30.3.10

Life after Derrida

Ramona Fotiade reviews a recently translated work by the French philosopher
Jaques Derrida lecturing at European Graduate School. 2004. Photograph: Hendrik Speck

In an article published in the TLS in 2005, Ramona Fotiade reviews Jacques Derrida's Apprendre a vivre enfi (now published as Learning to Live Finally) and reflects on the thinker's philosophical perspectives and ruminations on mortality:
I am waging war against myself", declared Jacques Derrida in an interview with Le Monde last year, published less than two months before he succumbed to the after-effects of pancreatic cancer in a Paris hospital. A philosopher's private life has rarely been so closely scrutinized by the media, and, to a certain extent, so persistently interwoven with conflicting accounts of his thought, in recent times. Two documentary films have further contributed to blurring the boundary between the private and the public personae, through an invasive, if enlightening, incursion into Derrida's everyday existence. The only other salient example in post-war French culture that comes to mind is Jean-Paul Sartre, whose militant left-wing convictions and media-friendly presence in the political arena went hand in hand with his philosophical account of engagement.

However, deconstruction certainly had more affinities with post-structuralism than Sartrean existentialism, given its initial concern with epistemological rather than ontological issues. Derrida's sustained attacks on the classical metaphysical tradition and the combined presuppositions of theological and ontological discourses further reinforced the impression that the aims of deconstruction were obviously at odds with the scope of the early or derived "philosophies of existence". Yet Derrida's increasing concern with the aporias of personal experience and philosophical reflection, or what could be said to constitute, beyond abstract ethical considerations, a fundamental interrogation over the meaning of life, perhaps points to the contrary. Having waged war against metaphysics, deconstruction has (for longer than one may think -almost three decades now) turned to the "residual" issue of the philosopher's own temporal presence in the world, and the aporias of an autobiographical discourse which, having survived the demise of the traditional notion of "the subject", returns to haunt the self-sufficient proclamations of rational analysis. [Read the article]

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