Since his death on the 8th of October, I’ve been planning to write something about Jacques Derrida. In particular, I want to write on his thought on politics, which has been key to my own work for some years now. But the time has not yet arrived. For the moment, The Nation has a very good obituary.
But, inspired by some comments from Gaby in another thread, I wanted to contest the claim that Derrida is either an impenetrable writer or an advocate of unrestrained relativism. I don’t want to argue this at length here. I’ll content myself, with a quote, and a piece of writing from Derrida.
Derrida wrote (in Limited Inc.):
I have never ‘put such concepts as truth, reference and the stability of interpretive contexts radically into question’ if ‘putting radically into question’ means contesting that there are and that there should be truth, reference and stable contexts of interpretation.
The writing I’d like to draw attention to is a talk JD gave on the occasion of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Le Monde Diplomatique in May this year. I’m happy to countersign every word.
This Europe, as a proud descendant of the Enlightenment past and a harbinger of the new Enlightenment to come, would show the world what it means to base politics on something more sophisticated than simplistic binary oppositions.
ELSEWHERE: Courtesy of Stephen Hill, a defence of Derrida by British literary theorist Terry Eagleton, a good obit from the Chronicle of Higher Education, and a tribute from colleagues at Cornell.
In this Europe it would be possible to criticise Israeli policy, especially that pursued by Ariel Sharon and backed by George Bush, without being accused of anti-semitism. In this Europe, supporting the Palestinians in their legitimate struggle for rights, land and a state would not mean supporting suicide bombing or agreeing with the anti-semitic propaganda that is rehabilitating (with sad success) the outrageous lie that is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In this Europe it would be usual to worry both about rising anti-semitism and rising Islamophobia. Sharon and his policies are not directly responsible for the rise of anti-semitism in Europe. But we must defend our right to believe that he does have something to do with it, and that he has used it as an excuse to call European Jews to Israel.
In this Europe it would be possible to criticise the policies of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz without being accused of sympathy for Saddam Hussein and his regime. In this Europe no one would be called anti-American, anti-Israeli, anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic for allying himself with those Americans, Israelis or Palestinians who bravely speak out against their own leaders,often far more vehemently than we do in Europe.
That is my dream. I am grateful to all those who help me to dream it; not only to dream, as Ramonet says, that another world is possible, but to muster the strength to do all that is needed to make it possible. This dream is shared by billions of men and women all over the world. Some day, though the work may be long and painful, a new world will be born.
I think that’s a fitting tribute to Derrida’s ethical and political aspirations. Democracy for Derrida was never a system of political institutions, but rather an ideal whose coming is always deferred. Yet its coming can be hastened by all of us. That challenge is always with us, and always lies ahead of us.