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Remembering Derrida Author(s): Mario Perniola and Deborah Amberson Source: SubStance, Vol. 34, No.

1, Issue 106 (2005), pp. 48-49 Published by: University of Wisconsin Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 17/09/2011 20:56
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Mario Perniola I.
I both read and met JacquesDerridain 1966,and immediatelyjudged him to be a thinker of great importance.I was also among the first to write about him in the Rivistadi Estetica (1966no. 3), in an articleentitled De la would come out Aesthetics." and Grammatologie "Grammatology I and studied the but had read the following year, essay (published in December1965andJanuary two partsin Critique, 1966),which anticipated the centralthesis of the work. During this period,he and I used to meet at in Paris. He was the cafe "AuxDeux Magots" in St-Germain-des-Pres He felt both reasons. for underappreciated by the many unhappy in his academiccareer.What is and behind philosophicalestablishment, had sold that he was more, only 3,000 copies. I Critique aggrieved remembera man who was very angry with the world. I, too, shared this sentiment,but the fact of being eleven years younger thanhe allowed me to feel partof the wave of studentprotestswhich, coming fromthe United States,had reached France. The events of 1968separatedus, but I continued to read his work in a systematic manner, and indeed to receive from him affectionately dedicated copies of his publications until 1972. His influence on my thinking grew significantly during the 1970s and '80s, as is evident in Death,World, (New York:Humanity Sexuality, my books RitualThinking: Books 2001), SexAppealof theInorganic (Continuum:London-New York its Shadow and Art and (Continuum:London-New York2004). In 2004) of the central ideas "ritualwithout content" and "inorganic particular, sexuality" may be seen as developments of Derrida'spolemic against logocentrism and vitalism. II. I saw Derrida again after many years, in Trento,Italy, toward the end of the 1980s and, afterwards,on various occasions in Paris during the 1990s.He seemed finally tranquilboth in himself and with the world. In the meantime,I had never completelystopped readinghis work, albeit in a fragmentaryand irregularway. I realized that, with respect to his earlier works, some changes had occurred in the development of his
? Board of Regents, University of Wisconsin System, 2005 SubStance #106, Vol. 34, no. 1, 2005


Jacques Derrida:A Counter-Obituary


thought. These developments proved very evident among the youngest of scholars and admirers. Two things astonished me: the presence of a decided emphasis on ethical topics, and a certain tendency on his part to engage in a sort of mimetic rivalry with media-based communications by means of an immense production of conference papers and articles. Furthermore, in the work of his most recent followers, I no longer recognized the Derrida I had studied 20 years previously, especially when these adherents used deconstruction as a type of sophistry, an end in itself. It is from precisely this period that I have the memory of a generous man who, after a dinner with friends in Paris, had to walk in the rain to his car in order to drive miles to his home in the suburbs. It seemed a real scandal that a philosopher of such deserved worldly renown did not have a driver. Im. The third point at which I thought intensely of Derrida was a short time before his death, when I read his response to the question, "Who do you think you are?"("Pour qui vous prenez-vous?") asked by LaQuinzaine Litteraire (n. 882,1-31 August 2004) of a hundred or so writers and thinkers. Derrida's answer entitled "Le survivant, le sursis, le sursaut," may be considered as a type of last will and testament. What struck me most was the sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness that pervades this text. Having written and said so much, Derrida here has the impression of not having been understood. After so many essays, books and conferences dedicated to his thought, he tends to believe that we have only just begun to read him. He writes: "I am grasped before I get to grasp myself"-a sign of his generosity, of his tendency to give of himself to others, to seek to conform to the image they have of him. Nevertheless, one can sense in this text a malaise that does not derive simply from subjective or personal circumstances, but is rooted in his position as a thinker who is successful in contemporary society. I think that it is on this malaise that we must reflect. I was struck by the memory of another thinker whom I used to frequent during the second half of the sixties, a thinker who had adopted a cultural strategy opposed to that of Derrida: Guy Debord, who totally shunned the media, the institutions and the public in general, and whose success was posthumous. But the path followed by Debord was no better than that chosen by Derrida. Universityof Rome Amberson translated by Deborah

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