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Remembering Derrida

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  • 7/30/2019 Remembering Derrida


    Remembering DerridaAuthor(s): Mario Perniola and Deborah AmbersonSource: SubStance, Vol. 34, No. 1, Issue 106 (2005), pp. 48-49Published by: University of Wisconsin PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3685615 .

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  • 7/30/2019 Remembering Derrida


    RememberingDerridaMario PerniolaI.I bothread and metJacquesDerrida n 1966,andimmediately udgedhim to be a thinkerof great importance.I was also among the first towrite abouthim in theRivistadi Estetica1966no. 3), in an articleentitled"Grammatologyand Aesthetics."De la Grammatologieould come outthe following year,but I had read and studied the essay (publishedintwo parts n Critique, ecember1965andJanuary 966),whichanticipatedthe central hesisof the work.Duringthisperiod,he andIused to meet atthe cafe "AuxDeux Magots"in St-Germain-des-Presn Paris.He wasunhappy for many reasons. He felt both underappreciated by thephilosophicalestablishment,and behind in his academic career.What ismore, he was aggrieved that Critiquehad sold only 3,000 copies. Iremembera man who was very angrywith the world.I, too, shared thissentiment,but the fact ofbeingelevenyears youngerthan he allowed meto feelpartof thewave of studentprotestswhich,comingfromthe UnitedStates,had reached France.The events of 1968separatedus, but I continuedto readhis work ina systematic manner, and indeed to receive from him affectionatelydedicated copies of his publications until 1972. His influence on mythinking grew significantly during the 1970s and '80s, as is evident inmy booksRitualThinking:exuality,Death,World,New York:HumanityBooks2001),SexAppealof theInorganicContinuum:London-New York2004)and Art andits Shadow Continuum:London-NewYork2004).In

    particular, he central ideas of "ritualwithout content" and "inorganicsexuality"may be seen as developments of Derrida'spolemic againstlogocentrismand vitalism.II.I saw Derridaagain aftermany years, in Trento,Italy,toward theend of the 1980sand, afterwards,on various occasionsin Parisduringthe 1990s.He seemedfinallytranquilbothinhimself and with the world.Inthemeantime,I had nevercompletelystoppedreadinghis work,albeitin a fragmentaryand irregularway. I realized that,with respectto hisearlierworks, some changes had occurredin the development of his

    ? Board of Regents, University of Wisconsin System, 200548 SubStance #106, Vol. 34, no. 1, 2005

  • 7/30/2019 Remembering Derrida


    JacquesDerrida:A Counter-Obituary

    thought. These developments proved very evident among the youngestof scholars and admirers. Two things astonished me: the presence of adecided emphasis on ethical topics, and a certain tendency on his part toengage in a sort of mimetic rivalry with media-based communicationsby means of an immense production of conference papers and articles.Furthermore, in the work of his most recent followers, I no longerrecognized the Derrida Ihad studied 20 years previously, especially whenthese adherents used deconstruction as a type of sophistry, an end initself. It is from precisely this period that Ihave the memory of a generousman who, after a dinner with friends in Paris, had to walk in the rain tohis car in order to drive miles to his home in the suburbs. It seemed a realscandal that a philosopher of such deserved worldly renown did nothave a driver.

    Im.The third point at which I thought intensely of Derrida was a shorttime before his death, when I read his response to the question, "Who do

    you think you are?"("Pourqui vous prenez-vous?") asked by LaQuinzaineLitterairen. 882,1-31 August 2004) of a hundred or so writers and thinkers.Derrida's answer entitled "Le survivant, le sursis, le sursaut," may beconsidered as a type of last will and testament. What struck me mostwas the sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness that pervades this text.Having written and said so much, Derrida here has the impression of nothaving been understood. After so many essays, books and conferencesdedicated to his thought, he tends to believe that we have only just begunto read him. He writes: "I am grasped before I get to grasp myself"-asign of his generosity, of his tendency to give of himself to others, to seekto conform to the image they have of him. Nevertheless, one can sense inthis text a malaise that does not derive simply from subjective or personalcircumstances, but is rooted in his position as a thinker who is successfulin contemporary society. I think that it is on this malaise that we mustreflect. I was struck by the memory of another thinker whom I used tofrequent during the second half of the sixties, a thinker who had adopteda cultural strategy opposed to that of Derrida: Guy Debord, who totallyshunned the media, the institutions and the public in general, and whosesuccess was posthumous. But the path followed by Debord was no betterthan that chosen by Derrida. UniversityofRometranslatedbyDeborahAmberson

    SubStance#106,Vol. 34, no.l, 2005