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French Thought


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader by Tom Cohen (Cambridge University Press) The work of Jacques Derrida has transformed our understanding of a range of disciplines in the humanities through its questioning of some of the basic tenets of Western metaphysics. This volume is a trans‑disciplinary collection dedicated to his work; the assembled contributions‑ on law, literature, ethics, history, gender, politics and psychoanalysis, among others ‑ constitute an investigation of the role of Derrida's work within the field of humanities, present and future. The volume is distinguished by work on some of his most recent writings, and contains Derrida's own address on "the future of the humanities." In addition to its pedagogic interest, this collection of essays attempts to respond to the question: what might be the relation of Derrida, or "deconstruction," to the fixture of the humanities. The volume presents the most sustained examples yet of deconstruction in its current phase‑as well as its possible future.

 The present volume may be the first overtly trans‑disciplinary "reader" devoted to Derrida's work in its current phase. These essays were not only to be "pedagogic" in demonstrating one or more ways to read Derrida's extensions into these fields. They were called together to ask again why or how, "today," Derrida's interventions are to be tracked, and what the consequences of this project stand, perhaps, to be in the institutions of the human sciences or a "Humanities" to come.

Three premises, therefore, underlie the essays gathered here: (1) That Derrida's work, "today," might be tracked by its interface with a series of different "disciplines," different questions, to make connections for the reader as to how these might work or are underway in scholarship or thinking today: thus, for the first time, a volume in which the somewhat formal questions of Derrida and Law, . . . and Literature, . . . and Aesthetics, . . . and Politics.... and Psychoanalysis,... and Ethics, . . . and Technology, . . . and Representation, and so on, might be addressed as pretexts for more or less exemplary exploration; (2) That these essays, virtually or otherwise, would concern themselves less with the polemical contexts of Derrida's past reception‑distracting misprisions of "nihilism" or "relativism" or "linguisticism," and so on than demonstrate by interrogation and performance the "affirmative e deconstruction" that Derrida has, from the first, insisted was the necessarily transformative premise of his thought; (3) That these essays might have access to more recent work of Derrida's, or developments which bring into play texts and perspectives (for instance, on hospitality and religion, technicity and the "secret") either unavailable to or unemphasized in earlier treatments of this text. Collectively, such a traps‑disciplinary volume would ask, implicitly, not only the question of the "future of the humanities" in relation to Derrida's work (the title of Derrida's own contribution to the volume) but provide a virtual network or interactive and multi‑linked website of cross‑referencing essays, a virtual if discontinuous ensemble‑effect, perhaps, in which an underlying question would resonate: What is the "state‑' of the translational project of Derrida, "today," after the narrative and many deaths of deconstruction have been played out, or repeated, or survived? What of the "future" which Derrida's work seems to wager itself on, in the structure (and thematic) of the promise ‑ what can only keep the door open to a coming "event" it cannot effect or guarantee, but t which the model of translation, or crossing, would be attendant upon:'

Heidegger and Derrida on Philosophy and Metaphor: Imperfect Thought by Giuseppe Stellardi (Philosophy and Literary Theory: Humanity Books) continental philosopher Giuseppe Stellardi focuses on the relationship between metaphor and philosophy through an exploration of three separately identifiable but strictly interconnected thematic directions: the theory of metaphor, the theory of philosophical discourse, and a close analysis of text by Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida for what they reveal about both metaphor and philosophical discourse.

According to Stellardi, Heidegger and Derrida are, each in his own way, relevant here for several reasons, including the particular quality of their language, their proximity to poetic discourse, and their intensive recourse to occurrences that we are tempted to recognize as "metaphoric." They represent types of philosophical discourse that are at the same time powerful and controversial, and they make fundamental points concerning metaphor and its relationship to philosophy. Finally, their paths of thought, albeit different, seem to share an essential quality that can be described as "incompleteness," and this quality seems to have much to do with the special relationship their texts entertain with metaphor.

Stellardi also includes a discussion of the fundamental debate on metaphor between Derrida and Paul Ricoeur and a detailed examination of philosophy as a "mode of discourse" among (and in relation to) others. The result is an idea of philosophy as essentially imperfect and self-destructive, and yet indispensable in the economy of the modes of discourse.


On the border of an interrogation of philosophy today, I have isolated two cases (Heidegger and Derrida) that seemed significant because of their specific character, at the same time extreme and provocative, and (within the dynamics of a specific mode of discourse in a specific epoch) radically "normal." However, I also chose them (it is almost superfluous to confess it now) because of an appeal, and of an answer to it that I believe I can only justify by saying that I thought it right to pay attention to that appeal, and to answer it: ". . . such listening to the grant for what we are to think [die Zusage des zu‑Denkende] always develops into our asking for the answer.."2 I read this as meaning that, under any accumulation of questions, an answer to the appeal is waiting from the beginning.'

Nevertheless, to pay attention, to answer, does not mean to accept and to repeat blindly; in my case, the answer is often loaded with doubt and sometimes rather close to rejection. This oscillation may have irritated some readers; but the rigid alternatives of approbation and rejection do not belong to this work's repertory of effects, and I tried to avoid forcing the choice, as much as possible, knowing that it is not entirely possible.

Concerning what he calls Heidegger's "first philosophy," Greisch claims to aim at "a rigor of analysis that places itself beyond a double mistake; the mistake of a purely tautological discourse, or on the contrary the mythopoietic charms of a reason abandoning itself to poetry."° I, too, have tried to avoid this double misunderstanding, and in particular to avoid closing on a mystical‑dogmatic note. I believe that Heidegger's discourse is at times openly and fiercely tautological, but I also believe that tautology is never absolutely devoid of sense, and that Heidegger's tautology is actually loaded with it. That he sometimes abounds in mythopoietic enchantments and is very close to the (virtual) limit of poetry, if it were not for his deliberate slowness, his control, and his "suffering." And that Heidegger knows and says all this very ably, at least to the‑inevitably limited extent a writer is able to know and say.

This limited and specific ability to know and to say takes, within philosophical discourse, the shape of speculation.' In the close contact with Heidegger's text we discover that speculation is above all a matter of pace and of rhythm. The speculative pace is the limping one, a painful coming and going of thought that restrains itself on the threshold of pleasure. The speculative rhythm is the insistent, obsessive repetition that results from it. Speculation is, therefore, the infinite postponement of pleasure, of representational and conceptual accomplishment. The end of representation, that is, the end of metaphor, is in fact also the end of speculation. The accomplished, perfected system, which no longer deems itself metaphorical, is no longer speculative.

Heidegger speculates; he theorizes and invests, anticipating a fixture gain. Does he invest in or against metaphor? In and against, at the same time. "To speculate in metaphor" can also mean this: to invest in and against, in one's own interest. A coitus interruptus in ones own interest?Yes, in the long term. To restrain oneself, to keep one's drives in check, the drive to domination, the conceptual drive. Why? So as not to have on one's hands a cumbersome bundle. Perhaps also for the pure pleasure of dominating the drive (Bemdchtigungstrieb). Perhaps also in order better to in debt one's descendants, better to bond them to oneself by making them inherit as infinite as possible a legacy; by generating for them (and for oneself) the greatest possible quantity of controlled energy. To speculate on and in the descendants; to speculate on and in one's descendants' speculations.

What does all this mean? That it is a good idea to make things as complicated and obscure as possible, lest readers should stop wondering too soon? Not just that: also, not to abandon in the hands of the descendants too cumbersome a bundle, which sooner or later would force them to discard it. But certainly also to leave in their hands a bundle just big enough to make it difficult for them to abandon it; to unlimit the bundle, and the debt; to get oneself, and the descendants, into debt, into an endless fixture path; to make oneself unavoidable, uncircumventable, for a long time.'

It is not at all necessary that all this should be intentional, and even less that it should be interpreted as a symptom of lack of intellectual integrity. Writing, inasmuch as it wishes to stay, is never innocent, and its effects depend neither on the author's intentions, nor on his degree of moral integrity. The philosophical mode of discourse requires that all the "truth" be told, which it is possible to tell without utterly and completely losing control. The fate of what has been said depends only on the state, and subsequent modifications, of the field within which it is interpreted.

The trait is probably the most mysterious character in this story, and it somehow sums up all the enigmatic atmosphere that, under the species of the "indecidable," of the Ereignis, and so forth, reigns in it. The trait is not namable itself, either literally or metaphorically: What are we doing, then, when we name it, when we talk of the "trait"?

It is neither a thing, nor a being, nor a meaning. However, there is meaning in all this. It is not necessary to have at hand a specific sense in order to have some meaning.

The pathos of the ineffable is always ready to jump on such a golden opportunity to kneel before mystery. However, the theory of the philosophical mode of discourse provides the tools to analyze these margins of undecidability without risking transforming them into sinister idols. They are, simply, the nonmetaphorical linuts of a metaphorical impetus; the (provisionally) external border of a discourse that accepts no limits, except those that derive from the need to stand up as discourse, to permit its own reading. Philosophy wants to say it all, but it cannot, and sometimes it says more than the state of the field can authorize or tolerate. This "saying more" says almost nothing intelligible within the field (that is, intelligible tout court), but it signals the groundless foundations of the field itself. This quasianalogical and allusive reference to the faceless magma that "precedes" language does not necessarily mean that deconstruction is a myth of the origins, or a negative theology. I should say, however, that it includes echoes of both, which does not seem at all shamefizl to me. Not only is philosophy close to poetry, it is also not far from theology and from myth, though its intention is profoundly different.

The "evasion from the field" is the defining element of philosophy today, and probably not only today. Philosophy is, essentially, no more metaphorical than previously. Sometimes, however, it can only be, today, catastrophically metaphorical, as Derrida has taught us, to safeguard its perilous and necessary balance on the border between the sayable and the unsayable. The management of this border, as awkward as it may be, is nothing mysterious. Nothing of what is said, or felt, or intended, is perfectly unsayable: We say it, as best we can, and that (usually) makes some sort of sense. However, nothing of what is sayable is perfectly said once and for all: We can and we must say it again, perfect it, repudiate it, carry on.

Futures: Of Jacques Derrida edited by Richard Rand (Cultural Memory in the Present: Stanford University Press) Seven eminent authors, all known for their work in deconstruction, address the millennial issue of our "futures," "promises," "prophecies," "projects," and "possibilities"-including the possibility that there may be no "future" at all. Speculative in every sense, these essays are marked by a common concern for the act of reading as it is practiced in the work of Jacques Derrida. The contributors-Geoffrey Bennington, Paul Davies, Peter Fenves, Werner Hamacher, Jean-Michel Rabaté, Elisabeth Weber, and Jacques Derrida himself-study a range of authors, including Pascal, Kant, Hegel, Leibniz, Marx, Benjamin, Koyré, Arendt, and Lacan.

These readings are neither prescriptive, definitive, nor definitional. Each essay seeks out, in the work it studies, those moments that pronounce or propose futures that enable speculation, moments in which the speculator has to make promises. As Derrida says in his essay, "Between lying and acting, acting in politics, manifesting one's own freedom through action, transforming facts, anticipating the future, there is something like an essential affinity. . . . The lie is the future." Or, in the words of Werner Hamacher, "The futurity of language, its inherent promising capacity, is the ground-but a ground with no solidity whatever-for all present and past experiences, meanings, and figures which could communicate themselves in it."

These essays, though arising from deconstruction, point out the ways in which deconstruction has yet to occur, and they do so by scanning the unattainable horizons marked off by thinkers at the forefront of our modern era.

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