot (or animal-word) which is meant to deconstruct the opposition between human and animal, writing and nature (413–15). And yet, what may first have seemed like a compliment, as if women were more advanced in their relation to animals, could also appear like a trap, putting women on the side of the animals hunted by man. In order to follow the traces of woman’s ambiguous effacement from the drama of man and animal, we must situate Derrida’s reading of Genesis in ‘L’Animal que donc je suis’ in relation to an earlier reading of the same text.

Thinking with Derrida, against Derrida
Let’s return briefly to Genesis 1:27, and to the humanity which is created in the image of God as both singular and plural, both male and female. There is an inherent ambiguity in this verse, which could be approached in several different ways. One could emphasise the simultaneous creation of male and female forms of humanity, as many feminist readers have done, or one could emphasise the slight syncopation between ‘him’ and ‘them,’ between a single male and a plurality of male and female human beings. On the latter reading, God creates both men and women in his

father before father/mother. unsexed humanity. but rather that the sexual specificity of the female follows the creation of a more originary.’ Levinas conflates the ambiguous earth-creature Adam with the male Ish. a sexual difference. like Derrida in ‘L’Animal. but with a certain priority of the singular man. In ‘At This Very Moment in This Work Here I Am. son before son/daughter. ‘And God Created Woman. humanity is simultaneously marked as pre-eminently masculine: ‘he before he/she. There must be some sameness common to these others: woman has been chosen above man but has come after him: the very femininity of woman consists in this initial afterwards [après-coup]. 432) Paradoxically.’ arguing that the sexual specificity of woman or Ishah comes ‘later’ than her existence as part of a generic. sexually unmarked humanity. and to prevent the marks of sexual difference from prescribing different treatment for different kinds of people. this approach reads Genesis 1:27 through the lens of the creation story told in Genesis 2. . that precisely because woman was taken from the side of ha-adam. He argues that. but rather that neither can be said to follow the other without producing hermeneutic incoherence. with Ishah coming first in the genesis of sexual difference. a closer affinity between the collective humanity of ha-adam and the male whose proper name is later specified as Adam. And yet. there is a certain pre-eminence of woman. Levinas’ argument is not that the female follows the male. it makes just as much sense to argue that the masculine specificity of Ish follows after the creation of Ishah. My point is not that woman really did come first. but in order to secure the equality of all human beings. Levinas insists on a certain priority of the masculine not in order to privilege men over women (or at least. But as we have seen in our reading of Genesis 1 and 2. and Ish following (almost) immediately after. etc. and consequently. How can one mark as . not avowedly). (Cited in Derrida 1991a. a woman arrived later and qua woman as an appendix to the human. wherever this subordination is made.158 Lisa Guenther own image. .’ Derrida criticizes the logic with which Levinas attempts to secure universal equality by subordinating sexual difference to a neutral humanity. a certain pre-eminence of man. claiming for the man ‘a certain pre-eminence’: There had to be a difference that would not compromise equity. In effect. Emmanuel Levinas takes this approach in his Talmudic reading entitled. as if the ambiguous earth creature were always already slightly inclined towards the masculine. Now we understand the lesson [of the Talmud]: Humanity cannot be thought beginning from two entirely different principles.

his text is nevertheless haunted by the excluded feminine. or even foreign. This gesture marks the ‘patrix’ of phallogocentrism in the West: the conflation of humanity in general with the masculine. it is the very genesis of time (Derrida 2002. and Adam (both male and female.. man is in both senses of the word after the animal. Animals and Women 159 masculine the very thing said to be anterior. But precisely by subordinating the specificity of the feminine and consigning sexual difference to second place. the text of Levinas betrays the prior influence of the feminine: ‘Then the Work. This ‘after. Derrida also – perhaps unwittingly – positions .’ created last (385). then where – or when – is woman? What role. placing ‘masculinity in command and at the beginning (the arkhe)’ (Derrida 1982. 434). does woman play in this genesis of time? In the first Genesis narrative. if any.L. While Levinas wants to save ethics by insisting on the neutrality of humanity. the initials of Emmanuel Levinas]’ (Derrida 1991a. Once again. singular and plural) follows. these animals that are older and younger than him. is not in time. Derrida attributes the ‘very genesis of time’ to the contretemps between Ish and the animals: God lets Ish [sic] call the other living beings all on his own. Adam is created first and the other animals follow. Derrida remains continuous with the patriarchal tradition that he critiques in Levinas and others. By repeating Ish’s (and Levinas’s) gesture of conflating humanity with maleness. aspired and inspired by the desire to make She secondary. 73). on his initiative according to the second narrative.Who Follows Whom? Derrida. and yet. later in the text. For example. therefore by She [Elle. a consequence. with Ishah. we run into the question: Who follows whom? Who is being followed. would be dictated. apparently signed by the Pro-Noun He. who both follows after Ishah and also will have preceded her thanks to his own retrospective identification with Adam.’ that determines a sequence. to sexual difference?’ (Derrida 1991a. he simultaneously makes a self-interested.’ By blurring the distinction between Adam and Ish. or a persecution. but in the second narrative. In both cases. 430). The least stable position in this second narrative belongs to Ish. Derrida troubles the distinction between Elle and E. nor is it temporal. 386). ‘the female part of man. unethical gesture. If ‘man’ is after the animal. give them their names in his own name. He follows him. and to what end? Derrida’s critique of Levinas helps to shed light on his own conflation of humanity with the masculine in ‘L’Animal que donc je suis. all the non-human animals are created first. these living things that came into the world before him but were named after him.

reined in by the human word? Or a wild hybrid beast dancing at the limits of language. it is an irreducible living multiplicity of mortals. born of ‘a treacherous woman’ and a giant. destructive . and also seems to hold the promise of a different. Ish still without woman’ (Derrida 2002. this time without shame and without the shame of being ashamed: ‘Ecce Animot. and all the other animals must follow suit. unpredictable.’ If there is a ‘genesis of time’ here. and the condition of his own power.160 Lisa Guenther himself as a man who follows woman only on the condition that she appear to follow him. a germination of the representational logic of domination whereby the one who follows will have come first. as one of the many creatures named by ‘Ish. part goat. look back at the animal who looks at you. will have obediently followed.’ Derrida issues an imperative: Ecce Animot. better relation between woman and men. They will have been named by ‘Ish all alone. 386). The genesis of time would be. Chimera is a monster. a sort of monstrous hybrid. part dragon. She is dangerous. The figure of Chimera both epitomizes the problem I have been tracking throughout this essay. a chimera waiting to be put to death by its Bellerophon’ (Derrida 2002. provoking the human (male?) hunter. All the other animals get caught in this spasm of time whereby the newly-differentiated male identifies himself with humanity in general and so excludes ‘the female part of man’ from the naming process. a hybrid of multiple beasts: part lion. they provide the bookends for a narrative of man’s domination. then perhaps it is not so much attributable to the double sense in which man (alias Ish) follows the animals and hunts or pursues them. Behold the animal-word. waiting to be followed or even killed? Both Derrida’s cat and the Chimera are female. Beyond the Hunter and the Hunted How do we interrupt the time of anthropocentric and patriarchal domination? Towards the end of ‘L’Animal que donc je suis. Neither a species nor a gender nor an individual. but rather to the spasm of time whereby the newly-differentiated Ish – Ish following Ishah – identifies himself with Adam. or even of his emergence. and rather than a double clone or a portmanteau word. non-oppositional relation between humans and other animals – if not quite a different. The lecture which began with the gaze of an animal now ends with the command to behold the animot. already within paradise. and Ishah will have fallen on the side of the animals. 409). But who – or what – is the animot? Another domesticated animal. such that Ishah must follow him.

Bellerophon tames the animal. In his own words.9 Shame. The city is saved. if there is such a thing. and is also hunted down by a man with the help of his tamed animal-brother. Without this critical interruption of sexual difference into discourses on the ends – and beginnings – of ‘man.Who Follows Whom? Derrida. perhaps even monstrous discourse in order to track his way through the logic of the human domination of animals. only goes so far in restraining violence. But he risks getting tangled in his own discourse to the extent that he flirts with the female animot without fully interrogating the relation between the human domination of animals and men’s domination of women. Bellerophon comes to their city in order to destroy it. and to what end? The female animot may seem to follow obediently in the footsteps of her master. disarming him by exposing their bodies and offering themselves to him. Pegasus. the creature whose ambiguous position highlights the impropriety of both man and animal. Derrida would have to face ‘the naked truth. 410). of his or her sexual difference.’ women and animals remain caught within a classic narrative in which the female animot both inspires a discourse on the hybrid animal. Like Derrida in the opening scene of this essay. and rather than attempting to counter his enormous physical strength. but also the female human animal. Derrida would have to face not only the female non-human animal. Bellerophon is put to shame by a group of shameless women who ‘expose themselves in all their nakedness’ to the hunter in a strategy of self-defense (414). To respond well to his own imperative to behold the animot. Animals and Women 161 serpent (Derrida 2002. 378) rather than reducing . would be a version of the ambiguous earth creature whose dominion is characterized not by domination but by a vocation of responsible care. immunized against shameful violence by the shameless self-exposure of women. He needs a hybrid. the women use their own nakedness against him. it seems. but is her obedience also a trap? Derrida identifies (albeit ambivalently) both with the hunter Bellerophon and with Chimera herself: ‘Chimera interests me therefore because chimerical will be my address’ (Derrida 2002. Who follows whom? Who pursues whom. standing ashamed before his shameless female cat. a self-violation designed to stave off greater physical violence. She is followed – hunted and pursued – by Bellerophon. Perhaps the proper companion of the animot. This companion would respond to the other animal in its ‘unsubstitutable singularity’ (Derrida 2002. a figure to whom Derrida admits an ‘old and ambivalent attachment’ (410). 409). and uses him in order to trap and kill Chimera (Hesoid 319). of all their sexual differences’ (418). But in the end. the one who neither hunts nor is hunted.

A creature such as this leaves its trace in ‘L’Animal que donc je suis’ in the figure of the silkworm whom Derrida welcomes ‘on the threshold of sexual difference’ (404). (Derrida 1982. beyond bi-sexuality as well. ‘A Silkworm of One’s Own.162 Lisa Guenther it to a ‘general singular’ like ‘the animal. but whose naked exposure is eventually covered over in shame. beyond the opposition feminine/masculine.’ which concludes with this question: [W]hat if we were to reach. And it appears in ‘Choreographies. 404) In the beginning. far from it. the silkworm is ambiguously-sexed. a sex perhaps but then which one? His bestiary was starting up.’ Derrida marvels at the spinning of its threads [or ‘sons’] or daughters – beyond any sexual difference or rather any duality of the sexes. but also between ‘man’ and animal.10 What better figure for this non-binary sexual difference than the ambiguous earth-creature ha-adam? And what better starting-point for the passage beyond the shame and violence engendered by Christian interpretations of Genesis than a feminist reinterpretation . a ‘predifferential. is an animot whose ambiguity promises to heal the opposition between man and woman. but would be sexual otherwise: beyond the binary difference that governs the decorum of all codes. Derrida remains fascinated by the possibility of a non-dichotomous sexual difference. a sexuality that the child sees clearly. like Chimera. there was the worm which was and was not a sex. which is marked from the beginning – from before the beginning – with a sexual difference that remains irreducible to the mutually-exclusive oppositions of phallocentrism and anthropocentrism. beyond homosexuality and heterosexuality which come to the same thing. 401).’ which effaces the plurality of differences among animals (417). . what if we were to approach here . there was the worm: neither male nor female nor sexless. ‘more originary than the dyad’ (288). . Like the earth creature ha-adam. The silkworm. Citing his own earlier work. or rather a predual sexuality’ (387). prior to the fall or dispersion into opposite sexes. the area of a relationship to the other where the code of sexual marks would no longer be discriminating? The relationship would not be a-sexual. 76) Behold the philosopher’s bestiary. it spins a filament that Derrida compares to both milk and sperm. It appears in ‘Geschlecht.’ in which Derrida argues that Heidegger’s Dasein embodies ‘the other sexual difference’ (1991b. but rather imbued with a sexual difference prior to binary opposition. the child could see it clearly. This promise returns again and again in Derrida’s writings on sexual difference. Ha-adam. In the beginning. (Cited in Derrida 2002. and even beyond any coupling.

Paris: Editions Galilée. trans. Animals and Women 163 which challenges the domination of both women and animals.’ trans. New Yorkand London: Penguin Classics. Carolyn (1990). Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture. Boyarin.’ in A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds. in Zoontologies. Lethal Love: Feminist Literary Readings of Biblical Love Stories. pp. Rachel (1998). Ville. Adler. Jacques and Christie V. both for their own sake and for the sake of the men who ultimately get caught in their own traps? The female animot may seem to follow obediently in the footsteps of her master. Cherchez la Femme: Feminist Critique/Feminine Text. David Wills. Linda S. ed. and Heroes: Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible. Derrida. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Helpmates. (2000). ‘The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow). pp. New York: Columbia University Press. Berkeley. Alan Bass. Kvam. but this obedience is also a strategy for the renewal of embodied difference beyond the oppositions that have hitherto structured them. Barbara Harlow.’ in Nine Talmudic Readings. New York: Jewish Publication Society of America. Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles. David Wills. trans. ed. and Valarie H. Bellis. ‘Geschlecht: Sexual Difference. and the Scientific Revolution. Ken (2006). Annette Arnowicz. Peggy Kamuf. Derrida. Daniel (1995). Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics. Mieke (1987). Jacques (1982). and contests the very genesis of time. ‘And Say the Animal Responded?’ trans.’ in A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds. Merchant. Critical Inquiry 28 (Winter). Derrida. Jacques (2003). Cary Wolfe. Harlots. trans. Kristen E. DIV1&byte=1801 Adams. Stone. . L’animal que donc je suis. 380–402. Works and Days. Jacques (1991b). KY: Westminster/John Knox Press.lib. St. ‘Choreographies. The Sexual Politics of Meat: a Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. Ecology. 405–39. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Jacques (2006). Peggy Kamuf. Levinas. ‘The Garden of Eden and the Heterosexual Contract’ in Bodily Citations: Religion and Judith Butler. ‘And God Created Woman. Alice Ogden (1994). Ziegler (1999). Margins of Philosophy. Schearing. New York: Columbia University Press. Jacques (1991a). pp. http://quod. Louisville.’ Diacritics 12:2 (Summer). ed. Derrida. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Thinking perhaps begins here – where the female human animal interrupts the epoch of man’s domination. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. CA: University of California Press. Hesoid (1973). 66–76. Armour and Susan M. Dorothea Wender.umich. New York: HarperOne. McDonald (1982). Jacques (2002). Ellen T.. The Death of Nature: Women.11 References Bible. Ontological Difference. ‘At This Very Moment in This Work Here I Am. Carol J. New Yorkand London: Continuum. Jacques (1979). Theogony: and.Who Follows Whom? Derrida. Derrida. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. New York: Columbia University Press. trans. Derrida. Emmanuel (1994). Derrida. Bal. Revised Standard Edition. ed. Eve and Adam.

Incidentally. ‘The Precarious Lives of Animals: Butler. so ha-adam (a masculine noun) comes from ha-adamah (feminine). Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 112) rather than ‘androgynous or bisexual. 18). ‘adham is basically androgynous: one creature incorporating two sexes’ (Trible 1999. See also Genesis 5:1–2: ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam. For example. his sociality. ‘Eve and Adam: Genesis 2–3 Reread. ed. see Merchant 1990.’ in Eve and Adam. Mieke Bal calls the Adam in Genesis 1 ‘a sexless creature’ (Bal 1987. 3. however. Eve did not eat the fruit of knowledge. 6. . la personne is a feminine noun. Coetzee. corporeal human beings. one of which is that Adam and Eve were first joined at the back and later separated into two creatures (Maimonides. in Kvam et al 1999. 2. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.’ though the components of this phrase are not synonymous with each other’ (Trible 1978. I thank Murray Johnston and Idit Dobbs-Weinstein for sharing this insight. rather than a single androgynous creature: ‘Ha-adam is not an original unity that is subsequently split apart by sexual division. Kvam. everything (in a nonfinite number of predicates) that is proper to man would derive from this originary fault. first male and then female (see Boyarin 1995. in French. 37–42). and Valarie H. Adams 2000. his historicity. indeed from this default in propriety – and from the imperative [il faut] that finds in it its development and resilience’ (Derrida 2002. and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. Trible. Elsewhere. Phyllis (1978).’ Philosophy Today 52:1. If anything. Kristen E. Philo disambiguates the two creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 by arguing that Genesis 1 refers to the creation of a spiritual. 219). Phyllis (1999). Linda S. 5. From the beginning. his very becomingsubject. non-corporeal ‘idea’ of humanity made in the image of God as neither male nor female but androgynous. God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. For example. his superiority over and subjugation of the animal. / Male and female he created them. Maimonides refers to various explanations of the sages. When God created man. since sexuality is still to be created’ (113). what is proper to man is his lack of propriety: ‘[W]hat is proper to man. To conclude that Adam is a man because ha-adam takes a masculine pronoun is just as unsound as concluding that all persons are women because. Ziegler. For more detailed commentaries on Genesis 1–5.164 Lisa Guenther Taylor. Notes 1. In the feminist literature on Genesis. Instead. 22–40.’ 4. Trible. see Adler 1998. this woman is not named ‘Eve’ until after the expulsion from Eden. 111–125 and Kvam et al 1999. his access to knowledge and technics. the word humankind is synonymous with the phrase ‘male and female. ha-adamah is a feminine noun in Hebrew. male and female. 109–36) and Spurs (1979. and Taylor 2008. Derrida makes a similar argument in ‘The Ends of Man’ (1982. 413). Incidentally. technically. Trible argues that Adam refers to all of humanity. Ishah did. it is the original unity that is at the same time the original differentiation. while Genesis 2 refers to the creation of mortal. and Animal Ethics. 82–93). Phyllis Trible argues that ‘Until the differentiation of female and male (2:21–23). Chloe (2008). 432). he made him in the likeness of God. But we should be wary of drawing any conclusions about the gender of ha-adam as a person from the grammatical gender of the noun. his emergence out of nature. Schearing. all that. when Adam gives her a new name to reflect her fallen status – and so.

sexuality is simultaneous for man and woman. But even before that identification. since the name can be separated from the singular creature to which it refers. ’ when he refers to being ‘faced with a cat of one or the other sex. and he reflects at some length on the parallel between this brotherly relation and the biblical narrative of Cain and Abel (Derrida 2002. Thank you to Ellen Armour. even see me naked’ (378–9). The sexes are interrelated and interdependent. . 379). In other words. I see it as this irreplaceable living being that one day enters my space.3366/E1754850009000499 . Maxime Doyon and Murray Johnston and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Idit Dobbs-Weinstein. but he does not mention Bellerophon’s use of this tamed animal to hunt and kill Chimera. 8. enters this place where it can encounter me.Who Follows Whom? Derrida. see me. ‘[F]rom the moment that [a mortal existence] has a name. . . Phyllis Trible comments: ‘Before this episode the Yahwist has used only the generic term ‘adham. Animals and Women 165 7. of one and the other sex’ (2002. 10. the ‘gift’ of a name issues a death sentence. Or. It signs its potential disappearance’ (Derrida 2002. Derrida acknowledges the taming of Pegasus (who happens to be Bellerophon’s half-brother). The two are neither dichotomies nor duplicates’ (Trible 1999. 410). its name survives it. again with reference to his cat: ‘It is true that I identify it as a male or female cat. Only within the specific creation of woman (‘ishah) occurs the first specific term for man as male (‘ish). 11. No exclusively male reference has appeared. Already. 9. 433). DOI: 10. . and may therefore seem to render this creature superfluous. These passages from Derrida’s earlier work on sexual difference shed light on the moments in ‘L’Animal. 380–1).

A Ghost of a Chance. too long ago. * A postscript – a writing after writing – to begin. for example). be held at all: the ghost in the machine. However. Yet it is demonstrated here that this same framing was already in place from the moment that the principle of destinerrance was first articulated. Drawing on a phenomenology of computer practice. a principle of destinerrance. . Derrida had calculated the future trajectory – and had built the logic of the calculation and of the ‘jet’ words. or as a principle. the question is not one concerning technology. if such a thing is possible: I wrote a letter to Jacques Derrida a number of years ago. after all. as he calls them. the paper argues that there is greater explanatory value to be found in Derrida’s more recent comments on the relative exteriority of the technological apparatus (in Archive Fever and elsewhere). in principle. that in articulating a Postal Principle for the purpose of guaranteeing its failure. whether destinerrance ever held true. as it happens. then. an expression of a truth value from something that can not in fact. into this trajectory – of what I call the ‘fantasy of the disembodied virtualm’ through which users of CMC project themselves into the archive of archives that the internet was bound to become. I do not know if the letter ever reached him. framing an understanding of the human body as partes extra partes. after Derrida. about four years ago. After All Laurie Johnson Abstract Does a Postal Principle. It is argued. Is it rather the case that we must ask. and that a subsequent technical turn in Derrida’s work merely extends a framework already set in place in the earlier work (in The Post Card. hold true for computer mediated communication (CMC)? Perhaps. as a principle? This paper considers the prospect that the Postal Principle was.

before the first response. then. This correspondence had ceased before it began. to whom do I refer? Jacques Derrida? The writings that bear this very name lead us to adopt caution at such a suggestion. The irony was not of course lost. I suggest that the potential for a postal principle to hold true for one form of communication could be established in a relative measure to another form of communication for which it is already assumed to hold true. This fatal necessity was. we must.” that is. pause. already. one is never done being amazed at the lengths to which the work is willing to extend itself and this idea of a postal principle in order to gainsay the final line of Jacques Lacan’s ‘Seminar on “The Purloined Letter”’: ‘what the “purloined letter. I had finally sought to begin a correspondence. 443). to write in this space and in this time. of course. I learned the terrible news that this man to whom I had addressed this letter was gone. As we seek to begin. and despite the ‘palpable proof’ that it was said to have offered of the going astray of the letter. After All 167 At this point. This news produced one certainty: the ‘certain non-response’ to which Derrida refers in his funeral oration for Emmanuel Levinas (Derrida 1996a. namely. it is destined to be errant. the not delivered letter means is that a letter always arrives at its destination’ (cited in Derrida 1987. the reader might suspect that by asking the question. If the letter is destined at all. the . but it is a note of caution that I would prefer to leave held in abeyance. The simple fact remains. 4). not yet. of course. what Derrida was describing in that work as a principle of destinerrance. Only a few short months later. When I observe that I do not know if the letter ever reached him. Did it arrive? I do not know. of a ‘postal principle’ which holds that a letter has no destination. communication that predates the advent of computer mediated communication. The question to which the present paper addresses itself. that after many years of pausing at the prospect of writing to Derrida. yet without wanting to suggest that the answer should be an either/or proposition – either Lacan is the facteur of truth or else Derrida is – is this: does a postal principle hold true for computer mediated communication? The question might presuppose that there is a form of communication for which the postal principle undoubtedly holds true and which is capable of being differentiated from a form of communication that can be called computer mediated. It was sent.A Ghost of a Chance. 66). of such a palpable proof of what Derrida himself had described in The Post Card as the ‘fatal necessity of going astray’ of the letter (Derrida 1987. Despite the anecdote with which this paper begins. the goal must be in the first instance to not get ahead of ourselves. A letter was written. Reading The Post Card over again. In other words.

Surely. I think it would be fair to say that most scholars of CMC would be reluctant to include word processing among the activities more generally covered by their terms of reference. MUDs. focusing for the most part so far on activities related to internet use. First things first. once again lest we get ahead of ourselves. otherwise one may quite rightly assume that I would surely have hit upon this question of a postal principle before now. My principal question – and it is one that may indeed be a question of principle – is simply whether the field of communication now known generally as CMC adheres to a postal principle. the task of developing a phenomenology of internet activity has been undertaken by necessity in a highly fragmentary way. then: what are the forms of communication that we shall be calling ‘computer mediated’? The answer would seem to be self-evident: any communication that uses a computer as the medium for conveying a message: internet relay chats and instant messaging. the computer is used as a substitute for the pen or quill. By computer mediation. Certainly. standardised fonts. Once more. MOOs. Nevertheless.168 Laurie Johnson question of the more general truth of a postal principle will be revisited but not until later in this paper. grappling with sometimes apparently contradictory facets of the internet – questions . all of these. count as CMC. synthetic worlds. Instead. then. and it is within the scope of this larger project that the current speculations are framed. then. in word processing a letter. then. without fear of contradiction. we shall momentarily disregard all off-line communications in which computer-generated documents form a part. now reconfigured accordingly. What of letters written on a word processor? Now we enter a zone of contention. the question. auto-formatting of the letter qua letter. becomes: do the technologies of the internet adhere to a principle of destinerrance? I have been working for a number of years on a phenomenology of computer practices. the figure of Derrida has until now not featured explicitly in this project. To avoid any charge of misrepresenting the field covered in studies of CMC. e-mail. we refer specifically to the enabling technologies of the internet. and so on. Curiously. a quick scan over the journals in the field will show that there is an overabundance of articles on on-line communication but a dearth of studies into word processing or any other form of off-line document production. but the conveyance of the message is still via a postal service? Yet we might ask with just as much conviction whether the processes that are activated in a typical word processing program do not in fact ‘mediate’ the message to some degree: I refer to such functions as the automated spell checker.

allo’ between each sentence. Using Heidegger’s comments on the fundamental nature of technology as a touchstone. and sometimes even in midsentence. histories of the computer workstation and its peripherals. the realm of the word’ (Heidegger 1992. GUI design. in other words. like many among you no doubt. the idea of virtual communities. in accordance. There is no doubt some irony in returning to these two figures most insistently in a project devoted to the study of a recent technological phenomenon. Using Levinas. these two figures have on occasion been crucial for my project in ways that are directly relevant to the question at hand. Heidegger. believed the typewriter to be a loathsome device that ‘tears writing from the essential realm of the hand. VR aids. the begetting of self-awareness. (Derrida 1996a. he seemed at each moment to fear being cut off. experienced a profound loss of ease on the telephone. 7) Nevertheless. i. and so on.e. on the telephone for example. I have argued along the way – and in detail in one unpublished essay – that the individual’s engagement with cyberspace hinges on a fantasy of disembodiment. What I suggest. there is an enjoinder to bypass the constructed fantasy of a breakdown of . to fear the silence or disappearance. as recounted by Derrida during his funeral oration: I cannot speak of the interruption without recalling. we know. the ‘without-response. I have argued that the notion of the ‘face’ towards which ethical responsibility is directed before all else has a crucial role in constructing a workable ethics of CMC. it would be those of Martin Heidegger and Emmanuel Levinas. in order to construct a fantasy of the invisible breakdown of the technology. the anxiety of interruption that I could feel in Emmanuel Levinas when. 81). is that the computer user must bypass the readiness to hand of the mouse.’ of the other whom he tried to call out to and hold on to with an ‘allo. which I call the projection of a ‘virtualm’ onto the technologies with which one is engaged in very real and directly embodied ways.A Ghost of a Chance. Levinas. likewise. which Heidegger posits as the creation of the unfamiliar and. a widespread belief in the disembodied nature of cyberspace. since it is well known that each found at least one not quite so new technology to be quite abhorrent. After All 169 related to open architecture networking. I contend that in the engagement of the user with a graphical user interface. the notion of disinhibition. If two names could be said to have loomed larger than any others in this project to date. and so on – such that the project has rarely provided opportunities to consider the work of any specific thinker in relation to these issues. despite the obvious point that CMC in direct opposition to ‘face-to-face’ communication. keyboard.

in this last passage – sub-ject. the postal principle articulates precisely the same terms but in the negative form: ‘a letter can always not arrive at its destination’ (Derrida 1987. beyond one’s own embodied self. As directly opposed to Lacan’s claim. This brings me to the point at which the question of the postal principle can be raised again. As we have noted. or of sender and receiver. by which I mean the illusion that a computer actually mediates in communications between two or more interlocutors. then. How is this possible. as a principle. and seemingly. This is as much as to say that for the principle to hold true. and tra-jectory – to foreground the directionality. what does any of this have to tell us about the postal principle? What the phenomenology of internet use reveals is the grand illusion of CMC. and more to the point. by extension.170 Laurie Johnson the technology. as a result. like every other. is thus contingent on the irreducibility of an A and a B. 54) and. the verb ‘to arrive’. in other words. beyond the surface projected as my exterior limit’ (Johnson 2007. so to speak. and its destination. While it is true that Derrida rigorously sub-jects these terms to the deep interrogation of a deconstructive manoeuvring throughout The Post Card. what takes place is placing itself. For the postal principle to hold true. fulfilling the most basic requirements of an ethical relation to the Other as it is explained by Levinas. ‘My Chances’ and elsewhere. it remains to be said that for this principle to hold true – this principle of being destined to stray – there must be an ob-ject that strays and a tra-jectory from which it is said to have strayed. I have emphasised the ‘jet’ words. these terminal points between which the letter can be considered to have been distributed. This phenomenon is an ultimately terrifying prospect of an uncanny encounter with oneself – the ghost in the machine – against which one seeks to protect oneself in advance by positing an other that is. by necessity ‘bringing my self forth. it must hold onto the A and B of the sender and receiver. there is no mediation on the pathway toward interlocution. At the fundamental level of the engagement of a user with the computer interface. This is not to say that there is nothing profound taking place: indeed. A divisibility of the mark. as . 444). the formulation of a postal principle directly contradicts the claim by Lacan that a letter will always arrive at its destination. the taking of a place for oneself – one self – seemingly beyond the reach of that which is ready to hand. wholly other. it still requires three objective terms in kind with Lacan’s original formulation: a letter. to paraphrase Derrida in his exchanges with Levinas. ob-ject. all of which takes place under the fantastical illusion that one is communicating with at least one other.

as it also happens – to fall. projection involves a throwing ‘outside and ahead.’ by virtue of the principle that the object will always happen to fall once it is thrown. By reducing pro-jection to the scheme of the jet. It is precisely on this concept of projection that I think the phenomenology of CMC hinges in relation to the question of the postal principle. where the ob-ject ‘happens’ – which is also one of the double meanings of arriver that is invoked in The Post Card. nor any specific course from A to B. respecting the boundary between them (Derrida 1988. for example.A Ghost of a Chance. though. ‘the scheme of the jet again provides the essential mediation’ between inside and outside. mindful that what he sends out will always not arrive at its destination. In ‘My Chances. or chance. assigning a tra-jectory. After All 171 it were. To throw is not haphazard. glossing the key differences between the prefixes ‘pro-’ and ‘tra-’. this is where the calculations that precede the throw are brought to bear. 4) that originates with the hand of the thrower. 25) that which the subject is assumed to hold inside. the ‘directionality’ of the postal principle. Crucially. there is only where the object should fall. then. and it is a directionality that has been calculated to oppose this very term – ‘calculation’ – here. yet it arrives there by having been sent along a trajectory or course (Derrida 1988. I submit. that is. at this moment in ‘My Chances’ when projection is recognised by Derrida as a movement of ‘throwing outside and ahead of himself’ (Derrida 1988. Rather than a throwing toward. where it should chance to descend from its tra-jectory. This is. except that the . so to speak. of the postal principle. Derrida assures us of this but then adds that the throw does involve releasing an object unto hazard. the ‘jet’ words: the ob-ject is ‘thrown’ and instead of destination there is only the fall. he nevertheless avers that through the concept of projection. Why? Because the level of engagement between user and interface as I have described it above can be said to constitute nothing more or less than what Freud would call a projection.’ Derrida cannot any longer overlook that other jet word so crucial to the Freudian view of the inside and the outside of the human being: pro-jection. in ‘My Chances. an orientation of the throw toward which its jets propel it. Derrida neatly draws our attention away from the changing directionality on which the prefix surely insists.’ Derrida comes to terms with the postal principle in part through this figure of the throw: how can I calculate my chances in this address to you. 26). he asks of his audience. Yet in ‘My Chances. Yet here this sending and this destination are captured by the figure of the throw. In place of the destination.’ implying a movement that has no direction relative to a defined subject or object. as in the trajectory of the object. luck.

we find ourselves doubly outside and ahead of ourselves: the machinery and our embodied relation to it is prosthetic. at that very moment to describe how this project had stalled for seven long years. Yet before On Touching. I think the directionality of the user’s engagement with an interface is doubly ‘pro-’. the reality. and the public or the phenomenal’ (Derrida 1996b. of the archived event. is out of touch with the technologies of CMC. parts without parts. on touching and Jean-Luc Nancy. This is not to say that Derrida.). CMC adheres doubly to the scheme of the ‘pro-’. as they say. but it is also fair to say that it fails in this respect primarily in the matter of directionality.172 Laurie Johnson projection consists of a re-placement of one’s whole self as wholly other. a keyboard. the virtualm. etc. 286). and first of all the limit between the private. there is a specifically prosthetic relation. 17). which is understood here. and to the web. Thus. Throughout the work on touching. This is writing ‘ex-scribed’ – as he describes it at that moment – by this mystic writing pad for the digital age. Reading one of his last works. all the while ‘stored’ on the computer (Derrida 2005. Whereas a postal principle adheres to the scheme of the ‘jet’. outside and ahead on two counts: first. while this ‘fragment’ of a project was left stalled on Derrida’s hard-drive. In truth. out in that place. What will become of this when we will indeed have to remove the couple . the full and effective actuality of the taking-place. to chip. to hard drive. as it were. in which we find an astonishing yet all too brief admission that ‘E-mail is privileged’ by virtue of it being ‘on the way to transforming the entire public and private space of humanity. in the use of the computer to communicate. as always partes extra partes. he was working on Archive Fever. indeed. there is the pro-jection that I have described as being required in order to get past that prosthetic grounding of the body inside the contours of the machine. of course. today. we find a detailed set of observations on the relays from keyboard. It is thus fair to conclude that CMC fails to adhere to the postal principle. the secret (private or public). we also find Derrida grappling anew with the technics of the body. after Nancy. in the bodily interaction with the technologies of the interface (a mouse. There are also some comments in the midst of this ‘Freudian impression’ regarding the status of the actual and the virtual in relation to archival logic and psychoanalysis: The topology and the nomology we have analyzed up to now were able to necessitate. as an absolutely indispensable condition. situated as an extension of our body. second. and the fantasy of the disembodied virtualm arises out of a need to project one’s self as whole beyond this prosthetised flesh.

rather. 36). of cyberspace. to keep a rigorous account of this other virtuality. this mutation is in progress. After All 173 that opposes it to actuality. though. Derrida takes up the challenge presented by these archival impressions: ‘What the accelerated development of teletechnologies. He notes that this ‘taking-place’ of these ‘teletechnologies’ – as he labels them here – is delimiting a new modality of how place is thought and experienced. that is. the ‘entire public and private space of humanity’) are occasional detours or deviations from the direction the work is taking toward the three principal theses in which Archive Fever culminates. which amounts to a practice of deconstruction. (Derrida 1996b. the practical implications of such observations become clearer: it is no longer the case that the technologies of cyberspace are required to deconstruct in the most pragmatic terms those concepts around which we have previously constructed a world of actualities. Does this mean that Derrida has in the past two decades abandoned the concept of the postal principle? This would presume that he had previously accepted or taken hold of the principle. in order that it might be subsequently thrown away according to the ‘new’ logic of CMC. instead. in the coupling that opposes actuality to virtuality. the more concrete components of the computer (the hard-drive and the keyboard) enable a demonstration of the capacity for being at once both a system of storage (or permanence) and a system of touch (or immediacy). to effectivity. The comments on word processing are therefore no mere diversion but an extension of the arguments about technicity itself. or to reality? Will we be obliged to continue thinking that there is no thinkable archive for the virtual? For what happens in virtual space and time? It is hardly probable. 66–7) On the way to On Touching. these impressions regarding the capacity of the new technologies to transform the space-time and reality of the archived event (and of everything that is demarcated by this archive. the history of Western philosophy is seen as having been out of touch. but it will be necessary. We need look no further than The Post Card itself to locate a couple of .A Ghost of a Chance. By the time he returns to complete the work on touching. in Echographies of Television. of the new topology of “the virtual” is producing is a practical deconstruction of the traditional and dominant concepts of the state and citizen (and thus of the “political”) as they are linked to the actuality of a territory’ (Derrida and Stiegler 2002. so to speak. No longer the need to search for a short circuit in the archival logic at the extreme edge of new technologies. with touch and technology per se. Also on the way to On Touching. to abandon or restructure from top to bottom our inherited concept of the archive.

If now I am still sending you the same card. . a single name. Early in the ‘Envois’ and. that to vanquish the postal principle. though. extending beyond the architecture of a library conceived in isolation. it is because I would be willing to die. . 27). and bordered. notwithstanding a claim that the library and history are themselves ‘sites of passage or of relay among others. extended body . what vanquishes a principle of the post is this enormous library which is itself already subject to the Great Telematic Network. . most significantly for our purposes here. the very next day: distance myself in order to write to you. by virtue of the fact that the initial terms by which it could be vanquished – this enormous library – are in principle beyond the scope of any single work. sequences. Derrida then ex-scribes his self by declaring on the note dated 9 June 1977. these envois. The unique picture then would carry off my immobile. that is.’ he affirms later in the note of the same day (Derrida 1987. 29). 28) How apt a description is this of the prosthetic-projected fantasy of the virtualm? Yet here it does its duty on the way to re-inscribing the postal principle: ‘In the beginning. in a word or in a proper name. .174 Laurie Johnson observations that cast doubt on such an assumption from the outset. then. Having nominated this vast network into which all communications ultimately vanish. narrower and narrower . for it to be capable of being held. this was always the point of the postal principle: that it needed to be re-inscribed. proportionally of the Great Telematic Network. Shall we say. moments . the author makes a ‘wish to vanquish the postal principle’ by assembling an ‘enormous library’ on a history of the post. and also particular representations. the worldwide connection . and I will never get over it. a single word. at the moment that the postal principle is named as such to an unnamed correspondent. outward toward a worldwide connection. yet the principle continues to be articulated as if it holds true by virtue of a process that withdraws from the virtual and into the realm of an actual exchange. it is necessary to be able to take hold of it. indeed. was the post. let alone for it to be capable of holding true. . . this terrifying archive’ (Derrida 1987. stases. . . . (Derrida 1987. Perhaps. to situate it within an archive of the event of the post? Yet the prospect evokes the economies of scale on which such ‘passages and relays’ operate. in principle. To what extent can we accept that a principle that has been named in the process of being wished away can be said to hold true? Importantly and. My reading of The Post Card hinges on this idea that a postal principle was set up to be vanquished. perhaps. to enclose myself finally in a single place that is a place.

which I call the fantasy of a disembodied virtualm. Indeed. yet the fantasy of disembodiment underpins the individual user’s engagement with cyberspace precisely to render this logic invisible. Is it merely the case. this proper name ‘Derrida.’ today? To refer back to my comments about the directionality of the postal principle. This archive of archives is. I contend. of course. removing from us the necessity of the full and effective taking-place . a proper name. ‘the worldwide connection. if by nothing else. for it is in the daily chore of ‘logging in’ to the modern worldwide connection that the scene of pre-destined non-arrival played out in the ‘Envois’ and ‘My Chances’ has its terrifying analogue. The ghost in the machine. works by insisting on the possibility of the taking of a place for oneself out there beyond the machinery to which the body is connected. today. 27). we seek to reinscribe the proper name through a writing that comes after writing. As we have observed. that is. into the breach of an interlocution. then. Derrida’s articulation of a postal principle was itself already calculated to fail. recast in one’s own participatory logic as an A and a B of the exchange. to reinscribe that which has already been ex-scribed. may we now realise that this attempt on our own part to re-inscribe the postal principle within the realm of CMC was already circumscribed by the insistence of this signature. for it can be sustained. of vanishing into a terrifying archive. In ‘Rape and the Memex. where the stakes can be found in questioning the principle of destinerrance. This is to say that the participant in CMC participates in a radical refusal to think the vast network as archive. by the continual insistence of the signature. by projecting oneself – imagined whole. in the drift toward a vast network. Its failure is expressed. which is to say perchance that it was pre-destined not to arrive at its destination. After All 175 Correspondence between a sender and a co-respondent thus becomes a neat analogue for this principle on the verge of failing to be grasped. it is the proper name after all that provides a guarantee of the A and B of an exchange. Derrida wrote of the mutation of the archive that would eventually dispense with the opposition of the virtual and the real. albeit partes extra partes.’ I have recently argued that a logic of the archive has undergirded the internet from its ideational origins. that my question about the holding true of the postal principle in the realm of CMC is already framed by the non-response to which I refer in the opening scene of a letter that had met with the fatal necessity that the postal principle names? We could do worse than conclude on the point that by questioning Derrida.’ which amounts after all to a ‘terrifying archive’ (Derrida 1987. not in parts – outside and ahead. Yet I am convinced the stakes are much higher than such an abysmal picture suggests.A Ghost of a Chance.

trans. and Bernard Stiegler (2002). Martin (1992). Johnson. Jacques (1996a).’ Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media. and absolutely: bypass the postal principle. and Literature. DOI: 10. Chicago: Chicago University Press.unimelb. Jennifer Bajorek. 1–10. On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy. guarantee its failure. Cambridge: Polity Press. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Heidegger. Derrida. The fantasy of the virtualm leads us. 4. References Derrida. Derrida. Echographies of Television: Filmed Interviews. Joseph H. after all. trans. pp.1/2. in Taking Chances: Derrida. Critical Inquiry 23. http://blogs. Jacques. Parmenides. Derrida. Derrida. Laurie (2008). How? By pro-jecting the self as wholly disembodied. trans.’ Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Eric Prenowitz. André Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz. outside and ahead. Alan Bass. 13.’ trans. 1–32. ‘Face-Interface. or the Prospect of a Virtual Ethics. Irene Harvey and Avital Ronell. ‘My Chances/ Mes Chances: A Rendezvous with Some Epicurean Stereophonies. ‘Rape and the Memex. Johnson.176 Laurie Johnson of the archived event. trans. pp. Jacques (1996b). to calculate. but the idea of being engaged in a communicative act – a fantastic idea that blinds us to the pro-sthetic relation the body has to the technologies of cyberspace – leads us to already and by necessity dispense with the archival logic of our engagement with the technology and to think only of the ghost to whom we address our communications. Jacques (1987). Bloomington: Indiana University Press. out there. Jacques (1988). as the pre-destined target of a communicative act. in cyberspace. My claim is that the archive persists in a diffused form in CMC. Psychoanalysis.’ trans. Christine Irizarry. indeed. Archive Fever. pp. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Derrida. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas.3366/E1754850009000505 . The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. ed. ‘Adieu. Laurie (2007). 49–56. Smith and William Kerrigan. Jacques (2005).edu.arts.

Nietzsche). This hierarchical ordering is produced by the primacy accorded to the term of the opposition related to an originary ‘presence. the blind spots and aporias of the text are set forth. to an anarchical textual ‘freeplay’. for the second stage or level. or the ‘doubling’ of a text’s authorial or textual intention is firmly set within a traditional interpretative form. who take Derrida to have effected a total revolution in the way in which we must read texts. and the texts produced within this tradition. are constituted by hierarchical binary oppositions. thus. through the identification of authorial or textual intention. At this second stage or level.’ while the other term is considered as the subordinate . or those critics who view deconstruction as having subverted all possible criteria for a valid interpretation leading. Through this focus upon the process of deconstructive reading as ‘doubling reading. which is the passage to deconstructive reading per se. This initial level then prepares the text. Derrida’s initial reading. with only some singular exceptions (for example.’ it becomes evident that deconstruction is not as revolutionary as proponents or critics have assumed.’ This ‘double reading’ commences with an initial stage or level which seeks to reconstruct a text’s authorial intention or its vouloir dire. For. * For Jacques Derrida.How Radical is Derrida’s Deconstructive Reading? Gerasimos Kakoliris Abstract The aim of my paper is to focus upon those aspects of Derrida’s relation to language and textual interpretation that have not been adequately dealt with by either proponents of deconstruction. This inadequate approach by both proponents and critics is the result of a failure to consider Derrida’s deconstructive approach as enacting a process of ‘double reading. the entirety of the history of western thought.

They are always already refuted by language itself. nature/civilization. remedy/poison. inside/outside. in order to produce this fissure or opening. This distance. which exceeds the will of authorial intention. The principle of différance is presented as working by itself tirelessly in the texts of the philosophical tradition against their authors’ explicit intentions.’ something that requires the submission to classical . The initial gesture is to reveal the latent metaphysical structure. as practiced by Derrida during the 1960s and 1970s. it then concentrates on those elements of a text which not only cannot be incorporated to the ‘metaphysics of presence. In Of Grammatology. there are ‘counter-forces which threaten or undermine this authority’ (Derrida 1992. According to Derrida. ‘self-identical’. Derrida’s claim is that the metaphysical text cannot maintain the seemingly uncrossable boundary line between the two poles of every oppositional pair (for example. the pharmakon in Plato or the supplement in Rousseau) or a binary opposition (for example. From this. good/evil. Together with the ‘dominant’ ‘metaphysical model’.’ but also disorganize it. making apparent another logic that is not of that of traditional metaphysics. Yet. deconstructive reading must first reproduce what the author ‘wants-to-say.’ that is. In relation to this history. in the Chapter entitled ‘The Exorbitant. 227). or ‘never totally governed by “metaphysical assumptions” ’. a philosopher’s views do not subsist until refuted by another philosopher. speech/writing) in one of its two senses. In this manner. and so on). man/woman. Every time a metaphysical author attempts to use an equivocal term (for example. 53). Question of Method. fissure or opening is something that deconstructive reading must ‘produce’ (Derrida 1976. despite its author’s intentions. sooner or later. which is represented by the presence of these hierarchical binary oppositions within these texts. speech/writing. Derrida 1967a. due to the ‘differantial’ constitution of opposites – namely the presence of the ‘trace’ of the one term within the other – the other meaning also comes to the fore in order to haunt the text. intelligible/visible. More specifically. deconstructive reading. what takes place in her text without her will. identity/difference.’ Derrida notes that deconstructive reading situates itself in the gap between what the author ‘commands’ within her text and what she does not ‘command. 158. is characterized by a specific approach through which this tradition is placed into question.178 Gerasimos Kakoliris member of the pair (for example. a metaphysical text is never ‘homogeneous’. and so on) because linguistic meaning is conditioned by difference and deferral (différance).

and’ (namely. pharmakon is ‘both remedy and poison’. of what Descartes meant on the already so difficult surface of his text.How Radical is Derrida’s Deconstructive Reading? 179 reproductive reading practices. . Derrida 1967a. For example. His declared intention is not annulled by this but rather inscribed within a system which it no longer dominates. This logic of the ‘both . wherever this is possible and if it is necessary. . . I recalled a rule of hermeneutical method that still seems to me valid for the historian of philosophy. . (Derrida 1976. 345) Hence. namely the necessity of first ascertaining a surface or manifest meaning . the meanings produced during the first reading of deconstructive reading become ‘disseminated’ during the second reading. and’. This. In ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’. . 84) The traditional reading (the reproduction of the authorial or textual intention) is then destabilised through the utilisation of all those elements that have refused to be incorporated within it. But in spite of that declared intention. . In other words. by taking into account the dominant and stable conventions. Derrida writes: To speak of origin and zero degree in fact comments on Rousseau’s declared intention [intention déclarée] . both beneficent and maleficent) (Derrida 1981. in a quasischolastic way. Rousseau’s discourse lets itself be constrained by a complexity which always has the form of the supplement of or from the origin. philologically and grammatically. . . in the sense that the reader lacks any secure ground for choosing between them. 243. . despite Plato’s intention to keep the two opposite meanings of pharmakon separate – namely ‘remedy’ and ‘poison’ – ends up affirming à la fois both. . the necessity of gaining a good understanding. (Derrida 2001. such as it is interpretable according to classical norms of reading: the necessity of gaining this understanding . during the second reading the text loses its initial appearance of semantic determinacy. . that of both . organized around the axis of its authorial intention. Derrida 1972. Derrida names the ‘logic of supplementarity’ [‘logique . . Derrida exhibits the way in which the text of the Phaedrus. . thus exhibiting another logic. and is eventually pushed into producing a number of incompatible meanings which are ‘undecidable’. 70. in Of Grammatology. with the result that the meaning of the text is different from that which its author intends it to say. 87). the authority of canonical interpretations. before and in order to destabilize. As Derrida points out in one of his latest texts entitled ‘ “To Do Justice to Freud”: The History of Madness in the Age of Psychoanalysis’ (1991): In a protocol that laid down certain reading positions . other. logic cannot be incorporated by metaphysics since it finds itself in opposition to the logic of identity and non-contradiction. .

21. despite the fact that he thinks that no communicative action or textual practice is able to prevent the dissemination of meaning – a dissemination which is ‘irreducible to polysemy’ (Derrida 1988. the fissure that différance . to negate their power to ‘control’ a text. Derrida 1990. Derrida’s ‘double’ interpretive procedure is one which can only subvert a text from the tradition from a position in which its meaning has been held to have a high degree of determinacy. 44). and reconstructs the determinate meaning of the passage read according to a procedure that the deconstructive reader shares with common readers. 50) – or despite all he says about the endless play between concepts. Hence. 158.180 Gerasimos Kakoliris de la supplémentarité’] (Derrida 1976. as follows: What takes place in deconstruction is reading. at the same time.3 It is this shift between the two layers of reading which reveals a tension within this procedure. Derrida 1967a. 144–5. 20–1. which he calls a ‘critical reading’ or an ‘active interpretation’. 23) In this double reading or ‘double gesture’ [‘double geste’] (Derrida 1988. 1976. 208. However. Derrida is obliged to use classical interpretative norms and practices and. The first reading. In order for a text’s intentional meaning to become destabilised. within and through this repetition. which Derrida calls a ‘doubling commentary’ [‘commentaire redoublant’] (Derrida. the fixity generated by this preliminary procedure is necessarily undermined by Derrida’s subsequent destabilization of this textual structuration of meaning which precludes the accordance of any (even ‘relative’) stability to it. 50). productive reading. 227). A deconstructive reading. (Critchley 1992. Derrida 1990. and to ‘disseminate’ the text into a series of ‘undecidable’ meanings (Abrams 1989. Derrida 1967a. contains both a ‘dominant. most often by first repeating what Derrida calls ‘the dominant interpretation’ of a text in the guise of a commentary and second. what distinguishes deconstruction as a textual practice is double reading2 – that is to say. therefore. and I shall argue. 308). 215. the text needs to possess a certain stability so that it can be rendered determinate. The second reading. finds a passage ‘lisible’ and understandable. In the Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas (1992). a reading that interlaces at least two motifs or layers of reading. leaving the order of commentary and opening a text up to the blind spots or ellipses within the dominant interpretation. to thoroughly construe a text as something determinate. Simon Critchley summarises deconstruction’s ‘double reading’. moves on to disseminate the meanings that the first reading has already construed.’1 reproductive reading and a ‘critical’.

326) Or Rousseau would wish [voudrait] the opposition between southern and northern in order to place a natural frontier between different types of languages. 84.How Radical is Derrida’s Deconstructive Reading? 181 effects on the core of presence. Derrida 1967b. unbeknownst to the writer. Derrida 1967a. which Derrida treats as heterogeneous and equivocal. authorial or textual intention is presented as always possessing coherence. homogeneity and as being characterised by a lack of ambiguity. or. . if a text’s authorial intention were not fixed and univocal. . he says or describes that which he does not wish to say [Il dit ou décrit ce qu’il ne veut pas dire]: articulation and therefore the space of writing operates at the origin of language. Hence. in ‘Violence and Metaphysics’. that is to say that articulation and writing are a post-originary malady of language. However. In this context. Derrida treats authorial or textual intention as something which can be determined univocally. Deconstruction is installed between a text’s intended meaning (its declarative layer) and the text itself (its descriptive layer). the sign which is just a ‘trace’. Derrida 1967a. then it would be difficult for deconstruction to juxtapose against it contradictory elements found in the same text. (Derrida 1976. 310)4 What Rousseau declares and wishes to say is what is construed by standard reading. Derrida’s deconstructive reading repeatedly uncovers opposed meanings between what the metaphysical author (for example. Rousseau) ‘wishes to say’ and what ‘he says without wishing to say it. This seems to flow from the necessary prerequisites of deconstruction itself. 49.’ or between what the author ‘declares’ and what the text ‘describes without Rousseau’s wishing to say it’: He declares what he wishes to say [Il déclare ce qu’il veut dire]. (Derrida 1976. 216–17. Thus. 229. contrary to the text as a whole. despite the fact that ‘the self-identity of the signifier conceals itself unceasingly and is always on the move’ (Derrida 1976. Despite Derrida’s claim that the meaning . 125). what the text ungovernably goes on to say. We must measure this gap between the description and the declaration. what he describes [décrit] forbids us to think it . 72). Derrida explicitly declares that ‘[w]e will refuse to sacrifice the selfcoherent unity of intention [l’unité fidèle à soi de l’intention] to the becoming which then would be no more than pure disorder’ (Derrida 1978. for example. Derrida 1967a. is what gets disclosed by a deeper deconstructive reading. putting it in the language of the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure.

never partial. Indicative of this attitude is the fact that from his multiple readings. There are times at which Derrida exaggerates the distinction. 148). that ‘ “doubling commentary” is not a moment of simple reflexive recording that would transcribe the originary and true layer of a text’s intentional meaning. in order to be able to support the distinction between ‘what Rousseau wants to say’ and ‘what Rousseau actually says. an “ungracious” reader’ (Bernasconi 1992.182 Gerasimos Kakoliris of a text is never exhausted by the intention of its author. a meaning that is univocal and self-identical’ (italics added) (Derrida 1988. In Derrida’s univocal reading of a text’s vouloir dire. Authorial intention always and everywhere is interpreted with an ungenerous literality. In other words. does not hesitate to adopt Paul de Man’s characterization of Derrida as an ‘ungracious’ reader: ‘De Man is surely correct when he portrays Derrida as an ungenerous reader of Rousseau – or to use de Man’s own term. However. beneath the text. hesitation is completely absent.’ Derrida ‘must refuse to attribute to “what Rousseau wants to say” statements that Rousseau clearly meant. Moreover. For Bernasconi. Derrida declares. in conformity with what he thinks about language and meaning. during its first reading. runs a unifying essence known as ‘authorial’ or ‘textual intention’ which can be determined unequivocally. but also through a somewhat rigid and constraining interpretation of what the author actually means to say. Good or Bad: de Man’s Criticisms of Derrida on Rousseau. 148). with an ungenerous literality but also as if only one interpretation of authorial intention were possible. Derrida treats the ‘doubling’ of a text’s authorial intention according to those terms that he denounces above. Derrida’s critical reading never questions the status of its ascription to the author of such regimented and unilinear designs. 143. Derrida 1990.5 The author’s failure to perceive the supplementary threads in his texts must be absolute. 265). In ‘No More Stories. there is nowhere any reference to the possibility of the existence of contradictory intentions. the way in which deconstruction treats a text during the first reading is as if.’ Robert Bernasconi. and not only by his critical inventiveness in teasing out hidden textual implications. or even sometimes arbitrary. an advocate of deconstruction. While deconstruction concentrates on the existence of contradictory statements. He . there are passages which express Rousseau’s intentions. In the ‘Afterword’. in practice. but which Derrida finds obliged to refer simply to what Rousseau “says without saying” ’ (Bernasconi 1992. Even the division of the text into a declarative and a descriptive layer often seems forced. Derrida not only treats the text. successfully contradictory intentions are ruled out.

’ which is animated by the spirit of an unequivocal interpretation of the texts of the philosophical tradition. If Derrida accepted. translated and variously interpreted. . is possible only if authorial meanings are pure. seems paradoxically to share the prejudgement that philosophical texts. ‘self-identical’ facts which can be used to anchor the work. then the deconstruction of merely one interpretation out of this potential plethora of plausible interpretations would have a far more limited significance and effectiveness. particularly if one speaks. The degree of certainty about a text’s ‘wants-to-say’ [‘vouloir-dire’] that deconstruction requires. An author’s intention is itself a complex ‘text’. Derrida calls for ‘the substitution . Derrida 1990. are integrated wholes. 66. or why her intention may not have been somehow self-contradictory. for which. which can be debated. solid. This is actually a possibility that Derrida does not consider at all. However.How Radical is Derrida’s Deconstructive Reading? 183 never examines the possibility that other interpretations of authorial intention are also possible (without being theoretically able to preclude such a possibility). despite the way in which he conceives the constitution of linguistic meaning as a differential ‘game’ [‘jeu’] of signs without beginning and end. The aim of this is to protect the effectiveness of the strategy of deconstruction. . meaning is impossible to determine in terms of a fixed entity or substance. The way in which authorial intentions appear in texts does not necessarily form a consistent whole. thereby depriving it of much of its credibility. . either metaphysical or not (although this is something that he could not know in advance). non-metaphysical determinations of a text’s intentional meaning could be feasible determinations that would not thus be in dire need of deconstruction. and it may be unwise to rest upon this assumption too heavily. in turn. . there is. even potentially.7 despite the fact that he adduces this kind of constitution in order to justify the deconstruction of authorial or textual intention. about intention as ‘only an effect. this way of conceiving meaning is in direct opposition to deconstruction.’ For example. would affect his whole ‘narrative’ about ‘Western philosophy’ as ‘logocentrism’ or ‘metaphysics of presence. in ‘Limited Inc a b c . as if the unity of the work resides in the author’s all pervasive intention. . This. as Derrida does. ’. Also. in fact. 128). if he conceded the possibility of the existence of other plausible interpretations. no reason why the author should not have had several mutually contradictory intentions. However. of intentional effect for intention [d’effet intentionnel à intention]’ (Derrida 1988.6 It is remarkable that Derrida. then he could not preclude the possibility that other. that other interpretations of a text’s vouloir-dire were possible. at least if only at an initial level. Moreover.

trans. Alan Bass. The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes. Under such an approach. . Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Paris: Éditions de Seuil. Derrida: A Critical Reader. Oxford: Blackwell. La dissémination. (1989). trans. 111). Sean (1992). Oxford: Blackwell. in practice. there is absolutely no need to suppose that authorial or textual intention either does or should constitute a harmonious whole. Limited Inc. in his treatment of authorial or textual intention. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.9 References Abrams. Derrida. 56. London: The Athlone Press. ed. Deconstruction: A Critique. Derrida. Jacques (1967a). Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. Barbara Johnson. Derrida. Simon (1992). Hence. Burke. Derrida. Collection «Essais». Derrida 1967a. De la Grammatologie. ‘Construing and Deconstructing’. Derrida. IL: Northwestern University Press. ‘No More Stories. authorial ‘indeterminacies’ are abolished. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit. Jacques (1978). trans. ed. So. Robert (1992). Derrida’s stance towards a text’s authorial intention could be described. Of Grammatology. Derrida 1990. Dissemination. Collection «Essais». Such a ‘doubling commentary’ [‘commentaire redoublant’] (Derrida 1976. David Wood. in order to be replaced with a stable meaning. 158. as juridical: anything which cannot be herded inside the enclosure of ‘probable’ authorial meaning is brusquely expelled. Derrida. Critchley. Jacques (1967b). H. Bernasconi. Derrida speaks about intention as ‘a priori (at once) différante: differing and deferring. Jacques (1988). Jacques (1972a). in its inception’ [‘L’intention est a priori (aussi sec) différante’] (Derrida 1988. 1967.184 Gerasimos Kakoliris in the same text. trans. 227) of authorial or textual intention is obliged to render mutually coherent the greatest number of a work’s elements. Derrida. Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas. Derrida. it would not be ‘exorbitant’ to attribute to Derrida. Samuel Weber. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit. Jacques (1976). London: Routledge. Jacques (1990). Jacques (1981). Good or Bad: de Man’s Criticisms of Derrida on Rousseau’.8 the same accusations he attributes to the metaphysical tradition concerning the way in which it treats texts as unified wholes. Limited Inc. Writing and Difference. L’écriture et la différence. Evaston. Foucault and Derrida. They must be ‘normalised’. Rajnath. London: Macmillan. In this sense. and everything remaining within that enclosure is strictly subordinated to this single governing intention. Paris: Éditions de Seuil. M.

Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’. Derrida 1967a. London: Routledge. 5. however. 73. no one of the aforementioned positions seems to have. and in the expectation of discovering all sorts of things on the way. Derrida seems paradoxically to agree with it: ‘And you are right in saying that these “practical implications for interpretation” are “not so threatening to conventional modes of reading” ’ (Derrida 1988. ‘Jacques Derrida’s Double Deconstructive Reading: A Contradiction in Terms?’. ed. Derek Attridge. Derrida. 8. 143. Derrida calls this initial reading that deconstruction enacts on the text. 283–92. 271). for Derrida. that Rousseau might be asking that we chance a journey to the origin of languages. To the question. 286. 242. See also. ed. Good or Bad: de Man’s Criticism of Derrida on Rousseau’. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. 2. ‘does the “doubling commentary”. 143. Gerasimos (2004). DOI: 10. Derrida 1990. 1988. Derrida 1990. Some other critical readers of Derrida who have also described deconstructive reading as ‘double reading’ are Robert Bernasconi in ‘No More Stories. 280. The Work of Mourning. 21. 6.How Radical is Derrida’s Deconstructive Reading? 185 Derrida. 238. Kakoliris. 7. see Kakoliris 2004. Derrida. really differ from other traditional reconstructions of a text’s authorial intentions?’ the answer would be rather ‘no’. Event.3366/E1754850009000517 . 50. “in the last instance. 349. 4. pp. 265. 50). is never taken into account. Derrida 1990. Derrida’s ungenerous interpretation of Rousseau’s intention is also underscored by Sean Burke. ‘dominant interpretation’ [‘interprétation dominante’] (Derrida. Derrida 1990. Also. Acts of Literature. Context’ claims that ‘[w]riting is read. 35: 3. in ‘Structure. ‘ “To Do Justice to Freud”: The History of Madness in the Age of Psychoanalysis’. Rather the text must always and everywhere be interpreted with an ungenerous. See Derrida 1988. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 283–92. writes: ‘That there might be a speculative side to the Essay.” of a hermeneutic deciphering. any implications for the way in which he understands the ‘doubling’ of authorial or textual intention by deconstructive reading during its initial phase. 348. 245. in the Death and Return of the Author. 146). and intractable literality’ (Burke 1992. 147 and M. 411). For this contradiction. Although Derrida. 246 and Derrida 1967a. in ‘Signature. 38. that is to say as the destruction of ontotheology and the metaphysics of presence’ (Derrida 1976. clearly orientated towards such a hermeneutic deciphering or decoding that Derrida rejects (Derrida 1988. Notes 1. 9. 344. Derrida 1976. 338. who. Derrida 1967b. I would like to thank Dr Peter Langford for his invaluable help. Jacques (2001). it is not the site. in practice. ‘ “This Strange Institution Called Literature”: An Interview with Jacques Derrida’. defines ‘play’ as follows: ‘One could call play the absence of the transcendental signified as limitless of play. in practice. H. Jacques (1992). Abrams in ‘Construing and Deconstructing’. Derrida mentions: ‘The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the play of signification infinitely’ (Derrida 1978. 3. 200. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology. the decoding of a meaning or truth’. 147. the reading-writing that the ‘doubling commentary’ enacts is. 265). in Of Grammatology. Strangely enough.

that is universal and unconditional.Derrida: Opposing Death Penalties1 Marguerite La Caze Abstract Derrida’s purpose in ‘Death Penalties’ (2004). insufficiently exemplary?’ (2004. that is universal and unconditional. insufficiently exemplary?’ (2004. I examine Derrida’s claim about the lack of systematic opposition to the death penalty on the part of philosophers and suggest an answer to his question concerning the possibility of a universal and unconditional opposition to capital punishment. Derrida asks how it is possible ‘to abolish the death penalty in a way that is based on principle. are deconstructible. and arguments for its abolition. He claims that ‘never. never has any philosophy as such contested the legitimacy of the death penalty. in his or her own strictly and systematically philosophical discourse. to my knowledge. exemplified by Kant’s argument in The Metaphysics of Morals (1996). and not because it has become not only cruel but useless. exemplified by Kant’s.’ (2004. In relation to abolition. Derrida claims that ‘never. and not because it has become not only cruel but useless. 146). has any philosopher as a philosopher. never has any philosophy as such contested the legitimacy of the death penalty’ (2004. such as those of Beccaria. a dialogue with Elisabeth Roudinesco. The difficulty . is to show how both arguments in favour of capital punishment. has any philosopher as a philosopher. is to show how both arguments in favour of capital punishment. to my knowledge. are deconstructible. such as those of Beccaria in On Crimes and Punishments (1964). and arguments for its abolition. 137) In my paper. In the course of his discussion of arguments for the death penalty. * Derrida’s purpose in ‘Death Penalties’ (2004). 137). 146) Derrida also asks how it is possible ‘to abolish the death penalty in a way that is based on principle. in his or her own strictly and systematically philosophical discourse.

51). Kant. according to Derrida. although Camus signed due to his objection to capital punishment. Derrida cites Plato. The examples he gives here are Heidegger. Derrida’s view is that although Camus’ essay ‘Reflections on the Guillotine’ is ‘beautiful and courageous’ his opposition was not part of his philosophy but rather a venture outside his philosophical system (Derrida 2004. or rather lack of counter-evidence to it.4 Derrida says that even Levinas does not think opposition to the death penalty within philosophy when he discusses the issue in an interview. De Beauvoir and Sartre both refused to sign the petition for a pardon for Brasillach. 2004). However. The Levinas quotation he refers to is: ‘The suppression of the death penalty seems to me an essential thing for the co-existence of charity with justice’ (Levinas. it is difficult to maintain an argument for unconditional abolition. Sartre. 2001. Hugo. opposed the death penalty unconditionally in the name of ‘the inviolability of human life’ (Derrida 2004. which he believes can be counted as lack of opposition. Derrida writes. Derrida believes this shows that Levinas is not criticising the death penalty using philosophical concepts (Derrida 2004. examples being Beccaria and Robert Badinter. Hegel and Marx as examples of philosophers who supported the death penalty. Derrida also notes that on the part of some philosophers there is silence on the matter. Rousseau. and Foucault.3 His argument is that capital punishment has been opposed by writers or philosophers as writers in the cases of Voltaire. Levinas tries to separate . Philosophers and the Death Penalty I will briefly consider this question of philosophers’ lack of opposition to the death penalty.2 Camus famously opposed capital punishment. or as jurists or legal scholars. 228). thus appearing to leave the abolitionist in an untenable position. As charity is a Christian concept. as we shall see. In a way similar to Kant and Hegel.Derrida: Opposing Death Penalties 187 here is his view that such an approach is itself deconstructible. In my paper. I examine Derrida’s claim about the lack of systematic opposition to the death penalty on the part of philosophers and suggest an answer to his question concerning the possibility of a universal and unconditional opposition to capital punishment. There is a surprising level of support for Derrida’s claim. Victor Hugo. Derrida argues. Sartre is an interesting case because de Beauvoir argued in favour of the death penalty for Robert Brasillach (See Beauvoir. and Camus. 143). 143).

147). He sees the theologico-political power over life and death as the essence of sovereign power (Derrida 2002b. He reads Kant as finding a categorical imperative and an a priori idea of pure reason in criminal law that ‘would not be possible if the death penalty were not inscribed within it’ (Derrida 2004. He discusses this connection with religion through the figures of Socrates. . and that it is the spirit of the biblical verse from Leviticus that matters rather than the letter (Levinas 1990. 148). however. if their arguments for these particular cases are successful. 34). they challenge the authority of the state. yet an examination of this brief text is revealing. then they must apply to other similar cases. De Beauvoir’s essay on Brasillach (de Beauvoir 2004) is an example of this position. Thus Derrida’s contention that philosophers historically have not opposed capital punishment gains further support. Al-Hallaj and Joan of Arc (Derrida 2002b). 144). On the basis of this history of lack of support for abolition amongst philosophers writing as philosophers. He remarks. Levinas. Thus the death penalty is considered to be what is ‘proper to man’ in that human dignity transcends our ‘condition as a living being’ in the thought of philosophers from Plato to Heidegger (Derrida 2004. Of course. that a fine should not be considered a way out of recognising the wrong done. According to Derrida.188 Marguerite La Caze the lex talionis from revenge and make it ‘the origin of the rational foundation of criminal justice’ (Derrida 2004. in ‘An Eye for an Eye’. this might seem to be a surprising claim. politics and the idea that the capacity to risk life is proper to the human are linked by the death penalty. What these four figures. Derrida speculates that there is something that unites philosophy with the political theology of capital punishment and the principle of sovereignty (Derrida 2004. capital punishment is the keystone of the onto-theologicalpolitical. Derrida does not mention philosophers who argue for the death penalty in particular cases. 146). who were put to death. 147). have in common is that they hear the voice of God and so the truth unmediated by earthly representation. Derrida believes philosophy. 147). Jesus Christ. as is Arendt’s support for the death penalty for Eichmann (Arendt 1994). Now I must turn to the philosophical questions concerning the deconstructibility of pro-capital punishment and abolitionist arguments. In doing so.6 Derrida argues that the death penalty is the consequence of an alliance between ‘a religious message and the sovereignty of a state’ (Derrida 2004. states that the idea of an eye for an eye really means a fine.5 Again.

472) is closer to the Jewish and Roman traditions than an evangelical one. As he argues. Derrida argues with regard to these distinctions that we cannot distinguish a pure ‘immune law’ uncontaminated by desires for revenge. not to achieve any other ends. In the case of murder. (poena naturalis) and external punishments that are carried out by society (poena forensis) in Kant. and bestiality. However. 150). Kant believes that the guilty person should ‘understand. Kant’s interpretation of lex talionis (1996. pure reason subjects us to the law but ‘it is impossible to will to be punished’ (Kant 1996. 6. Derrida says he does not mean that execution becomes suicide for Kant. 2. Kant asks how we can punish crimes that it would be a ‘crime against humanity’ to punish in a similar way? He concludes that the punishment for rape and pederasty should be castration. Thus we should begin by examining these distinctions: 1. It is difficult to see why self-punishment has a special relation to our passions. pederasty. 3. The distinction between other and self-punishment. rape. Derrida notes that Kant fails to give a principle of equivalent punishment for sex crimes. is highly relevant. The distinction between internal or self-inflicted punishments. Kant supposes that killing the perpetrator is a suitable punishment.’ including capital punishment.Derrida: Opposing Death Penalties 189 The Deconstructibility of Pro-Capital Punishment Arguments Derrida’s primary example of an argument in favour of the death penalty is Kant’s in ‘The Doctrine of Right’ (Kant 1996). but that a whole series of distinctions must be questioned: interior and exterior. execution and suicide or murder. approve. and that for bestiality should be expulsion from society. According to Derrida. 335). as the criminal has in that case made themselves unworthy . even call for the punishment. interests and passions (Derrida 2004. I should note that Kant does not claim that we will our punishment. for otherwise abolitionist discourse would be restricted to empirical considerations. Here Kant argues that the death penalty must be applied strictly as a matter of justice. self and other punishment. according to Derrida. the principle of an eye for an eye completely breaks down when Kant attempts to apply it to these cases. for example. Nevertheless the more general point that punishment is linked to our passions. and some of our worst ones. such as the desire for vengeance. Derrida says we need to deconstruct Kant’s argument precisely because it is not a utilitarian one.

151–2). 332). and whoever commits such treason must be punished by nothing less than death for attempting to destroy his fatherland (parricida)’ (Kant 1996. The criminal is punished in terms of the spirit of the crimes rather than in a literally corresponding way because these crimes are against humanity. ‘anyone who commits murder. you insult yourself. you steal from yourself. . they make everyone’s property insecure. Kant says very emphatically: ‘If you insult him. Kant argues. which Kant supports. Kant is committed to avoiding the calculations involved in concerns with utility and happiness in his justification for punishment yet has to enter into calculations concerning appropriate punishments. 6. Likewise. 6. the idea that someone who tortures should be punished by torture is absurd. if you steal from him. Derrida further suggests that Kant tries to remove calculation from reason by giving a non-consequentialist justification of punishment while simultaneously submitting it to calculation through the lex talionis (Derrida 2004. 320). if you kill him. 363).7 Yet Kant undermines the idea of commensurability by allowing the death penalty for crimes against the state (Kant 1996. 6. 333). 152). . his execution must be regarded as a complete overturning of the principles of the relation between a sovereign and his people . Kant says that ‘If . or is an accomplice in it – must suffer death’ (Kant 1996. . you kill yourself’ (Kant 1996. they also lose the security of their own property through imprisonment. He does not delineate the acts which are high treason. 6. although an attack on a head of state is an obvious example: ‘Any attempt whatsoever at this is high treason (proditio eminens). he has committed murder he must die’ (Kant 1996. so that violence is elevated above the most sacred rights brazenly and in accordance with principle’ (Kant 1996. and suggests that there is something wrong with the ‘principle’ itself. you strike yourself. Kant says that the execution of a sovereign is even worse than murder because ‘while his murder is regarded as only an exception to the rule that the people makes its maxim. Derrida believes we should also question the sovereign’s traditional exemption from the death penalty (Derrida 2004. . 320). 6. 4. and when the lex talionis is applied. 6. Kant explains what he means through the example of theft. 334). 322). if you strike him. When someone steals from another.190 Marguerite La Caze of society (Kant 1996. Moreover. orders it. Derrida draws our attention to another idea in Kant – that whatever harm I do to others I do also to myself. 6. Derrida’s . This is the only way to make the punishment sufficiently similar to the crime.

making it dependent on peace and order in society (Derrida 2004. 5. For the moment it is sufficient to show that there are serious difficulties with the attempt to provide principled support for the death penalty. The implication is that once the death penalty is not considered. 6. . Finally. and that to take someone’s life away is cruel. for on this supposition he could never be improved. because it both denies that a human being can improve and deprives them of the possibility of so improving. In contrast. are worse than the loss of life or possessions and cause spectators to feel shame. 464). for example. In Beccaria’s work. (1964). and notes that there seems to be a connection between the trials of heads of state and the rejection of the death penalty in international criminal trials. who as such (as a moral being) can never lose entirely his predisposition to the good’ (Kant 1996. he states that we should ‘never break out into complete contempt and denial of any worth to a vicious human being. Furthermore. Perhaps it can also be shown that the death penalty itself is cruel. 150–52). it becomes possible to try sovereigns for crimes. and most importantly. Derrida points to an inconsistency in Kant’s application of the idea of respect for persons.8 Kant believes that we can respect a person and execute them by avoiding barbaric punishments. Kant’s inconsistency on this point needs to be emphasised. abolitionist discourse is also deconstructible. which Kant claims is compatible with the death penalty (Derrida 2004.Derrida: Opposing Death Penalties 191 assertion of the need to question this exception is based on the inconsistency of having such an exception. He links this sovereign exception to the possibility of bringing leaders in general to trial. and this is not consistent with the idea of a human being. 149). Are there similar difficulties with opposition to it? The Deconstructibility of Abolitionist Discourse According to Derrida. Much more could be said concerning the deconstructibility of Kant’s argument. He argues in ‘The Doctrine of Virtue’ that there are some punishments that dishonour humanity itself due to their cruelty (Kant 1996. If we take this idea seriously. Derrida points out that we cannot show there is no cruelty in the death penalty. These. 463). 6. then capital punishment is not consistent with the idea of a human being. he says. abolition is conditional because he allows so many exceptions to the suspension of the death penalty.

if it is accepted that some wars and therefore killing are necessary and if it is believed that that possibility is inconsistent with opposition to capital punishment. 335). for example. is the view that one must have a principled way of distinguishing capital punishment from these other cases. He clarifies the point by noting that ‘cursory killing’ and supposedly ‘legitimate self-defence’ may be authorised in such contexts. 152). is undermined (Derrida 2004. 45). 152–3). in so far as it is based on a prohibition on killing. Derrida’s view is that such distinctions as between war and peace. terrorism. where he allows that in times of conflict or disorder. Yet ordinarily killing in war does not take the form of execution. the expense involved. euthanasia and be a complete pacifist to count as a principled abolitionist for Derrida. war and humanitarian operations are lacking in clarity so that the abolitionist argument. 6.11 I will return to this point in the final section.192 Marguerite La Caze Furthermore. the psychological effect on the executioners.9 Unconditional abolition must be against the death penalty tout court. and thus unconditional abolition would necessitate being . perhaps. bias in sentencing. It might be concluded that the problem is unsolvable. is a form of execution without trial. It is limited ‘to national law and to a national territory during peacetime’ (Derrida 2004. Derrida argues that abolitionism in general is deconstructible because respect for life or the prohibition on killing is not upheld in wars. Cursory killing. civil and international war. Beccaria argues it is unnecessary and ineffective as it is not cruel or repetitive enough to serve as a deterrent compared to a life of forced labour. the death penalty may be necessary. Beccaria also argues that the death penalty cannot be a right because no-one would willingly give others the authority to kill them (Beccaria 1964. rather than denouncing the injustice of the death penalty. and so on. This line of thinking could suggest that one must also be against abortion. A military leader does not have the power over life and death but only to put soldiers at risk. understood as extra-judicial killings. mistakes in the form of execution.10 This is most obvious in Beccaria. Another idea is that one must uphold the absolute sanctity of life to be properly against the death penalty. whether capital punishment works as a deterrent. More convincing. although war may sometimes provide a cover for such practices. an argument that Kant dismisses as a sophistry (1996. Capital punishment can be distinguished from the state’s power to wage war as war involves the risk of being killed. Conditional abolition is only concerned with issues such as the execution of the innocent. Furthermore. not a decision to execute.

such as a trial. the relevant unconditional principles here would not be based on the ‘right to life’ or ‘sanctity of life’ because that would not distinguish capital punishment from other forms of killing that we may consider acceptable in certain circumstances. Derrida discusses the seeming contradiction between the biblical commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and the judgements that recommend a death penalty for transgressions . 137). capital punishment must be opposed on the basis of injustice rather than other contingent categories such as its ineffectiveness as a deterrent. in that even those countries that do not have it do not dare to proscribe it in other countries and bow to the authority of those states who practise it. Derrida argues. 154). because there was no semblance of legality. 149).12 In addition. It may also be wrong to speak of the death penalty when there is no ‘official announcement. exemplarity. convenient. provisional. Legitimate self-defense. This is another sense in which opposition to the death penalty is conditional.Derrida: Opposing Death Penalties 193 opposed to these as well. Thus. In ‘Peine de mort et souveraineté’. need not be opposed. Countries wish to retain the right to invoke the death penalty in certain particular cases and circumstances. ‘Universal’ also means applicable in all countries for Derrida so we are not only opposed to it in our own country. Derrida believes that the death penalty was abolished in Europe more because people felt it was not necessary as a deterrent than on principled grounds (Derrida 2004. and even the “right to life”’ we will not be able to prevent the return of the death penalty (Derrida 2004. cannot be understood in relation to the death penalty. Derrida wishes to distinguish some state-sanctioned killings from the death penalty strictly speaking. As I noted above. 137). the Shoah. conditional and conditioned (Derrida 2004. beyond the problems of purpose. and this is why.’ as that is required by European law (Derrida 2004. 153). utility. such as euthanasia and some killing in war. Nor can the Shoah be thought of as punishment for a crime. Unconditional Opposition to the Death Penalty Derrida begins his discussion of capital punishment by stating that unless we elaborate an abolitionist discourse based on ‘unconditional principles. Derrida argues. In the next section I examine unconditional opposition to the death penalty. Derrida contrasts the unconditional with the limited. if legitimate. many international declarations concerning a right to life are only advisory and recommend that the death penalty be an exception or should be practised according to certain procedures (Derrida 2004.

hyperbolic. the possibility of its ultimate sanction. although more severe. One cannot begin to think about the theologico-political without thinking about the death penalty. inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ and the death penalty can be opposed on the grounds that it is cruel. even criminal law. understood as pleasure taken in suffering. say. an origin. Derrida says. Cortès connects capital punishment with a history of blood sacrifice within which the death penalty is a form of expiation. the Catholic Church has been in favour of the death penalty. The death penalty seems more and other than a mere penalty. 142). Derrida observes that the US has a JudeoChristian culture (Derrida 2004. we have to take on this paradoxical status of abolitionism in order to formulate a consistent abolitionism. However. the Catholic Church campaigns against it (Zwartz 2008). Cortès and Kant both see in such abolition the elimination of criminal law (Derrida 2004. because it destroys the agent. in the form of lethal injection. a condition of possibility. 138). Now.e. In ‘Death Penalties’ Derrida notes that historically. the right to suspend the law) and a history of cruelty.194 Marguerite La Caze against the commandments. He is also thinking that many secular governments – perhaps all – have a strong religious element and this is connected to the death penalty. 145). I would say. it seems to me that this is another form of conditional opposition to the death penalty. in this tradition. as proponents could respond either that the death penalty. According to Derrida. because capital punishment ‘is less a phenomenon or article of criminal law than. 24–7). Derrida says that capital punishment is the condition of possibility of law. For example. . Derrida also argues that the elimination of the death penalty for political crimes such as treason as contrasted with criminal law leads directly to its universal abolition. and external (excluded): ‘a foundation. The principled abolitionist must oppose the view that law. 142). Cruelty can be psychic cruelty. a non-serial exemplarity. however. for example. Thus the distinction is not between life and death but between two ways of killing. one punishment among others. more and other than a penalty’ (Derrida 2004. This inconsistency can only be avoided by making a distinction between murder or assassination as killing outside the law and legal killing according to the law (Derrida 2002b. in Derrida’s view. Saint Thomas Aquinas and Donoso Cortès. the quasi-transcendental condition of criminal law and of law in general’ (Derrida 2004. it is internal (included). necessarily involves the death penalty. This will involve a history of blood as part of a history of the exception (i.13 Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) reads ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel.

144). the state’s ‘monopoly on violence’ (Derrida 2002a.Derrida: Opposing Death Penalties 195 is not cruel. In this case. In the case of democracies. That approach would imply that we should accept the death penalty in some cases. The implication is that the power of the sovereign over life or death has to be taken away in order to ensure that the death penalty cannot be invoked by them. Derrida notes that sovereign power can be transferred to the people (Derrida 2004. have at the same time abolished the death penalty and begun an ambiguous process that. is to show that death or being killed or being deprived of life is cruel in itself. He believes that to properly question the death penalty we need also to question the sovereignty of the sovereign: ‘one cannot again place the death penalty in question in a radical.15 He believes that sovereignty is questioned in Europe. or that once a non-cruel method has been devised then there is no reason to be against capital punishment. 144).14 Of course. unconditional way without contesting or limiting the sovereignty of the sovereign’ (Derrida 2004. and forgiveness (Derrida 2002a. another way to argue. Derrida simply refers to an ‘unconditional without sovereignty. One could consistently argue that sovereignty should be limited in this respect in the case of both the state and individuals. is defined by this possibility of making a decision over the life or death of subjects (thus being above the law) or the ability to make an exception for itself (Derrida 2004. as I suggested earlier. Thus he indicates that unconditional abolition has a similar structure to these other unconditionals. 262). without putting an end to nation-state sovereignty. . the gift. the constitutional right to bear arms undermines the state’s monopoly on violence. 268) is to question sovereignty. . 144). How does unconditional abolition compare to other unconditional concepts such as unconditional hospitality or forgiveness (Derrida 2001)? It is difficult to see how in the case of capital punishment the conditional can temper the unconditional as it does in the case of hospitality by limiting it. according to Derrida. principled. writing ‘all the old states of Europe . In ‘Psychoanalysis Searches the State of its Soul’. In the US. 276). This appears to be an unwelcome implication . Questioning the power of life and death. exposes it in any case to an unprecedented crisis or puts it back in question’ (Derrida 2002a. Derrida might suggest that this transfer of the right to violence transfers sovereign power to the people and makes it more likely that they kill others. for example. Abolishing the death penalty limits the sovereignty of the state to some extent. which is no doubt a very difficult thing to think’ and links it to other ‘impossibles’ such as hospitality. Sovereignty. and thus without cruelty.

Unconditional abolition and the death penalty are opposites. although a capacity for forgiveness may make people more likely to be against the death penalty. respect for human life. Unconditional abolition and conditional abolition are also not precisely parallel in that unconditional abolition is not self-deconstructing in the same way as hospitality. A principled upholding of respect for the dignity of life can be developed into a consistent argument against all instances of capital punishment.16 Sovereignty can be limited. She also adds that we should not dismiss criminals as inhuman. States may have a great deal of sovereignty without allowing the death penalty. both have the same aim. Limiting sovereignty does not destroy it. In these cases. Derrida essentially agrees with this view. Elizabeth Roudinesco suggests that the abolition of the death penalty obliges forgiveness (Derrida 2004. albeit in a limited form in the conditional case. 162). and capital punishment can be distinguished from killing in just wars. 31). However. where she states that what cannot be punished cannot be forgiven (Arendt 1998. Unconditional abolition of capital punishment could co-exist with limited sovereignty whereas unconditional hospitality undermines sovereignty and thus the conditions for hospitality. It seems to have more potential for principled support than an unconditional hospitality or forgiveness. for example. as Derrida realises. Derrida’s arguments for the impossibility of unconditional abolition of the death penalty are not conclusive. which is much more serious than hospitality being limited in some ways. Conditional abolition may still allow the death penalty. Unconditional abolition and the death penalty do not stand in the same relation as unconditional hospitality and forgiveness do to conditional hospitality and forgiveness. could give us a sufficient principle to distinguish these cases (Derrida 2002c. because he says that forgiveness is on a different level from the political or legal (Derrida 2004. given his opposition to the death penalty. is problematic as this would also mean accepting some forms or cases of capital punishment (Derrida 2002c). 241). One should note Arendt’s connection of forgiveness and punishment in The Human Condition. questioning the power over life and death in the case of capital punishment does not necessitate abandoning the sovereignty of the state altogether. It does not have to be based on a sanctity of life argument. the abolition of it does not entail the forgiveness of all who commit ‘capital’ crimes. 308–9). saying that the only . opposition can be universal and include assassinations and executions without trial. Furthermore. The idea of negotiation between the two that he advocates in relation to ethics and politics.196 Marguerite La Caze for Derrida. Derrida comments on this link in ‘To Forgive’ (Caputo 2001. 161).

pp. Beccaria. Dooley. ‘Reflections on the Guillotine’. The Column of Infamy. Justin O’Brien. Allessandro Manzoni. Unconditional abolition does not have to be opposed to all killing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. linked to opposition to killing for political purposes. and Death. 245–60. Arendt. De Beauvoir. but Still Facing a Date with the Executioner’. Caputo. De Beauvoir is remarkably honest in connecting the death penalty with desires for revenge (Derrida 2004. I believe she is right to recommend that concern about the death penalty should be related to concern about prison reform. Bernasconi. The deconstructibility of unconditional abolition is a contingent rather than a necessary one. Ralph (2007).Derrida: Opposing Death Penalties 197 place where forgiveness is part of the law is in the sovereign’s right to grant clemency. 45–52. 161). ‘A Love that is Stronger than Death: Sacrifice in the Thought of Levinas.17 We should also reconsider the punishment of ‘life in prison. 150). New York Times. trans. 247). and Bloch’. London: Oxford University Press. Hannah (1994). Otherwise forgiveness and punishment are of two distinct orders. While Kant tries to separate capital punishment from revenge. References Arendt. and tied to efforts to limit killing in war.’ Roudinesco proposes (Derrida 2004. Hannah (1998). New York: Penguin. trans. pp. 9–16. Unconditional abolition should be universal. Opposition to the death penalty should include opposition to targeted assassinations. John. Scanlon (eds) (2001). 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Perhaps a better way of thinking about this issue of the kind of attitudes involved in abolition is that abolishing the death penalty involves renouncing revenge. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. ‘An Eye for an Eye’. Questioning God. I think that even in this case the sovereign does not have to forgive when they ‘pardon’. 175–234. ‘Not the Killer. such as killing in self-defence or killing in wars. Robert (2002). Albert (1960). Resistance. New York: Knopf. pp. . Simone (2004). Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Camus. Mark and Michael J. 30 August. Angelaki. Heidegger. pp. Derrida’s suggestion that such a separation is tenuous at best is well-founded (Derrida 2004. punishment. Cesare (1964). so held to apply in all countries and should question both state sovereignty over life and death and the power of non-state actors to choose the death of others in such cases as assassination and terrorist killings. 7:2. Blumenthal. by Kenelm Forster and Jane Grigson. Rebellion. ‘Of Crimes and Punishments’. and justice in general. The Human Condition. Philosophical Writings.

Peggy Kamuf. trans. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. as well as Damian Cox for discussion of an earlier version. ‘Peine de mort et souverainete. John M. 1971–2001. pp. eds. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Emmanuel (2001).’ Philosophy Today. Robson and Bruce L. Maurice Cranston. J. 3 January. Stanford. CA. ed. 13–38. S. (2006). trans. Jill Robbins. Kant. Jacques and Elizabeth Roudinesco (2004). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Emmanuel (1990). Stanford. pp. Derrida. Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes. Marguerite (2006). Public and Parliamentary Speeches. Adam (2007). 18 November. ‘Justices Weigh Injection Issue for Death Row’. and Refugees. I would like to thank audiences at the Derrida Today Conference in Sydney and the Canadian Society for Continental Philosophy Conference in Montréal for helpful comments and questions. Negotiations: Interventions and Interviews. 8 January. Jacques (2001). pp. Feature Article: Theory and Practice. Jacques (2002a). Without Alibi. trans. 447–468. ‘Death Penalties’. United Nations General Assembly. Hospitality. pp. Rousseau. 313–324. London: Routledge. 266–72. Derrida. Barney (2008). pp. Levinas. Levinas. ‘The Asymmetry Between Apology and Forgiveness’. David R. Is it righteous to be?: Interviews with Emmanuel Levinas. Mary Quaintance. Plato (1999). Greenhouse. Liptak. Jacques (2002c). trans. 48:3. Gregor. pp.198 Marguerite La Caze Derrida. CA: Stanford University Press. 146–8. Kinzer. The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach. Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism. (1988). The New York Times. ‘Not just Visitors: Cosmopolitanism. Zwartz. Jeff Fort. Plato: The Collected Dialogues. For What Tomorrow: A Dialogue. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. Immanuel (1996). ‘Force of law: The “Mystical Foundation of Authority”’. Alice (2000). Mary J. London: Penguin. La Caze. ‘Does Death Penalty Save Lives? A New Debate’. ‘The End of Innocence’. Kaplan. Stanford. 16 June. ed. Notes 1. Michel Rosenfeld and David Gray Carlson. CA: Stanford University Press. Stanford University Press. Stanford. ‘Spare the Bali Bombers says Catholic Church’. CA: Stanford University Press. CA: Bollingen. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. La Caze. London: Routledge. Linda (2008). ‘An Eye for an Eye’. Derrida. Practical Philosophy. Jacques (1992). trans. Mill. eds. trans. Derrida. . 3–67. I am also grateful to the Australian Research Council for support during preliminary research for this paper. Drucilla Cornell. The New York Times. trans. Marguerite (2004). The Age. Seán Hand. Dow. pp. 23–83. Princeton. Jacques (2002b). The New York Times. Derrida. ‘Capital Punishment’. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. ‘Interview with François Poirié’. 139–65. Contemporary Political Theory 5: 4. Jean-Jacques (1968). The Social Contract. pp.’ Divinatio 15.

One could ask whether pleasure is necessarily taken in cruelty. Derrida does not associate his own opposition to the death penalty with opposition to abortion. from Leviticus 24: 17–22. Lex talionis refers to the idea of ‘an eye for an eye’. 7.) 10. See Camus (1960). 19–23. 9. 152). 11. Derrida also makes this point in 2002b. 14. 17. The idea of holding people responsible for crimes they were accomplices to is prevalent in states in the U. De Beauvoir maintains that human beings have a spiritual appetite for vengeance that is a ‘metaphysical requirement’ (2000. 2007. See Kaplan (2000) for a discussion of Brasillach’s trial. we can only justify killing in defense of another (2002). for example (Blumenthal. 2008). given that his essays and literary writings are not clearly distinguishable from his philosophy. Derrida mentions that some states in America decided that lethal injection was not cruel or unusual punishment (2004. 23. See ‘Force of Law’ (1992) for Derrida’s discussion of the founding violence of the state. disappointingly. Liptak. Derrida also raises the question of whether we know that criminals are fully responsible for their actions (2004.3366/E1754850009000529 . 15.Derrida: Opposing Death Penalties 199 2. 247). 3. argues against abolition (1988. and Greenhouse. 2008. 8. Derrida discusses Plato’s support for capital punishment in the laws in 2002b. 157). 12. Laws X. 907910d). 140). 2007). 2006. See Plato (1999. 5. Derrida also notes that Rousseau is unusual in separating sovereignty from the exercise of the condemnation of criminals. Derrida’s separation of Camus’ essay on the death penalty and his philosophical writing merits further discussion. an issue I do not have the space to discuss here. Bernasconi argues that for Levinas. This inconsistency has been noted in relation to the former and to a certain extent the current Australian government’s lack of condemnation of the death penalty for the Bali bombers in Indonesia (Zwartz. or like punishment for like crime. 13. 266–72). 6. for example. (See Dow. John Stuart Mill also. DOI: 10. Much of the debate in the US still concerns these issues. However. See my discussion of the workings of hospitality and forgiveness in La Caze. 4. It’s also odd that Derrida would make such a sharp distinction in this case.S. The key phrase here is that philosophers have not opposed the death penalty qua philosophers. 79). 16. Rousseau writes: ‘Condemnation of criminals is a right the sovereign can confer but not exercise himself’ (1968. and the death penalty is used in these cases in Texas. suggesting that is sometimes a Christian fundamentalist position (2004. 2004 and 2006.

it is shown how this movement between beside and besides is also central to Derrida’s thought.1 The most that can be hoped for is the possibility of a reply. The ratio was almost two to one. I was in ‘Readings’ bookshop in Melbourne and I noticed that for the first time the books on the shelf about Derrida outnumbered the books bearing Derrida’s name as their author. By examining how the particularity (the beside) and its supplements (the besides) operate in Presa’s works. about. Beside the amorphous hieroglyphs on the white page. Beside – the finite presentation of singularity – inscribes. *** Beside the writing. * Barely four years after Derrida’s death. collections of articles and introductions were waiting. like friends. Besides Derrida’s writing. Elizabeth Presa’s first work on. the morphe. a besides – its infinite supplement. the possibility of being beside the other in such a way as to be besides the other.Beside(s): Elizabeth Presa with Jacques Derrida Dimitris Vardoulakis Abstract This paper explores the way that Elizabeth Presa’s artworks respond to Jacques Derrida’s thought. the others’ writings. parergon. numerous monographs. even though there are no friends: perhaps because after death there can only be mourners. all these books showed that there is no security in advance about the tenure of the reply. to list but a few of its names that demand still others to come. Oscillating between a ‘derrida industry’ and the processes of mourning and response that constitute part of his legacy and promise. or différance. which respond to Derrida by continuing in his aftermath. with. Beside Derrida’s own writing. a form. and is inscribed within. and also by discontinuing or deforming his thought. .

I opened a file on the disc. The first is second and the second first. undresses it of its purpose to become a book. the doer of the action is obscured. Melbourne). remaining suspended in the interstices that names possibility. The verblessness of this touching disables any hierarchies in this contact. Presa’s touching of Derrida’s words – assuming that the possessive is appropriate for an electronic back-up in a floppy disk. shown in the Linden Gallery (St Kilda. it is the enactment of that possibility. The alphabet’s characters are no longer read but rather folded into a garment that both dresses up the text into a visual extravagance and. Jean-Luc Nancy.Beside(s): Elizabeth Presa with Jacques Derrida 201 in response to Jacques Derrida is lodged in this verbless space that the beside can institute. and hence the action itself loses the security of a pre-determined destination. rather. It is verbless not in the sense that there is a complete absence of verb – a verb. simultaneously. Presa describes how the work came about: This installation took as its material starting point . . Amorphous form. It is verbless. This paper formed an undergarment for one of the paper kimonos I was to construct. Part of this text was typed on a laptop computer during Derrida’s visit to Melbourne. (Presa 2003. is always implied. The folding. and printed many copies. . Dressed and undressed.3 *** Besides the verbless touching between Presa and Derrida that the work enacts. 90. an action. An action without a secured agent erases its aim. and also Derrida beside Presa. This besides is gestured towards by Presa with reference to Edmond Jabès’ insistence . saved on a computer disc. while noting that Presa’s printout challenges the straight-forwardness of such an assumption – is the possibility contained in the promise of singularity. 2000 (see figure 1). . This installation was comprised of thousands of sheets of A4 paper with printed text. Side by side. there also arises a meditation on the limits of this amorphous form. The beside lets a thinking of the besides take place. 88. . . Before flying to Sydney Derrida gave me part of the original text. . in the sense that. . . from 28 July to 17 August. nor purely read. many of which were folded into fan shapes and embroidered with white silk thread. Presa beside Derrida. a text by Jacques Derrida entitled Le Toucher. 93)2 Derrida’s back-up copy of what he was writing at that moment is taken up by Presa for the construction of a series of kimonos. the file called 10 August. Neither purely seen. . . The work I have in mind here is ‘The Four Horizons of the Page’. . in the space between the amorphous and the morphe.

202 Dimitris Vardoulakis Figure 1. . Source: photo by Elizabeth Presa. ‘Kimono’ from Presa’s exhibition ‘The Four Horizons of the Page’ (2000).

or is it maybe that which enables. but rather in the double bind that . then. . Derrida asserts: In the fourth and last moment of the judgment of taste (modality).Beside(s): Elizabeth Presa with Jacques Derrida 203 that the book is also outside itself. On the contrary. self-subsistent. this also applies to art. which is explicitly dissociated from the judgements of understanding. this time in a regulatory and no constitutive capacity. As always. has a specific place corresponding to a power of its own. the value of exemplarity appeals to common sense (Gemeinsinn). attentive reading of Kant’s text. so long as such an idea remains on the horizon. besides. In summarizing his reading of ‘The Analytic of the Beautiful’. So common sense does not have the common meaning [sens] of what we generally call common sense: it is not intellectual. The rule of the exemplary judgment attracting universal adhesion must remain beyond all enunciation. In his close. not an understanding. an idea of the unanimous universal community which orients its idealizing process. reason commands us to produce (hervorbringen) in ourselves a common sense for more elevated ends. the ‘real’ book: These garments were doubled in deference to the book that is written twice. or whether it is still an idea of (practical) reason. Is this beauty. (Presa 2003. autonomous. This ‘by all’ is the excess and is identified with ‘common sense’. or even to examine (‘we neither want not are able to examine here’) whether such a common sense exists (if ‘there is one’) as a constitutive principle of experience or else whether. shared by all. I wanted a sense of this double experience of the book in which ‘page is yoked to page. What remains thus suspended is the question of whether the aesthetic principle of pure taste. Derrida indicates that the ‘besides’ as the common sense of a community finds its proper excess not in itself. capacity’. which nevertheless holds back the analysis of it’ (Derrida 1987. there is also something in addition to. ‘in a regulatory . this ‘besides’ is called parergon by Derrida. 94)4 Besides the book. What then is its status? Kant refuses to decide here. ‘in the book and outside it’. moral law allies itself with empirical culturalism to dominate the field. Derrida early on points to a fundamental indecision permeating the Kantian discourse: ‘Common sense is constantly presupposed by the Critique. 35). the creation of a community? Derrida does not castigate Kant for the failure to answer this ambiguity. (Derrida 1987. . In a reading of principally Kant’s aesthetics as presented in the third Critique. like word to subjugated sign’ through the stitching and doubling of the sheets of paper. in as much as it requires universal adhesion. 115–16) Judging something as beautiful exceeds its own enunciation in the sense that it is a universal judgement.

It is. 28 September to 11 November 2007) makes an explicit reference to the last few pages of Derrida’s ‘A Silkworm of One’s Own’. it is important that this question arises in relation to modality. to be able to say ‘me’ or ‘we’. There is no culture or cultural identity without this difference with itself. The installation ‘A Silkroom of One’s Own’ (Linden Gallery. this besides is enacted in response to Kant’s own discourse. the sericulturist. (Derrida 1992. A veil of silk hangs in front of the large window on the other side. The other’s unassimilable identity effects one’s own self-differentiation. and at the same time it unfolds in the force field between a constative and a performative that Derrida’s own response demands. analogous or assimilable: What is proper to a culture is not to be identical to itself. Moreover. if you prefer. there is sericulture. There is neither an idealized work of art. ‘another possibility’. to use Catherine Malabou’s phrase. The other one finds oneself beside is never symmetrical. 9) This is where the importance of the animal in Derrida’s work arises.204 Dimitris Vardoulakis it instigates. as the chiasmic relations between these two levels. Thus. This besides is both productive of common sense and produced by common sense. . there is another culture. ‘(if “there is one”)’. only in the difference with itself. but rather shows what Kant’s own logic cannot deny as undeniable (Malabou 2006). Presa’s second artwork in response to Derrida tackles this constellation of ideas. where Derrida recalls how he cultivated silkworms as a child in Algeria. Beside the artist. but rather a labour that lets itself unfold besides this neither/ nor. nor an idealized community. in that it does not reject or deny Kant. The beside(s) can be discerned. On the site of the possible. perhaps. Beside the human. At one corner of the room there is an old display cabinet in which silkworms are cultivated. softening – veiling – the bright light (see figure 2). to be able to take the form of a subject only in the non-identity to itself or. Such a culture cannot presuppose or cause an idealized ‘we’. *** Beside the idealized community’s culture. but not to be able to identify itself. Beside the idealized community’s culture. Not to not have an identity. Melbourne. The besides is allowed to appear between the autonomy or cultural empiricism that soon after Kant came to be called Romanticism and the imbuing of culture with moral value that characterized neoKantianism. the animal. the besides operates on at least two levels simultaneously: it unfolds in the force field between the constitutive and the regulative as Kant’s double bind indicates.

a he or a she? – that if it typed for an infinite number of years. The threads . animalizes. after having itself secreted them – like a silkworm. ‘A Silkroom of One’s Own’ (2007). indeed naturalizes a nonnatural movement: reason spontaneously envelops itself in the web and threads that it itself weaves. . ‘The silkworm cabinet photographed behind the silk veil’ from Presa’s exhibition. that objectivizes. and their silkworms in particular – their particular silkworms. No possibility is entertained here that the silkworms will reproduce or represent anyone’s work. The image here recalls the silkworm itself. They inscribe the irrational within the rational in such a way as to show that they can never be separated. it would produce by accident Shakespeare’s works. as Derrida observes in Rogues: I would be tempted to take somewhat seriously this metaphor of the cocoon . . Source: photo by Dimitris Vardoulakis. The silkworms are unlike the proverbial monkey who. those in a boy’s bedroom and those in the care of an artist – question this presupposition. reason had it – can the monkey be allowed by reason to be referred to by a personal pronoun. Presa and Derrida’s animals.Beside(s): Elizabeth Presa with Jacques Derrida 205 Figure 2. This fable about the monkey presupposes a plenitude of reason within which the animal is assimilated.

there is a reversal. since a number of friends from around the world sent email messages that Presa transcribed with a pencil on the white walls of the Gallery beside Derrida’s own text about his silkworms. who in the Confessions describes God as that one from whom one waits for an answer but who never replies. I’d like very much to get some answer from you! If you are too busy to do that. and the silkworms themselves. The irrational is indissociable from the rational dictating its economy of veiling and unveiling. please ask Elizabeth to do it for you! Nancy asks: can an animal wait? This question echoes Derrida’s own question: can an animal feel shame? And it also echoes Augustine. resuscitates it. there are also communiqués by Geoff Bennington. from the inside. The message dated 10 October asks: What if the decision to be gay were a decision to remain virginal like a silk worm? A lubricant consisting of silk worms that gather around the erect penis and allow it to slide in and out while causing additional excitement by moving in a sinuous manner. Presa. produces and objectivizes on the outside of the veil of naturalism and objectivism in which it will shut itself up for a time.206 Dimitris Vardoulakis of this web come at once to reveal and veil the unveiling of truth. This reason resembles the physis of a silkworm. 130–1) According to Derrida. which. Instead of the truth remaining a prerogative of reason and the animal being used as a metaphor in this context. I think you wait for silk to write messages yourselves. Up until the point when the heroism of reason makes it appear. The nature of these messages varies. When reason is beside the animal. *** Besides the animal. besides Derrida and the silk veils.5 The registers proliferate. . reason animalizes itself. (Derrida 2005. The silkworms are for Düttmann a prompt to think about sexuality. The title of the exhibit – ‘A Silkroom of One’s Own’ – could be understood as a misnomer. there is the human. coupled with affection for Derrida. . . the imagery is here reversed: ‘reason resembles the physis of a silkworm’. Jean-Luc Nancy and Alexander Garcia Düttmann. Besides the artist and the silkworms. there is also a humorous edge. on its own. For instance. on 4 November Nancy wrote: Are you really waiting for messages – oh my dear and unknown worms? I am not sure you really wait. and lets it be reborn. But besides these echoes. The animal is at the core of reason’s potential. .

Beside(s): Elizabeth Presa with Jacques Derrida 207

Figure 3. ‘The transcribed messages on the wall of the gallery’ from Presa, ‘A Silkroom of One’s Own’ (2007). Source: photo by Dimitris Vardoulakis.

Düttmann asks: If to call someone virginal is to inscribe their sexual activity within a moral register, can an animal not be virginal? Can a gay person not be virginal when in touch with the ‘animalistic’ sexual desire? And besides this problematic, Düttmann also asks Presa: will you allow such a discourse to be written on the white – virginal? – walls of the gallery space? And more generally, can an artwork not be virginal?6 Bennington’s messages are different from Nancy’s or Düttmann’s. Presa had first contacted Bennington, writing on 17 September:
As the translator of ‘Veils’ I was wondering if you would be interested in writing, a little each day or every few days, something that could become part of the installation? The idea being that as the translator of the original French text into English, you would, in effect, continue the process of translation as a form of generation. . . like the silkworms themselves!

The challenge, then, was to continue the text, to continue the process of translation, to let the besides unfold. Remember that, besides being a translator, Bennington had also collaborated with Derrida, most notably in the writing of the parallel text of the volume that was

208 Dimitris Vardoulakis
published in English with the title Jacques Derrida.7 The singularity of Bennington’s proximity – and distance, his being beside – Derrida, allowed for a different kind of email message to be transmitted. The more confessional tone betrays a brotherly attachment to Derrida, leading suddenly on 15 October to a confession about Bennington’s own brother:
(Haunted all weekend, in the mental box or cabinet where the silkworms are constantly eating and growing, by a childhood memory of a drawing (made by my elder brother, I think: the affect is one of slightly jealous admiration rather than pride, at any rate) in a school exercise book, illustrating the circuit of mulberry, silkworm and fish pond in China. Little semi-iconic drawings of trees fertilized by fish manure from the bottom of the pond; worms fed on mulberry leaves; fish fed on shed worm skins; farmers who eat fish and spin silk. . . There were arrows to indicate the cycle. The outsize penciled silkworm on the stick branch of the tree was, I seem to remember, smiling broadly. This seemed so very satisfying, this circuit, so self-satisfying and self-satisfied, almost smug, like the drawn silkworm itself.)

Can one help but feel a ‘jealous admiration’ for such a writing that has the capacity to unfold its possibility besides other writings – the drawing of childhood memory, Derrida’s writing, and so on – and in that way extend the other writings’ possibilities? Beside writing, more writing. Beside the beside always a besides. Can one help but feel part of this beside(s) which is both the condition of the possibility and the enactment of writing itself? *** Beside(s) names two neither/nors. The ontological status of the relation it allows is neither regulatory nor constitutive. And this relation itself is presented as neither constative nor as performative. This double matrix allows the interplay between singularity and repetition. Is this a circuit that is, in Bennington’s words, ‘so self-satisfying and self-satisfied, almost smug, like the drawn silkworm itself?’ My contention is that Presa’s works are anything but. I agree with Kevin Hart, that Presa’s work ‘neither construes Derrida as a cultural monument nor ironizes the process of monumentalizing’ (Hart 2001, 174). Self-satisfaction would entail a halting of the neither/nors. It would be a state in which the neither/nors would function as a justification, an alibi, or a grounding of a libidinal economy. Conversely, residing on the beside(s), Presa’s works are restless; restlessly dissatisfied, because restlessly probing, they resist finality. They persist because they are without a horizon of expectation, other than the promise of their persistence.

Beside(s): Elizabeth Presa with Jacques Derrida 209

Bennington, Geoffrey and Jacques Derrida (1993), Jacques Derrida, trans. Geoffrey Bennington, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hantai, Simon, with Jean Luc Nancy and Jacques Derrida (2001), Connaissance des textes: Lecture d’un manuscrit illisible, Paris: Editions Galilee. Hart, Kevin (2001), ‘Horizons and Fold: Elizabeth Presa’, Contretemps, 2: 171–5. Jabès, Edmond (1990), The Book of Resemblances, trans. Rosmarie Waldrop, Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press. Derrida, Jacques (1987), The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Derrida, Jacques (1992), The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Derrida, Jacques (2005), Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, Stanford: Stanford University Press. Düttmann, Alexander Garcia (2005), Verwisch die Spuren: Mit Bildern und Arbeiten von Elizabeth Presa, Zurich: diaphanes. Malabou, Catherine (2006), ‘Another Possibility’, Research in Phenomenology, 36: 115–29. Presa, Elizabeth. (2003), ‘The Poetics of the Book in Sculpture’, Ph.D. dissertation, submitted at the Centre for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies, Monash University, awarded in 2003.

1. And the same point can be made about all the Derrida conference, symposia and seminars in the past few years. The presented paper was written for one such conference, titled Derrida Today (Sydney, 10–12 July 2008), organized by the editors of the homonymous journal, Nicole Anderson and Nick Mansfield. 2. I believe that the detail about Derrida flying to Sydney is wrong; in fact Derrida was flying to Auckland, New Zealand. 3. Derrida’s own response to ‘The Four Horizons of the Page’ can be found in his postscript to Hantai with Nancy and Derrida, Connaissance des textes. 4. The passages in quotation marks are from Jabès, The Book of Resemblances, 13. 5. Nancy has written on two other exhibitions by Presa. See http://elizabethpresa. com/nancy.pdf and (date accessed 10 May 2008). 6. Düttmann has written the catalogue for another exhibition by Presa; see But, even more importantly, in Verwisch die Spuren Düttmann has used Presa works as a prompt for his own reflections. 7. Bennington and Derrida, Jacques Derrida (1993). See References.

DOI: 10.3366/E1754850009000530

substantiating a model of friendship for politics or. Derrida 1997). he proceeds to mark friendship’s future as one of both promise and uncertainty. In these final pages where perhaps we had anticipated moving one step closer to the truth and meaning of friendship and further. on the other. offering a disguised and naïve return to a metaphysics of friendship as the saving grace of social unity? Through a close reading of the conclusion to Politics of Friendship as well as his concerns with friendship in Spectres of Marx and Rogues: Two Essays on Reason it will be argued that Derrida’s insistence on the future of friendship is bound up with the notion of an ethical promise to the thought of friendship as the condition for its political and ethical relevance. The questions addressed read as follows: Is there a way we can get beyond this stance which not only consolidates a friendship of the ‘perhaps’ with a friendship of the promise. * This paper takes its point of departure from the concluding claims of Jacques Derrida’s Politics of Friendship where he ends with what appears to be an anticipatory lament for the future of friendship and the future of democracy (Derrida 1994. Ironically while the Politics of . a better understanding of its place within the political and ethical concerns of our current constellation of democracy.Friendship’s Future: Derrida’s Promising Thought Blair McDonald Abstract This paper will address the political and ethical ramifications of Derrida’s concern for friendship in relation to his concerns with the future of democracy. but also implicates their consolidation with the very future of what we today call democracy? Is there a way in which we can substantiate something more than a romanticized call for a future integration of friendship and democracy while avoiding the pitfalls of on one hand. rights of hospitality and cosmopolitics.

and where the relation between justice. . Derrida leaves us uncertain as to what remains of the concept. 306). In what follows I will address the political and ethical ramifications of Derrida’s concern for friendship in order to ask the following: Is there a way we can get beyond this stance which not only consolidates a friendship of the ‘perhaps’ with a friendship of the promise. friendship and politics can be made possible independent of an aporetic social economy. ‘For the First Time in the History of Humanity’. and further. and measured up against its measurelessness’ (Derrida 1997. on the other. Furthermore we are left uncertain how this call to immeasurability coalesces with the question of political commonality since Derrida’s work leaves open the ways in which a concept of friendship could promise and thus found a new conception of political relations. Derrida envisions a new ethics of social relations modeled on ‘an experience of freedom and equality that is capable of respectfully experiencing that friendship which would at last be just. the political and ethical future of the question remains open-ended. as much as he closes in on the question of friendship. but also implicates their consolidation with the very future of what we today call democracy? Is there a way in which we can substantiate something more than a romanticized call for a future integration of friendship and democracy while avoiding the pitfalls of on one hand. substantiating a model of friendship for politics or. just beyond the law. offering a disguised and naïve return to a metaphysics of friendship as the saving grace of social unity? Let us return to the particular reverberations of his call to a friendship of the promise which dominates his conclusion in the Politics of Friendship. Recalling the concluding chapter of Politics of Friendship. what kind of subject would correspond to this characterisation. Michel Montaigne to Carl Schmitt. how it could be thought in conjunction with a new thought and experience of democracy.Friendship’s Future: Derrida’s Promising Thought 211 Friendship comes as Derrida’s remarkably thorough consideration of the philosophical heritage of the question of friendship and fraternity from Aristotle to Cicero. in the end. it remains impossible to gleam from his work who this future friend-subject is. how we might address something like the future of friendship and what responsibility one ought to have with regards to the politics and ethics of this futural demand. While Derrida argues that what haunts the canon of discourses on friendship is the impossibility of not only delimiting what is friendship but who corresponds to the figure of the friend. and appears here and there in his work Spectres of Marx (Derrida 1994) and Rogues (Derrida 2005). Yet it is not clear how the values which govern this particular ethical viewpoint could serve as a model for a coming politics.

it remains the theme of a non-presentable concept. Here he states what I argue ought to be read as the anchoring dilemma of his entire work on friendship. hence always insufficient and future. He writes: Democracy remains to come. it is never present. It is rather that the messianic impulse of his notion of democracy neither anticipates nor expects an eventual and total coming to presence of democracy at a future time. responsibility. the time and space of what goes by the name democracy exists as a non-presentable concept. and in general. this should not discredit its political and ethical implications. While he insists on the promise of a democracy-friendship to come. Derrida’s work successfully fails to provide a foundation whereby a new political programme can be thought because a platform of this kind cannot be reconciled with the manner in which he conceptualizes justice. Derrida offers no such hope. Second. For instance we recall that Derrida concludes Politics of Friendship with the argument that there is nothing present as such that one could delimit as democracy. the event and the singularity of ethical invention. but. what . The question remains how to account for this apparent absence of a foundational model of political and ethical relations. Derrida’s work troubles the very question of place and presence thereby frustrating a certain metaphysical conception of politics and a certain language of presence. 306) First what ought to be clarified is that I interpret Derrida to suggest that this ‘to come’ of democracy does not anticipate a coming presence of total democracy that would finally live up to and be equal to the term. this has never been the impetus of that manner of critique known as ‘deconstruction’. to come: even when there is democracy. His work does not suggest a homogeneous or substantive conception of either ‘the political’ and/or ‘friendship’ that would offer a programme for arriving once and for all within reach of a just social order. This is not to say that his conception of democracy is hopeless. This is because such a prescriptive would be at odds with the singular nature of responsibility which comes under threat through a normative politics.212 Blair McDonald Although it can be argued that Derrida does not offer a foundational politics. (Derrida 1997. the content of this promise is productively unclear. the decision. it will always remain. belonging to the time of the promise. this is its essence in so far as it remains: not only will it remain indefinitely perfectible. it never exists. That is to say. in each of its future times. Rather than accuse Derrida of this blind spot it should be asked if it is precisely the impossibility of translating a discourse on friendship into a political model that remains the irreconcilable yet inexhaustible tension of his work.

Although Critchley remains uncertain as to what the ‘decisive content’ of this passage between friendship and politics would be. Unable to resolve the problem of normativity he asks: Must it be the case that ‘there is no passage assuré between friendship and politics. The difficulty for Critchley is not so much Derrida’s concern with fraternity but the place of friendship in political affairs and how their interrelation situates the questions of ethics (Critchley 1999. Critchley returns to the question of the decision as the means by which a new ethics and politics of friendship can be attempted. He asks: ‘might there not be a hiatus between friendship and politics that far from inducing paralysis or resignation.Friendship’s Future: Derrida’s Promising Thought 213 must be understood about the ‘to come’ is not only its infinite deferral and dispersed sense of being-such but its inexhaustible quality. even if what remains is not of the order of either a substantial or metaphysical nature. The promise of its future is not a question of its becoming present. 254). 272). but is unable to overcome the difficulty of deducing a politics from an ethics. In Simon Critchley’s essay ‘The Other’s Decision in Me (What are the Politics of Friendship?)’ the question of friendship is framed less around the concern of presentability qua concept and more on the question of friendship beyond the limits of fraternity and the reconciliation of ethics and politics. but what remains. When Derrida writes ‘in so far as it remains’ he is making a claim on the inexhaustible coming of the concept. no deduction from one to the other. Nonetheless Critchley’s conclusions are important because instead of finding a passage out of this said paralysis he claims that the ‘very indeterminacy of the passage from ethics to politics entails . but the question of a becoming present which complicates the time and space in which we assume something to be thought present. that it is not of the order of accomplishment is not its defeat. while Critchley recognizes the lack of closure in Derrida’s work he is unable to imagine the passage between an ethics and politics that could serve as a foundation for a coming political or a politics that could best serve this negotiation without becoming normative and thus hostile to the question of particularity in friendship. arrived and thus there as such. Like Derrida. perhaps opens onto an experience of the political decision?’ (Critchley 1999. he attempts to unite a Levinasian conception of ethics as hospitality with Derrida’s suggestion that the ethical is at one and the same time the performance of a political intervention. Rightly Critchley asks whether it is possible for an ethics of hospitality to found the sphere of politics and law (Critchley 1999. 272). in other words. No practise of democracy could assume the ‘truth’ of democracy in action or in word. Without a solution to this question of foundation. no foundation?’ (Critchley 1999. 275).

I add. Under this framework. 276). Much like Derrida. the point for him remains that friendship can only form the basis of political commonality once it affirms the irreconcilability of ethics and politics. Critchley reminds us. Derrida insists that we refuse to resolve the tension into ‘the order of the common nor of its opposite. a demand that arises in a particular context – although the infinite demand cannot simply be reduced to its context – and calls for political invention. Elizabeth . While Critchley says nothing on the place of the promise in Derrida’s conception of friendship and politics. proximity or distance.214 Blair McDonald that the taking of a political decision must be a response to the utter singularity of a particular and inexhaustible context’ (Critchley 1999. Critchley affirms that such an ethics of response finds itself at odds with a normative politics. If a time and space of the ethics and politics of deconstruction are to be thought it could only ever be thought foundational during the time in which its enactment is performed. ‘as a response to a singular context and calls forth the invention of a political decision’ (Critchley 1999. While Derrida would agree with Critchley’s insistence on the singularity of the decision. sharing or non-sharing. without. 298). 276). Critchley’s work is insightful because it stresses the aporetic nature of this negotiation and insists on the singularity of the decision and context in which subjects act in relation to others. It is foundational without imposing a generalized norm or posing as an arbitrary and unquestioned response to circumstances. neither appurtenance nor non-appurtenance. Critchley argues that this allows us to think and act out what could be deemed the ‘political’ differently. the outside or the inside’. seeking a normative model of politics. he suggests ‘community’ (Derrida 1997. ‘The infinite ethical demand of deconstruction arises’. It remains unclear what the identity of the concept of friendship would come to figure as outside of these established binary logics. 276). This for him unites the singular regard for the other under a mode of action whose criterion he identifies as universal. For Critchley the test of a deconstructive practise of the political would be its negotiation between an ethics and politics and the invention of a singular relation to the other which pivots on the question of the decision. or ‘in a word’. politics is to be thought as ‘the art of response to the singular demand of the other. What makes ‘deconstruction’ an innovative political gesture is this precise re-working of the time and space in which it is said to act. for creation’ (Critchley 1999. we recall that Derrida also suggests that we think the concept of friendship on the basis of its tension between commonality and non-commonality. Yet the question remains as to what new semantic purchase is enacted by way of this refusal. By engaging with the problem of decision.

discourses and institutions that delimit in what ways a politics can be thought possible. as the structuring and un-structurable limit of what it is. by meticulously deconstructing the layers of asserted foundation. Instead Derrida ought to be read as trying to locate a passage between the demand and the promise to improve democracy while remaining hospitable to its becoming different. ‘persists in uncovering the fragility and aporias of this suspension. is its inexhaustible. origin or presence that have been heaped onto it’ (Weber 2007. For Weber. This is the paradoxical register of Derrida’s account. Richard Beardsworth argues that ‘Derrida’s philosophy only makes sense politically in terms of the relation “between” aporia and decision and neither in terms of a unilateral philosophy of decision: in other words. aporia is the very locus in which the political force of deconstruction is to be found’ (Thomas 2006. 158). Whether it be a question of democracy or friendship there is no identity without a relation of the non-identical. non-appropriable difference at the limit of its said identity. she suggests that it is an attempt to move within and out of words. If there is indeed a cohesive politics at work in Derrida’s texts it is still of the order of work but not a work that solicits a return to a metaphysical conception of the political whereby the truth of its arrival and presence are thought under eventual expectation. Derrida’s work is not merely a question of ‘philosophical subtleties’ (Weber 2007. to work within the impossibilities of its becoming present while all the while engaged with its perfectibility in the absence of its total accomplishment. While there are parallels to be drawn between the . From this perspective it is the concept’s difference to and within itself which means that its identity qua concept remains resistant to the very foreclosure it is out to delimit. no expression of a deconstructive faith that does not preserve an ironic distance between itself and the name in which it puts its faith’ (Caputo 2004. Derrida does not say it like this. In this way John Caputo is right to contend that there is ‘no non-ironic way to express the faith in deconstruction. stressing the productive nature of this struggle. withinwithout. Given the complications of presence his work performs. Inherent to democracy and I contend any concept for that matter. 329).Friendship’s Future: Derrida’s Promising Thought 215 Weber makes a similar concern. the potential of its arrivance and aimance. this is the inexhaustible burden and test for the implementation of a politics thought and experienced otherwise. ‘Derrida’s work’. Similarly. The contradictions Derrida draws out of things are an affirmation of faith in the concept’s survival and enrichment. but his point is that democracy remains something of a question that marks its essence. In agreement with Weber. 56). 327). its risks and its change. she offers.

but will we ever know? Is it a question of knowledge and time?’ (Derrida 2000. independent of its practice. Not yet.216 Blair McDonald non-presentability of democracy and friendship. ‘[W]e do not know what hospitality is [Nous ne savons pas ce que c’est que l’hospitalité]. is hospitality. in brief of a “humanity” ’ (Nancy cited in . 52). For instance. equality and humanity. Yet this paradoxical condition in which hospitality arrives does not operate as something negative (Derrida 2000. 6). While Nancy makes no discussion of the aporias of friendship his concerns must be noted for how they address the problem of advancing a future politics that lacks an impetus for totalisation and substantiation. it is no longer as ‘the place of the taking form or of the presenting of incommensurability or of some unity of origin and end. It comes as no surprise that Derrida’s work on hospitality began in his seminars in Paris in 1996 – two years after his book on friendship and three years after his book on Marx – because there are parallels in how he problematises both friendship and hospitality. For Nancy if a practise of politics is to be maintained. For Derrida. or suggest that it is a non-presentable concept in the same way that he discusses democracy in Politics of Friendship or hospitality in ‘Hostipitality’ (Derrida 2000). but rather that which is sustained by the impossibilities of commensuration which govern such concepts as justice. He arrives at the conclusion. what makes hospitality possible is ‘a performative contradiction’ insofar as it is not an object of knowledge nor something whose being-present can be delimited as such (Derrida 2000. What makes the idea of politicizing friendship problematic remains the question of not knowing what friendship is. where it is said to take place. in his essay ‘Hostipitality’ Derrida’s questions the time and space of its arrival and the knowledge of what it is that we can say. 6). Derrida does not delimit what is friendship as such. Without reference to Derrida. He questions the future of democracy and wonders in what sense a politics can be mobilized where the thought of democracy both ‘holds the impossibility of embodying its essence and of representing its figure’ (Nancy cited in McQuillan 2007. Jean-Luc Nancy returns to the question of democracy to make a similar contention. Henceforth he argues that we must imagine a politics ‘as the specific place of the articulation of a non-unity and of the symbolization of a non-figure’ and further ‘not the demand for achieving an essence or an end of the incommensurable’ (Nancy cited in McQuillan 2007. Not yet. 52). in his essay ‘On the Multiple Senses of Democracy’. 7). who the friend is and what constitutes its being properly political. It is rather a positive and productive point of passage which the work of thought must assume as the condition of its possibility.

While this question opens up and poses the risk of re-imagining the political as the site of the incommensurable it remains to be seen how such a politics can be put into practise. the law of friendship qua the experience of a certain ahumanity. What is significant about Derrida’s question is that it once again suggests the impossibility of divorcing friendship from its current political framework without marking a return to the religious or a humanist metaphysics. Here I suggest that the intensity of Nancy’s question is to be read alongside Derrida’s frustrated attempt to imagine a politics of friendship that makes a break with theological and humanist ideologies of social unity. Like Derrida. Derrida entertains the possibility of separating a thinking of friendship from a humanitarian impulse and wonders whether such a divorcing can still be rendered recognisable. of international law. in absolute separation. 94). The play I invoke here on the term humanitarian intervention comes about in response to Derrida’s discussion of the . These concerns take on an added significance given Derrida’s call in Spectres of Marx for what he calls a ‘New International’. the problem remains how to work within and beyond the trace of these traditions while making a call for another politics without surrendering to a salvationary messianism or a totalizing model of social relations (Derrida 1994. It would instead risk placing itself within a theologico-metaphysical tradition which would reproduce the problem of presence central to Derrida’s concern with discourses of political community. Consequently. What I would like to call Derrida’s humanitarian intervention is his call for both a ‘profound transformation. projected over a long term. 52). 53). more specifically. beyond or below the commerce of gods and man? And what politics could still be founded on this friendship which exceeds the measure of man without becoming a theologem? Would it still be a politics? (Derrida 1997. In a question that Derrida himself cannot come to answer he poses the following: Is it possible without setting off loud protests on the part of militants to think and to live the gentle rigour of friendship. with such a degree of intensity?’ (Nancy cited in McQuillan 2007. Nancy concludes his concerns with a question: ‘Are we equal to the task of conceiving a democracy in this way. of its concepts. and its field of intervention’ (Derrida 1994. and what the nature of Nancy’s faith is aiming toward. 105) and elsewhere. A politics of friendship imagined in separation to discourses of humanity would not take place in the space of the purely political.Friendship’s Future: Derrida’s Promising Thought 217 McQuillan 2007. 297) Like Nancy. the imagining of a politics in divorce from current discursive underpinnings of sociopolitical belonging.

the internationalization of responsibility as an effective obligation of political and ethical action is not properly dealt with. In what sense can a new cosmopolitics. 113). I stress this concern on the grounds that it imagines a phenomenality of the political founded under an international politics of anonymity without considering what new structures of belonging would come to operate as a result. without national community [International before. This is not to overlook the centrality of the question of responsibility in Derrida’s writings and seminars throughout his career. without coordination. 106–7).218 Blair McDonald sometimes-productive-sometimes-hypocritical nature of forms of power and State intervention understood to be humanitarian in cause (Derrida 1994. He writes: ‘Barely deserving the name community. While cultural forms of political belonging need to be subject to critique. without party. and in general. without country. much of his work. what is most often referred to as the work of deconstruction. nation. disindentified belonging is left unanswered. However the problem with Derrida’s claim is that form of belonging this ‘New International’ would take. the New International belongs only to anonymity’ (Derrida 1994. Further. Here I stress the difficulty of Derrida’s claim on the grounds that what Derrida calls for is (and we should note the invoking of friendship here) ‘the friendship of an alliance without institution’. has always thought to displace. without co-citizenship. without title and without name. I argue that it would be naïve to imagine an anonymous New International as a resistive force without a proper consideration of the exclusionary nature of belonging and . Derrida’s enthusiasm for such a political imaginary sits at odds with much of his critical work on political and ethical matters. What I am calling Derrida’s humanitarian intervention is his appeal for a new political imaginary. barely public even if it is clandestine. how the question of responsibility would operate under an international politics of anonymous. across. The problem remains that Derrida’s suggestion bears traces of the emancipatory politics which ironically. It is rather to suggest that. without common belonging to a class’ (Derrida 1994. without contract. make a clean break from the socio-political structures of belonging that have determined the political landscape thus far? Furthermore. in this instance. uncommon. blood. 104–7). an untimely politics ‘without status. and beyond any national determination]. and religion and the making way for the rise of an anonymous political subject is not politically desirable or realistic to imagine. A politics predicated on the divorce of all forms of belonging to land. as Derrida imagines. predicated on anonymity. “out of joint”.

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how political and ethical responsibility would operate in the face of socalled anonymous relations and subjects. Of course, this point must be nuanced by recognizing the problem of the opposite scenario as well; that is, where calls to identity become the grounds for a new political imaginary. If anonymity undermines responsibility there also remains the danger in replacing anonymity with identity. Both have significant drawbacks for negotiations of social unity. The problem here is one of limits and in what contexts these limits are to be opened and/or closed. In a more abstract sense, the question remains: What are the points were sameness and difference intersect and how can new political and ethical imaginaries accommodate their compatible and incompatible natures? In an interview with Geoff Bennington on his work on friendship, while Derrida remains optimistic that critique can lead to new forms of political imaginaries, he can only index to an uncertain future whereby a reinvention of the classical political concepts would be necessary for a new conception of political alliance and therein the role of friendship. Once again invoking this call to a ‘New International’ as the renewal of hope, he adds:
I think that what I try to call a ‘New International’ in Spectres of Marx should go beyond this concept of the cosmopolitical strictly speaking. We have to do a lot of things, and to work of course within the space of the cosmopolitical, and an International Law that keeps alive the sovereignty of the State. There is a lot to be done within the State and in International Law that keeps alive the sovereignty of the State, that’s what we call politics today, but beyond this task, which is enormous, we must think and be oriented by something which is more than cosmopolitical, more than citizenship. (Bennington and Derrida 1997)

Derrida is insistent that his work on friendship, hospitality, and democracy does not necessarily provide a new platform through which a new politics can be founded. Yet at the same time his work makes way for a rethinking of frameworks in which these concepts are understood and experienced. With regard to his conceptions of friendship and hospitality he argues that it does not automatically translate into a platform for politics because ‘what friendship is and what hospitality is, exceeds, precisely, knowledge’ (Bennington and Derrida 1997). He continues, ‘there is some type of experience, of political experience in friendship and hospitality which cannot simply be the object of theory’, (Bennington and Derrida 1997) and therefore, I add, instrumentalised in such a way. What is exciting and also troubling for many is that his conception of friendship in relation to the political does not allow a coming subject to be substantiated in advance. Friendship remains

220 Blair McDonald
a question that performs a relation with what comes, such that the question remains itself an engagement with what it is at the limit of what it is not and thus the very question of what comes under the sign of the foreign. This is why it is important not to separate a concern with friendship from hospitality and rather position their interrelation as what grounds its political and ethical dilemmas. Consequently – and this brings us back to the tension staged earlier between the ethics and politics of sameness and difference – required is a further examination of this relation between friendship and hospitality and the political and ethical implications of their integration. In conclusion the difficulty here is to engage with the question of friendship as a subject of inquiry and advance a new perspective on the topic at the limit of its being delimitable as an object of theory. It remains to be seen how the work of theory can push beyond being just a call for us all to take up an ethical stance that would finally live up to an experience of this call to friendship whose foundational and presentable nature is always under question. The question remains how the ‘to come’ and ‘more than’ of friendship might be possible given its untranslatable, unpresentable, unknowable qualities, and what Derrida is right to suggest is its impossible basis for a generalized model of political relations. In this sense we can begin to understand why Derrida’s anticipatory lament is maintained on the condition of the promise. The only ‘politics of friendship’ which can be advanced is not of the order of a programme and/or subject but an ethical stance that remains inexhaustibly open to the question of friendship’s future that is still to come as much as it is still to be created. In this sense it is much about exploring the identity of the concept, the force of its call to particularity as much as generality, and the aporias which mark their coming together. If the time, space and event-ness of friendship circulates as a persistent question in Derrida’s work, it is because there is an incessant demand for philosophic practice and an ethics of maintaining that the question remain as such: that the question of what it is and what can be advanced in its name remain the task of philosophy. His ethics, which we must not forget is also his faith in the promise, is one of philosophic practise, such that his meditation on friendship both testifies and deepens the tradition which links philosophy with friendship and maintains the place of friendship in the very practise of philosophy. It is because of this fundamental relation that the politics of friendship must never be thought independent of the space that would allow the work of philosophy to occur. It is that friendship remains as much

Friendship’s Future: Derrida’s Promising Thought


a question as a possibility which maintains its futurity. In this sense, perhaps all we are left with is the promise, as Derrida insists, to give friendship a future; to maintain the future of friendship qua concept as the condition of its survival however ‘apolitical’ this may seem. Insofar as we remain hospitable to the question of friendship, however vague and romantic, in this spirit may we say and act with the faith of its possibility. Such a friendship would be one whose fidelity remains bound to the thought of friendship in such a way that the returning to the question would itself mark a return to friendship, in the sense of a befriending of its concern as something which one is driven to experience and/or accomplish. In this sense, may the promise of friendship remain as much its promising thought as the promise of the thought. To affirm a politics from this thought reaffirms the politics of practising that which we call philosophy. It gives way to the redoubling of the question of the political and the philosophical, affirming its tension; it divides and overlaps but nonetheless affirming that this very redoubling is none other than the work of friendship, as much its home as its other.

Bennington, Geoffrey and Jacques Derrida (1997), ‘Politics and Friendship: A Discussion with Jacques Derrida’, Centre for Modern French Thought: University of Sussex, transcribed by Benjamin Noys, http://hydra.humanities. Caputo, John (2004), ‘Love Among the Deconstructibles: A Response to Gregg Lambert’, Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, 5: 2, pp. 37–57. Critchley, Simon (1999), Ethics, Politics, Subjectivity: Essays on Derrida, Levinas and Contemporary French Thought, New York: Verso. Derrida, Jacques (1994), Politiques de l’amitie, Paris: Galilée. Derrida, Jacques (1994), Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, New York: Routledge. Derrida, Jacques (1997), Politics of Friendship, London: Verso. Derrida, Jacques (2000), ‘Hostipitality’, Angelaki: Journal of Theoretical Humanities, 5: 3, pp. 3–18. Derrida, Jacques (2005), Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. McQuillan, Martin (ed.) (2007), The Politics of Deconstruction: Jacques Derrida and the Other of Philosophy, London: Pluto Press. Nancy, Jean-Luc (2007), ‘On the Multiple Senses of Democracy’, The Politics of Deconstruction: Jacques Derrida and the Other of Philosophy, ed. Martin McQuillan, London: Pluto Press. Thomas, Michael (2006), The Reception of Derrida: Translation and Transformation, New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Weber, Elizabeth (2007), ‘Suspended from the Other’s Heartbeat’, The South Atlantic Quarterly, 106: 2, pp. 325–44.

DOI: 10.3366/E1754850009000542

The excision subtly transforms the meaning of Marx’s text and. without this challenge assuming a dogmatic or totalitarian form. Derrida’s own response to this question involves a curious move: a material transformation of Marx’s text. Derrida’s own response to this question involves a curious move: a material transformation of Marx’s text. In this paper. * After the collapse of the Soviet Union. in a certain spirit of Marx. in which Derrida first foreshadows. and in the face of the triumphalist declaration of the final victory over communism of the market and liberal democracy. and then carries out. in which Derrida first foreshadows. acts out a vision of inheritance as an active. the critical resources to challenge resurgent liberal ideals. without this challenge assuming a dogmatic or totalitarian form.Handling Value: Notes on Derrida’s Inheritance of Marx1 Nicole Pepperell Abstract Derrida’s Specters of Marx asks whether and how we could inherit Marx today: whether we might find. the excision of a single sentence from the pivotal passage in which Marx christens the commodity fetish. in a certain spirit of Marx. rather than as a passive transmission of inherited content to its heirs. I explore the way in which Derrida foreshadows and then effects this curious elision. transformative performance. I highlight the distinctive understanding of transformative inheritance at the heart of Derrida’s text. the excision of a single sentence from . and also pose the question of why Derrida should effect this particular transformation in the search for a certain deconstructive spirit in Marx’s work. the critical resources to challenge resurgent liberal ideals. Derrida’s Specters of Marx poses the question of whether and how we could inherit Marx today – whether we might find. and then carries out. in the process.

Fukuyama systematically discounts the empirical failings of liberal institutions. These parallels open onto an analysis of how the figures of impure and transformative inheritance operate as a standpoint of critique. and what he attempts to creatively enact. Reflecting on how to respond to the triumphalist charge that the collapse of the Soviet Union invalidates any contemporary inheritance of Marx. . His argument here is subtle – and displaced: offered in the form. Derrida argues. and Derrida’s critique of Fukuyama with Marx’s critique of Stirner. and also pose the question of why. At the same time. I first examine some of the complex textual parallels that tacitly connect neo-liberal triumphalism with Soviet orthodoxy. This excision subtly transforms the meaning of Marx’s text – and also acts out a vision of inheritance as an active. rather than a transparent transmission of inherited content to its heirs (Derrida 2006. not of a direct critique of this attempted defence of the communist ideal.Handling Value: Notes on Derrida’s Inheritance of Marx 223 the pivotal passage in which Marx christens the commodity fetish. without these deviations undermining the ideal itself (Derrida 2006.2 By drawing attention to the elision. Empirically. I analyse the stakes of this particular transformative inheritance to begin to cast some light on what Derrida attempts to excise. I then turn to a more detailed examination of how Derrida first foreshadows. his transformative modification of Marx’s text. 78–82). Fukuyama. Derrida rules out the simplest response: that the Soviet Union was a corruption of a ‘true spirit’ of Marx – a perversion or false inheritance of a communist ideal that must be differentiated from the empirical entities that proclaimed themselves to be communist. and then carries out. in carrying out a transformative inheritance of Marx. defends liberal democracy by identifying it alternatively with its empirical manifestations or with a non-empirical counterfactual ideal. 76. 14–17. transformative performance. I want both to highlight the distinctive understanding of transformative inheritance at the heart of Derrida’s text. 64–6. arguing that liberalism must not be identified with its empirical manifestations. but rather a critique of Francis Fukuyama. 69–70). Derrida should effect this particular transformation. author of the triumphalist The End of History and the Last Man. from our inheritance of Marx. but must rather be understood as a counterfactual ideal from which ‘actually existing’ democracies and markets might deviate. the collapse of the Soviet Union and the unravelling of centrally-planned economies are taken to ratify liberal democracy – as though the empirical hegemony of liberal institutions confirms their normative superiority. To explore this problem. Finally. 71–2.

Derrida’s critique of Fukuyama. moreover. This repudiation of the search for a ‘pure’ inheritance is bound together with an argument that critique relies on the shattering of presence – on the ability to break apart the progression of time understood as a linear chain of homogeneous moments linked together in a necessary succession (Derrida 2006. Derrida links this ability with our capacity to form constellations between our own time and other times.3 What does it mean. 128–30). manifest targets are haunted and overdetermined by a series of latent contents. 218–19). 172–4. 67–8. is haunted by parallels with Marx’s critique of Stirner – parallels through which Derrida retroactively satirises aspects of his own critique of Fukuyama. the ability to break out of the chain of presents. 45). our own generation and other generations. 63. by recognising the implicatedness of the dead and the not yet living in any present moment. he points to what he sees as the disjointure most central . 101–5. suggesting that new media and technological developments generate conditions in which the selfidentity of the present is increasingly difficult to assert (Derrida 2006. In this tangled text. by teasing Marx for making similar moves when criticising Stirner (Derrida 2006. but to do so in the service of a critique of any attempt to invoke a true spirit of Marx? What does it mean to inherit impurely? What sort of inheritance does not proceed by means of a burial – by means of an attempt to determine with certainty the location and the identity of the remains? This is the type of inheritance Derrida seeks in Specters of Marx (Derrida 2006. 178–85). 120–5). 18. criss-crossed with these and other internal parallels that subtly destabilise and complicate the surface discussion. 1–2. 107–16. 18. 8–9. is integral to the possibility of critique (Derrida 2006. bound together and implicated in the explicit discussion. though. and destabilise the apparent self-identity of the present time. 27–35). Finally. He also links this ability with technology. Yet in the dreamwork of a text saturated with references to Freud (Derrida 2006.224 Nicole Pepperell The manifest target of this argument is Fukuyama. Fukuyama serves here as a kind of ‘residue of the day’ – and Derrida’s critique of Fukuyama is also and simultaneously a critique of attempts to inherit Marx by distinguishing Marx’s ‘true spirit’ from the empirical realities of ‘actually existing socialism’ (Derrida 2006. 20–22. to structure the text such that it seems to invoke a spirit of Marx. 99). the structure of the text suggests that a certain spirit of Marx already haunts Derrida’s critique of Fukuyama – invoked even within Derrida’s critique of the attempt to distinguish a ‘true’ spirit of Marx from various corrupt inheritances. For Derrida.

rather than a spirit that seeks to bring to presence some underlying reality that would provide a firm ontological ground for critical ideals (Derrida 2006. throw the time out of joint. In his most explicit discussion of this point.’ The category of spectrality thus captures a range of destabilising potentials that haunt any possible present and. 32–5. 51. Derrida ties the possibility of critique to this disjointure of the present – borrowing. 67).Handling Value: Notes on Derrida’s Inheritance of Marx 225 to Marx’s own analysis: the non-identity generated by the process of exchange (Derrida 2006. Derrida makes direct reference to Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach – where Marx criticises philosophers for . Derrida gathers together each of these destabilising factors under the overarching term ‘spectrality. the image that we are called to justice – called to set the time right – precisely by our sensitivity to those spectres that unsettle and destabilise any self-identity of the present time (Derrida 2006. When he seeks to inherit a certain spirit of Marx. it will therefore be a spirit willing to commune with the dead. 45). again from Hamlet. Derrida suggests that inheritance cannot be understood as a transmission (Derrida 2006. and therefore heirs cannot be distinguished from one another by their authenticity or accurate possession of what has been bequeathed. rather than a spirit that seeks to exorcise their ghosts – a spirit that seeks to destabilise the present. The task of inheriting impurely is therefore linked in this text with the task of developing a form of critique that does not ground itself on presence – a form of critique that does not attempt to proceed by stripping away a veil of illusion or false appearance. least of all. but rather something actively enacted – a performative act – one that takes place through interpretations that selectively appropriate what will and what will not be inherited. critique relies instead precisely on the absence of stable ground – an absence that does not undermine the search for justice. in order to reveal some form of underlying essence that purports to provide a stable ground for critical ideals. For Derrida.4 To develop this possibility of an impure inheritance of Marx. 205–9). 32–5). The preservation of spectrality – the embrace of the haunted and non-identical character that renders our time out of joint – is therefore central to Derrida’s concept of critique. Inheritance is not a form of passive reception. Inheritance does not comprise the contents of some transparent communication from the dead. 23–7. The dead do not bury themselves – and so they. but rather represents its condition of possibility (Derrida 2006. 143). are safe from the actions of those who would inherit them: inheritance interprets the past in a way that intrinsically transforms it (Derrida 2006. in words Derrida cites from Hamlet. 18).

therefore. It also. 165) Derrida’s citation of this passage adds commentary that draws attention to the imagery of the head in the argument about religion (Derrida 2006. 208–9). when the task is instead to change it (Derrida 2006. and related terms are scattered throughout the text. 63). 67). and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities. Derrida argues that to interpret the world is always already to have changed it – a position not unknown to a certain spirit of Marx. Marx’s passage reads: In order. takes place in an extended discussion of Valéry that was added into Derrida’s first chapter after the lectures were originally delivered. prestidigitation. a specific performative act stands out particularly clearly. Derrida draws attention to a work in which Valéry reflects on the fate of Europe by staging a scene in which Hamlet surveys illustrious skulls and finds. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. While the machinery of this transformative interpretation unfolds throughout the text. in order to inherit (Derrida 2006. and exorcism. which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. both because it is foreshadowed so heavily. foretold. removes a single sentence – specifically. The chapter in which it occurs is called ‘The Apparition of the Inapparent’ – subtitled ‘the phenomenological “conjuring trick”’. Derrida thus sets out to enact a particular inheritance of Marx – without claiming that this inheritance is true or pure – with the express goal of transforming. Images of hands. in order to open up new ways to inherit the sedimented historical potentials of our time. displacement. and because it represents the most blatant transformative citation of Marx’s work. (Marx 1990. In this passage.226 Nicole Pepperell having merely interpreted the world. a line of . subtly altering its meaning.’ Derrida foreshadows this elision throughout the text: its arrival was expected. When interpreting one of Marx’s own performative acts – the passage in which Marx christens commodity fetishism – Derrida materially transforms the passage. the sentence in which Marx distinguishes the fetish from religion – the sentence that reads: ‘So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. who channelled great energy into the transformative interpretation of political economy. manipulation. conjuring. however. in the skull of Kant. however. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities. The most direct foreshadowing. to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. as are references to disappearance.

the only one? The name of Marx has disappeared. Ellipses – omissions. and in a subsequent discussion of Blanchot’s ‘Marx’s Three Voices. omitting just one sentence – signalled with an ellipsis this time. Derrida lingers over this point. with the errant but infallible assurance of a sleepwalker. and digital manipulations paw their way through this text. The text thus prepares the reader for the omission to come – the transformative interpretation that will result from the selective inheritance of Marx’s work – a material transformation of . noting: At this point. Derrida then remarks that Valéry returns to this same passage. Curiously. 4). Where did it go? Exeunt Ghost and Marx. We may have some sense of where they have been most manifestly reinscribed: images of hands. 42). but leaving no less pressing the question of why this omission. Valéry quotes himself. (Derrida 2006.Handling Value: Notes on Derrida’s Inheritance of Marx 227 inheritance that runs from Kant to Hegel. over the planned economies and the utopian communist project. He reproduces the page of ‘the European Hamlet. the only one: the hands of Marx have disappeared. to the experience of the impossible. Shakespeare might have noted. But why this omission? What is Derrida attempting to preserve – and what is he attempting to excise – with this re-performance of the act through which Marx originally christened the concept of commodity fetishism? What sort of impure inheritance is Derrida attempting to effect. without even signalling the omission by an ellipsis: the one that names Marx. while the backdrop for the entire work is the apparent triumph of the market’s invisible hand. The name of the one who disappeared must have gotten inscribed someplace else’ (Derrida 2006. quoting it entire in a later work. when he makes the hands of Marx disappear? In both the analysis of Valéry quoted above. while he speaks of Blanchot’s work in terms of a ‘very powerful ellipsis’ that amounts to an ‘almost tacit declaration’ in order to introduce the modifications he is soon to make overtly to Blanchot’s original text (Derrida 2006. which can only be a radical experience of the perhaps’ (Derrida 2006. 4). These questions return to haunt the text when Derrida effects his own elision. in the very skull of Kant. 4) Derrida then asks: ‘Why this omission.’ the one we have just cited. if there is any. just one. drawing the reader’s attention to the omission. except for a single line. excisions – are linked explicitly with the figure of deconstruction. he then omits from it only one sentence. fingers.’ Derrida draws attention to the figure of the ellipsis. Derrida tells us that Valéry fails to mark his omission by an ellipsis (Derrida 2006. described as a process of ‘linking an affirmation (in particular a political one). 42). and then from Hegel to Marx.

155. 155). of exorcising the ghost (Derrida 2006. instead. the exorcism can be effected only in practice. Stirner thus stands criticised for attempting to destroy. production. 132. only this actuality (work. that is. Derrida argues. 57–60. Marx and Stirner thus share the goal. and that therefore must be exorcised (Derrida 2006. 128–9. And if he stops relating to these realities through the prostheses of his representation and the ‘spectacles of his fantasy [durch die Brille seiner Phantasie]. in thought alone. then he will have to take into account the ‘practical structure’ of the world: Work. if he stops transforming these realities into objects. Derrida then foreshadows the type of political affirmation that concerns him. Instead. as in Stirner’s egological reappropriation. In Derrida’s account. but rather through the mediation of work. Marx declares Stirner’s concept of an egological body itself to be a ghost. to abolish spectrality (Derrida 2006. that Stirner obscures the means to achieve a true exorcism. actualization. Only this practicality. Derrida characterises The German Ideology as a ‘whirling dance of ghosts’ in which both Stirner and Marx share a common wish ‘to have done with the revenant’ through a ‘reappropriation of life in a body proper’ (Derrida 2006. into a spectacle. not immediately.228 Nicole Pepperell the text through which. 162–3) As Derrida sees this argument then. the Wirken or the Wirkung of this Wirklicheit) can get to the bottom of a purely imaginary or spectral flesh (phantastiche. 128–9. 161–3). Marx’s objection is. 57–8. . 176–8. 132. could never be abolished there. gespenstige Leibhaftigheit). He does not actually (wirklich) destroy them. Where they differ is simply over the means through which this exorcism must be performed: Stirner seeks an immediate reappropriation of the spectral into an egological body. 141. 161). through a labour of thought and practice that takes into account all the social mediations constitutive of the spectres that throw the time out of joint. 141. like Stirner. in the form of a reappropriation of the spectral that must take place. (Derrida 2006. . As Derrida argues: Marx denounces a surplus of hallucination and a capitalization of the ghost: what is really (wirklich) destroyed are merely the representations in the form of representation (Vorstellung). Derrida suggests. 165. the State. . The youth may indeed destroy his hallucinations or the phantomatic appearance of the bodies – of the Emperor. Marx seeks. objects of theoretical intuition. techniques. deconstruction gains critical purchase on affirmative political ideals. This stance does not render Marx any more friendly to spooks. the Fatherland. a spectrality that. because it does not originate in thought. through an extended analysis of how Marx criticises Stirner in The German Ideology.

201–14). He sees Marx’s theory as aimed at the abolition or burial of this spectre. 201–5). 128–9. in Derrida’s reading. 163). 186–91. 205–6). by situating this spectre in some contingent. 193–4). 201–5). 94. 195. once and for all. 195). 185–6). and hidden by the market: by exchange value (Derrida 2006. the ‘material’ ground of use value. Marx’s conception of emancipation therefore also entails the abolition of the possibility of critique. Derrida thus hears Marx’s argument about the fetish as an attempt to locate and identify the remains of the spectre that spurs critique.’ a transformation effected specifically. constituted by labour and by technology – from the spectralising force of the market that distorts and conceals this proper body. generating the need to set the time right by bringing the proper ‘material’ body to light and allowing labour to structure social life in an open and transparent way (Derrida 2006. element of the practical structure of the world. transparency. 163–4. and production (Derrida 2006. 55. by constituting a self-identical present moment that is rationally and transparently in control of its own emancipatory possibilities (Derrida 2006.Handling Value: Notes on Derrida’s Inheritance of Marx 229 213–14). In this reading. labour figures as a despectralising form of action. He understands Marx to be mobilising a form of critique that relies on the possibility of unveiling and bringing to presence a pure ontological ground – in this case. 94. believes that this abolition can be achieved only through a process that transforms the ‘practical structure of the world. in order to enact a time that has fully and transparently realised its own potentials. and therefore exorcisable. Marx. corrupted. and rationality (Derrida 2006. abolish the ghost that renders the time out of joint. From Derrida’s perspective. 60. The christening passage in which Marx names the fetish looks like the attempt to distinguish a proper. labour. 57–8. 195–205). ‘material’ body – the body of use value. however. . On this reading. and production. actualisation and technique are positioned as forms of practice that can effect an exorcism. Derrida takes Marx’s argument to be that this pure ‘material’ essence is currently distorted. and is therefore no longer out of joint (Derrida 2006. Derrida finds a similar logic in Marx’s argument about commodity fetishism (Derrida 2006. as the non-identity that fuels critique can be overcome through the transformation and abolition of those elements of the practical world that prevent the present from achieving full self-identity. and set the time right. 35. 51. through the mediation of labour (Derrida 2006. 193–4. 186–8. exchange value is a ‘spectralising’ force – a factor that renders the time out of joint and non-identical with itself – because it conceals and prevents labour’s central social role from achieving presence (Derrida 2006.

Derrida returns to what he regards as one of Marx’s central performative acts: the passage in which the fetish is christened. Derrida sees this approach to critique to open up the potential. a position that leads Derrida to propose a very different vision of critical work – in this case. 205–7). It is from this perspective that Derrida effects his selective and impure inheritance of Marx. a locus for spectrality. 66. a work of mourning that seeks. and in the ideal of emancipatory transformation as the achievement of a time in which nothing remains out of joint. Derrida therefore sets out to criticise the christening passage by attempting to destabilise the ontological distinctions on which he believes this passage relies. 114–15. already prosthetic. 209–14).230 Nicole Pepperell In this attempt to ground critique in the bringing to presence of an underlying essence of labour. are not transparent. Derrida sees the elements that were selected and gathered together into the dogmatic and oppressive Soviet inheritance of Marx (Derrida 2006. Instead. already introducing into the ‘practical structure of the world’ the destabilising force that Derrida takes Marx to locate in the market alone (Derrida 2006. Production and labour. rather than seeking the spectre’s abolition. 128–30. 94. themselves rendering the time out of joint and generating the possibility of critique. 192). 107–10). not simply to criticise empirical reality against a counterfactual regulative ideal. He argues that labour and technology cannot be seen as ontologically pure. they are. From the standpoint of a techne that is always already spectral. 209–14). This impurity undermines the attempt to view labour as a de-spectralising form of practice. By reconceptualising critique in terms of the work of mourning. 192–5. Derrida points to the possibility for a form of critique that would remain open to the imminent return of the revenant. labour and technology must themselves be understood as already and intrinsically spectral – already haunted by non-identity. ‘material’ essences that are then corrupted by exchange (Derrida 2006. 94. Instead. not to overcome the spectre. Derrida interprets this passage as an attempted exorcism. 66. but to criticise regulative ideals themselves (Derrida 2006. critique cannot take the form of stripping away a veil to reveal labour as some sort of pure essence that has been distorted or concealed. self-identical ‘material’ processes whose essence is subsequently veiled by exchange: they are always already impure. 192. through which Marx seeks to abolish the spectrality of the market. Derrida argues. but rather to remain in communion with it (Derrida 2006. or technology as a force that can exorcise ghosts. production is itself generative of non-identity. in fact. by revealing labour to be the true ‘material’ content that the market .

107–12. but in order that we may be receptive to the ways in which these spirits continue to haunt us to set our time right (Derrida 2006. transformative interpretation of Marx’s work. he hides the sentence that refers to ‘the products of men’s hands. Derrida believes. and presence. Always still to come. In a text filled with figures chasing ghosts in order to eradicate spectrality. suggests this possibility: the spirit of the Communist Manifesto – the spectre of a communism that is threatening. Marx attempts to bring to presence the hidden content that the market veils: Derrida takes away Marx’s reference to labour. 211. It is this spirit that Derrida attempts to inherit through his impure. however. then. 186–205. not in order to drive the ghosts away.Handling Value: Notes on Derrida’s Inheritance of Marx 231 has hitherto veiled (Derrida 2006. What Derrida effects here. 85–6. always to haunt. 45. 13. 94. however. He attempts to inherit in a way that maintains in perpetuity our ability to communicate with the ghost (Derrida 2006. Seeking to interrupt Marx’s performance. Derrida excises from this passage the pivotal sentence through which. Derrida enjoins us to chase ghosts as well. 211–14). an abstract. He asks us to do this. In Derrida’s transformative re-enactment of the christening passage. is eternally to haunt. Derrida leaves unclear how the abstract ‘desert messianism’ that . 110–12. This transformative interpretation establishes certain possibilities for how we might inherit Marx today. 46–7. The excision through which Derrida enacts this inheritance. 220). the ghost gets to stay. removing the step by which. 94–5. non-essentialising inheritance of Marx that would not ground its standpoint of critique on the potential to bring essence to presence (Derrida 2006.’ Derrida’s edit to Marx’s text thus symbolically keeps labour secret. 211). is an exorcism of exorcism. in Derrida’s reading. It sets forth the possibility for a non-dogmatic. 220). he believes. 85–6. 2–3. 94–5. in this interpretation. 113–14. A certain spirit of Marx. ‘desert messianic’ spirit that remains unaligned with parties. programmes. 174–6. but not yet presenced – the spectre of a communism that. a stranger always already inhabiting Europe. 211–14). organisations. 211. providing critical purchase on both empirical realities and regulative ideals (Derrida 2006. forever non-identical with a present time perpetually out of joint: this is the certain spirit of Marx that Derrida enacts in his selective iteration of Marx’s text. Marx attempts to reveal the true ‘material’ relations of capitalist society. forswears much more than dogmatism and essentialism: it also cuts away the elements of Marx’s critique that are oriented toward the practical transformation of the social institutions through which contemporary forms of injustice are enacted.

another way to transformatively interpret Marx’s work. ed. Derrida’s transformative interpretation of Marx seems aimed at the much more abstract goal of securing an undeconstructible potential for non-identity rather than at mobilising resources for the critique of a determinate form of social life. 88–109. The End of History and the Last Man. The specificity of Marx’s work – which positions itself as a critique of political economy – is therefore lost in this translation (Derrida 2006. Derrida. Francis (2006). the Work of Mourning. New York: Routledge Classics. Fukuyama. Aijaz (2008). Arthur. 211). while moving selectively beyond Derrida’s particular vision of dry messianic critique? These are questions central to the broader project to which this paper is a contribution. or even with the ‘ten plagues’ of the new world order that Derrida himself lists. perhaps. Is this level of abstraction. Specters of Marx: the State of the Debt. another way to inherit Derrida.232 Nicole Pepperell he seeks to inherit from Marx’s work could provide critical resources to engage with the specific historical circumstance of the collapse of planned economies and the re-emergence of the market. New York: Free Press. Leiden and Boston: Brill. pp. this disconnect between critical categories and the ‘practical structure of the world’. . (2004). which considers more deeply how we might take up Derrida’s challenge to inherit Marx in a way that captures a certain non-dogmatic and anti-essentialist spirit. to open up the possibility for a non-dogmatic and anti-essentialist critique while engaging more intimately with the determinacy of our historical moment? Is there. so as to retain a certain spirit of sympathetic deconstructive engagement with Marxism. London: Verso. a necessary consequence of the attempt to inherit Marx in a non-dogmatic. or the possibility for a ‘new international’ that he puts forward. and the New International. The New Dialectic and Marx’s Capital. 100–7. Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Derrida’s Specters of Marx. anti-essentialising form? Or might there be yet another spirit of Marx we could selectively inherit. Jacques (2006). 74. Michael Sprinkler. References Ahmad. ‘Reconciling Derrida: Specters of Marx and Deconstructive Politics’. while also opening the possibility for a more determinate engagement with the political challenges of our own time. 112–16). Peggy Kamuf. The result is a form of critique whose categories seem disengaged from the social phenomena that provide the ‘residue of the day’ for this text (Derrida 2006. Christopher J. trans.

This paper developed from a collaborative project with Duncan Law. ‘Ghostwriting’. for example.’ History and Theory Vol. pp. London: Penguin Books. A few critics working at the boundaries of deconstruction and Marxism have suggested that Derrida is insufficiently attentive to the ways in which Marx’s method and textual strategy are already consonant with a deconstructive critique of approaches that would ground their critical standpoint in any type of presence. pp.roughtheory. 4. Diacritics 2. 62. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft). A number of critics overlook the substantive point being made through this ironic. Gayatri Chakravorty (1995). to our ongoing collaboration. No. ‘Marx Dematerialised. Capital. 2008. vol. Responding more specifically to Specters. I want also to thank Robert Briggs. ed. as well as the commenter’s who participated in discussions of the piece at the Rough Theory academic blog. 3. London: Penguin Books. and this piece therefore appears. before the publication of Specters. Duncan was unable to participate directly in the original conference. I would suggest that more recent reinterpretations of Marx’s work. 25. Michael (1982). London: Verso. Macherey. questions and critical insights on earlier versions of this piece. http://www. 17–25. and therefore focus their critiques in what I would suggest is a too-literal way on the “manifest content”. 65–84. 3. Its concepts and analysis owe a strong debt. self-referential dimension of the text. Notes 1. as can be seen in the reflections on Derrida’s work by. trans. for example. Michael Sprinkler. Karl (1993). Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Derrida’s Specters of Marx. See for example Ahmad 2008. Spivak takes Derrida to task for flattening the way in which the use-value/exchange-value distinction plays out in Capital.3366/E1754850009000554 .Handling Value: Notes on Derrida’s Inheritance of Marx 233 Macherey. which draws attention in particular to passages from Marx’s Grundrisse that suggest an anti-essentialising understanding of critique operative in Marx’s work (see Ryan 1982. ‘Review of Specters of Marx. 89–90. Existing reviews of Specters – even where they focus directly on Derrida’s argument about the need for a transformative inheritance of Marx’s texts – appear to have overlooked how literal is Derrida’s material transformation of the commodity fetish argument in Capital – see. 37. Ryan. Marx. Spivak. Pierre (2008). and Nate Holdren for their comments. Marx. DOI: 10. however. this potential affinity is often resisted from the Marxist side. trans. 2. Carl Dyke. Arthur and Postone. or the Spirit of Derrida’.’ make more explicit the potential affinities between Marx and Derrida. with his endorsement. Postone. and for thereby attributing to Marx a set of ontological claims that do not necessarily inhere in Marx’s work. Unfortunately. pp. This point was made. Moishe (1998). as a solely-authored work. without noticing how later passages of text work to undermine that content in a way that is often compatible with the critical reactions to the text. Marxism and Deconstruction: A Critical Appraisal. Karl (1990). 370–87. particularly those associated with what Christopher Arthur calls the ‘new dialectic. in Michael Ryan’s Marxism and Deconstruction. Andrew Dunstall. Ben Fowkes. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins. No. 1. 102). Jessica Cadwallader. Martin Nicolaus.

In ‘The Double Session’ Derrida uses the Greek word rytmos in order to indicate the ‘law of spacing’. In this sense. and in particular in a semiotic of interpretation. because it is not a definitive form. I will analyse how the idea of rhythm can work in a contemporary semiotic. in order to eliminate the confusion between interpretation and the semantic and to constitute a syntactic model of interpretation. another meaning. the purpose would be to rethink the value . Rytmos is a form that is always about to change or to break up. in order to eliminate the confusion between interpretation and semantics and to constitute a syntactic model of interpretation. the word ‘proper’ is intended in the sense of Heidegger’s Eigentlichkeit. it is possible to say that the problem of a rhythmic relation is the problem of a relation between ‘two’ that is not justified by the third element which makes it proper or eigentlich. which is far from Heidegger’s Eigentlichkeit. * The focus of this paper is Derrida’s idea of rhythm. What do we mean by ‘rhythm’? In Glas Derrida writes: ‘From “The Double Session” onward. What I’m trying to demonstrate in this essay is that the rhythmic relation discovers another sense of the word ‘proper’. It is a not-proper form.The Rhythm of Laughter: Derrida’s Contribution to a Syntactic Model of Interpretation Julia Ponzio Abstract The focus of this paper is Derrida’s idea of rhythm. and in particular in a semiotic of interpretation. In this sense a not-proper relation is a relation which is not grounded on a justification. I’ll analyse how the idea of rhythm can work in a contemporary semiotic. But when I say here that a rhythmic relation is a not-proper form.

modifiable form. because it is not a definitive form. In the classic theory of the sign. Derrida quotes from Problems in General Linguistics where Benveniste analyses the etymology of the word rytmos (Derrida 2001. Rytmos is a form that is always about to change or to break up. according to Benveniste. which divides time in equal and numerable parts in order to control it. is not an orderly sequence of movements or events. as I will attempt to show in this essay. and this inversion of the idea of the proper is the main effect of the introduction of rhythm in the graphic of mimesis. This link between rhythm and mourning provokes. 178. the form in the moment of its formation. to be motivated by a third element.’ and why he uses the Greek word. 283). But while a is a fixed form. In this sense a not-proper relation is a relation which is not grounded on a justification. a realised or objectified form. at a distance from Heidegger’s Eigentlichkeit. it is not the form. an improvised. It is a not proper form. the relation between signifier and signified needs to be justified. 154). like waves on the sea (Benveniste 1971. What I’m trying to demonstrate in this essay is that the rhythmic relation discovers another relationship to the ‘proper’. The original meaning of rytmos has rather to do. rytmos indicates the form in the moment in which it is assumed. with a punctuation which articulates the text. The reference to ‘The Double Session’ (collected in Dissemination. opening white spaces in it (2001. momentary. 178). that is to say a fluid form. . this law of spacing has to do with ‘written character and cadence’. with the concept of schema. But when I say here that a rhythmic relation is not proper form. In ‘The Double Session’. The condition of a rhythmic relation in which it is always about to change or to break up involves the link between rhythm and mourning. note 4). it is possible to say that the problem of a rhythmic relation is the problem of a relation between ‘two’ that is not justified by a third element which makes the relation proper – eigentlich – a third which the relation can make reference to in order to demonstrate that it is proper. an inversion of the idea of the proper. The ancient meaning of this word. it is not the scansion of the march. Derrida uses the Greek word rytmos in order to indicate the ‘law of spacing’. 283). 1981) is very important because Derrida’s idea of rhythm takes shape in this essay. In Derrida’s discourse. or form. the word ‘proper’ is intended in the sense of Heidegger’s Eigentlichkeit. In this sense. according to Benveniste (1971.The Rhythm of Laughter 235 of rhythm and to introduce it to a re-elaboration of the graphics of mimesis’ (Derrida 1986. In order to clarify what he means by the word ‘rhythm.

but also in Saussure (Derrida 1986. a link of sense. and not linked to it in an enduring way (Derrida 1982. the sound of a cracked or scratched bell is not a Klang. Derrida shows how in the classic theory of the sign in Hegel’s semiology.236 Julia Ponzio This third element is a semantic link. In the case of the cracked bell. the proper and motivation. is the pure resonance of a body: with its Klang. the proper and arbitrariness are deeply linked: an arbitrary relation is proper or appropriated if it is justified by a semantic link which functions as motivation. the passage or mediation that conducts from Geräusch to Sprache. as Derrida says. which justifies the relation in such a way that the arbitrary relation between signifier and signified appears proper. What Hegel calls Klang. appropriated. Geräusch and Klang are not already at the level of spirit. for example. by a law of the language. 1982). The semantic link which the Klang announces. in a translation which lets the semantic link emerge that grounds the proper in the relation. 250). ‘Arbitrariness’. . in what Hegel calls Sprache. 84). that grates. is realised only at the level of spirit. 84). the emitted sound is not proper nor original. that is to say justified. In this kind of relation. according to Derrida. For this reason. participation or analogy between the signified and the signifier’(Derrida 1982. But this not original. for example when he dwells upon the difference that Hegel establishes between Klang. and is thus not authentic. In ‘The Pit and the Pyramid’ (collected in Margins of Philosophy. the terms of the relation are replaceable. in language. the signified is independent of the signifier. it is the prelude to a semantic link because in Hegel’s discourse. In the Klang that is the pure resonance. not natural relation is therefore proper because it is justified by a semantic link. but is a Geräusch: the Geräusch is ‘the noise of the matter that obstructs. a body expresses its own form or coherence. This means that the link between the Klang and the resounding object is a semantic link. Klang in Hegel is therefore. that damages the equality of the form’ (Derrida 1986. according to Hegel. on the other hand. that is to say translatable: in this sense interpretation consists in a substitution. the resounding body expresses itself. that breaks. better. 90–98). Derrida highlights in Glas this relation between arbitrariness. where the proper is grounded on a motivated arbitrariness. Or. The Klang signifies the resounding body in an appropriate way: it is a proper relation between signifier and signified. Derrida highlights that Hegel’s semiology insists on the arbitrariness of the relation between signifier and signified. for example. 249–51). means ‘the absence of every natural relation of resemblance. and Geräusch (Derrida 1986. If this relation is arbitrary.

are not to be considered signs. When Saussure says that the relation between signifier and signified is an arbitrary relation. the question of the onomatopoeic sounds in Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics (Derrida 1986. bringing it again inside interiority. which recovers what is said. This relation is therefore an unjustified relation. as I intend to show. it is impossible to distinguish Klang and Geräusch. another possibility of the relation between signifier and signified: it shows an other possibility of the proper. écriture. What is missing in the resonance is the tympanum. an indifferent relation. and this means. and thus not a relation between one thing and another. The problem of Klang. which is not. configured as prelude to language. Onomatopoeic words. The pure resonance is something that is able to establish what I’m defining here as a rhythmic relation. 90–8). Derrida says. the link . For this reason. he means that it is a relation that is not natural. as prelude to the semantic relation. Language works in Hegel through the indissociable couple voice-hearing. The relation between sound and resounding object announces the semantic link: this means that signifier and signified appear in Hegel’s discourse in the instant before their realization in language. Onomatopoeic sounds constitute a problem in Saussure’s discourse because they are an exception to the rule of the arbitrary relation between signifier and signified. according to Derrida. what Hegel calls Klang shows. that the pure resonance before language is writing. that is to say the problem of the unjustified relation between signifier and signified. that is to say to distinguish a proper from an improper relation between signifier and signified. Derrida shows how without a semantic link to motivate the relation. that they are not really an exception to the rule of motivation that makes proper the relation between signifier and signified. they appear in a double relation in which they are at the same time separated and kept together by a white space which is not filled in by a semantic link. is also what determines. In the case of the symbol. in Derrida’s discourse. In this instant before language. The resonance is therefore dispersed and cannot be recovered. Both in the case of the relation between the knell and its Klang and in the case of the broken knell and its Geräusch. Saussure tries to show. the object and its sound are separated and kept together in an unmotivated space.The Rhythm of Laughter 237 What distinguishes language from pure resonance? The resonance of a body hit by an external element is directed from the inside to the outside. Situated a moment before language. as Derrida shows in Glas. Saussure distinguishes between sign and symbol. according to Saussure. however. but symbols.

in a symbolic relation. In the case of the symbol.238 Julia Ponzio between signifier and signified is justified by a natural link: the natural link motivates the relation and makes sure that the symbol cannot be indifferently replaced with another signifier. even if it is partial. For this reason. . respectively. according to Derrida. onomatopoeic words and Klang must be put in relation to the system. they can enter into the linguistic system. 91–2). But this exteriority is not the exteriority of différance. characterized by arbitrariness. Saussure’s need to identify a natural link between signifier and signified in the case of symbols and onomatopoeic words is very similar to Hegel’s consideration of the Klang as the passage from noise to language. This common possibility of substitution is due to the fact that both in the case of the symbol and the sign. In order to eliminate this danger. the same danger: they threaten to constitute a remainder. weakens or corrodes the border between sign and symbol: sign and symbol share the possibility of the substitution (translation) of the signifier. for Saussure’s system of language and for Hegel’s system of metaphysics. or better. The linguistic system in Saussure can. 90). Onomatopoeic words and the Klang represent. Derrida adds. This means that the signifier. it is a ‘conventional link’. the third element which motivates and justifies is a ‘natural link’. Derrida quotes Saussure’s example: the symbol of justice as a pair of scales cannot be indifferently replaced with another symbol. according to Derrida. that is to say through the substitution of a conventional motivation for a natural motivation (Derrida 1986. the relation between signifier and signified is a motivated relation: meaning that the relation is justified from something external to the relation. has the possibility to interiorize the external elements. Arbitrary signifiers are internal to this sphere. are subjected to an arbitrary phonetic and morphological evolution. But. because onomatopoeic sounds and symbols. This relation in Saussure is a relation of opposition. different from the two scales. and that the linguistic system. while in the case of the linguistic sign. that is to say by a lack of motivation. incorporate symbols and onomatopoeic words. This means that this exteriority is only provisional. which can symbolize justice (Derrida 1986. it remains possible to think of another image. can be replaced. through a new motivation. This replaceability. The distinction between linguistic signifiers and onomatopoeic words allows the sphere of the linguistic system’s organic elements to be circumscribed. once introduced in language. through a process of demotivation. an inappropriate residual. while symbolic signifiers and onomatopoeic words are external.

says Derrida. are chosen too well. between glas – and what in fact? the noise of a bell [cloche]? – between fouet and the noise of the stinging [cinglantes] lashes. a very simplified structure of imitation (between the noise of the thing and the sound of the language). become. perhaps. something that disconcerts language. belong to each other. In this passage. verily nonexistent. The word glas can be put in relation with the sound it signifies only in an improper way.The Rhythm of Laughter 239 Derrida highlights that the word glas constitutes a destabilizing element in this discourse: Furthermore. as proper names. 93) According to Derrida. the symbol and mimesis. that onomatopoeia works. or between the sound of the word fouet and that of a lash. For this reason. is an accidental event (Derrida 1986. because they show a link which refuses to justify itself. In this way.’ The relation between the knell and its sound. to perceive the natural link between the sound of the word glas and the sound of a bell. in Saussure’s discourse. in the way it is handled here. things that the laws of reason cannot subjugate. It is important to stress that this relation is however not a relation of indifference: the sound of a knell and the knell that produces it. It is actually very difficult. but in a sense distant from the Heidegger’s Heigentlichkeit. the concept of the proper itself is disconcerted. the onomatopoeic word. The sense that the ‘proper’ acquires in this relation is the sense in which a name can be ‘proper. the Klang emerges in the word glas as the pure resonance that is not a prelude to language but is. Saussure himself admits that the word glas is not an authentic onomatopoeic word. Derrida italicises onoma to suggest. the words Saussure uses in order to exemplify onomatopoeic words – glas and fouet – are not well chosen or. the sound of a knell and the word that signifies it. the concept of onomatopoeia presupposes. 91). which withdraws from every attempt to establish an identity. on the contrary. as I will show. (Derrida 1986. One wonders why Saussure chose these “words” as examples of presumed onomatopoeias. on the contrary. the resemblance is faint. and the fact that in the evolution of language this word has changed to the point where it has become similar to the sound it signifies. its . When this kind of relation appears. In this respect. It disconcerts language because it shows the possibility of a relation between signifier and signified which cannot be motivated by a third term. in Derrida’s discourse.

93).’ is a curious mime in which Pierrot takes his revenge. which Derrida analyzes in ‘The Double Session. words “strike”. To want to reappropriate itself. the proper name has commonly engaged itself in the concept or the class. tickling her and provoking uncontrollable laughter (Derrida 1981. The noise of words. The main scene of Mallarmé’s work. The name is a gift.’ (collected in Writing and Difference. Laughter is nothing other than a vibration. 200–1). Derrida writes in Glas: The passion of the proper name: never to let itself be translated – according to its desire – but to suffer translation – which is intolerable to it. is the relation of the proper name. 1967) with reference to Bataille’s critique of Hegel’s system. a rhythmic succession of glottal movements. But laughter has also a timbre. white. Derrida writes in Glas: ‘like the fouet and glas. What Derrida calls style. (Derrida 1986. an act without past. An image that Derrida often links with the idea of the rhythmic relation is laughter. It would be as though there were morsels of fouet and glas in each word’ (Derrida 1986. separated from empty. in the double sense of to listen to and to understand. The link between the name and the named is not a semantic link. The proper name cannot be translated and who it is who bears the name is not replaceable with another person with the same name. like the fouet and glas words make noise and strike the ear. senseless spaces. 20) In the proper name. the style of writing. pronounced. a voice: I can . killing his wife. The image of laughter appears many times in Derrida’s works. to take again into its belly all the world’s tongues come to lick its surface the moment. If rhythm makes it possible to think the graphic of mimesis in a new way. that is to say. which has to do with the difficult operation of the sexualization of difference. by an instrument or by an electronic device. their resonance emancipated from the semantic relation. it is not therefore the neuter rhythm of a march. a style. the tympanum.240 Julia Ponzio sound and the onomatopoeic word. for example in ‘From Restricted to General Economy. property is no longer linked to motivation: this separation determines a property which doesn’t allow any translation or substitution. exposed. a gratuitous act without motivations and without justification. is the timbre of the voice. it is not a rhythm indifferently played by a clapping of hands. is what prevents the rhythmical relation from becoming a mechanical or indifferent relation of anything with anything else. it disconcerts the possibility of what Derrida in ‘Tympan’ calls entendre. In this unmotivated appurtenance the signifier resounds in a way which disconcerts the ear.

such is the name for what has been effaced or subtracted beforehand. Derrida sometimes writes déjà with a capital “D” not to hypostatise it. If my style marks itself. inverted by a ‘point of speculum.’ he is saying it is a proper name. more than every other thing. deaf to what is most spontaneous in my voice. On the contrary. Derrida writes in ‘Qual Quelle:’ The timbre of my voice. I am using the verb ‘to be’ (perhaps crossing it) only in the sense of the attribution of a name. but which nevertheless left behind a mark. they are déjà. nor a ground (Derrida 1986. the style of my writing. It cannot be captured by its tympanum.The Rhythm of Laughter 241 recognise someone from his laugh. In Spurs Derrida says: ‘Already (déjà).’ cannot be heard by the system of metaphysics and this means that it cannot become present. that is to say as silent as the ‘a’ of the word différance. (Derrida 1982. . appertains to me. is neither an origin. the style of my writing are that which for (a) me never will have been present. This proper. as in Hegel’s system. what Derrida names déjà produces a movement that is neither linear nor without remainder: it produces a movement of continuous inversion. Derrida says in Glas. That which is the proper name of what comes before every presentation. This timbre. a signature which is retracted in that very thing form which it is withdrawn’ (Derrida 1976. the fundament. When Derrida says déjà ‘is the name. The origin. Point of speculum: here I am blind to my style. The rhythm of laughter is not a neuter rhythm: laughter in ‘The Double Session’ (and perhaps in all cases where the image of laughter appears) does not have a feminine voice. This means that laughter cannot be heard by the system of metaphysics. but to underline that it is a proper name. produce a linear development: the origin realises itself in what is originated. without producing a remainder. It is a speculum that is not present to mark an opposition between original and copy. 296) I am therefore deaf and blind to what is peculiar. nor a beginning. The timbre of my voice. to what is missing if I am not here. for example. 35). . When I say here ‘they are déjà’. to what. the beginning. did not pass through a living present and this means I have never assumed or chosen them: they already are. to me. is what the tympanum can’t hear: Derrida stresses the fact that the explosion of laughter in Mallarmé’s text is mimed. I say: ‘I am . 11). I neither hear nor recognize the timbre of my voice. Julia’. it is only on a surface which remains invisible and illegible for me. . proper. What Derrida names déjà is what opens the possibility of an interpretation whose sense doesn’t coincide with semantics. this style. in the same sense in which.

Déjà is a signature. Derrida writes: ‘When I sign I’m already dead [je suis déjà mort]. which classify and mark boundaries. In this sense. disconcerts the sense of the proper. In this inversion. shelter me on the text’s verso. I hardly have the time to sign that I am already dead. But the signature. the signature become shorter. because the structure of the “signature” event carries my death in that event’ (Derrida 1986. 19). the problem of déjà is interwoven with the problem of the proper name and of the signature. In many passages in Glas. It is what links the words with whoever wrote them. if by definition the signature is not reproducible. it sounds like a signature: Derrida says: ‘read the déjà as a siglum’ (Derrida 1986. 84). A semantic relation between signifier and signified can work only if the non-presence of the signified is provisional. has never taken place’ (Derrida 1986. the my of property certifications. this proper that links me and my signature is a property which has never been . legible. the Dèrriere and the Déjà protect me.242 Julia Ponzio Derrida plays in Glas with the coincidence in French of the sound of the first person of the verb to be and that of the first person of the verb to follow: je suis could mean both suivre and être. make me illegible. because it enters in a time that is already too short. ‘I am’ and ‘I follow’ are continuously inverting one another. nor does it control its past by presentations substituting for the absent past. Who knows me knows that this is my signature. becomes a siglum. But this my which makes this signature my signature. The living present is in this way inverted in ‘a past that has never been a present. it is inverted. in the time of what is missing. hence the siglum. Derrida plays with the sound of the name déjà. in a time that is the instant before mourning. This impossible relation between a signifier and déjà is precisely the place where rhythm. and this means that the present does not begin from itself. is often unreadable: legibility and translatability are not features of a signature. Derrida says. an abbreviated and inverted signature. 79). Déjà is a signature. introduced in the graphic of mimesis. In this sense. This my. 19). The signature is the attribution of a copyright. a semantic relation between a signifier and déjà is not possible. which recalls the inverse of his abbreviated signature: D. J. I have to abridge the writing. A ‘proper’ sign is not possible as a way of signifying a past which has never been a present. is not the my of the copyright. as if it were seen backwards in a rear-view mirror: ‘The Behind and the Already. When a signifier enters into an impossible relation with déjà. visible only in a rear-view mirror’ (Derrida 1986. it is possible to read the sentence ‘Je suis déjà’ as ‘I already follow’. I am accessible.

is the time of interpretation. it is also what is missing when my words are translated: it is the irreplaceable part of what I’m saying which shortens time because I already miss what I feel as irreplaceable. To sew up [coudre] a wound. or Couture. when a signifier enters into a relation with a déjà. has already began. time becomes too short. They must not be. the signifier in relation with a déjà is inverted. for example. and which is always too short. the time in which I miss something before its absence: this missing is what agglutinates. which motivates it. to fight [en dècoudre]. (Derrida 1986.] Sewing [couture] than betrays. When déjà is introduced. which at the same time both keep together and mark a fracture: For seams [couture]. When a signifier enters into an impossible relation with déjà. the timbre of my voice. mourning. keeps together. at the same time. interpretation and the semantic can no longer be confused. . dissimulacras what it signals. requested by a living presence. The Déjà which inverts the proper makes impossible the confusion between interpretation and the semantic because it makes the time of interpretation totally different from the time of the semantic. 209) . therefore. It is definitely what makes possible a relation without a third. in a relation where. It is. do not hold at any price. exceeds the meaning of what I’m saying or writing: it exceeds successful communication. When I am waiting for something. to be forced to sew.The Rhythm of Laughter 243 ratified. It marks with the heaviness of the rest the light pureness of the signifier but. chosen. to resew. but keeps together in a relation that is always about to change or to break up. as when I am in relation with something I feel to be unique. It is not an original relation. It is the time which flows. here. . it is déjà. to be kept from sewing. My style. a time in which the proper is no longer more a relation of need but is a relation of desire. the time of this relation is no longer the time of the provisional absence of the signified. In this sense. as something that I miss even before its absence. Style is déjà. [. time is always too long and boring. we can say. exhibits what it should hide. this must be stressed. of a foolproof solidity. from the temporality of being or from the messianic waiting. where ‘proper’ has the form of what Derrida calls Greffe. that is to say I feel it as already dead. This time that is totally different from the temporality of consciousness. The proper in this case is not a property right but the mourning for what is irreplaceable. Time is no more the lengthy wait of the substitution of the provisional signifier. On the contrary. It is the proper I have not chosen. something which cannot be substituted. This is why that [ça] works all the time.

Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. on the brink of an irreparable loss. Dissemination. Alan Bass. trans. Interpretation becomes writing: it becomes this explosion of laughter.3366/E1754850009000566 . Derrida. Jacques [1972] (1981).244 Julia Ponzio This kind of relation is rhythm in the sense of rytmos. where something is kept together in a time that is too short. inversion and mourning are deeply linked. Derrida. trans. Derrida. Margins of Philosophy. References Benveniste. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. London: Routledge. Barbara Johnson. Gli stili di Nietzsche. Mary Elisabeth Meek. DOI: 10. Venezia: Corbo & Fiore. Derrida. Jacques [1974] (1986). Derrida. trans. Éperons. Jacques [1967] (2001). Derrida writes in Glas: ‘You have to know how to die of laughter when practicing inversion’ (Derrida 1986. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. trans. Les styles de Nietzsche / Spurs. Coral Gables: University of Miami Press. Die stile Nietzsches / Sproni. trans Alan Bass. where laughter. Emile [1967] (1971). Jacques [1972] (1982). Jacques (1976). 129). Glas. Nietzsche’s styles / Sporen. Writing and Difference. Problems in General Linguistics. John Leavey and Richard Rand.

of all these crypts without depth. without any law other than the singularity of the event. – Derrida 2005 . Above all. the fundamental necessity of secrecy and the notion of the pardon. Writing incessantly on Kafka.‘Pardon for not meaning’: Remarks on Derrida. * It [art] has a name: self-destruction. Maurice Blanchot also reflects on literature. to show what might be at stake in Kafka’s Letter to His Father. the promise of a heritage is in the balance. the work. The focus of this article is the conception of literature in ‘Literature in Secret: An Impossible Filiation’. it is Kafka’s Letter to His Father which perhaps provides a paradigm for defining literature. as well as reflections by Blanchot. And another name: happiness. – Blanchot 1995 [Whereas] literature is the place of all these secrets without secret. without any bottom other than the abyss of the call [appel] or the address. Blanchot and Kafka Caroline Sheaffer-Jones Abstract Jacques Derrida returns relentlessly to the question of literature which is already a prominent concern in early texts such as Writing and Difference. In this specular address. in which Derrida discusses filiation with reference to Abraham and Isaac. infinite disintegration. The notion of literature put forward by Derrida in ‘Literature in Secret: An Impossible Filiation’ is considered in this article. eternity.

in which neither one person nor another speaks. in the history of Western metaphysics. In this article.246 Caroline Sheaffer-Jones The Sacrifice of Isaac and Literature In considering Jacques Derrida today. Following Kierkegaard. including in Kafka’s Letter to his Father (Kafka 1979b. In a vast number of texts on prominent figures including Mallarmé. The idea of meaning simply divested of the . 11–52)?3 In play is ultimately the border between truth and literature.4 While Derrida examines the words ‘Pardon for not meaning’ and the question of address. perhaps revisited in literature. In the early texts Writing and Difference. Hegel.’ on the trace. Celan. Ponge. Derrida rethought theories of truth in the works of influential philosophers such as Plato. In writings on ‘différance. Derrida has engaged in a sustained reflection on the intertwinement of philosophy and literature. I will turn to the question of literature to examine a part of what might be his heritage. Joyce. Husserl. Derrida discusses this enigmatic statement in general and then with reference to Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac. the neutral)’. his absolute faithfulness to the word of God and yet the meaninglessness of this secret. pointing to the void. the second section in Derrida’s Donner la mort published in 1999. on cinders (Derrida 1982. How would literature be concerned with this sacrifice and with the Bible? What is the ‘impossible filiation’ which Derrida exposes. Heidegger and Levinas. Of importance is the meteoric and contradictory instant of the sacrifice. Derrida has delineated many finely nuanced positions. In this article. I will focus on ‘Literature in Secret: An Impossible Filiation’. I will discuss aspects of Derrida’s ‘Literature in Secret: An Impossible Filiation’ and Blanchot’s reading of Kafka and narrative voice and then I will draw on these texts in my analysis of Kafka’s Letter to his Father to show the way in which Kafka’s address to the father might bring into play the limits of literature. 1991a). in his reading of Kafka in ‘The Narrative Voice (the “it”. This voice. indeed the filiation of literature from some authoritative source. Of Grammatology and Margins of Philosophy. he challenged.5 Maurice Blanchot emphasises. 186–236. Derrida focuses on Abraham’s secret with God. to another or to oneself. Genet and Blanchot to name only a few.1 How might its recurrent motif ‘Pardon for not meaning’ be fundamental to literature?2 In writing about literature. 1–27. 2004. the concept of pure transparent meaning or a transcendental signified.6 a neutral voice which speaks. without meaning. in which the groundwork for deconstruction was established. undermines the notion of truth.

to God and to himself is analysed in detail in The Gift of Death (Derrida 1995. By situating Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac at the core of literature. Kierkegaard. the literary heritage is at stake. 6–26). with reference to Nietzsche. with the words ‘Here I am’. and are repeated five times in this outwork which is not included in the table of contents of Donner la mort. More precisely. 54–5). Revisiting God’s direction to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. on which Kierkegaard deliberates in Fear and Trembling. Abraham tells Isaac that God will provide . 62). In responding to his son’s call. 422–34). It is as if these incomprehensible words which say nothing exceeded the text or could not be contained in it by their lack of meaning. their secrecy or illegibility. which is again examined. Derrida states that Abraham but also God could have said: ‘Pardon for not meaning’. In ‘The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing’. Blanchot and Kafka 247 text is no less disputed in Derrida’s ‘Literature in Secret: An Impossible Filiation’. In Derrida’s ‘Literature in Secret: An Impossible Filiation’. or the Bible and the text. developed with particular reference to Patoˇ cka. Derrida juxtaposes the logocentric concept of the book with writing (Derrida 1976. as he does to God. Following the general remarks on the motif. see also Kierkegaard 1970. Abraham maintains absolute secrecy. a little over a page. Derrida associates with literature the question of filiation. 66–9.7 Abraham’s insuperable and complex conflict of allegiances to God and to the other in the unconditional gift of death to his son. the first words ‘Pardon for not meaning’ constitute the title of the first part. It is the possibility of meaning which Derrida examines in particular in this sacrifice and Abraham’s secret with God. In Dissemination. Heidegger and Levinas in The Gift of Death. more specifically that secret between God and Abraham who answered ‘here I am’ without divulging to anyone that he had been told to slay the one whom he cherished the most (Derrida 1995. From a different perspective. in order to expose an ‘absence of the work’ at the borders of literature (Blanchot 1993.Remarks on Derrida. 91–129). it clearly steps beyond the sacred writings by its simulacrum and theatrical staging (Derrida 1981a. Blanchot has also brought into question. Derrida’s ‘Literature in Secret: An Impossible Filiation’ follows on from his lengthy analysis of the problem of giving death. Derrida ties literature to secrecy. Derrida tackles related issues in a discussion of Mallarmé’s project of writing the Book. the theological conception of the book. or the notion of descent. its supposed inherent truth and its transparent meaning. it is the relationship between the truth of the sacred writings and literature. While it is a descendant of the Bible. In this piece involving the biblical story of sacrifice.

the tense of this singularly insignificant statement reminds one of a non-language or a secret language. in which he discusses ‘the possibility of testifying to the absence of attestation’ and refers to Blanchot’s The Step Not Beyond (Blanchot / Derrida 2000. Thus what Derrida highlights in Abraham’s speech and to which he compares the speech of Bartleby. . 94–115). is associated by Blanchot with the ‘ungraspable’ place of the neuter. for he is speaking in a strange tongue”’ (Derrida 1995. Blanchot 1992. 31–2. . his reading of Blanchot’s The Instant of My Death. the heart of literature would lie in the moment of its Abrahamic origin. Meaning is suspended in the offering of Isaac. notably in Shibboleth – For Paul Celan in which he deliberates on the words: ‘Niemand / zeugt für den / Zeugen’ (‘no one / testifies for the / witness’) or again in Demeure. Derrida writes about Bartleby’s statement: ‘The modality of this repeated utterance that says nothing. adding ‘in the same way Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to” takes on the responsibility of a response without response’ (Derrida 1995. neither refuses nor accepts anything. ‘Pardon for not meaning’. testifying for the absence of attestation”. Abraham testifies to absolute faith but he does not do so by revealing a truth to human beings. 74–5. 76). “destined for”)’ (Blanchot / Derrida 2000. Melville’s literary character.8 Derrida quotes Kierkegaard’s thoughts on Abraham: “‘So he does not speak an untruth. 74. 123). ‘Pardon for not wanting to say’. is a ‘non-language’ or ‘secret language’. Is it not as if Bartleby were also speaking “in tongues?”’ (Derrida 1995. Derrida asks: ‘Can one witness in silence? By silence?’ (Derrida 1995. see also Derrida 1993) Derrida has returned relentlessly to this problem from many perspectives in his writings. namely the aporia of silent testimony. Attestation. 75). Kierkegaard. “on behalf of”. In Derrida’s ‘Literature in Secret: An Impossible Filiation’. just as Isaac is a secret witness.9 With reference to Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. see Melville). Derrida explains that God sees in secret but it is as if He did not know what Abraham was going to do. He keeps a secret. 31). signalling the absence of testimony. Derrida states: ‘No one testifies for the witness but “speech .248 Caroline Sheaffer-Jones the lamb. but neither does he say anything. with a “for” whose rich evocation remains ungraspable (“in the place of”. He returns his son to him after knowing . As Derrida emphasises. It is this ‘testimony’ which is paramount in Derrida’s consideration of the sacrifice of Isaac and literature. promises nothing. this instant of madness exceeding any restricted economy of sacrifice (see in particular Derrida 1995. in Abraham’s unspeakable secret in which he was bound to God to avow nothing. 73.

separates this from the raised arm of the murderer himself.’ but he also analyses the word ‘pardon’ and above all the aporia of forgiveness (pardon) where one can only ask forgiveness for the unforgiveable (Derrida 2005. Derrida writes about the crucial moment. On the one hand. Derrida not only examines the absence of meaning exemplified in the sacrifice and brought to the fore in the phrase ‘Pardon for not meaning. Abraham suffers beyond what is part of give and take and beyond the economy of sacrifice for the economy itself is sacrificed. the only son. it is indeed as if Abraham had already carried out the act. where contradictory positions are joined. putting to death his absolute love for what is dearest. without which there would in effect be no gift (Derrida 1995. The instant to which Derrida directs attention cannot be inscribed within any economy. where no more time is given. Blanchot and Kafka 249 that Abraham had trembled and sacrificed everything. the beginning of literature yet perhaps also its end. therefore. namely. a no-time lapse. It is the paradoxical moment when it is as if Abraham. on the necessity for Abraham to speak. it is as if Abraham had already killed Isaac: the concept of the instant is always indispensable)’ (Derrida 1995. nor even suspend it.Remarks on Derrida. to reinscribe sacrifice within an economy by means of what thenceforth comes to resemble a reward. 95–6. What is crucial is that the extremes of giving and not giving death. in the imminence that does not even separate the decision from the act. the hope for the future. meet in a gift of death which engulfs God. saving and losing. by putting to death or giving death to his own. this is the impossible to grasp instant of absolute imminence in which Abraham can no longer go back on his decision. there is obviously . This is the moment when Abraham gives the sign of absolute sacrifice. original emphasis. not in a language which is common or translatable but in tongues. Derrida makes the following comment in his text in parentheses: ‘(God stops him at the very instant when there is no more time. by an absolute gift. (Derrida 1995. It would instead be a negotiation. 72. 123) Derrida focuses on the absolute gift and the instant which is ‘impossible to grasp’. original emphasis). Abraham and his son Isaac. In this instant. by obeying God absolutely. were a murderer. Kierkegaard. Literature would have its origin in this unfathomable secret. 5). for only an instant. 74). There is no clear distinction there between fiction and non-fiction. God returns his son to him and decides by sovereign decision. where literature might be consumed without remains or testimony. this is the instant in which the sacrifice is as it were consummated.

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no reason to ask forgiveness for that which is already forgivable yet, on the other, how might the request for forgiveness for the unforgiveable be granted? Abraham asks forgiveness not for disobeying God but for obediently following his instructions and for accepting to sacrifice ‘promise itself, the child of promise’ (Derrida 2005, 5; Kierkegaard, 120–1). Moreover the problem is not simple, as Derrida insists, since the request for forgiveness necessarily prolongs the fault, as if the perjury were always repeated in the request. Importantly, there is also the difficulty of whether one can grant forgiveness to oneself or to another. Derrida writes:
Can one ever ask forgiveness from oneself? But could I ever ask forgiveness from someone else, seeing that I must, it seems, they tell us, identify myself sufficiently with the other, with the victim, in order to ask forgiveness from him knowing what I am talking about, knowing, in order to experience in my turn, in his place, the evil that I have done to him? The evil that I continue to do to him, at the very moment of asking forgiveness, that is to say at the moment of betraying again, of prolonging this perjury in which the sworn faith will already have consisted – its very infidelity? (Derrida 2005, 15; 1999, 189)

After identifying the aporia of forgiveness in Abraham’s plea to God, Derrida leads on to a discussion of other texts in particular Kafka’s Letter to his Father. It is apparent that the question of asking for forgiveness from someone other than oneself or asking oneself for forgiveness are impossible questions. ‘Two questions to which one is always held to answer yes and no, neither yes nor no’ (Derrida 2005, 15). How would one ask oneself for forgiveness? Indeed asking for forgiveness from someone else, as evident in the passage cited, poses the problem of identification with the other and of the possibility of putting oneself in the place of the other while repeating the perjury in the very request for forgiveness. Derrida emphasises above all the impossible substitution of places at the boundaries of literature, evident in the gift of death in the secret sacrifice of Isaac, and where there remains above all the incomprehensible and empty testimony of ‘Pardon for not meaning’.

The Abyss of Address
Before considering Kafka’s Letter to his Father, I will make some remarks about Blanchot’s analysis of Kafka and narrative voice. Blanchot focuses on the substitution of places in the narrative voice

Remarks on Derrida, Blanchot and Kafka 251
where the limits of literature are at stake and where the work, neither fiction nor non-fiction, is silent. The voice is not that of truth but the meaninglessness of the void. Moreover in his reading of Kafka’s Before the Law, Derrida writes that ‘the story becomes the impossible story of the impossible’ and describes the inaccessible site of the law even when it is presented (Derrida 1992, 200; Kafka 1979a). In this text on Kafka, Derrida also mentions Blanchot’s The Madness of the Day, the ‘impossible narration’ and ‘the whole story of this non-story’ (Derrida 1992, 206; Blanchot 1999).10 It is as if the narrative were about nothing but the absence of meaning, indeed the limits at which there would be no narrative and the voices would remain unrecognised. In ‘Narrative Voice (the “it” [il], the neuter)’ published in The Infinite Conversation and also in De Kafka à Kafka (Blanchot 1993, 379–87; 1981, 171–84), Blanchot describes in Kafka’s narration what he calls ‘the alteration occasioned by another kind of speech or by the other as speech (as writing)’ (Blanchot 1993, 384). There is a distance or impersonality in the space of the work which is not just the distancing of the main character from himself. Referring to his analyses in The Space of Literature, Blanchot quotes Kafka as saying that he entered into literature when he was able to substitute ‘he’ [le ‘il’] for ‘I’ (Blanchot 1993, 380; 1969, 558).11 For Blanchot, narrative voice is no longer the voice of the godlike omniscient narrator speaking truth, as he explains in an overview of traditional narration and also in a commentary of figures such as Cervantes, Flaubert and Thomas Mann. What Kafka’s narration demonstrates would be that ‘storytelling brings the neutral into play’ (Blanchot 1993, 384). Blanchot adds: ‘Narration that is governed by the neutral is kept in the custody of the third person “it” [il], an “it” that is neither a third person nor the simple cloak of impersonality’ (Blanchot 1993, 384). The ‘it’ where the neutral speaks says nothing and is the mark of radical exteriority. In a note, Blanchot writes about a play of substitutions where the narration turns, not on the ‘I’ speaking, but on the ‘it’, the neutral of the abyssal voice.
The ‘it’ [il] does not simply take the place traditionally occupied by a subject; a mobile fragmentation, it modifies what we mean by place: a fixed location, unique or determined by its placement. Here we should once again (confusedly) say that the ‘it’ [il], dispersing after the fashion of a lack in the simultaneous plurality – the repetition – of a moving and diversely unoccupied place, designates ‘its’ place as both the place from which it would always be missing and that would thus remain empty, but also as a surplus of place, a place that is always too many: hypertopia. (Blanchot 1993, 462)

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Blanchot points to the vast emptiness of the neutral ‘it’ of narrative voice, like Marguerite Duras’ ‘hole-word, hollowed out in its center by a hole, the hole in which all the other words should have been buried’. Blanchot states: ‘This is the narrative voice, a neutral voice that speaks the work from out of this place without a place, where the work is silent’ (Blanchot 1993, 385; Duras 1966). Blanchot describes the narrative voice at the limit of the work, a voice which is neither a transcendent voice from outside the work nor one which is simply placed within the work in the words of any one character (Blanchot 1993, 385). Importantly, Blanchot emphasises the limits of literature where the apparent presence of the ‘I’ is undermined. The neutral voice occupies no one place in the work but is affirmed in the substitution of places. In ‘Encountering the Imaginary’ in The Book to Come, Blanchot reflects, albeit with some nostalgia, on that elusive and forever displaced point at which fiction and non-fiction would meet and ‘the voice from the abyss’ would be properly heard (Blanchot 2003, 7; see also Derrida 1978, 7). At that place, paradoxically, Ulysses would become Homer and the first man would create himself. Indeed Blanchot reflects on the predicament of the primal man, preceded by no one, ‘as if, in order to be created, he himself needed to utter, in an entirely human way, the divine Fiat lux [Let there be light] that could open his own eyes’ (Blanchot 2003, 7). At such an instant, in this substitution of places, Blanchot exposes the abyssal void of the non-narrative, that impossible utterance of Fiat lux which would be neither divine nor human, neither uttered by God nor man. In his readings of Kafka, Blanchot emphasises the voice of the ‘it’ [‘he’] or the neutral voice. Narrative voice is about ‘the torment of impossible narration’, which is both its ‘wisdom’ and its ‘folly’, and about exteriority (Blanchot 1993, 462). It is Kafka’s impossible narration which I will consider in his Letter to his Father, insisting on a text in which fiction and non-fiction merge and in which the narrative voice entails the substitution of places. In this context, I will also raise the issue of forgiveness. Derrida writes on Kafka’s letter: ‘This letter stands [se tient] neither inside literature nor outside literature. It perhaps takes after [tient de] literature but is not contained [ne se contient pas] within literature’ (Derrida 2005, 9; 1999, 178). The borders between fiction and non-fiction are also blurred again in the letter within the letter at the end of Kafka’s text, where Kafka’s father articulates his concerns through his son. Kafka’s Letter to his Father involves an abyssal address, where the narration is not about the words of an individual but rather a neutral

certainly not bound like the son. Kafka’s grandfather. What is important is the way in which Kafka’s address entails a blurring of different positions. that it was as if the father were in the place of the son. Ah. In the unfathomable specular address in Kafka’s Letter to his Father. or puts into the mouth of his father. or more precisely a speech which the son recalls.’ It includes autobiographical details. yet at the same time it is fiction. referred to in the . In the letter which contains reproaches about aspects of Kafka’s life. about the way in which he saw himself then through the eyes of his father. indeed the eyes of the entire world. proportions: ‘you were for me the measure of all things’ (Kafka 1979b. Kafka quotes his father: “‘But for all that. However does this not also mean that the father’s disregard for his laws was tantamount to the son’s disobedience. above all those of father and son. Kafka criticises his father for often setting rules which he himself reserved the privilege of infringing. he speaks. his address to his father. It is apparent that the narrative voice in the text occupies the place of various figures. he does not speak as the son but rather assumes authority. for all that – Father was always Father to me. Kafka’s father but also ‘Father’. which is always displaced. Kafka’s father puts himself into the place of the son. his father. Blanchot and Kafka 253 voice. they are not simply erased but are part of a multitude of indistinct perspectives.Remarks on Derrida. fiction and non-fiction are blurred. in part as though he were the child. almost godlike. The narrative voice speaks neither from the place of the father nor the son. While the ‘Father’. 204) In reflecting on his childhood in this passage of the Letter to his Father. Inserted in Kafka’s Letter to his Father. acting like him or mirroring his position? Who adopted the role of the father and who the son? Such confusion is also evident in the specular address in which Kafka quotes his own father speaking about himself as the young son of Kafka’s grandfather in difficult times. These words are of course part of the discourse of the letter written by Kafka the son and directed to the father. It is as if his father had attained immense. Kafka confronts his father and looking back to capture his thoughts as a child. and yet through the repetition of these words to his own son Kafka. is a speech by Kafka’s father supposedly addressing his son. The text begins with ‘Dearest Father’ and ends with the signature ‘Franz. speaking as the son of ‘Father’. nobody knows what that means these days! What do these children know? Nobody’s been through that! Does any child understand such things today?”‘ (Kafka 1979b. How are these positions of the child and the father altered in the letter? While these positions are always displaced. The father would be at once the lawmaker and beyond the law. In his letter. 191–2). speaking in the place of the father.

in so far as one must identify with the fault. This leaves the idea of father somewhat more open also to that of the father who is not just ‘his father’. is he not also thinking of his own suffering. the father he was not. In the letter in Kafka’s letter. also producing in that instant. To whom is he speaking? If he is addressing his father with compassion. himself as the father who fathers that son. In the letter within the letter. but one who is imagined.12 Derrida emphasises that one cannot pardon and render innocent at once. a recasting of father and son in the encounter of the fictional and the real. is he thinking of his own father. speaks neither simply as the father nor as the child. in the place of his grandfather. The accusation of ‘parasitism’ is levelled at the son by the father. the father acting as a child. Kafka’s father. indeed blurred. Kafka’s text shows the fine line which is transgressed. as a child before the father perhaps lacking in compassion? In this endless specular address. ostensibly one and the same person. As if in the place of the father figure. The testimony which is neither fictional nor real recasts a multiplicity of figures of father and son. This is Kafka speaking less as a child than as an adult. It is as if at such a place in the narrative voice. In the specular address in Kafka’s letter. similarly Kafka’s voice necessarily takes the place of father and son with their diverse perspectives. as a father. father or son. Kafka recreated himself. Innocence and truth are thus not simply on the side of the father but rather father and son incessantly change places. indeed the pardon again carries the fault (Derrida 2005. 201). Kafka writes: ‘Only later did I come to understand that you really suffered a great deal because of your children’ (Kafka 1979b. it is difficult to distinguish which one of the parties. where seemingly the father is taking the floor but in fact is brought on stage by the son. by rights is holding that discourse.254 Caroline Sheaffer-Jones title of the letter. and in effect. even as the father whom he would have liked to have had. or indeed of the father he might be? The German title of Kafka’s letter Brief an den Vater contains the definite article and is translated literally as Letter to the Father rather than Letter to his Father. where Blanchot’s first man might pronounce the ‘Fiat lux’. yet this notion of dependency may be more applicable to the father. the impossible forgiveness elaborated by Derrida is apparent. the . himself. engendering through fiction and fact. forgiveness always perpetrating the fault again. in particular in the letter from the father at the close. 5). another son. in the address where neither father nor son simply speaks. In Kafka’s text. what is apparent in the specular address with its incessant changing of positions is that there is a reworking at the limits of literature. which are affirmed or in the same move sacrificed.

I would have to experience ‘in his place’ the wrong which I did to him. it is apparent that Kafka who writes to his father no less addresses himself. In his reading of Kafka. Derrida discusses the aporia in which by asking for forgiveness from someone. that out of sheer magnanimity you are ready not only to forgive me but (what is both more or less) also to prove and be willing to believe yourself that – contrary to the truth – I also am not guilty. at the edge of literature. where no figure could occupy a position of truth. and third. second. 236. in play in these substitutions are indeed the frontiers of literature. the narrative voice moves around among all of the players. the unconditional ‘Here I am’ which Abraham says to God and to his son Isaac. he has a part in Kafka’s writing which he cursed. 15. that place without place of Blanchot’s narrative voice. which could be ‘Pardon for not . in the endless speculation of this address in the letter within the letter. He states: By now you would have achieved enough by your very insincerity. in the replacement of this “in the place of” [à la place de] that we have recognized in the letter of the son to the father as the letter of the father to the son.Remarks on Derrida. (Kafka 1979b. 189). In the letter. forgiveness and fault are at once evident. for you have proved three things: first. In this testimony. as the son he was and the son he would have liked to be. Lacan. but it is still not enough. ‘Pardon for not meaning’. 1999. that I am the guilty one. Derrida writes about the relationship of literature to the question of asking forgiveness for keeping a secret. in these archives. You have put it into your head to live entirely off me. 39–72). as Kafka writes about both father and son and living and dying (Kafka 1979b. somewhere at the borders of literature. What is spoken is simply the affirmation of the address itself. 234) In the relentless changing of places of the real and imagined fathers and sons. Most importantly. Derrida writes: ‘This question of the asking. that you are not guilty. the abyssal address where it is not known who speaks. indeed neither one nor the other. from the son to the son as from the father to the father’ (Derrida 2005. be it father or son. it would be a narrative about the non-narrative. 2004. Such a replacement of him by me is not simple. Kafka speaks as his father and many other figures. Blanchot and Kafka 255 father speaks. this plea [prière] of forgiveness asked for seeks its undiscoverable place [son lieu introuvable]. 411–96. That ought to be enough for you now. 52). This is the address of endlessly echoing voices. indeed in Kafka’s words. Derrida highlights in the request for forgiveness a place which is unable to be situated. among others. as in Derrida’s reading of Lacan’s ‘Seminar on The Purloined Letter’ (Derrida 1987.

the secularization of a holy revelation [d’une sainte révélation]? A forgiveness asked for the betrayal of the holy origin of forgiveness itself?’ (Derrida 2005. Maurice (1969). ‘Kafka and Literature’. Hamlet. The Infinite Conversation. pp. Blanchot describes the neutral narrative voice. or as others would say in a religious way. Paris: Éditions Gallimard. Blanchot. it might both inherit and betray the secret. Maurice (1982). Albany: State University of New York Press. Lycette Nelson. At such limits of literature. Blanchot. The Step Not Beyond. and of the “Here I am!” between the absolute Father and Son’ (Derrida 2005. Neither real nor fictional. 1999. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. trans. (2009). Maurice (1995). Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac shows paradoxically both absolute faithfulness to God and the ‘absolute desacralization of the world’ (Derrida 2005. Charlotte Mandell. Kierkegaard. References Antelme. The Space of Literature. 205. Geoffrey and Jacques Derrida. trans. New York: Station Hill Press. Ann Smock. Monique et al. Literature would both inherit from the sacred writings and deny this heritage. Derrida names a section of his text ‘The Father. Blanchot dans son siècle. indeed Abraham’s secret and the words ‘Pardon for not meaning’. 179). Kafka and their fathers (see Derrida 2005. 1999. see also Levinas 82–121) Reflecting on the spectral manifestations of literature. Lincoln. George Quasha. Derrida asks: ‘Is literature the forgiveness asked for desacralization. Maurice (1993). (1993). Blanchot. Barrytown. The Work of Fire. In so far as literature is a descendant of Abraham. pp. it would tie together such radically detached sons and fathers as Isaac whom Abraham was prepared to sacrifice. Bennington. Its impossible filiation would be in its infidelity yet its secular repetition of this heritage. its abyssal address exposes the unknown. trans. The Station Hill Blanchot Reader: Fiction & Literary Essays. 23. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Stanford California: Stanford University Press. 9. Maurice (1999). and which involves an elaborate substitution of places. evident in Kafka’s Letter to his father. De Kafka à Kafka. L’Espace littéraire. Maurice (1955). Blanchot. Blanchot. Geoffrey Bennington. L’Entretien infini. 22) or in effect the sacrifice of everything. Blanchot. trans. the king. . Derrida writes: ‘Literature would begin there where one no longer knows who writes and who signs the narrative of the call [appel]. 189–99. Susan Hanson. Maurice (1992). trans. Blanchot. London: University of Nebraska Press. the Son and Literature’. ‘The Madness of the Day’. Paris: Éditions Gallimard. 9). Inconceivably. ed. Jacques Derrida. Maurice (1981). Paris: Éditions Gallimard. Blanchot.256 Caroline Sheaffer-Jones meaning’. Lyons: Sens Public. 12–26. perhaps repeating the sacred writings.

Secret. Derrida. Shibboleth – For Paul Celan. Derrida. The Ravishing of Lol Stein. Toward a Minor Literature. Jacques (2000). Derrida. Stanford. Peggy Kamuf. Verena Andermatt Conley. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. in Word Traces. Jr and Richard Rand.adamkotsko. The Book to Come. The Instant of My Death/Demeure: Fiction and Testimony. Counterfeit Money. California: Stanford University Press. Dissemination. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 411–96. Given Time 1. pp. 11–42. Judéités. l’autre’. Deconstruction and Criticism. trans. Éric and Daïana Manoury (eds) (2008). Barbara Johnson. Jacques (1981b). California: Stanford University Press. Cinders. Hoppenot. Derrida. Gilles and Félix Guattari (1986). pp. trans. . Derrida. and ed. Donner la mort. Franz (1979a). Derrida. Derrida. ‘Living On: Border Lines’. ed. New York: Pocket Books. Kafka. Adam Kotsko. Jacques (1981a). Blanchot. Lispector and Tsvetayeva. trans. pdf 1–25. Maurice Blanchot. London: Athlone. and trans. Paris: Éditions Complicités. Maurice (2003). http://www.. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. Derrida. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. Duras. pp. Derrida. trans. Derrida. Hélène (1991). Blanchot and Kafka 257 Blanchot. Thomas Dutoit. ‘Economimesis’. Jacques (1992). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. trans.In. David Wills. Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles. 75–176. Jacques (1991b). 174–81. Jacques (1986). Readings: The Poetics of Blanchot. trans. Ned Lukacher. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ‘Before the Law’. Diacritics 11:2. ed. trans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Marguerite (1966). ed. Barbara Harlow. Paris: Éditions Galilée. Jacques (1982). The Basic Kafka. Derek Attridge. 181–220. ed. Jacques (1987). Questions pour Jacques Derrida. Paris: Galilée. Stanford. Derrida. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Richard Seaver. Dana Polan. Derrida. Jacques (1995). Jacques (2003). Glas. ‘Le Facteur de la vérité’. New York: Grove. New York: Seabury Press. Jacques (1979a).com/weblog/Derrida. The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Jacques (1978). trans. Kleist. intro. ‘Abraham. pp. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Cixous. Jacques (1993). trans. Alan Bass.Remarks on Derrida. Leavey. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 3–25. Brighton: Harvester Press. Aporias: dying – awaiting (one another at) the ‘limits of truth’. Kafka. trans. trans. The Gift of Death. Kafka. de proche en proche. Derrida. Joseph Cohen and Raphael Zagury-Orly. 3–72. Jacques (1999). Aris Fioretis. Derrida.Literature. Alan Bass. trans. trans. California: Stanford University Press. trans. Jacques (1991a). Harold Bloom et al. London and New York: Routledge. Acts of Literature. New York and London: Routledge. pp. Stanford. ‘Literature in Secret: An Impossible Filiation’. John P. Erich Heller. Alan Bass. Maurice and Derrida. ‘Before the Law’. trans. trans. Derrida. Elizabeth Rottenberg. Joshua Wilner. Of Grammatology. Jacques (1976). Jacques (1979b). Derrida. Richard Klein. Writing and Difference. Derrida. Joyce. Derrida. Jacques (1994). trans. Margins of Philosophy. pp. Jacques (2005). Deleuze.

MacDougal. Emmanuel (1977). pp. the neutral)’. Lacan. Melville. 556 is translated in The Infinite Conversation as ‘The Narrative Voice (the “he”. On Kafka. Levinas. 2. For recent collections on Blanchot. 22. 5. mit einem Nachwort von Alena Wagnerová. Berlin: Verlag Klaus Wagenbach. Jeffrey Mehlman. And Isaac spoke unto Abraham his father. thine only son Isaac. pp. beyond recompense or retribution. Cinq nouvelles lectures talmudiques. 2003 and ‘Before the Law’ 1992. Blanchot’s title ‘La Voix narrative (le “il”. And Abraham said. hence. Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? 8. Cixous 1991 and Deleuze and Guattari 1986. Kierkegaard. See also Derrida’s discussion of “‘I have lost my umbrella”’ in Spurs 1979b. Chicago: Northwestern University Press and Newberry Library. French Freud. New York: Pocket Books. The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces 1839–60: The Writings of Herman Melville. Franz (2004). and that without calculating. my son. Antelme et al. Evanston. Paris: Éditions Galilée. 8. 12). Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit. Take now thy son. that God did tempt Abraham. Here am I. One calls the meteor a phenomenon. intro. ‘Pardon de ne pas vouloir dire’ may be translated as ‘Pardon for not meaning’. Thomas Tanselle. it seems. ‘1. 122–43. 27). 4. Derrida 2005. Princeton. I will refer to Adam Kotsko’s English translation. 13–45. And it came to pass after these things. 6. 379. Derrida writes: ‘Literature will have been meteoric. Franz (1979b). and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of’ (Genesis. without investing. 3–315. Michaud. l’autre’. beyond . New Jersey: Princeton University Press. G. God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together’ (Genesis 22). see in particular Derrida ‘Abraham. This section is not in the English publication The Gift of Death which appeared in 1995. And he said.258 Caroline Sheaffer-Jones Kafka. Søren (1970). pp. Like a sort of rainbow’ (2005. 9. mit einem unbekannten Bericht über Kafkas Vater als Lehrherr und anderen Materialien. My father: and he said. 186–236. Ginette (2006). 39–72. 9. beyond any perspective of recouping the loss. 48. Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death. Du Sacré au Saint. Kafka. ‘Seminar on The Purloined Letter’. Derrida writes in The Gift of Death: ‘Abraham had consented to suffer death or worse. Alma A. Letter to his Father. 3. see Hoppenot and Manoury. here I am. Behold. Yale French Studies. trans. whom thou lovest. 7. Herman (1987). Notes 1. 1–25. Like the secret. and get thee into the land of Moriah. And he said. and said unto him. Abraham: and he said. The Northwestern-Newberry Edition. See also Kierkegaard 1970. ‘Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street’. with Introductions and Notes by Walter Lowrie. trans. that which appears in the brilliance or the phainesthai of a light. and said. See also Bennington/Derrida 1993. ‘7. Brief an den Vater. that which is produced in the atmosphere. The Basic Kafka. ed Harrison Hayford. 2. Blanchot). le neutre)’ in L’Entretien infini. herausgegeben von Hans-Gerd Koch. Tenir au secret (Derrida. My son. or literally ‘Pardon for not wanting to say’. Erich Heller. I have sometimes modified the translations quoted in my article. Jacques (1972).

that he has entered into literature as soon as he can substitute “He” [le “Il”] for “I. Derrida refers in a note to his texts Glas. 1978.3366/E1754850009000578 . without any hope of remuneration [salaire]’. Blanchot states: ‘Writing is the interminable. pp. 34–70. which has no center. DOI: 10. ‘From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve’. and which reveals nothing’ (Blanchot 1982. the incessant. The writer belongs to a language which no one speaks. and ‘Economimesis’ 1981b. p. 317–50 and ‘The Madness of Economic Reason: A Gift without Present’. which is addressed to no one. See also Derrida 1979a. See also Derrida. 94–103. pp. 1955. 1986. 12. In The Space of Literature.” Kafka remarks. 11. 26. 321–7. Michaud 2006.Remarks on Derrida. 17). see also Derrida 1982. Blanchot and Kafka 259 economy. with surprise. 95. it is said. 100–1. The writer. On ‘parasites’. with enchantment. 1991b.” This is true. pp. 10. gives up saying “I. but the transformation is much more profound.

This thinking is able to divert the community from the economy grounding and structuring it within our political tradition governed by the metaphysics of presence. So we suggest going back to Derrida’s early analyses of phenomenology and to De la grammatologie in order to present a reading of archi-writing as the irreducible condition of the relation to otherness and. as much as possible. It is for this reason that I will try. in its very irreducible singularity. to avoid quotations. cannot give up the word of the other.Let the Witness Speak: From Archi-writing to the Community to come Francesco Vitale Abstract The paper aims to present a reading of the question of Testimony rising in Derrida’s later works (from Faith and Knowledge to Poetics and Politics of Witnessing): the experience of Testimony as the irreducible condition of the relation to the Other. * My paper focuses on the experience of testimony. perhaps precisely to show (I hope it will be understood at the end) that testimony. To this purpose I should refrain from quoting. thus. which I devoted to a not well known yet. which demands the sacrifice of the Other in its multiple theoretical and practical forms.1 I would start with some reflections elaborated in a just published essay (Vitale 2006). It will attempt to testify for testimony. of every possible link among living human singularities and. a singularity different from the one our tradition compels us to think of within the pattern of the absolute presence to the self. of the thinking of a community to come. free from the relation to the other. We intend to read this proposal and to point out its rich perspectives by bringing it into the articulation of an ethical-political archi-writing. thus. of the experience through which a living human singularity constitutes itself. as far .

constitutive. in view of a community to come. Derrida puts into relief two essential elements he considers as characterizing religion: ‘faith’ and ‘holiness’. different from the forms of community we know. 55) Derrida intends to trace the irreducible structure of the link to other through the experience of trust. which we inherit from our ‘religion’. in its irreducible singularity. link to the other in general. . . you have the experience of belief. Even if it is called the social nexus. to be sure but before the ‘link’ of religare. the proper. where the relation to the other is. This can therefore resemble a desertification. the unscathed. . Here. without pathway and without interior. On the one hand. ) the respect.2 On the other hand. all positive religion. but extraordinary text of Derrida’s: ‘Faith and Knowledge: the two Sources of Religion at the Limits of Reason alone’ (2002). the fiduciary relation and of the act of faith. no longer suitable. prior to all intersubjectivity. prior even to the opposition between the sacred (or the holy) and the profane. which rest on identitarian values which are immune or immunizing from any relation to the other as such. let us say it now. the experience of the identity where the removal of the other. there is the experience of the holy. perhaps. trust and the experience of testimony. and. is the elementary condition of a community grounded on the general economy of sacrifice. through the reading of the concept and the experience of the ‘link’. before its incorporation in a determinate religion which yet it renders possible. the entire. the safe. would still be the possibility of a religio and of a relegere. problematic etymology and doubtless reconstructed. the pure. the sound. this fiduciary ‘link’ would precede all determinate community. in view of something for which the name of community is. the risk of which remains undeniable but it can – on the contrary – also render possible precisely what it appears to threaten. before the link between men as such or between man and the divinity of the God it would also be like the condition of the ‘link’ reduced to its minimal semantic determination: (.Let the Witness Speak 261 as I know. faith. the immune. First. This is what Derrida says at the beginning of ‘Faith and Knowledge’: That which would orient here ‘in’ this desert. the responsibility of repetition in the wager of decision or of affirmation (re-legare) which links up with itself in order to link up with the other. thus. every ontoanthropo-theological horizon. (Derrida 2002. Derrida aims to trace the ultimate and irreducible structure of the relation to the other as the condition of possibility of the link to others. It would link pure singularities prior to any social or political determination.

refund. thus. Up to now Derrida seems to follow Benveniste when he resolves religious faith into trust. testimony. but this relation is always determined in view of compensation. an articulation that religion would be interested in leaving out. Moreover. he refers almost exclusively to Benveniste’s Dictionnary (1969). ’ does not only mean that ‘you survived an accident. in order to gain protection and a guarantee for yourself against the other. that it must leave out: if religion is based on the faith in the holy. a relation bringing about conflict and a disruptive impulse towards the other. the very etymological reconstructions of Benveniste do not seem to leave much space for the act of faith to which Derrida appeals. according to Benveniste. However. the very structure of the relation of trust allows its incorporation into religious faith and its articulation with the holy: that is what religion actually testifies. debt. In the entry dedicated to the ‘religious and superstition’ Benveniste (1969) reconstructs the stages that caused the ordinary opposition between these two terms. the foreigner. ‘Poetics and Politics of Witnessing’ (2005). that. where would the relation to the other. and. submission to an authority in view of a granted benefit.3 Our religion would rather be the historical result produced by their articulation. belief. that is. does not belong to the family of fid¯ es. the proper. escape religious incorporation and. the absolutely other. their articulation may be unfastened and differently distributed. It consists of a relation of bond. What Derrida intends to do is to separate the experience of faith from the impulse of the holy. even to the point of self-sacrifice. . to admit the articulation between these two elements already amounts to the statement that there is no relation of immanent necessity between them. he departs from him inscribing into this constellation an element which. implicit in the relation of trust. ‘to stand beyond . the relation of trust necessarily implies a relation to the other.262 Francesco Vitale Derrida claims to distinguish the experience of faith from the impulse of the holy: they are not the same thing. as they are distinct elements. they do not belong to each other necessarily. bond and so on. in this case. credit.5 To follow Derrida on the trace of testimony we have to refer again to Benveniste. or the reintegration of/within the proper.4 Of course. That [survivor] is not the only use of superstes. or death’ but also that ‘you . You submit yourself to the authority of one. Then. in this text. which is not always quoted in an explicit way. whom Derrida mentions in a later text. the community it makes possible? The experience of testimony offers a trace. .

which is intuitive. thus. as no authority can guarantee his word within the order of proof or knowledge? To understand how it is possible to remove witnessing from the general economy of sacrifice. of the utterly other who is inaccessible in its absolute source’ (Derrida 2002. without referring to any acknowledged authority but only to belief. sensible and. that is. That’s the way the term survives in ‘superstition’. It is possible to elaborate a whole series of verification procedures to inscribe testimony into the regime of proof. submitted to the same authority. constative. and this is the case of religious. it is necessary to understand why the experience of testimony bears the trace of the irreducible conditions of any relation to the other. Benveniste distinguishes superstes from testis. That is trust in the other without any guarantee. which is the Latin word for witnessing in law: testis is the third part. 70). However. what eludes the authority of official religion. what essentially remains strange or foreign to the constituted order of the community and is even a threat to its integrity. he asks to be believed without being able to bear proof. that is. the resignation of the self in the name of the other to whom one submits oneself without the possibility bringing forward any reason? To the other who can always be a liar. legal and scientific . you have been a ‘witness’. On the contrary. which is irreducibly removed from the regime of presentation. Therefore the irreducible condition of all address to the other would be the blind trust. you are present to it. that you stand (out) over (stat super) something.Let the Witness Speak 263 have been through an event and you stand beyond it’. from the community depending on it. What really characterizes the experience of testimony? In fact testimony implies the survival of superstes: the witness as such calls for the belief of the other in relation to an event which he states to have been present to but which is no longer present. within the order of knowledge. How is it possible? Is it not just in such an act of belief that one is exposed to the greatest danger? Does not such an act perhaps confirm the economy of sacrifice in its absolute extremity. thus. And this is the case with all testimony. that is ‘acquiescing to the testimony of the other. separated from the order of proof and knowledge. to the faith of the other. the superior authority which intervenes as a guarantor in the case of the relation between two individuals at the same level and. you watch it over. Further. thus. Derrida appeals to the testimony of superstes to retrieve the structure of the relation to the other as the irreducible condition of the link to others. superstes is a witness without any guarantee of credit. That will be the situation of the witness with respect to the event.

. before that. but which is no longer present and necessarily non-presentable in its originary presence. where. why should you accept things on blind trust? Why should you lay yourself open to what appears to be the greatest danger. In order to believe in it you must recall the archi-writing which Derrida derives from the deconstruction of the philosophical repression of empirical writing. we cannot say that the self of the living present ‘primordially is’ it. the very necessity of these supplementary historical elaborations testifies for the irreducibility of the ultimate condition of testimony. This trace cannot be thought out on the basis of a simple present whose life would be within itself. It is always already a trace . implies the reference to a past which. however near it may be. which he will have been present to. Let us try to retrieve the testimony of these early texts: archi-writing is nothing else than the dynamics of retention. a . The witness will always bear witness of a past event. and not the reverse. (Derrida 1973. 85) Therefore the punctuality of consciousness is deferred through the reference to an intuition which is no longer immediately present. according to Husserl. the self of the living present is primordially a trace. is not and will never be of the order of presence: The living present springs forth out of its non-identity with itself and from the possibility of a retentional trace.264 Francesco Vitale culture and of the history of their inextricable relations with one another. Being-primordial must be thought on the basis of the trace. to be such. In fact he treats retention as homogeneous and continuous with respect to the presence of the living present. the pure origin of consciousness. Derrida has revealed the incoherence this claim rests on: the absolute presence of consciousness to itself in the living present presupposes the possibility of the immediate presence of consciousness to intuition. But yet. Witnessing necessarily requires an act of faith without being able to give any reason for it. However. removed from the metaphysical gesture still inhabiting Husserl’s thinking. thus. implies the reference to an intuition maintained through retention. The trace is not an attribute. however. in its irreducible singularity. in his Introduction to Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry (Derrida 1989). This protowriting is at work at the origin of sense. the resignation of the self in the name of the other without any guarantee of benefit? Because the condition of the witness as a superstes is the irreducible condition of experience. . mainly in Speech and Phenomena (Derrida 1973) and. which is. This presence. the intuition is loosed from its immediate living occurrence and. .

. its sense can be re-produced as the ‘same’ in the act of recollection. where the presence of the self to itself is at stake. in its absolute source. .Let the Witness Speak 265 reference which requires recourse to a recollection that cannot present the past presence as such. it is recognized and communicated within the individual consciousness: after quick and transitory evidence. In this coincidence of identity. This means that. . but only allege it. in a moment different from the punctual presence of that experience. always already accessible to others. while Derrida does not speak directly of archi-writing. as others and as presents (as past presents). first of all to the other which I am with respect to the punctual present of my past experience. This space. after a finite and passive retention vanishes. a form which is. he was already very clear about the concept and its significance: Before the ‘same’ is recognized and communicated among several individuals. it must be an ideal form. of my present to other presents as such. that is. up to the most elaborated forms of idealization belonging to the order of scientific knowledge. i. is the space of the representation. Intersubjectivity is the relation of an absolute origin to other absolute origins. Thanks to this circulation of primordial absolutes. We always come back to the final instants of this: the unique and essential form of temporalization. despite their radical alterity. intersubjectivity is first the non-empirical relation of Ego to Ego. . language. . that is.e. in principle. Thus. since it has been built in view of a future recognition. (Derrida 1989. which are always my own. The present. ideality is announced as such and in general in an egological subject . It must be a trace. in a space virtually accessible to the other. to be able to recognize the past experience as mine. which is already of the order of the constituted trace and is liable to be objectively articulated according to the different degrees of representation: individual memory. necessarily has always already been inscribed through retention. its sense has not returned to nothingness. the same thing can be thought through absolutely other moments and acts. opened up by retention. or testify to it in the form of a representation. sense is this ideality for other moments of the same subject in a certain way. a form which must already be accessible to me in a moment different from the present of its inscription. On this subject. in the Introduction to Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry. writing . sign.. therefore. in relation to which consciousness constitutes itself. the relation to the . 86) This means that in this first and elementary determination of meaning. I must retain a trace in a form which must not have any adherence to the punctual and living immediacy of the past experience. before being the ideality of an identical object for other subjects.

which cannot imply. precisely. ‘perjury’. is the irreducible condition of experience. by the representation constituted in view of the recollecting iteration. I have always already been in the condition of being unable to bear proofs of the order of intuitive demonstration and thus. a first outcome. in this or that factual and contingent event. any relation of continuity. It is now time to draw some conclusions about the question set at the beginning: that is. that of the testifying in which I can set a link to myself and. of course. thus. that is. a form which does not imply in itself. to the other that I am. first of all. promise. thus. in a moment different from that of the experience actually present and unspeakable in itself. in the mood of perception at the moment when the attestation takes place. of the being-with-others. If now we let again the witness speak we observe that we have always already been in the condition of superstes. (Derrida 2005. not only of the conditions of mere testimony but also of all address to the other. but it is present to him. as we saw at the beginning. first of all. 77) There is no other possible experience of presence but that of posthumous testifying.6 In relation to the past presence. in principle singular and irreplaceable (even if it can be crosschecked with others in order to become proof. of verifiable knowledge. thus. we experience the irreducible conditions of experience. This ‘thing’ is no longer present to him. which Derrida named the ‘promise’. homogeneity. if he alleges this presence. ‘responsibility’. at least. and. as presently re-presented in memory. that through the experience of testimony. I can only testify that I have been present.266 Francesco Vitale other is already at work as the condition of the possibility of experience and. where I can only decide. that some ‘thing’ has been present to him. ‘oath’. the ultimate structure of the link. to my having been present to something. that is. in the only possible form. before any actual relation to the other in such or such other contingent empirical situation. in a verification process) attest. since abyssal questions arise here. of necessity to the presence which it can only represent thanks to the retention constituting experience: Whoever bear witness does not provide proof. and the ‘messianic’. before any actual address to the other. with regard to myself. I am unable to bear them to myself. and. Archi-writing reveals that the relation to the other. thus. If the relation to the other is what renders possible the inscription of presence . in order to become probative. or. bind myself to testify that the representation derived from the past through memory is mine and true. he is someone whose experience.

But my testifying and the act of faith required in relation to the other are not only concerned with testifying this or that particular experience. of a fact that could be different. on the act of faith the other – without any guarantee. of a possible identity able to loose and solve differences. knowledge and reason. which depends on the originary opening to the other that renders it possible. I give faith. to my being present to myself. It follows that in its irreducible structure the link to the other does not link a presence with a presence. It is the factual articulation of such conditions of possibility that lets us. first. depends on the other. inaccessible in its absolute source. as well as the singularity of the other. if it is what allows me to relate myself to my own past experience as an heir and a witness. which. I think. but. It is rather a link which ties together some singularities in the very irreducible inaccessibility of their presence. Therefore the experience of my singularity is only possible in the form of that testifying. In every actual address to the other I ask the other for an act of faith in my testifying since I am not able to bear proofs of the order of demonstration. it is not of the order of a possible common presence. with my singularity. are at stake in the link to others without any guarantee or authority. this is the irreducible structure of the link where the link to myself. since . a link which ties together singularities respecting the infinite distance separating the one from the other. The act of faith required in all address to the other is first and irreducibly concerned with the testifying to my singularity. It is concerned with my singularity as much as with the singularity of the other: in fact. thus. Thus. Therefore.7 As we read in the first quotation from ‘Faith and Knowledge’. I necessarily need to link myself to the other in order to set a link to myself and I need to set a link to myself in order to link myself to the other: and this is not the consequence of an empirical and contingent condition. of any other as absolutely other and. I necessarily need to give faith to the singularity of the experience of the other and I find myself in the same conditions as the addressee to whom I am also testifying. then the relation to the other is the very possibility to testify to the singularity of my experience.Let the Witness Speak 267 into the form of representation. the very possibility of my singularity. thus. grasp in the actual address to the other the ultimate structure of the link to others. but of the irreducible conditions of experience. I think. not even in the form of a consciousness present to itself. by testifying my singularity I ask the other to be the judge but also and mainly the witness of my testifying and of my singularity. without any reference to a superior authority – can or cannot grant to me.

has been able to incorporate such conditions of linkage. 2 vol. 55–65. Jacques (1989). Quaderni di comunicazione. trans. to a massacre perpetrated on behalf of a pretended infinite justice. submitting and removing the other. New York and London: Routledge. to disclose the possibility of thinking of the factual articulations of the link able to do justice to the other in its singularity. Jacques (2005). References Benveniste. Derrida allows us to understand that within this dynamic of the self-defence of identity. David B. in Acts of Religion. that is. where the relation to the other is removed as such and. in order to be at the same time. .8 Certainly the structure of the community we know. I firmly believe. ‘C’è da fidarsi. which the community rests on by repressing. New York: Fordham University Press. from any absolutely other. Jacques (1973). I believe. ed. and other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs. in the different historical forms we have known it. Speech and Phenomena. trans. to show the horizon of possibilities still open and not completely saturated that this structure implies. on behalf of its full and safe identity. trans. thus. Émile (1969). Thomas Dutoit. thus. Derrida. which is what it is only within the infinite difference separating every one from any other. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ‘Poetics and Politics of Witnessing’.268 Francesco Vitale every one is absolutely other with regard to the other.. is what Derrida asks us to be heirs to. To liberate the ultimate structure of the link which has always already and. necessarily linked us to the other. Outi Pasanaen. Derrida. yet by reducing its horizon of possibility in order to protect itself from the threat inscribed in the exposure to the other devoid of any guarantee. the community removes its own conditions of possibility: therefore. Jacques (2002). Samuel Weber and ed. Vitale. Francesco (2006). for example. Derrida wanted to witness and. Derrida. 6. Gil Anidjar. judges and witnesses. Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes. a link which does not imply assimilation but the always open possibility of relation. in Sovereignties in Question: the Poetics of Paul Celan. pp. Leavey. John P. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. it has subdued the link to the order and the economy of an auto-immunizing identity. ‘Faith and Knowledge: the two Sources of “Religion” at the Limits of Reason alone’. Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: an Introduction. Sulla fiducia in Jacques Derrida’. included and submitted to a variable set of constraints. Paris: Minuit. it does threaten itself on behalf of itself. Derrida. that is what. up to the point of extreme sacrifice. Allison.

the experience of sacredness. tied to daps. 5. the experience of witnessing situates a convergence of these two sources: the unscathed (the safe. where he deals with the Latin notion evolving from Roman law towards a religious meaning: ‘Indemnis: that which has not suffered damage or prejudice. the credit accorded the good faith of the utterly other in the experience of witnessing) and. semantics or history of law – moreover intertwined – which determine this word or this concept. the sacred. through the Roman use of fides. to be sure. . even of holiness. there where I am the only one able to bear witness and where the order of proof or of intuition will never be reducible to or homogeneous with the elementary trust. 61) takes up in a note the entry ‘sacrifice’ (sacrifice) from Benveniste’s Dictionary (1969). to the addressees receiving the testimony who are placed in the order of believing or are asked to place themselves there. Derrida (2002. even if I lie or perjure myself (and always and especially when I do). “good faith” implied in the worst “bad faith”) . It is involved in every address of the other. damnum. But among them. . all lesion’. faith. belief or faith. 72). 6. From the very first instant it is co-extensive with this other and thus conditions every “social bond”. These comprise two distinct sources or foci. restores cleanliness and property unimpaired. “Religion” figures their ellipse because it both comprehends the two foci but also sometimes shrouds their irreducible duality in silence. one could speak of indemni-fication and we will use this word here or there to designate both the process of compensation and the restitution. that is. which was essentially politicalmilitary and economic. The latter. I added in the notes the texts which my paper intended to bear witness to. ‘Beyond the culture. sometimes sacrificial. the sacred and holy before all profanation. renders integrity safe and sound. 4. all offence. of the unscathed. that is safe and sound (heilig. the ‘good faith’ that is promised or demanded. untouched. See the entry ‘Fidelité personnelle’ (personal faithfulness) in Benveniste’s Dictionary. In testimony. . this latter word will have given in French dam (“au grand dam”: to the detriment or displeasure of) and comes from dap-no-m. 3. With regard to the unscathed. ‘We will not be able to undertake here all the analysis required by distinctions that are indispensable but rarely respected or practised . or the saintly) and the fiduciary (trustworthiness. truth is promised beyond all proof. . all intuitive demonstration. it would be inaccessible. (1969) where he reconstructs the history of the term faith from the oldest use in the Eastern religious contexts to its Christian articulation with the term credo. dapis. . ‘At any rate. without escaping the claims of proof. in a manner precisely that is secret and reticent’ (Derrida 2002. and hence of all calculability. the experience of belief (trust. fidelity. all knowledge’ (Derrida 2002. on the other. as perceived presence. The witness marks or declares . that reconstitutes purity intact. To respect the meaning of this promise. while refraining from quoting them. on the one hand.Let the Witness Speak 269 Notes 1. even if – something unusual and improbable – it were still contemporary at the moment of attestation. trust-worthiness. confidence. we will put to the test the quasi-transcendental privilege we believe ourselves obliged to grant the distinction between. This is indeed what the word unscathed says: the pure non-contaminated. every questioning. all wound. before or after them. is never pure of all iterability nor of all technics. holy). 98). . to the sacrifice offered the Gods as ritual compensation. I promise truth and ask the other to believe the other that I am. 2. In this latter case. credit. For it also promises its repetition from the very first instant. all perception.

he is no longer present. And this respect would still be religio. to his havingbeen-present’ (Derrida 2005. of course. now. It is connected to the speech or the mark of testimony to the extent that the speech can be dissociated from what it is the witness to: for the witness is not present either. This direct or immediate non-access of the addressee to the object of the testimony is what marks the absence of this “witness of the witness” to the thing itself. to what he says he was present to. disjunction. a promise. the witness of the witness. by a sworn word. ‘The addressee of the testimony. an ought.270 Francesco Vitale that something is or was present to him that is not so to the addressee to whom he is joined by a contract. he is no longer present. 7. an engagement’ (Derrida 2005. distance. 60). memory articulated in language. presently present. to the extent that he bears witness. This ab-sence is essential. ‘Another “tolerance” would be in accord with the experience of the “desert in the desert”. whose performativity is constitutive of the testimony and makes it a pledge. at the moment when he bears witness. it would respect the distance of the infinite alterity as singularity. presently present. even if he says he is present. dissociation.3366/E175485000900058X . here and now. does not see what the first witness says she or he saw. 8. religio as scruple or reticence. DOI: 10. 77). through what is called memory. the addressee did not see it and never will see it. to what he says he perceived. the threshold of every social or communitarian link’ (Derrida 2002. coming from the threshold of all religion in the link of the repetition to itself. 76).

. which compels me to admit that my desire.00 (USD). ISBN-10: 080470077X. which he did. it’s a drive which bars the fundamental drive towards presence. * At a Strathclyde University conference in 1986. 260–1) This response probably didn’t reduce the perplexity of many in the audience. ISBN-10: 0804700788. but it did set out very clearly a nexus that remained central to Derrida’s thinking throughout his career. some x. my own metaphysics of presence. . 2008). or the counterdrive. and to explain what drives the impetus to deconstruct. for good. but should not be accomplished because the accomplishment or the fulfilment of this desire for presence would be death itself. . is the plenitude which wouldn’t be death. pleasure. pb $24. for presence. fullness. ISBN-13: 978-0804700788. Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press. as follows: I have to deal with Necessity itself. ISBN-13: 978-0804700771. the good. not only cannot be accomplished. (Derrida 1987. hb $65. 255pp. . . There is no ‘good’ outside the metaphysics of presence. asked Derrida to expand on his remark. I’ve never said nor thought that the metaphysics of presence was an ‘evil’ . Martin Hägglund lucidly delineates the argument by means of which Derrida problematises the desire for plenitude in its various guises. In his important and hardhitting new book. and on the strength of this clarity of insight offers . 257) Jonathan Culler. . that it’s good. . in part.95 (USD). It is something or someone. etc. plenitude. . meets its limit. (Derrida 1987. The dream beyond Necessity . would be identical with death. This combination of dream and necessity explains the indefatigable drive for deconstruction. Derrida brought a questioner up short with the comment. sensing the consternation among many members of the audience who had heard that deconstruction was an attack on ‘the metaphysics of presence’. the absolute good. Necessity is the drive. I’m inclined to think exactly the contrary.Book Review Martin Hägglund.

The argument that the possibility of evil is inherent in the constitution of the good. starting with life itself (hence the subtitle of the book).272 Book Review trenchant critiques of a number of interpretations of Derridean thought that simplify or distort it. for example) means that exposure to the future. and an entity has no way of protecting itself against possible attack by its own immune system. while space is temporalised. as a trace of the past left for the future. Hägglund works through some of the grounds and implications of this argument in chapters on Derrida’s engagement with Kant and with Husserl. Autoimmunity is the law that governs our existence: that which safeguards is also that which destroys. ethics. and ‘justice’: the fields of theology. but what we really yearn for is survival: we want our mortal lives to continue. Briefly. though I shall argue that he does not fully account for what Derrida calls ‘the dream beyond Necessity’. a promise . and Hägglund goes on to show in a sharper light even than Derrida elected to do how it provides the basis for the latter’s treatment of the most far-reaching topics. which ties possibility to impossibility. for example. None of this is new. We may think we desire immortality. be ‘identical with death’. and political theory. and in the three chapters that follow he mounts his critique of three fields in which a failure to grasp the essentials of the trace-structure and autoimmunity have led to misunderstandings of Derrida’s use of such terms as ‘God’. success to failure. ‘hospitality’. Hägglund sets out with admirable clarity the reasoning that leads Derrida from his account of time to the ‘law of autoimmunity’. if there can be no such thing as an indivisible ‘now’ (since the progression to the following ‘now’ must already be implicit in what is thus a necessarily divided present). He does ample justice to what Derrida in the comment above calls ‘Necessity’. though its implications are often overlooked. present and future is achieved through a remaining that cannot be purely in the dimension of time but must involve space (since only something spatial can last). Immortality would. but Hägglund’s account of what so often goes wrong in adopting or adapting Derrida has a great deal of force. Hägglund argues. time can be seen to possess a trace-structure – the temporal continuity between past. for instance). and therefore to potential erasure as much as to potential fulfilment. is constitutive of time. This becomingspace of time and becoming-time of space (captured by Derrida in the neologism différance and the notion of arche-writing. like presence or the absolute good in the comments quoted above. therefore. that. No doubt we can look forward to robust counterarguments from some of those named in these chapters (a special issue of Centennial Review on Radical Atheism is forthcoming.

is the only kind of hospitality there can be) is just what occurs. however. would not in fact be something we would find to our liking. and Derrida’s. but should not be accomplished’ he was referring to this unavoidable intrusion of otherness. As Hägglund points out. . of course. Like autoimmunity in its various manifestations. a concern with the other (which is. spectrality – all involve the insinuation of the other into the terrain of the same. to make Derrida a negative theologian by overlooking the centrality of finitude in his philosophy. When. at the Strathclyde conference.Book Review 273 would not be a promise if it could not become a threat. and therefore of life. An event – as an unpredictable occurrence – can come about only through exposure to an unknown. nothing at all would happen. nor democracy democracy if it did not contain the potential to become totalitarian. were it possible. and indispensable. it has to be open to the other: an other which. So there is a sense in which hospitality to the other (and this. In order for the same to be constituted as what it is. the ‘should’ in formulations like this one does not convey moral obligation. without which my desire would not even be partially satisfied. (As we have seen. or a normative Levinasian by ignoring the importance of arche-violence in his account of relations with the other. But we might ask: isn’t ‘hospitality’ a slightly odd word to use in a context of mechanical necessity? It’s not unusual. There may be a problem of one-sidedness in Hägglund’s own thinking. Hägglund traces this argument to the fundamental constitution of time. not only cannot be accomplished . Hospitality to the other is an inescapable. to be . cannot be judged in advance to be constructive or destructive. of course. in fact. It is all too easy to pull out one strand of the double or triple knot. destinerrence. itself. supplementarity. therefore. or a latter-day Schmittian by misunderstanding his theory of the autoimmunity implicit in sovereignty. . it is necessity. by definition. barring fulfilment and plenitude – but also to the positive importance of this intrusion. without it. at the heart of autoimmunity) permeates Derrida’s work from first to last: the deconstruction of presence. Derrida referred to Necessity as something ‘which compels me to admit that my desire .) Hägglund rightly insists throughout his book that this openness to the other is a necessary fact. unknowable other. but desirability: fulfilment. offends both cherished ideals and the logic of identity. originary pervertibility. . without which the same would not be what it is (which means it is not quite what it is usually taken to be). for presence. let us look at one key term in his. To get at this. . discussions of the relation to other: hospitality. feature of life.

A desire for hospitality (whether as giver or receiver) does not really mean a desire for a limited hospitality – what Derrida calls a ‘conditional hospitality’ (Derrida and Dufourmantelle 2000. any restriction. name an act or a state or a response that is impossible. understood in their most complete sense. too. ‘democracy’. not just for empirical reasons but essentially so. ‘Hospitality’. Derrida’s handling of these and similar concepts suggest a rather different relation between the impossible. law-governed. Derrida argued that these terms. time and space. however. and ‘justice’. Immortality. We are saved from their terminal destructiveness only by the necessary interposition of the other.274 Book Review invited by Derrida to reinvest familiar words with new senses or values. ‘justice’. as we experience or perceive it in our lives or as it has been used in the Western philosophical tradition. and the other words in this series are internally divided in the same way as ‘presence’ is. any nomination. is one of a chain of words with strong normative associations to which Derrida gave increasing attention. Derrida’s normative terms work differently. while at the same time having an indissociable relation to the more common-or-garden acts or states or responses to which we give these names in our daily lives. as any consciousness of giving by either party would render it imperfect. a gift ‘worthy of the name’ (as Derrida liked to say) would not be apprehensible. names an impossibility. unconditional. A desire for justice is not really a desire for law. Now it is true that ‘hospitality’. in the fullest sense of the word. since it would be without any invitation. thanks to the working of différance. 25) – in the same way that a desire for immortality could be said really to mean a desire for survival. ‘responsibility’. ‘forgiveness’. At first sight. ‘invention’. were possible. others include ‘the gift’. for openness to the other. In every case. but at the same time it is only thanks to the working of différance that anything like presence is possible. Presence. these concepts (a term I use faute de mieux and with some circumspection in this context) may seem to operate in Derrida’s writing in the same manner as one of the most fundamental terms appearing in deconstruction’s sights: ‘presence’. unconditioned sense and the limited. If hospitality. But our desire for presence is in fact the opposite of the desire for hospitality. would produce the same result. in fact it’s an important part of Hägglund’s argument to alert us to the danger of responding only to the negative connotations of words like ‘contamination’ or ‘perversion’. and its realization would not just result in something very different from the presence we dream of but would mark the end of life. another mode of resistance to alterity. it would not look anything like what we call hospitality in a friend or an institution. .

Such an urgency cannot be idealized any more than the other as other can. in a fashion almost violent. 361) But he also asserts repeatedly the inseparability of this absolute hospitality from conditional hospitality. stolen [volée]. or economic calculation. given aspiration. and the insufficiency of the latter without its relation to the former: Just hospitality [i. it does not stand as a remote ideal that. attempting to find a language to articulate what is strictly unthinkable and unarticulable: To be hospitable is to let oneself be overtaken [surprendre]. conditional hospitality]. required. that never leaves me in peace and never lets me put it off until later. as finite beings. unprepared in a mode that is not even that of the ‘not yet’. 84) What then is our relation to unconditional hospitality? In his repeated attempts to answer this question. (Derrida 2005. and it can on the contrary set and maintain it in a perpetual progressive movement. given inspiration. as is Derrida himself – here the latter is discussing what he calls ‘the im-possible’: It is not the inaccessible. not that it condemns or is opposed to it. precisely where one is not ready to receive – and not only not yet ready but not ready. (Derrida and Dufourmantelle 2000.e. It comes upon me from on high. . from which in truth it is indissociable. in actuality and not potentiality. if such is possible.. Hägglund is very firm on this point. in the form of an injunction that does not simply wait on the horizon. to be surprised. to let oneself be overtaken.Book Review 275 sense. to be ready to be not ready.e. 25–7) Conditional laws would cease to be laws of hospitality if they were not guided. 79) Only an unconditional hospitality can give meaning and practical rationality to a concept of hospitality. (Derrida 2005. This im–possible is thus not a (regulative) idea or ideal. 149) . swoops down upon and seizes me here and now in a nonvirtualizable way. . and it is not what I can indefinitely defer: it announces itself. it precedes me. that I do not see coming. by the law of unconditional hospitality.. violated and raped [violée]. we can never hope to reach but that we can imagine. unconditional hospitality] breaks with hospitality by right [i. even. Derrida pushes at the limits of conceptual language and conventional morality. political. to not even let oneself be overtaken. (Derrida 2002a. Unconditional hospitality exceeds juridical. One version of that relation is ruled out repeatedly and forcefully by Derrida: the former does not operate as a Kantian regulative idea. . but it is as strangely heterogeneous to it as justice is heterogeneous to the law to which it is yet so close. But no thing and no one happens or arrives without it. (Derrida and Dufourmantelle 2000.

is at once absolute and compromised by laws and rights. there would be no deconstruction if it set limits to its openness in advance. unconditional twin. he asserts that Derrida deconstructs the ethics of unconditional hospitality (103–4). unconditional hospitality exerts no ethical claims – indeed. Derrida’s own language often comes very close to these alternatives. . make judgments. what I find acceptable and unacceptable. guided and given inspiration by. a hospitality worthy of the name is not Derrida’s unconditional hospitality but a distinctly conditional hospitality: If I did not discriminate between what I welcome and do not welcome. always a matter of singular judgements made in the context of general rules. Of course. two kinds of hospitality. in its very openness to the other. if the event it brought about were in any way predictable. . is impure from the start. it would mean that I had renounced all claims to be responsible. 15) (whereas he would not have written ‘Deconstruction is presence’). given meaning and practical rationality by. writes Derrida. of the deconstruction of presence. memory and consciousness. it must be unconditional hospitality. ‘is hospitality to the other’ (Derrida 2002a. . just as he writes ‘Deconstruction is justice’ (Derrida 1990. on the model. it would be disastrous.1 And. The struggle to articulate the relationship between the two faces of hospitality indicates its resistance to thought. for Hägglund. presumably. . 364). Now let us examine Hägglund’s account of hospitality. and it is not surprising that in extrapolations of Derrida’s argument the relationship often slips into the more easily apprehensible structures of regulative idea or dialectical interchange – indeed.276 Book Review We have. if it knew who or what would arrive. We recognise here the logic of the absolute as death exemplified in Derrida’s Strathclyde comments. such openness can always lead to the worst as well as the best. ‘Deconstruction’. are among the expressions Derrida uses) the impossible. therefore. (103) Accordingly. We may desire to exercise unconditional hospitality. heterogeneous yet indissociable. as Hägglund rightly insists. An ethics of unconditional hospitality would short-circuit all forms of decisions and be the same as a complete indifference before what happens. justice. Which version of hospitality is this? – clearly. but if we could. unthinkable. and the inevitably limited hospitality that we exercise or receive in our lives is in some way informed by (set and maintained by. or pursue any critical reflections at all. incompatible yet coupled. fortunately. Similarly. For him. its absoluteness is immediately compromised: impossible ‘pure’ deconstruction.

One . We readers of Derrida ought to be grateful to Hägglund for being so severe with us when we move too quickly to derive moral or religious prescriptions from the former’s work. and that is not what I am doing here. Even after the deadliness of plenitude has been exposed there remains a dream that it might be otherwise. because the unruly force of unconditionality can always disrupt your careful plans. For instance. hospitality. we recall that Derrida’s answer to Culler’s question about the drive to deconstruct was an appeal to a combination of necessity and dream. the law is there to function as ‘an immune protection for justice’ (42). To be sure.Book Review 277 Necessity – the necessity of limits. the necessity of limits and laws and the dream of a ‘plenitude that wouldn’t be death’. and even after the emptiness of immortality or the riskiness of hospitality have been made evident the desire they provoke remains strong. In order to do so it will be helpful to turn to Levinas. I am concerned. fortunately. they don’t struggle to articulate the necessary link between the unconditional and the conditional. the gift have no ethical content. unconditional hospitality may have terrible consequences as well as wonderful ones. but they don’t sound quite like Derrida’s. Hägglund is insistent that Derrida’s representations of justice. Similarly. to understand the difference between Derrida’s wrestle with the notion of hospitality to the other and Hägglund’s resolute anti-ethicism. because ‘a gift must be contaminated in order to be a gift’ (37). to put it like this is to push Hägglund’s argument further than he intends it to go. to regulate who is allowed to enter’ (104). he explains the problematic indissociability of conditional and unconditional hospitality on the grounds that ‘it is the exposure to the visitation of others that makes it necessary to establish conditions of hospitality. however. and so on – prevents us from achieving this ultimate perfection. It’s perhaps not much of an argument to say that if Hägglund is correct about the difference between Levinas’s and Derrida’s arguments. rights. The judge in her exercise of justice needs to be aware that ‘the risk of injustice is inscribed in the very possibility of justice’ (43). the latter’s huge admiration for the former is rather hard to explain. they don’t give the impression of grappling with an unthinkable relation. But Hägglund’s careful arguments do have ethical implications. Going back to those Strathclyde comments. Hägglund’s formulations make good sense. The moral appears to be: be circumspect when you welcome a stranger. any act of giving had better not strive for purity. but I do it in order to underline the difference between what I can only call the ethical tone of Derrida’s writing and his own.

neither deserving nor undeserving. the encounter with the singular other is pre-prescriptive. Derrida first made these differences clear in ‘Violence and Metaphysics’ (1978). a responsibility that is irrecusable. There is no doubt about the considerable divergences between Levinas’s and Derrida’s understandings of what ‘hospitality to the other’ implies. profoundly influenced Derrida’s thought. Levinas does argue that everyday morality and politics gains by being informed by the ethics of the face-to-face encounter. my translation). but does not succeed in explaining how this works – much as Derrida has difficulty in explaining how his absolutes inspire their limited partners. it is an embodied. singular source of a demand which is also an appeal. since one is infinitely responsible whether one is aware of it or not. 74. For Levinas. whether one accepts it or not. and part of Levinas’s challenge to conventional ethics is his insistence that infinite responsibility is owed to the other without consideration of its goodness or badness. then. and for the frequent references to him when discussing concepts like hospitality and justice. The other is neither good nor bad. can be found in the power of Levinas’s depiction of the ethics of alterity. my encounter with the other is not an encounter with an empirical individual whom I can identify and size up: it is prior to any of the processes of judgement or classification. my subjectivity in fact constituted by that responsibility. And I am not invited to take responsibility for it. is not far removed from what Levinas calls ‘ethics’. they are still evident. has altered significantly. I would argue. I find myself responsible. But there must be some basis for the clear indebtedness Derrida felt to Levinas. Levinas’s emphasis on an openness to the other that is absolute. delivered in 1996. I never have an objection. This ‘ethical’ response is far from prescriptive. however.278 Book Review can assume a certain degree of exaggeration in comments of Derrida’s such as ‘Before a thought like Levinas’s. first published in French in 1964. Derrida’s ‘non-ethical opening of ethics’. This basis. an ethics that is not about prescriptions and moral codes. since it is in responding to the other that the ethical arises. and although the tone in ‘A Word of Welcome’ (1999. and any prescriptions operative in . for both. Hägglund’s assertion that Levinas ‘refuses to realize that alterity cannot be ethical as such’ and that ‘his philosophy requires that alterity ultimately answers to the Good’ (90) is misleading. without forethought about likely consequences. 15–152). I am ready to subscribe to everything he says’ (Derrida and Labarrière 1986. Nevertheless. one can allow for the particular circumstances of a funeral eulogy or commemorative conference in assessing the praise expressed in Adieu: to Emmanuel Levinas (1999).

in an institution. for Derrida (as for Levinas). Hence the importance of deconstruction as affirmation. So normativity is indeed at work in Derrida’s thinking. or motivates it. and see the very similar statement on 187). . associates it with grace: ‘If I practice hospitality “out of duty”. forgiveness. (Derrida 1995. giving are goods – in an individual. I mean that deconstruction is. where Derrida describes the ‘invention of the . and hence take place beyond calculation: ‘it is the other who decides’. to weigh and balance and draw on legal and historical knowledge. ‘forgiveness’. in a parenthesis distancing his argument from Kant’s appeal to duty. pass through the undecidable. for instance. Levinas and Derrida both stress the passivity involved in absolute hospitality. But this does not mean that there is no value attached to absolute hospitality. like any decision. is not made in simple defiance of their normative force. .2 in a society – precisely because they involve risk. summons. because their relation to absolutes (difficult though that is to understand or articulate) makes possible actions that are not pre-programmed or secured in the self-same. justice. the decision to be hospitable must. and the latter. We find similar language in Derrida’s discussion of unconditional hospitality: ‘a hospitality invented for the singularity of the new arrival’ (Derrida and Dufourmantelle 2000). his choice of the word ‘hospitality’. as Hägglund seems to suggest. like his choice of the words ‘justice’. this hospitality of paying up is no longer an absolute hospitality. inventiveness. but it is also to move beyond calculation in inventing the law afresh for a singular case (see Derrida 1990). 83). a positive response to an alterity which necessarily calls.Book Review 279 the world are made possible by it. in an interview with Richard Kearney in 1981. A purely calculated hospitality (Hägglund’s discrimination ‘between what I welcome and what I do not welcome’) would not be hospitality at all. 167–8) Deconstruction’s rapport with the other is described in somewhat different terms in ‘Psyche’. Derrida used strikingly Levinasian language: Deconstruction always presupposes affirmation. . he is referring to the calculation of outcomes. as Derrida liked to say. it is no longer graciously offered beyond debt and economy’ (Derrida and Dufourmantelle 2000. . When Hägglund states that ‘Nothing can establish a priori that it is better to be more hospitable than to be less hospitable (or vice versa)’ (105. is not a matter of calculation. To exercise justice is to carry out the necessary calculation. . and there can surely be no doubt that hospitality. in itself. and so on. But ethics.

there would only be law. . uncloseting. absolute forgiveness. Jacques (1987). Jacques (1978). 1992. ed.3366/E1754850009000591 References Attridge. In its openness to the other. 252–64. DEREK ATTRIDGE University of York DOI: 10. a philosophical adventure that was not divorced. in Writing and Difference. New York: Routledge. unconditional hospitality: all these are impossible and unthinkable. ‘Force of Law: The “Mystical Foundation of Authority”’. forgiveness. pp. Pure justice. calculation. Alan Durant and Colin MacCabe. ‘Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas’. pp. to let the other come’: I am careful to say ‘let it come’ because if the other is precisely what is not invented. but without them there would be no justice. and how unlike traditional ethical postures the results are. . Manchester: Manchester University Press. as many who knew him can testify. Nigel Fabb. ed. the initiative or deconstructive inventiveness can consist only in opening. it can always lead to evil consequences. Jacques (1990). and the Third’. 310–43. destabilizing foreclusionary structures so as to allow for the passage toward the other. Derrida. New York: Routledge. The Linguistics of Writing: Arguments between Language and Literature. or hospitality of any kind. but Derrida’s tone here and in a hundred other places indicates that this risk-taking. (Derrida 1992. ed. but what is missing from his account is Derrida’s reinvention of ethics. but can unsettle existing structures that inhibit its coming. to offer a place for the other. ‘Psyche: Invention of the Other’. and without guarantee as to outcome. from his own practice of living. 79–153. . Derek (forthcoming). in Hospitalities of Mourning. Acts of Literature. Derek Attridge. ‘Posthumous Infidelity: Derrida. pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. self-interest. Hägglund has shown superbly how Derrida’s account of time underlies his explorations of these ethical topics. Derrida. constitutively open to contamination from the first. Derrida. Jacques (1992). ‘Some Questions and Responses’. Derek Attridge. affirmative attitude is preferable to its opposite. pp. Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice. Derrida. Tony Thwaites and Jude Seaboyer. Levinas.280 Book Review other that would come . 3–67. as Hägglund would remind us at this point. 341) Deconstruction as an activity cannot make the other come.

356–420. Jacques (2005). Stanford: Stanford University Press. 202–37. ‘Hostipitality’. He thus departs significantly from Levinas while claiming to be faithful (Attridge forthcoming). see Derrida’s ‘The University without Condition’. Paris: Osiris. Peggy Kamuf. New York: New York University Press. States of Mind: Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers. Derrida. Jacques (1995). Derrida repeatedly insists that the latter – ‘the third’. Without Alibi. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Jacques and Pierre-Jean Labarrière (1986). Altérités. ‘Deconstruction and the Other: Interview with Richard Kearney’. but is already implicated in the face-to-face ethical relationship. ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Gil Anidjar. Jacques and Anne Dufourmantelle (2000). Derrida. Jacques (1999). pp. where he asserts that ‘the modern university should be without condition’ (2002b. Jacques (2002a). ed. Derrida. pp. . For a clearly normative use of the notion of the unconditional. ‘The University without Condition’. 2. pp. Notes 1. Richard Kearney. Adieu: To Emmanuel Levinas. Derrida. Derrida. Jacques (2002b). In responding to Levinas’s account of the relation between ethics and justice or politics. Rogues: Two Essays on Reason. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Book Review 281 Derrida. Derrida. Acts of Religion. New York: Routledge. Of Hospitality. ed. in Levinas’s account – ‘does not wait’. 202). 156–76.

theories of reading. Melbourne. as well as articles on Heidegger.Notes on Contributors Lisa Guenther is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. Levinas and Agamben. Gerasimos Kakoliris is Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Athens. . She has also published papers on the work of Simone de Beauvoir. 2003). 2002) and Integrity and the Fragile Self. Her papers on Derrida’s work in relation to that of Immanuel Kant’s and the concepts of hospitality. and psychoanalysis. Nietzsche. and Heidegger. 2006). in the United States. Laurie Johnson is Senior Lecturer in English and Cultural Studies and a member of the Public Memory Research Centre at the University of Southern Queensland. philosophy. Political Theory. literary theory. Blair McDonald is a Phd candidate at the Centre of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at Monash University. She has research interests and numerous publications in European philosophy and feminist philosophy in the fields of ethics. and autoimmunity have been published in Philosophy Today. phenomenology. while he also teaches European Philosophy in the Hellenic Open University. Beauvoir. Michèle Le Dœuff and Luce Irigaray. political philosophy. He has published a book on Derrida and Deconstructive Reading in Greek as well as various papers on this topic and more generally on language. Marguerite La Caze is a Senior Lecturer in philosophy at the University of Queensland. Greece. Philosophy and Social Criticism and Contemporary Political Theory. Jean-Paul Sartre. Australia. She is the author of The Gift of the Other: Levinas and the Politics of Reproduction (SUNY Press. 2001) and has published several articles and book chapters on cyber studies and games studies. Hannah Arendt. with Damian Cox and Michael Levine (Ashgate. and aesthetics. forgiveness. Foucault. Her publications include The Analytic Imaginary (Cornell. He is the author of The Wolf Man’s Burden (Cornell University Press. She is currently working on the phenomenology and politics of shame. He is currently working on Derrida and hospitality.

33: 1. and recently ‘Configurations of a Heritage: Élisabeth Roudinesco’s Philosophes dans la tourmente’. . time and the Other’. Il ritmo della scrittura. edited by M. She has published widely on Blanchot. His monograph The Doppelgänger: Literature’s Philosophy is forthcoming by Fordham University Press. UK. Bari: Cacucci. ‘Language. alteritê comunicazione (Rhythm of Writing. in Analecta husserliana. Phenomenology of logos. Italy where she teaches Semiotics and Semiotics of text. twentieth century critical theories. Springer. 2007). in Levinas. and the relationship between shifts in critical ideals and changing potentials for social transformation. Other edited or co-edited volumes include Spinoza Now (Minnesota University Press. Politics. Benjamin and Heidegger (Continuum. Kofman and Levinas. 2008) as well as the twin volumes Deconstruction Reading Politics (Macmillan 2008) and The Politics of Deconstruction (Pluto Press. 101–22. Vols. London: Glasshouse Press. Tempo. 2007. Derrida. Dimitris Vardoulakis is lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and honorary fellow at Monash University. Time. the contemporary rise of new forms of materialism. Bari: Schena. His recent publications include Deconstruction after 9/11 (Routledge. University of Bari. Law. Contemporary French Civilization: An Interdisciplinary Journal Devoted to the Study of French-Speaking Cultures Throughout the World. Her works include: Il presente sospeso.Notes on Contributors 283 Martin McQuillan is Professor of Cultural Theory and Analysis at the University of Leeds. Nicole Pepperell is a lecturer in social theory at RMIT University. Alteritê appropriazione in Heidegger e Levinas (Suspended Present: alterity and appropriation in Heidegger and Levinas. where she is currently completing her doctoral dissertation on how Marx conceptualises the standpoint of critique in the first volume of Capital. Caroline Sheaffer-Jones teaches French literature and philosophy in the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of New South Wales. and ‘Politics not left to itself’. Alterity and Communication. logos of phenomenology. 2000). forthcoming). Julia Ponzio is a Researcher in Philosophy and Theory of Languages at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures. 2005). Diamantides. forthcoming). Cocteau. 2006. Genet. Sydney. Kafka’s Cages (forthcoming). Her research interests include the emergence of classical social theory and political economy. LXXXVIII-XCII. (2009). as well as on Camus.

2005). and ‘The Politics of Place’ (in Angelaki journal. DOI: 10. He is the author of numerous articles published in English and Greek and he has translated two books into Greek. His research interests have been focusing on Derrida’s work since the Ph. 2008). He is a member of the European Foundation of Drawing directed by the artist Valerio Adami.284 Notes on Contributors ‘The Political Animal’ (in Substance journal. Francesco Vitale lectures in the Department of Philosophy.D. Italy. After Blanchot (Delaware University Press. University of Salerno. dissertation on Derrida’s relation to Hegel. 2004).3366/E1754850009000608 .

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