In the interest of devoting a section of this website to short pieces of text on, around & relating to Jacques Derrida, I have prepared something of a gift, more or less intended for other English-speaking students of his work. Compared to collecting and accessing his total oeuvre –– which is no easy task at all I might add –– finding ways to make useful the plentiful video and aural recordings of Derrida is drastically impeded by the fact that there exist very few available transcriptions from which to prepare texts in response.
Transcripts of Derrida should prove quite important in their own right, due to the resonant relevance concepts like transcripts, replicas, imprint, reproduction, impression, replication, fascimile, and copy all have with his heavy emphasis on the philosophical implications of simulacra, archive and trace throughout his texts. Which is not even to mention (except here by, of course, mentioning) the relationship he is constantly embroiled in between voice and writing, as well as translation between languages.
While the various documentaries, interviews, lectures, and other filmed appearances could all benefit from an accompanying transcription, many of which I hope to provide in the future, I have chosen to begin with Safaa Fathy's 1999 "D'ailleurs Derrida" (Derrida's Elsewhere), in part because of the need for most of it to be translated. Not being fluent in French myself, I've made do with copying down the DVD's accompanying text. I hope that it proves useful to somebody beyond myself.
I have long thought that the name of writing, of deconstruction, of phallogocentrism, etc. must stem from this strange reference to an elsewhere. Childhood, the other side of the Mediterranean, French culture, Europe… It means thought springing from the moment you cross a frontier. Elsewhere, even when nearby, is always beyond a certain limit. But within yourself you have elsewhere in the heart. In the body. And that’s what elsewhere means. If it were elsewhere it wouldn’t be an elsewhere. …
… as soon as there is an inscription there is necessarily selection, and, as a consequence, deletion, censorship, exclusion. And whatever I say now about writing –– about the theme of writing that has occupied me in a fairly privileged way most of my life, its the question of writing that shapes what I write – whatever I may say here and now in this short time and against a rather strange and artificial backdrop, it will be selective, finite, and, consequently, as much marked by exclusion, by silence, by the unspoken, as by what I say.
I have said, in a quite specific context, that I wrote to seek an identity. I have been more interested in what makes identity impossible, in the loss of identity.
The possibility of saying “I” in a certain language is indeed linked to the possibility of writing in general.
The identity fantasy you were speaking of earlier comes from the inexistent of “me.” If it existed, we wouldn’t look for it. We write autobiographies because we are driven by the desire of this meeting with a “me” which finally will be what it is.
Whatever I say or whatever happens to me, I belong to a certain history of the French colonies. IN a way, everything I do, everything I write, I try to think has a certain synchronous affinity with post-coloniality.
[growing up in Algeria] these places of worship are, in one way or another, appropriated, expropriated, re-appropriated, closed, re-opened. Which means that, for example, the synagogue where my father would take me and my brother on feast days was a former mosque which still had all the physical features of a mosque became a synagogue and I know that, after de-colonialization and independence it became a mosque again. Transitory, with provisional temporality… Closed, which means defunct in a certain sense, with this flavor, of precarious ruin which isn’t bad for holy places, as if they were just on loan.
Synagogues, mosques, churches, in turn, with all the violence that expropriation entails, in their turn were lent, were taken back, and so left themselves haunted by the memory of another religion, another cult that practised in the same place, that remains impassive but which has seen and heard, naturally, so many prayers in so many languages always to the one, unique god.
It so happens that I find myself –– and I am probably not the only one –– in the situation of émigré or immigrant… a clandestine Marrano, invisible, without papers, who, from this situation, which is not even a situation, which is not a place which is a non-place, from this site which is not a place crosses places like these with a certain love.
The fact that I fell in love with this word [Marrano] that has become a kind of obsession, figuring in most of my recent works, is because it refers to supposed Judeo-Spanish origins, but also because it evokes a culture of secrecy. Naturally secrecy has always concerned me greatly, independently of my Jewish question. It has concerned me not only in relation to the unconscious, to the political dimension of secrecy, secrecy being that which resists politics, that which resists politicisation, citizenship, transparency, phenomenality. Wherever we seek to destroy secrecy or keeping secrets, there is a threat of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is a crusher of secrecy: you will admit, you will confess, you will say what you really think. So the secret mission, the discreet mission of the Marrano is to teach the secret that secrets should be kept, should be respected. Secrecy should be held in respect.
What is an absolute secret? I was obsessed with this question, quite as much as that of my supposed Judeo-Spanish origins. These obsessions met in the figure of the Marrano.
I gradually began to identify with someone who carries a secret that is bigger than himself [abyme] and to which he does not have access. As if I were a Marrano’s Marrano, a lay Marrano, a Marrano who has lost the Jewish and Spanish origins of his Marranism, a kind of universal Marrano.
… So we would say, according to the most indisputable common sense, that only a living being can be wounded, can receive and feel a wound, even if it be a mortal wound. So lesion, blow, wound, trauma, gash, cut, graze, scratch, mutilation, incision, excision, circumcision, every imaginable wound only affects living tissue by leaving, at least within its own timeframe, a scar. Even if “wound” is a biological term that refers to psychological or moral pain or spiritual suffering, phantasmic, as we say, there is only a meaning to pardon, to reconciliation, there where the wound has left a memory, a trace, a scar to be healed or soothed or dressed. To talk would be to begin reconciliation. Even if… ––and Hegel was aware of this –– even if you’re declaring your hatred or declaring war, of abusing or insulting or hurting each other, as soon as you talk to each other the process of reconciliation and begun. How to begin again, and talk to everyone at once, in particular and universally? Moreover, the question “how to speak to several people” to more than the singular, could draw the very cross of of pardon. Now enter Nelson Mandela. …
[Jean-Luc Nancy section:
I have known Jacques since 1969, I believe. I had the idea of writing a little essay. I sent this text to Jacques, whom I had never met, and I received an answer that greatly astonished me. First of all I was astounded because he had already read the few articles I had published previously. SO I was astonished, and I was touched also. I remember there was a phrase in the letter: “I have already read you. And I knew that we just had to meet some day. So you can imagine… –– I was 29 years old –– the effect of receiving a letter form someone who wasn’t what he is today but who was nonetheless a force to be reckoned with. There was also the fact that the letter contained things I couldn’t quote by heart but I am quite certain of their content, about what a pleasure it was for him to find correspondents in a world or in a period where he felt alone, which had obscure aspects, difficult aspects to it. It surprised me that he should admit to a feeling of loneliness. It may have been just a passing phase. I know it’s happened at other times but it must have happened then also. So there was that… I mentioned that I was struck, as others were, by his texts but I should say that it was much more than an effect of a remarkable text. His texts were the first texts that taught me that there was a philosophy in the making.
I happen to have had a heart transplant though I have never written about it particularly. All the motifs associated with transplants… immunity, self-immunity… –– we could even say prosthetic, because a transplant is a form of prosthetic. At first it was above all a graft. Graft was one of Derrida’s words, one of his motifs, one of Derrida’s major concepts. This whole corpus corresponds to this line which is essentially the major thrust of his work. You could call it the axis of the heterogeneous in general, the heterogeneous that is in the relationship of self to self. Everything in his work stems from this –– in Speech and Phenomena, heterogeneity at the heart of the supposed ideal: homogeneity of self or of the subject.
It is certain that friendship must contain a silent part that is truly independent of all speech, philosophical discourse in particular. Jacques and I have not exchanged many philosophical proposals over these thirty years. Very few indeed. It does happen from time to time but it’s always quickly over. Obviously it happens in our texts, not via the spoken word. ]
indistinguishable spoken word rap as Derrida walks towards a Humanities Office Building
(In English:) The seminar this year consists in analyzing: what way the Christian schemes are prevailing in the world, even beyond the Christian cultures. Even in Japanese, in India and so on. In the culture in which Christianity is present and sometimes dominantly present, I try to understand what’s going on. My language is marked by a number of Christian seals, so to speak, seals. It is sealed. Christian means also Jewish, and there is also the relation of Judaism to Islam. So what I call Abrahamic tradition. My discourse is sealed by this complex Abrahamic condition.
My friend Jean-Luc Nancy is preparing a book entitled The Deconstruction of Christianity, and I know by having read some pages of, some short texts he published on this subject, that he also thinks, like me, that in fact we cannot escape, purely and simply, what we call Christianity. It’s in the name of Christianity that we get rid of Christianity. The death of God, for example, is a Christian theme. Nothing is more Christian than that. So perhaps what’s going on today in the world, under the name of what I call “worldwide Latinization”, “worldwide Christianization” if you want, is a sort of self-deconstruction of Christianity.
These shelves weren’t here. The table here was my only workplace. Apart from what I call the warehouse, that is, various copies of my texts, translations, etc. there are a few great philosophical corpora. It’s a stratification that happened quite empirically. For example Hegel is here, Heidegger is there, Husserl there… “The Sublime” refers to what is just under the… Yes. At the same time “high” and “under”. This place has an aspect of undersea, underground, under the heavens… yet at the same time it can’t be any higher. I can’t justify this word that seemed convenient –– I called it my Sublime. It’s also the place of sublimation, the place of retreat for writing where I retreat to and elevate myself at little expense. It’s a sublime hideout.
I repress things from the top. That’s a feature of the Sublime. You can repress from above just as you can from below. Repressing from on high and sublimation are often similar.
Safaa Fathy: You also repress from below, there’s that hut in the garden.
I repress in all directions. Upwards, downwards, right, left, forward, back.
[At said hut, with the door open, pointing:] These are all papers.
SF: Mail or manuscripts?
No, no, correspondence, manuscripts, … I don’t know if you want to come in.
SF: Too dark.
It’s a mess, one day I’ll sort it out. There are also students’ work, theses, manuscripts… I throw hardly anything away, so as there’s no more room in the house.
Archive Fever. This is what we are talking about. The idea that this can live without me in some way. It already does live without me, it belongs to the experience of this accumulation. It’s about accumulating things that have no need of me. I need things that don’t need me. That’s love too. That’s desire. A trace that can do without me, that accumulates while destroying itself. The ashes.
Wherever inscription leaves a mark on the body, a mark that works on an unconscious level, that is not simply a memory, a conscious recollection; wherever what I called the trace focuses beyond presence and consciousness, it refers us to something like a circumcision.
In this place –– not just any place –– that surrounds the penis, which is at the same time a place of desire, of erection, it is obvious that writing, as body writing, finds its place, finds an event in which the subject, dis-symmetrically, receives the law. Before any expression, before any choice of membership, it is marked by the community, and whatever the movements of denial, emancipation or liberation it might develop from this community, this mark remains. But my hypothesis is that there are equivalents about which much remains to be said. There are equivalents in every culture. We could evoke a kind of circumcision, metaphorical, allegorical, tropic circumcision. But wherever –– this is what I am trying to show –– wherever there’s a trace, a cut, an incision, an inscription, that marks the body, we find a figure of circumcision. That also means that in all the texts that I mention that speak of marks, of dates, of shibboleth, of traces, of inscriptions, a sign is given to circumcision, and even to my circumcision.
SF, quoting D: In the attic –– my Sublime –– I am accumulating documents, iconographies, notes, learned and naïve, dream narratives or philosophical dissertations, careful transcriptions of encyclopedic, sociological, psychoanalytic treatises that I’ll do nothing with on circumcision in the world, Jewish, Arab and other. And excision, with a view to my circumcision alone, the circumcision of me.
I’d like that to be read. Now I’ll continue. On the one hand, the word sublime means both that which is above and near heaven and also the place of a sort of sublimation towards which I rose, as did all… all my dreams of writing and in which I have accumulated for decades. Material, texts, documents in preparation for this great book on circumcision that I always knew I would never write. I knew that I couldn’t write a satisfactory text. For contingent reasons, no doubt, but also necessary, the project was so unlimited, on the one hand, that it would have required a book even bigger than the sublime itself, that is, in 200 volumes, and on the other hand –– and this is the non-contingent reason –– because it was like a book about the umbilicus of my dreams. A book which would not only have touched the roots of the unconscious, but would have, in a way, shown it off, turned it around entirely in a moment of truth and I knew from the outset that because of circumcision itself, because of this unconscious mark that is made to last, stronger than consciousness, I could never, and should never exhibit such a thing. So I knew from the start that it was such a project doomed to failure of which I would leave behind a kind of ruin or scattered archive or signal or glimmer that, from afar, would announce what I would have wanted to do if … etc.
Quick, memories, before the thing arrives. I pass by many things, as I’m hurrying. Receive my confessions, my acts of grace, God, for innumerable things, even when I suppress them. But I will pass on nothing of what is in my soul, to your worthy servant, she who conceived me that I be born, both from her flesh in the light of timing from her heart in the light of eternity. I will state the gifts, not hers and yours, in her. And as with him, in all haste I hear my mother’s confession (we always confess the other). I confess means I hear my mother’s confession, which means I confess to making my mother confess, I make her speak in me, in front of me, whence all the bedside questions, as if I hoped to hear from her the revelation of sin, finally, without believing that all revolves around a fault of my mother that I carry in me of which I should be expected to say little, as Saint Augustine did of the furtive taste of Monica. Never, I say, will the fault remain as mythical as my circumcision. Should I spell it out?
I certainly wanted to read this text as I had written it and as the time when I wrote it, facing this picture. Close to this picture. “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz”. The title alone inspires all manner of dreams. It so happened that in 1989, the first time I went to Toledo, my mother is dying –– all mortals are dying, are dying people –– but my mother was dying, in the usual sense. She had been for at least three years. She didn’t recognize her relatives. She didn’t even recognize me, couldn’t put a name to me and, as you know, the text that I wrote, Circumfession, is a kind of vigil, of watch, of vigil, of wake, if you like, for my mother, accompanying her death.
Could I add something? I wanted to stress something that is said in the text. The day I discovered this painting was the anniversary of the day –– one year before and exactly the same date –– when my mother died. Without dying. I received a call in Paris. I was summoned and told it was over. So I took a plane, prepared for my mother’s funeral. Then, when I got to the hospital, she had regained consciousness –– it was a kind of resurrection. She had gone through death. So the day I found this painting in Toledo was the anniversary of a death gone by, of my mother’s resurrection. As if I was returning from this trip, without knowing –– at the very time I was writing Circumfession –– without knowing if death wouldn’t come and interrupt the writing of a sentence or a passage of this text.
All writing is built upon resistance. Writing only exists where there is resistance, in the best and worst sense of the word; and where resistance can also mean denial and repression. I contain and confine by the very gesture that sets free. So I can liberate unheard-of or unprecedented forces of writing [—] but even this liberation is only possible there where –– when you transgress and liberate –– you are building dykes, you are building resistance. Structures that will protect the possibility of transgression. At the point when –– indecently –– you breach a limit, you remove a barrier, there is another one being built. To read is to decipher this. In the most inventive writing, in the most unforeseen writing events, reading is deciphering the calculation of self-protection.
The “I” is not necessarily conscious of the calculation. The unconscious calculates. Writing calculates. I must say, though I’ve written and published a good deal, I still can’t defend myself against a burst of laughter or an expression of modesty. “Why do you write? You seem to think that it’s interesting. You take it to your publisher, you write therefore you think what you write is interesting.” In a way, such an act is absolutely obscene. The act of writing is unjustifiable from that point of view. So you beg pardon, like someone stripping off. “There, look, I’m exposing myself.” And naturally, you ask forgiveness right away. “Sorry for showing off.” So, whenever I write, I say sorry to the other, and even to the intended readers, for the impropriety of writing. It’s a first reason for asking forgiveness. But another basic, structural reason which always worries me, always causes me worry, and which pertains to the structure of the mark and of language, is: whenever I leave a trace, I erase the singularity of the reader. Even if I leave a secret word, saying secretly to someone, “There, I love you. This word is meant for you alone,” I know that, as soon as it is written and formulated in a language, translatable; as soon as the trace is decipherable it loses the uniqueness of the intended reader. In other words, whenever I write, I deny or I wound the identity or the uniqueness of the intended reader. I no longer address such and such a person, I address anyone. So I am constantly in betrayal. Writing is a betrayal. Since by writing I betray [,] by writing I perjure [,] then I cannot not be asking for forgiveness [,] for the perjury which consists in writing, in signing.
She takes photos [of me], but it’s not photography, it’s hypnosis. Generally, taking a photo takes two or three seconds, this can take a minute. It’s interminable. I don’t know what to do.
If this or that happens –– for example sacrifice, pure hospitality –– it could only happen, and therefore become possible as impossible. If there is decision and responsibility they should pass the test of aporia and the undecidable. From this moment –– which is not just a phase, it is, in a way, an interminable moment –– by the trial of this impossibility to decide or to dispose of a previously defined rule that would allow one to decide. In a certain way, I must, beyond all –– “I musts” identifiable –– not know where to go, not know what to do nor what I should decide, so that a decision –– where it seems impossible –– should be possible. And therefore a responsibility. Which means that if there is decision and responsibility, they should cross the total wilderness. Moreover, it is often in this perplexity, this impossibility of deciding, of finding one’s way, that some travellers [sic] manage to get lost. One of the great figures of hospitality in nomadic, pre-Islamic culture is the tale of the traveller who, having lost his way, comes to tents where the nomad must welcome him and has a duty to take him in for at least three days. So the oasis, the aporia, the non-way, hospitality … all this forms a singular cultural configuration.
I have experienced what could be called the opposite of hospitality from the country and the police who arrested me and from the prison guards who threatened to hit me, etc. It’s the opposite of hospitality, and yet, in the prison itself, despite the brevity of my stay there, I did have two experiences of true hospitality, memories that I hold very dear. I was jailed at one in the morning and at five or six they threw another prisoner into the cell. A gypsy, a Hungarian Tzigane, with whom I immediately, struck up an intense friendship for several hours. He initiated me into a certain number of things, offering to wash the walls, because we had to wash the walls. We had to do a certain number of things the guards told us to do. So, to cut a long story short, for the few hours I spent with this man in this little prison, I had an experience of friendship and hospitality such that, in that little cell, this man, who knew prison better than me, welcomed me. I began to dream that this prison would be hospitable to me. And then, despite the violence, the suffering –– because it was an extremely cruel interlude –– there was something in me… –– I may have mentioned this –– something in me that rehearsed this scene, that lived this scene as a rehearsal. As if I had desired it, as if I had anticipated it, as if I let myself be drawn along by something which had already happened that I was beginning again. And this rehearsal was like a certain desire that stemmed from hospitality. I was welcomed in a place that was already prepared within me. As if I had done everything to get myself locked up. When you reconstruct the chain of events that led me to that prison, I had done everything foolish I needed to do to get arrested and thrown in prison. And so there is a rehearsal, when there is a mixture of torture, of suffering –– I won’t go into that –– but also of delight. Delight because of the rehearsal. There was someone in me who said, That’s good, this only happens to me and I recognize it. I find a certain psychic accommodation, a certain expectation. In a way I was waiting for it.
What we could say about a catastrophe that constitutes hospitality is that there is only an experience of hospitality, pure hospitality, when a certain catastrophe occurs.
You could say that hospitality worthy of the name is a catastrophic ordeal against which, unfortunately, even the most hospitable people, nations and communities protect themselves, and they protect themselves [counting on his fingers] through the law, by controlling the frontiers, by what we call good behavior. That’s why pure hospitality is not a category of politics nor of law nor even of pardon. Limited hospitality can be a category of law. It has been written in international legal conventions, whereas pure hospitality –– the hospitality of catastrophe –– is heterogeneous to politics and to law. No politics or law could be open to the event of catastrophe, by definition. But that doesn’t mean that we must renounce law and politics. We have to readjust law and politics.
Wherever the “we” is a kind of fusional community where responsibility is swamped, I can see danger. Moreover I have, with experience, contracted an allergy to any community of that type. But we on the other hand, I would term “we” acceptable when it is made of interruptions, where those who say “we” know that they are singularities with an interrupted connection. Not only does that not prevent us saying “we” and talking to ourselves and hearing ourselves; but the condition for talking to ourselves and hearing ourselves is that this interruption remain. Imagine the closest possible proximity between two beings: love, erotic experience, extreme ecstasy; distance is not abolished, infinite distance remains. The “we” is a species, it’s like when you roll the dice or when you cast your line, when a fisherman casts his line; perhaps there is a “we” on the other side? It’s a promise, it’s a request, it’s a hope. It can also be a fear. When I say “we” I hope that it is not us, that we are not enclosed inside this “we”. To say “we” is a mad gesture in a certain way, mad with hope, with fear, with promise. But it is certainly not a peaceful assurance about what this “we” is. There is no “we”. A “we” has never been discovered in the wild.
inaudible discussion between Jacques and Marguerite Derrida
It’s the cat’s sepulture.
SF: The cats’ tombs.
There are some stones but they’re not very visible. In fact, it’s an Algerian dish in which you cook pancakes which si now itself buried, as if the tomb were buried.
SF: “But Lucrèce is this one”
Yes, this one. That’s already an old grave.
M. Derrida: From last year.
It’s Lucrèce. You knew her.
That was the big black cat.
An event occurred here that gave Lorca his play, “Blood Wedding”. Because a woman was quite symbolically killed and her grief-stricken memory still haunts this place. A woman’s infinite mourning is something that haunts everyone. It haunts the place. What I wanted to suggest in talking about sexual differences (in the plural) is that each time there is a kind of “braid” of voices making it plurivocal –– this word has several meanings, in fact –– a plurivocal quality that works, laboriously or not, on each voice. For instance, here, we were talking about several individuals, several women, and Lorca and all those ghosts that come to haunt the same place and that in a way we take onto ourselves at the moment of mourning, at the moment of contemplation which we mentioned earlier… It must be that these ghosts, which are both masculine and feminine voices, several qualities of voice, several registers of feminine voices, compose together, get tangled up or braid together. In a certain way, whenever we speak, whenever I speak, whenever an “I” speaks, this “I” itself is constituted, made possible in its identity of “I”, by this tangling of voices. One voice inhabiting another, in a way, haunting the other. And I think that repression, all repression, in particular sexual repression, sexual repression of women begins at the place where one tries to stifle a voice or to reduce this tangle, this braid, to one voice only: a kind of monologic.
The multiplicity of voices, right from the word go, spells open house for ghosts, revenants, the return of that which is repressed, excluded, debarred. So I would try to group together the multiplicity of voices, the haunting, the spectrality, and also everything we’ve been talking about for a while, concerning murder, repression, sexual differences, women, etc.
For this democratic space to open, it would take everyone, each citizen… that in everyone this multiplicity of voices be liberated as far as possible. It would take every last citizen to handle within these problems of voice, of sexual differences, of ghosts, etc. in order to be bale to handle them as they should outside. If I am tyrannical within myself I would tend to be the same outside. That’s why politics also involves a kind of self-analysis, a kind of self experience. If you don’t deal with your unconscious well, if you are not constantly analyzing yourself, the exercise of political responsibility will suffer.
My most deep-seated desire would be to begin again. To re-live everything, good and bad. That which I now know was bad, too. The suffering, after the event, is the luck of this kind of sublimation, of transfiguration, this alchemy that makes the memory of suffering become a good memory. I would like to repeat it all. This is the fear, the anguish, the sadness of approaching death: the fact that I would like to begin again and again the same things without having to invent new ones. Re-live what I have lived. Where the blessing stops –– and this is the nuance I wanted to stress –– is that, when something from the past, good or bad, –– that was good or bad in the past –– continues today and will continue tomorrow to bear bad fruit or have negative results, that the negative continues to proliferate, to live and even to outlive me, then I don’t want to start again. So when the past evil has a future, if I can put it like that, then I won’t say that I curse but I no longer bless.
What is tragic about existence, not just mine, is that the meaning of what we are living –– in a long life, that can add up to a lot –– the meaning of what we have lived is only determined at the last moment, that is, the moment of death. Until the last moment, it could be that what I have lived, or thought I lived, as a good, fine, noble thing, fuelling [sic] this desire of a return to the Eternal, that at the end of my life, something tells me that it was bad, that there was some lie, some error, the seed of some catastrophe, etc… And so, at the last second, I learn something that corrupts or perverts the entire happy memory that I have. I would have liked to tell G., my mother, who has always not heard me any more, what one must know before dying.
Not only do I know nobody, have I met nobody, nobody in the history of humanity, –– wait, wait… –– nobody who has been happier than me. Or luckier. Or more euphoric. A priori it’s true, drunk on uninterrupted enjoyment. But that if I remained the counter-example of myself, so constantly sad, deprived, destitute, disappointed, impatient, jealous, desperate, and that if the two certainties are not mutually exclusive, then I do not know how to risk even the least sentence without dropping it to the ground in silence: to the ground its lexicon, to the ground its grammar and its geologics. How to say anything other than an interest as passionate as it is disillusioned for these: language, literature, philosophy, something other than the impossibility of saying still, as I do here, “I sign”. "