Jacques Derrida and the Fear of Writing

From an interview

French philosopher Jacques Derrida discusses the unique anxiety that accompanies the act of writing:
Each time that I write something, and it feels like I'm advancing into new territory, somewhere I haven't been before, and this type of advance often demands certain gestures that can be taken as aggressive with regard to other thinkers or colleagues - I am not someone who is by nature polemical but it's true that deconstructive gestures appear to destabilize or cause anxiety or even hurt others - so, every time that I make this type of gesture, there are moments of fear.

This doesn't happen at the moments when I'm writing. Actually, when I write, there is a feeling of necessity, of something that is stronger than myself, that demands that I must write as I write. I have never renounced anything I've written because I've been afraid of certain consequences. Nothing intimidates me when I write. I say what I think must be said. That is to say, when I don't write, there is a very strange moment when I go to sleep.

When I have a nap - or something - and I fall asleep. At that moment in a sort of half sleep, all of a sudden I'm terrified by what I'm doing. And I tell myself: "You're crazy to write this! You're crazy to attack such a thing! You're crazy to criticize such and such a person. You're crazy to contest such an authority, be it textual, institutional or personal." And there is a kind of panic in my subconscious. As if... what can I compare it to?

Imagine a child who does something horrible. Freud talks of childhood dreams where one dreams of being naked and terrified because everyone sees that they're naked. In any case, in this half-sleep I have the impression that I've done something criminal, disgraceful, unavowable, that I shouldn't have done. And somebody is telling me: "But you're mad to have done that." And this is something I truly believe in my half sleep. And the implied command in this is: "Stop everything! Take it back! Burn your papers! What you're doing is inadmissible." But once I wake up, it's over.

What this means, or how I interpret this is that when I'm awake, conscious, working, in a certain way I am more unconscious than in my half-sleep. When I'm in that half-sleep there's a kind of vigilance that tells me the truth. First of all, it tells me that what I'm doing is very serious. But when I'm awake and working, this vigilance is actually asleep. It's not the stronger of the two. And so I do what must be done.

Jacques Derrida, excerpted from Derrida (dir. Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering 2002)
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