Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Derrida

Christmas postcard - children and sled - reverse

Jacques Derrida has captivated me most of my adult life.  First, because he was a theoretical bad boy.  According to my hermeneutically-conservative undergrad he was off-limits, as the crazy guy who said, “words don’t mean anything” (a laughable claim).  Second, he spoke and wrote in French.  Half of my family speaks French.  Ooh la la.  Mostly, though, I love Derrida for the way he writes.

Many people claim that deconstruction is a dead end, and I think part of that has to do with the fact that we approach Derrida as scholar and neglect him as artist.   The folks that tend to engage his ideas usually do so on linguistic or philosophical grounds.  This leaves out the poetry.  This leaves out the way he played with words making them, “slide–without mistreating them–to the point of their nonpertinence, their exhaustion, their closure (Positions, 10).”

Part of Derrida’s genius was to blur the imaginary boundaries between disciplines, and for that, I think his work deserves attention as poetry as well as prose.  I do think his “philosophical ideas” have extraordinary merit.  But we have no access to them if we divorce them from his method.

So here’s to you Jacques, thank you for the beautiful mess . . .

How to touch upon the untouchable? Distributed among an indefinite number of forms and figures, this question is precisely the obsession haunting a thinking of touch–or thinking as the haunting of touch.  We can only touch on a surface, which is to say the skin or thin peel of a limit . . . But by definition, limit, limit itself, seems deprived of a body.  Limit is not to be touched and does not touch itself; it does not let itself be touched, and steals away at a touch, which either never attains it or trespasses it forever (On Touching . . ., 6).

5 Comments

  1. I need to read more Derrida. I think I like him. I have no time for a philosopher who isn’t also an artist.

  2. Couldn’t agree with you more. Derrida was an artist par excellence. I wouldn’t, however, place the artist tail on many of the other deconstructionist donkeys. The post-modern critique was a dead end for most. Derrida was one of those few liminal folks that existed between mysticism and philosophy. He could give a lecture entitled “how to avoid speaking” and have it be more than simple masturbation.

    He really could speak while avoiding speech. Only an artist can do that.

  3. I agree with you about most other deconstructionist asses. In a way, I think the designation “postmodern” describes a liminal period. Unfortunately, we are so taxonomy-happy that we fetishize the “postmodern” to the point where we miss its (d)evolution.

  4. popup, you have neatly summed up my experience with philosophers in words I hadn’t quite arrived at yet myself.

    As language art, philosophy can be powerful. It is the the philosophers who think they are describing reality in the equivalent of empirical terms that drive me crazy.

  5. Amen, brother.