Perspectives of Nietzsche, Kant and Derrida

In making a study of this novel-The Tree of Man-my goal is not to see the exact relationship between the events occur in the novel and Christianity but I rather concentrate on the God, and the protagonist’s Christ like coming in the text. The context of myths, thus, will provide a broader. In making a study of this novel-The Tree of Man-my goal is not to see the exact relationship between the events occur in the novel and Christianity but I rather concentrate on the God, and the protagonist’s Christ like coming in the text. The context of myths, thus, will provide a broader prospective (for Nietzsche, Kant, and Derrida) and later on myths transform into a structured spiritual script.

Patrick White’s Tree of Man is a mythical novel and the author establishes a myth which is concerned with the relationship of man to God, and God to man. Along with the relationship runs a series of natural conflicts-flood and fire, and we see human desires are frustrated by non-human powers. Thematically, the novel follows an old proverb-“Man proposes and God disposes”. Hostile human desires and distorted consciousness make this novel a story of birth, passion, and defeat by death which is ultimately the results of all human’s common fate-either good or bad. Patrick White does not give a moral lecture as the novel sets in a forest where the cultivation of man and nature occur side by side.

The first trait which characterizes Christianity is that it is faith in an event. In Old Testament, it was the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. This event constitutes an ellipsis of manhood; the intervention of God not only drastically changes the consciousness of man but also brings a new vision towards novelty. The agents of both the situations-God and Stan Parker (the protagonist)-come with their tools, though their tools vary in a sense that one uses language to break the silence and on the other hand another uses an axe to make a sound. The similarity between the two remains common on the ground of not what they do but what they think. Their decisions are straight forward and hence lack insignificant assertions.

Then the man took an axe and struck at the side of a hairy tree … … … The silence was immense. It was the first time anything like this had happened in that part of the bush.
(The Tree of Man, P.9)

The break of silence becomes his first communication with nature especially

when nature is so close that the isolation turns into a solitude to this young Australian man. Stan demonstrates his psychical harmony to nature by closing the eyes in night to sleep and opening them for the daylight. The daily work makes him so tired that he doesn’t persuade sleep but the natural sleep takes him over. In this mode Stan works through out his life and died eventually a peaceful death as an old tree fall after giving plenty fruits and seeing significant seasons throughout year.

The four sections of the book document the four seasons and four phrases of Stan Parker, and his woman’s four phrases with contemplation on daily duties that are essential for the survival of the fittest in the wilderness of nature. Stan shows power to dominate things that need physical strength like the sap raises in the tree. He lives in a Nietzschean manner as if God were dead or he was the son of god like Christ who ultimately knows how to lead his life with contrary situations. The hero doesn’t believe in any freedom for himself as he knows that he is also a part of larger ordering. He wants to play the man’s role in the creation. For this reason he is always ready for hardships as it gives him strength to firth back for the survival cause.

Post-modern suspicion of “why ness” never touches his sturdy soul. Like Nietzsche, Stan Parker responds differently to the nihilism that he has diagnosed. He has lost ‘the real world’ and ‘the apparent world’, he thinks, and it follows from the eerie situations like: he succumbs to the potency of his imagination, falling into Madeleine with Amy’s way of seeing the world as lit by human desires- a hazy, immaterial, sinuous and seductive orgasmic force. Stan’s pseudo ignorance to his wife’s adultery, daughter’s in articulation to his situation and son’s squalidity towards him claims his God power-whether imagery or real is immanent. He realizes that there is no absolute being and a being is always becoming; and he remains in the process of fluid than fixity.

Embracing the Kantian logic of heavenly world, Stan knows that it is to be approached so much by faith as by morality: we can have no theoretical knowledge of the deity, and the best we can do is act morally, as though we knew there was a god. Stan doesn’t perplex on the issue whether God exists or not but internally realizes that the supreme value for life unexpectedly set in motion the inevitable decline in the idea of value. In keeping with this, as the man’s power wither and fade so too do the manifestations of a purpose in everything. The state of the old Parker, blinking into the light, unable to fasten his mind, his last feeble powers of awareness on anything, certainly proclaims that man is mortal as Christ was (Christians believe that the second person of Trinity became a human being and died for their sins), and that he is born to crumble back into dust. The force that works through him must flicker and go out, only the coming of full strength of another Stan Parker, of other simple good men.

The centrality of Stan and his woman is maintained by the other characters like Doll Quigley, Ray, Thelma, O’ Dowd and Bub and so on and so forth. This centrality establishes Stan Parker as the sun among planets. He lives, works, and dies for another Stan Parker who will restore the radiance. The God-power is lying within and behind and working out through the efforts of the man. And thus the last sentence provides evidence for his continuity. The last sentence goes like:

So that in the end there was no end.

The remains in the fluid like Stan Parker. He will pass his radiance to another man, and an unending session will go hereafter. This perspective which affirms a plurality of force centers an affirmation. This is pronounced by Derrida as an endless process of becoming. Derrida masterfully claims that ‘sign is a sign of another sign’. The otherness prevails and hence The Tree of Man is not a tree but a biological evolutionary process that remains as a continuum and for eternity.

Mr. Amitabh V. Dwivedi
Faculty in English & Linguistics
SMVD University, Kakryal, Katra, Jammu, India


-- Derrida, J. (1982) ‘Letter to a Japanese Friend’ in J. Wolfreys (eds), Literary Theories, London: Edinburgh University Press.

-- Harrland, R. (1987) ‘Derrida and Language as Writing’ Superstructuralism, London and New York: Methuen.

- Green, K. and Bihan, L.(2000) Critical Theory and Practice, London: Routledge.

- Selden I. Raman (1988) ‘Structure and Indeterminacy’ The Theory of Criticism from Plato to the Present-A Reader UK: Longman.

- Wolfreys,J. (1999) ‘Introduction: ‘What remains unread’, Literary Theories, London: Edinburgh University Press.



Post-Derrida: the complex legacy of one of the twentieth century's most influential thinkers.(Cooper's Last)

Publication: Arena Magazine
Publication Date: 01-DEC-04
Delivery: Immediate Online Access
Author: Cooper, Simon

Article Excerpt
To confirm the cultural significance of the recently deceased philosopher Jacques Derrida, you need go no further than register the number of jokes that have arisen questioning whether he had died at all--jokes which in their own way rely on the language and concepts of Derrida's work for their effect. Hence the use of quotation marks to sceptically announce Derrida's 'death', or statements that he finally seemed to have 'deconstructed' (but had he really?) and so on. The sheer number of these rather feeble lines on the Internet and in the newspapers represent the final shot for many of those who were at one time frustrated by efforts to grasp the significance of this influential but notoriously difficult thinker. Indeed, the rather mean-spirited quality of many of the obituaries for Derrida was perhaps motivated by the fact that, despite the best efforts of the 'culture wars' of the 80s and 90s to diminish Derrida (and more generally what has come to be known as 'theory'), he had a profound influence in virtually all fields of scholarship.

As supporters of Derrida have pointed out, it is important to distinguish the philosopher from caricatures of his work. Hence Derrida the cautious thinker engaged with the whole western tradition can be distinguished from the nihilist who sought to undermine the tenets of classical education and the...



Elements of Semiology, Roland Barthes (1964)

Source: Elements of Semiology, 1964, publ. Hill and Wang, 1968

In his Course in General Linguistics, first published in 1916, Saussure postulated the existence of a general science of signs, or Semiology, of which linguistics would form only one part. Semiology therefore aims to take in any system of signs, whatever their substance and limits; images, gestures, musical sounds, objects, and the complex associations of all these, which form the content of ritual, convention or public entertainment: these constitute, if not languages, at least systems of signification. There is no doubt that the development of mass communications confers particular relevance today upon the vast field of signifying media, just when the success of disciplines such as linguistics, information theory, formal logic and structural anthropology provide semantic analysis with new instruments. There is at present a kind of demand for semiology, stemming not from the fads of a few scholars, but from the very history of the modern world.

The fact remains that, although Saussure's ideas have made great headway, semiology remains a tentative science. The reason for this may well be simple. Saussure, followed in this by the main semiologists, thought that linguistics merely formed a part of the general science of signs. Now it is far from certain that in the social life of today there are to be found any extensive systems of signs outside human language. Semiology has so far concerned itself with codes of no more than slight interest, such as the Highway Code; the moment we go on to systems where the sociological significance is more than superficial, we are once more confronted with language. it is true that objects, images and patterns of behaviour can signify, and do so on a large scale, but never autonomously; every semiological system has its linguistic admixture. Where there is a visual substance, for example, the meaning is confirmed by being duplicated in a linguistic message (which happens in the case of the cinema, advertising, comic strips, press photography, etc.) so that at least a part of the iconic message is, in terms of structural relationship, either redundant or taken up by the linguistic system. As for collections of objects (clothes, food), they enjoy the status of systems only in so far as they pass through the relay of language, which extracts their signifiers (in the form of nomenclature) and names their signifieds (in the forms of usages or reasons): we are, much more than in former times, and despite the spread of pictorial illustration, a civilisation of the written word. Finally, and in more general terms, it appears increasingly more difficult to conceive a system of images and objects whose signifieds can exist independently of language: to perceive what a substance signifies is inevitably to fall back on the individuation of a language: there is no meaning which is not designated, and the world of signifieds is none other than that of language.

Thus, though working at the outset on nonlinguistic substances, semiology is required, sooner or later, to find language (in the ordinary sense of the term) in its path, not only as a model, but also as component, relay or signified. Even so, such language is not quite that of the linguist: it is a second-order language, with its unities no longer monemes or phonemes, but larger fragments of discourse referring to objects or episodes whose meaning underlies language, but can never exist independently of it. Semiology is therefore perhaps destined to be absorbed into a trans-linguistics, the materials of which may be myth, narrative, journalism, or on the other hand objects of our civilisation, in so far as they are spoken (through press, prospectus, interview, conversation and perhaps even the inner language, which is ruled by the laws of imagination). In fact, we must now face the possibility of inverting Saussure's declaration: linguistics is not a part of the general science of signs, even a privileged part, it is semiology which is a part of linguistics: to be precise, it is that part covering the great signifying unities of discourse. By this inversion we may expect to bring to light the unity of the research at present being done in anthropology, sociology, psychoanalysis and stylistics round the concept of signification.

Though it will doubtless be required some day to change its character, semiology must first of all, if not exactly take definite shape, at least try itself out, explore its possibilities and impossibilities. This is feasible only on the basis of preparatory investigation. And indeed it must be acknowledged in advance that such an investigation is both diffident and rash: diffident because semiological knowledge at present can be only a copy of linguistic knowledge; rash because this knowledge must be applied forthwith, at least as a project, to non-linguistic objects.

The Elements here presented have as their sole aim the extraction from linguistics of analytical concepts, which we think a priori to be sufficiently general to start semiological research on its way. In assembling them, it is not presupposed that they will remain intact during the course of research; nor that semiology will always be forced to follow the linguistic model closely.' We are merely suggesting and elucidating a terminology in the hope that it may enable an initial (albeit provisional) order to be introduced into the heterogeneous mass of significant facts. In fact what we purport to do is to furnish a principle of classification of the questions.

These elements of semiology will therefore be grouped under four main headings borrowed from structural linguistics:

I. Language and Speech.
II. Signified and Signifier.
III. Syntagm and System.
IV. Denotation and Connotation.

It will be seen that these headings appear in dichotomic form; the reader will also notice that the binary classification of concepts seems frequent in structural thoughts as if the metalanguage of the linguist reproduced, like a mirror, the binary structure of the system it is describing; and we shall point out, as the occasion arises, that it would probably be very instructive to study the pre-eminence of binary classification in the discourse of contemporary social sciences. The taxonomy of these sciences, if it were well known, would undoubtedly provide a great deal of information on what might be called the field of intellectual imagination in our time.

read this article at


Earn money from blogging

Do you have a blog and want to make some extra money? This is a nice job opportunity for blogger. Blogger now can make money from blogging. Post any review you want at your blog and you'll be paid.

Bloggerwave call blogger to be partner and make money from blogging. Bloggerwave is aiming to be Europes biggest advertsing media on blogs and you can help us grow so more and more jobs will come. This is not free, you will be paid for each review you post on your blog.


The Derrida Phenomenon

By Domenica-Antoine Grisoni
Literary magazine n° 196 - June 1983.

Jacques Derrida caricatured by Pancho for the literary Magazine.

A coterie carrying an authentic philosophical step. At the head, Jacques Derrida: that which gives its name. And also, which gave the tone. A machine to crush the texts. A Master of reading.

Eh yes, there is a Derrida phenomenon well. At the hour of the great crisis of the models of the thought, of the which gallops intrusion of subjectivity in philosophy, of the confirmed death of the Master-thinkers, at the moment even where we will pour in the third millenium, imbus of revival and "post-modernism", some that the last intellectual archaisms are in process of resorption, there is still, with same the body of the French philosophy (or this which holds place of it), a kind of outgrowth vieillotte and insolente, an effect of group, a vault: derridiens. Philosophers à.la.mode old, who follow all evenly the work of a Master, stick to its steps, miment its tics, steal its words and coil their reflexion in thinnest meander of his.

Seen outside, the coterie often starts the laughter, and sometimes stimulates the humour of his detractors. The ones make fun what they name its logorrhée, or joke the "logology" (speech on the speech) which swells and tends to slip towards a "logologology" without end. Others scoff what they judge being a revival of the philosophical clericalism. Others finally see only the version there Xxe century of Invaluable ridiculous; but did these, the laugher-prosecutors, read work which they disparage? If you ask them the question, they will answer that obviously not, then that they are perfectly "illegible".
Critical easy, too convenient, which makes mine regulate an account, but do not regulate it. Also I will risk another assumption. That of a current derridien carrying an authentic philosophical step. Of a which been obstinated work, obscure and ungrateful. Of a rigorous, radical work in its expression because it does not aim anything less than definitively to sap the protective base of the Western speculative speech.
At the head thus, Jacques Derrida: that which gives its name. And also, which gave the tone. A machine to crush the texts. A Master of reading.
Almost the totality of sound œuvre in progress is appeared as comments. Plato, Rousseau, from Saussure, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, Husserl, and well from others passed to the moulinette, "déconstruits" the ones after the others. With a simple and acknowledged aim: in finishing, through them, with traditional philosophy. To break the vicious circle of the illusions of truth which let believe that there are criticisms destroying. To further go that Nietzsche, for example, which proclaims the death of the metaphysics, which among the first carried the hardest blows to him, but which will never cease living with its phantom, of speaking its language and to reorganize its images. Or that Heidegger, another destroyer of this same metaphysics, which will not really arrive, in spite of its efforts, to get rid of its presupposed. It is with this trap, of the mode to think, which registers in the same mental space for and it against, back and its place, which Derrida wants to escape. Then it changes tactic. It inaugurates a strategy of the variation. It moves the glance. Either outside, but from now on inside the texts. The œil philosopher is inserted in the flesh of the concept, detects the most negligible articulations which hold welded the opposed couples, raison/déraison, présence/absence, etc i.e. what constitutes the architecture of the metaphysical spirit, and finishes by doing everything to explode. Illegible Derrida? Thus let us go: Derrida is a Devil, a Malignant philosopher. And read Of an apocalyptic tone adopted at one time in philosophy : you will find there in a luminous language the application of what I have just presented. The subversion of the texts by the œil and the ear. The philosophical one, strictly speaking.
Behind the Master: the close relations, the disciples, those which adopt its stakes, marry its engagements. A group whose members produce work of unequal interest. But from which Sarah Kofman is detached clearly. A philosopher who has a cast: œil right on the left phillosophie, œil on the psychoanalysis. All its books until now made fly. Readings without concessions, iconoclasts. The enigma of the woman : Freud just as it is, misogynist, working out his theory around a massive retention of femininity. Or the respect of the women : a comparative study of the systems of constraint and in the long term, negation of the female fact, through the speeches of Rousseau and Kant. And today, two short texts. Pugnacious. Aggressive. How to leave itself there? A question put with Plato, the examination of philosophy like poros (in the myth exposed in the Banquet, Poros is the god of ingeniousness, the success), i.e. like stratagem to reach the light. Simple translation of the metaphor: how to make that philosophy helps with knowledge? Then, slope psychoanalyses: An impossible trade. Reading of a writing of Freud going back to 1937, therefore among the last, Constructions in analysis. Malicious reading. Where it is learned that the Master of Vienna was until the end a quite bad lot, fixed on his capacity of analyst and eager to bequeath it intact to his successors. Here still which will not arrange the businesses of the French analysts.
An ultimate mention with Jean-Luc Nancy, who gathered in collection a series of articles disseminated through the reviews. It does not touch with morals, says it, but it scans some of its bases. And it is instructive.
With the assessment, Derrida, the derridiens: a free philosophical work, which continues in spite of the movements and the doubts. One can think of them what one wants. But that exists and that advances.

Quoted books
Of an apocalyptic tone adopted at one time in philosophy, Jcques Derrida. ED. Gallilée
The Categorical imperative, Jean-Luc Nancy. ED. Flammarion
How to leave itself there? Sarah Kofman. ED. Galileo
An impossible trade, Sarah Kofman. ED. Galillée


The Politics of Jacques Derrida

this is the section 2. read the previous page

From this point of view it would seem that all Western political ideologies--fascism, conservatism, liberalism, socialism, communism--would be equally unacceptable. That is the logical implication of Derrida's attack on logocentrism, and sometimes he appears to accept it. In Specters of Marx and The Other Heading he denounces the new liberal consensus he sees as having ruled the West since 1989, lashing out hysterically, and unoriginally, at the "New International" of global capitalism and media conglomerates that have established world hegemony by means of an "unprecedented form of war." He is less critical of Marxism (for reasons we will examine), though he does believe that communism became totalitarian when it tried to realize the eschatological program laid out by Marx himself. Marx's problem was that he did not carry out fully his own critique of ideology and remained within the logocentrist tradition. That is what explains the Gulag, the genocides, and the terror carried out in his name by the Soviet Union. "If I had the time," Derrida tells his undoubtedly stupefied Russian interviewers in Moscou aller-retour, "I could show that Stalin was 'logocentrist,"' though he admits that "that would demand a long development."

It probably would. For it would mean showing that the real source of tyranny is not tyrants, or guns, or wicked institutions. Tyranny begins in the language of tyranny, which derives ultimately from philosophy. If that were transformed, or "neutralized" as he says in Politics of Friendship, so eventually would our politics be. He proves to be extremely open-minded about what this might entail. He asks rhetorically whether "it would still make sense to speak of democracy when there would be no more speaking of country, nation, even state and citizen." He also considers whether the abandonment of Western humanism would mean that concepts of human rights, humanitarianism, even crimes against humanity would have to be forsworn.

But then what remains? If deconstruction throws doubt on every political principle of the Western philosophical tradition--Derrida mentions propriety, intentionality, will, liberty, conscience, self-consciousness, the subject. the self, the person, and community--are judgments about political matters still possible? Can one still distinguish rights from wrongs, justice from injustice? Or are these terms, too, so infected with logocentrism that they must be abandoned? Can it really be that deconstruction condemns us to silence on political matters, or can it find a linguistic escape from the trap of language?


Readers of Derrida's early works can be forgiven for assuming that he believes there can be no escape from language, and therefore no escape from deconstruction for any of our concepts. His achievement, after all, was to have established this hard truth, which was the only truth he did not question. But now Jacques Derrida has changed his mind, and in a major way. It turns out that there is a concept--though only one--resilient enough to withstand the acids of deconstruction. That concept is justice.

In the fall of 1989 Derrida was invited to address a symposium in New York on the theme "deconstruction and the possibility of justice." His lecture has now been expanded in a French edition and published along with an essay on Walter Benjamin.7 Derrida's aim in the lecture is to demonstrate that although deconstruction can and should be applied to the law, it cannot and should not be taken to undercut the notion of justice. The problem with law, in his view, is that it is founded and promulgated on the basis of authority, and therefore, he asserts (with typical exaggeration), depends on violence. Law is affected by economic and political forces, is changed by calculation and compromise, and therefore differs from place to place. Law is written into texts and must be interpreted, which complicates things further.


7 The original lecture appears in Drucilla Cornell, et al., editors, Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice (Routledge, 1992).

Of course, none of this is news. Our whole tradition of thinking about law, beginning in Greek philosophy and passing through Roman law, canon law, and modern constitutionalism, is based on the recognition that laws are a conventional device. The only controversial issue is whether there is a higher law, or right, by which the conventional laws of nations can be judged, and, if so, whether it is grounded in nature, reason, or revelation. This distinction between law and right is the foundation of continental jurisprudence, which discriminates carefully between loi/droit, Gesetz/Recht, legge/diritto, and so forth. Derrida conflates loi and droit for the simple reason that he recognizes neither nature nor reason as standards for anything. In his view, both are caught up in the structures of language, and therefore may be deconstructed.

Now, however, he also wishes to claim that there is a concept called justice, and that it stands "outside and beyond the law." But since this justice cannot be understood through nature or reason, that only leaves one possible means of access to its meaning: revelation. Derrida studiously avoids this term but it is what he is talking about. In Force de loi he speaks of an "idea of justice" as "an experience of the impossible," something that exists beyond all experience and therefore cannot be articulated. And what cannot be articulated cannot be deconstructed; it can only be experienced in a mystical way. This is how he puts it:

If there is deconstruction of all determining presumption of a present justice, it operates from an infinite "idea of justice," infinitely irreducible. It is irreducible because due to the other--due to the other before any contract, because this idea has arrived, the arrival of the other as a singularity always other. Invincible to all skepticism . . . this "idea of justice" appears indestructible.... One can recognize, and even accuse it of madness. And perhaps another sort of mysticism. Deconstruction is mad about this justice, mad with the desire for justice.

Or again in Specters of Marx:

What remains irreducible to any deconstruction, what remains as undeconstructible as the possibility itself of deconstruction, is, perhaps, a certain experience of the emancipatory promise; it is perhaps even the formality of a structural messianism, a messianism without religion, even a messianic without messianism, an idea of justice--which we distinguish from law or right and even from human rights--and an idea of democracy --which we distinguish from its current concept and from its determined predicates today.

There is no justice present anywhere in the world. There is, however, as Derrida puts it, an "infinite idea of justice," though it cannot and does not penetrate our world. Yet this necessary absence of justice does not relieve us of the obligation to await its arrival, for the Messiah may come at any moment, through any city gate. We must therefore learn to wait, to defer gratifying our desire for justice. And what better training in deferral than deconstruction? If deconstruction questions the claim of any law or institution to embody absolute justice, it does so in the very name of justice--a justice it refuses to name or define, an "infinite justice that can take on a 'mystical' aspect." Which leads us, without surprise, to the conclusion that "deconstruction is justice."

Socrates equated justice with philosophy, on the grounds that only philosophy could see things as they truly are, and therefore judge truly. Jacques Derrida, mustering all the chutzpah at his disposal, equates justice with deconstruction, on the grounds that only the undoing of rational discourse about justice will prepare the advent of justice as Messiah.


How seriously are we meant to take all this? As always with Derrida it is difficult to know. In the books under review he borrows freely from the modern messianic writings of Emmanuel Levinas and Walter Benjamin.8 But whatever one makes of these two thinkers, they had too much respect for theological concepts like promise, covenant, Messiah, and anticipation to throw these words about cavalierly. Derrida's turn to them in these new political writings bears all the signs of intellectual desperation. He clearly wants deconstruction to serve some political program, and to give hope to the dispirited left. He also wants to correct the impression that his own thought, like that of Heidegger, leads inevitably to a blind "resolve," an assertion of will that could take any political form. As he remarked not long ago, "My hope as a man of the left, is that certain elements of deconstruction will have served or--because the struggle continues, particularly in the United States--will serve to politicize or repoliticize the left with regard to positions which are not simply academic."9 Yet the logic of his own philosophical arguments, such as they are, proves stronger than Derrida. He simply cannot find a way of specifying the nature of the justice to be sought through left-wing politics without opening himself to the very deconstruction he so gleefully applies to others. Unless, of course, he places the "idea of justice" in the eternal, messianic beyond where it cannot be reached by argument, and assumes that his ideologically sympathetic readers won't ask too many questions.


8 Derrida has had a long-standing interest in Levinas, to whom he recently devoted a short volume called Adieu (Paris: Editions Galilee, 1997). On Benjamin's messianism, see my article, "The Riddle of Walter Benjamin," The New York Review, May 25, 1995.

9 "Remarks on Deconstruction and Pragmatism," in Chantal Mouffe, editor, Deconstruction and Pragmatism.

But politics on the left, no less than on the right, is not a matter of passive expectation. It envisages action. And if the idea of justice cannot be articulated, it cannot provide any aim for political action. According to Derrida's argument, all that remains to guide us is decision, pure and simple: a decision for justice or democracy, and for a particular understanding of both. Derrida places enormous trust in the ideological goodwill or prejudices of his readers, for he cannot tell them why he chooses justice over injustice, or democracy over tyranny, only that he does. Nor can he offer the uncommitted any reasons for thinking that the left has a monopoly on the correct understanding of these ideas. He can only offer impressions, as in the little memoir he has published in Moscou aller-retour, where he confesses to still being choked with emotion whenever he hears the Internationale.

This nostalgic note is struck time and again in Specters of Marx and Moscou aller-retour, which deserve permanent places in the crowded pantheon of bizarre Marxist apologetics. In the latter book Derrida declares that "deconstruction never had meaning or interest, at least in my eyes, than as a radicalization, that is to say, also within the tradition of a certain Marxism, in a certain spirit of Marxism." Not, of course, that he wishes to defend anything Marx himself actually wrote or believed. He declares Marx's economics to be rubbish and his philosophy of history a dangerous myth. But all that is beside the point. The spirit" of Marxism gave rise to a great heritage of messianic yearning, and deserves respect for that reason. Indeed, in a certain sense, we are all Marxists now simply because Marxism, well, happened.

Whether they wish it or know it or not, all men and women, all over the earth, are today to a certain extent the heirs of Marx and Marxism. That is, as we were saying a moment ago, they are heirs of the absolute singularity of a project--or of a promise--which has a philosophical and scientific form. This form is in principle non-religious, in the sense of a positive religion; it is not mythological; it is therefore not national --for beyond even the alliance with a chosen people, there is no nationality or nationalism that is not religious or mythological, let us say "mystical" in the broad sense. The form of this promise or of this project remains absolutely unique....

Whatever one may think of this event, of the sometimes terrifying failure of that which was thus begun, of the techno-economic or ecological disasters, and the totalitarian perversions to which it gave rise, . . . whatever one may think also of the trauma in human memory that may follow, this unique attempt took place. A messianic promise, even if it was not fulfilled, at least in the form in which it was uttered, even if it rushed headlong toward an ontological content, will have imprinted an inaugural and unique mark in history. And whether we like it or not, whatever consciousness we have of it, we cannot not be its heirs.

With statements like these Jacques Derrida risks giving bad faith a bad name. The simple truth is that his thinking has nothing to do with Marx or Marxism. Derrida is some vague sort of left democrat who values "difference" and, as his recent short pamphlet on cosmopolitanism shows, he is committed to seeing Europe become a more open, hospitable place, not least for immigrants. These are not remarkable ideas, nor are they contemptible. But like so many among the structuralist generation, Derrida is convinced that the only way to extend the democratic values he himself holds is to destroy the language in which the West has always conceived of them, in the mistaken belief that it is language, not reality, that keeps our democracies imperfect. Only by erasing the vocabulary of Western political thought can we hope for a "repoliticization" or a "new concept of politics." But once that point is achieved, what we discover is that the democracy we want cannot be described or defended; it can only be treated as an article of irrational faith, a messianic dream. That is the wistful conclusion of Politics of Friendship:

For democracy remains to come; this is its essence in so far as it remains: not only will it remain indefinitely perfectible, hence always insufficient and future, but, belonging to the time of the promise, it will always remain, in each of its future times, to come: even when there is democracy, it never exists.


Things have changed in Paris. The days when intellectuals turned to philosophers to get their political bearings, and the public turned to intellectuals, are all but over. The figure of the philosophe engage promoted by Sartre has been badly tarnished by the political experiences of the past several decades, beginning with the publication of Solzhenitsyn's books, then the Cambodian horrors, the rise of Solidarity, and finally the events of 1989. For structuralism in all its forms, it was the disappointments of le tiers monde that did most to call into question the philosophers' notion that cultures are irreducibly different and men simply products of those cultures. To their credit, some of the French intellectuals who became structuralists in the Fifties began to see that the vocabulary they had once used to defend colonial peoples against Western tyranny was now being used to excuse crimes committed against those peoples by homegrown, post-colonial tyrants.

Their abandonment of structuralism and deconstruction was not philosophically motivated, at least at first; it was inspired by moral repugnance. But this repugnance had the hygienic effect of reestablishing the distinctions between, on the one hand, pure philosophy and political philosophy and, on the other, committed engagement. There is today a new French interest in rigorous moral philosophy, epistemology. philosophy of mind, and even cognitive science. The tradition of political philosophy, ancient and modern, is also being studied intensively for the first time in many years, and there is some original being done by younger French political thinkers who are no longer contemptuous of politicians or the state. This all could change tomorrow, of course. But it is difficult to imagine the French stepping into the structuralist river twice.

The persistent American fascination with Derrida and deconstruction has nothing to do with his current status in French philosophy, which is marginal at best. This raises a number of interesting questions about how and why his work has been received with open arms by American post-modernists, and what they think they are embracing. Derrida is often asked about his American success and always responds with the same joke: "La deconstruction, c'est l'Amerique." By which he apparently means that America has something of the decentered, democratic swirl he tries to reproduce in his own thought. He may be on to something here, for if deconstruction is not America, it has certainly become an Americanism.

When continental Europeans think about questions of cultural difference and the Other, they are thinking about many deep and disturbing things in their own past: colonialism, nationalism, fascism, the Holocaust. What makes these historical events so difficult for them to grapple with is that there is no moderate liberal intellectual tradition in Europe that addresses them, or at least not a vigorous and continuous one. The continental philosophical tradition makes it difficult to think about toleration, for example, except in the illiberal terms of Herder's Romantic theory of national spirit, the rigid French model of uniform republican citizenship, and now, most improbably, the Heideggerian messianism of Jacques Derrida's deconstruction .

When Americans think about these issues of cultural difference they feel both pride and shame: pride in our capacity to absorb immigration and shame in the legacy of slavery that has kept black Americans a caste apart. The intellectual problem we face is not that of convincing ourselves that cultural variety can be good, or that differences should be respected, or that liberal political principles are basically sound. These we absorb fairly easily. The problem is in understanding why the American promise has only been imperfectly fulfilled, and how we should respond. About this we are clearly divided. But the fact that some political groups, such as those claiming to represent women and homosexuals, portray their moral enfranchisement as the logical extension of the social enfranchisement given to immigrants and promised, but never delivered, to American blacks, speaks volumes about the social consensus that exists in this country about how to think and argue about such questions.

In light of these contrasting experiences, it is a little easier to understand why the political reckoning structuralism faced in France during the Seventies and Eighties never took place in the United States. The souring of the post-colonial experiments in Africa and Asia and the collapse of Communist regimes nearby induced enormous self-doubt in Europe about the ideas that reigned in the postwar period. These same events have had no appreciable effect on American intellectual life, for the simple reason that they pose no challenge to our own self-understanding. When Americans read works in the structuralist tradition today, even in its most radicalized Heideggerian form in deconstruction, they find it difficult to imagine any moral and political implications they might have. People who believe it is possible to "get a new life" will not be overly concerned by the suggestion that all truth is socially constructed, or think that accepting it means relinquishing one's moral compass. That the anti-humanism and politics of pure will latent in structuralism and deconstruction, not to mention the strange theological overtones that Derrida has recently added, are philosophically and practically incompatible with liberal principles sounds like an annoying prejudice.

No wonder a tour through the post-modernist section of any American bookshop is such a disconcerting experience. The most illiberal, anti-enlightenment notions are put forward with a smile and the assurance that, followed out to their logical conclusion, they could only lead us into the democratic promised land, where all God's children will join hands in singing the national anthem. It is an uplifting vision and Americans believe in uplift. That so many of them seem to have found it in the dark and forbidding works of Jacques Derrida attests to the strength of Americans' self-confidence and their awesome capacity to think well of anyone and any idea. Not for nothing do the French still call us les grands enfants.


The Politics of Jacques Derrida

Mark Lilla

Source: Hardcopy The New York Review of Books, June 25, 1998, pp. 36-41.

The history of French philosophy in the three decades following the Second World War can be summed up in a phrase: politics dictated and philosophy wrote. After the Liberation, and thanks mainly to the example of Jean-Paul Sartre, the mantle of the Dreyfusard intellectual passed from the writer to the philosopher, who was now expected to pronounce on the events of the day. This development led to a blurring of the boundaries between pure philosophical inquiry, political philosophy, and political engagement, and these lines have only slowly been reestablished in France. As Vincent Descombes remarked in his superb short study of the period, Modern French Philosophy (1980), "taking a political position is and remains the decisive test in France; it is what should reveal the ultimate meaning of a philosophy." Paradoxically, the politicizing of philosophy also meant the near extinction of political philosophy, understood as disciplined and informed reflection about a recognizable domain called politics. If everything is political, then strictly speaking nothing is. It is a striking fact about the postwar scene that France produced only one genuine political thinker of note: Raymond Aron.

The list of important French philosophers who protected their work from the political passions of the day is short but contains some significant figures. One thinks of the Jewish moral philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, the misanthropic essayist E. M. Cioran, both of whom have recently died, and the Protestant thinker Paul Ricoeur, now ninety-five, who are all being rediscovered today. One also thinks of Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstruction, a claim that may surprise American readers, given the ideologically charged atmosphere in which Derrida and his work have been received on our side of the Atlantic. Unlike so many of his fellow students at the Ecole Normale Superieure in the Fifties, Derrida kept clear of the Stalinized French Communist Party (PCF), and later adopted a skeptical attitude toward the events of May '68 and the short-lived hysteria for Mao. Over the next decade, as Michel Foucault became the great white hope of the post-'68 left, Derrida frustrated all attempts to read a simple political program into deconstruction. He declared himself to be a man of the left but refused to elaborate, leaving more orthodox thinkers to wonder whether deconstruction reflected anything more than "libertarian pessimism," as the Marxist critic Terry Eagleton once charged.

As Derrida's star began to fall in France in the 1980s, it was rising in the English-speaking world, where questions about his political commitments were raised anew. This must have been awkward for him on several counts. Derrida's thought is extremely French in its themes and rhetoric, and is difficult to understand outside the context of long-standing Parisian disputes over the legacies of structuralism and Heideggerianism. In the United States, however, his ideas, which were first introduced into literary criticism, now circulate in the alien environment of academic postmodernism, which is a loosely structured constellation of ephemeral disciplines like cultural studies, feminist studies, gay and lesbian studies, science studies, and post-colonial theory. Academic postmodernism is nothing if not syncretic, which makes it difficult to understand or even describe. It borrows notions freely from the (translated) works of Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Julia Kristeva--and, as if that were not enough, also seeks inspiration from Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and other figures from the German Frankfurt School. Given the impossibility of imposing any logical order on ideas as dissimilar as these, postmodernism is long on attitude and short on argument. What appears to hold it together is the conviction that promoting these very different thinkers somehow contributes to a shared emancipatory political end, which remains conveniently ill-defined.

In America, Derrida is considered a classic of the postmodern canon. But as recently as 1990 he still declined to explain the political implications of deconstruction. Occasionally a book would appear claiming to have cracked the code and discovered hidden affinities between deconstruction and, say, Marxism or feminism. The Sphinx just grinned. But now, at long last, he has spoken. During the past five years Jacques Derrida has published no fewer than six books on political themes. Some are no more than pamphlets and interviews, but three of them--a book on Marx, one on friendship and politics, another on law--are substantial treatises. Why Derrida has chosen this particular moment to make his political debut is a matter of speculation. His thoughts could not be more out of season in France, and his six books met bafflement when they appeared there. But given the continuing influence of postmodernism in the United States, where Derrida now spends much of his time teaching, his interventions could not be more timely. They give us plenty of material for reflection about the real political implications of deconstruction and whether American readers have quite grasped them.


On or about November 4, 1956, the nature of French philosophy changed. That, in any case, is what the textbooks tell us. In the decade following the Liberation, the dominant presence in French philosophy was Jean-Paul Sartre and the dominant issue was communism. Sartre's L'Etre et le neant (1943) had earned him a reputation as an existentialist during the Occupation, and his famous lecture of 1945, "L'Existentialisme est un humanisme," brought his message that "man is the future of man" to a wide European audience at war's end. Yet within a few years of having spoken out on behalf of absolute human liberty, Sartre became an obedient fellow traveler. In his infamous tract "Les Communistes et la paix," which began to be serialized in 1952, he dismissed reports of the Gulag, and after a trip to the Soviet Union in 1954 declared in an interview that "the freedom to criticize is total in the USSR." Having once extolled man's unique capacity for free choice, Sartre announced a decade later that Marxism was the unsurpassable horizon of our time.

But in 1956 (so the story goes) the myth of the Soviet Union was shattered in France by Khrushchev's secret speech to the Twentieth Party Conference in Moscow in November, and the suppression of the Hungarian revolt. This brought an end to many illusions: about Sartre, about communism, about history, about philosophy, and about the term "humanism." It also established a break between the generation of French thinkers reared in the Thirties, who had seen the war as adults, and students who felt alien to those experiences and wished to escape the suffocating atmosphere of the cold war. The latter therefore turned from the "existential" political engagement recommended by Sartre toward a new social science called structuralism. And (the story ends) after this turn there would develop a new approach to philosophy. of which Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida are perhaps the most distinguished representatives.

The problem with this textbook history is that it vastly overstates the degree to which French intellectuals stripped themselves of their Communist illusions in 1956. What it gets right is the role of structuralism in changing the terms in which political matters generally were discussed. Structuralism was a term coined by the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss to describe a method of applying models of linguistic structure to the study of society as a whole, in particular to customs and myths. Though Levi-Strauss claimed inspiration from Marx, he interpreted Marxism to be a science of society, not a guide to political action.

Sartre's engaged Marxist humanism rested on three basic presuppositions: that history's movements can be understood rationally; that those movements are determined by class relations; and that the individual's responsibility was to further human emancipation by assisting progressive class forces. Levi-Strauss drew two very different principles from reading Marx in light of the French sociological tradition (especially the works of Emile Durkheim) and his own anthropological field work. They were that societies are structures of relatively stable relations among their elements, which develop in no rational historical pattern, and that class has no special status among them. As for man's existential responsibilities, Levi-Strauss had nothing to say. It was a provocative silence. For if societies were essentially stable structures whose metamorphoses were unpredictable, that left little room for man to shape his political future through action. Indeed, man seemed rather beside the point. As Levi-Strauss put it in his masterpiece Tristes Tropiques (1955), "The world began without the human race, and it will end without it."

Today it is somewhat difficult to understand how this austere doctrine could have appealed to young people caught up in the cold war atmosphere of the Fifties. It helps to realize how profoundly Levi-Strauss was attacking the defining myth of modern French politics. Beginning in the Third Republic there developed a shaky political consensus in France, to the effect that the Declaration of the Rights of Man pronounced in 1789 reflected universal truths about the human condition which France had been anointed to promulgate to the world. After two world wars, the Occupation, and Vichy, this myth of universalism in one country struck many young Frenchmen as absurd. Levi-Strauss's structuralism cast doubt on the universality of any political rights or values, and also raised suspicions about the 'man" who claimed them. Weren't these concepts simply a cover for the West's ethnocentrism, colonialism, and genocide, as Levi-Strauss charged? And wasn't Sartre's Marxism polluted by the same ideas? Marxism spoke of each nation's place in the general unfolding of history; structuralism spoke of each culture as autonomous. Marxism preached revolution and liberation for all peoples; structuralism spoke of cultural difference and the need to respect it. In the Paris of the late Fifties, the cool structuralism of Levi-Strauss seemed at once more radically democratic and less naive than the engaged humanism of Sartre.

Besides, structuralist concern with "difference" and the "Other" also had a strong political effect in the decade of decolonization and the Algerian War. Levi-Strauss's most significant works were all published during the breakup of the French colonial empire and contributed enormously to the way it was understood by intellectuals. Sartre was much engaged in anti-colonial politics and saw in Third World revolutions the birth of a "new man," as he put it in his passionate preface to Frantz Fanon's Les Damnees de la terre (1961). Levi-Strauss never engaged in polemics over decolonization or the Algerian War. Nonetheless, his elegant writings worked an aesthetic transformation on his readers, who were subtly made to feel ashamed to be European. Using the rhetorical gifts he learned from Rousseau, he evoked the beauty, dignity, and irreducible strangeness of Third World cultures that were simply trying to preserve their difference. And though Levi-Strauss may not have intended it, his writings would soon feed the suspicion among the new left that grew up in the Sixties that all the universal ideas to which Europe claimed allegiance--reason, science, progress, liberal democracy--were culturally specific weapons fashioned to rob the non-European Other of his difference.

As François Dosse shows in his useful new study of structuralism, the movement had a lasting impact on French thought and intellectual politics, even though its doctrines were quickly misunderstood and misapplied in the next generation.1 For Levi-Strauss, structuralism was a scientific method for studying differences between cultures, in the hope of one day achieving a more genuinely universal understanding of human nature. For the tiers-mondistes he inspired, and who were radicalized by the Algerian War, this scientific relativism degenerated into just another primitivism that neutralized any criticism of abuses within foreign cultures. (Not to mention the crimes of Communist totalitarianism, which now could be excused on culturalist rather than Stalinist grounds.) As the Sixties progressed, the children of structuralism came to forget Levi-Strauss's skepticism about the French revolutionary myth and began promoting the Other as an honorary sans culottes. All that was marginal within Western societies could now be justified and even celebrated philosophically. Some followed Michel Foucault in portraying the development of European civilization as a process of marginalizing domestic misfits--the mentally ill, sexual and political deviants--who were branded and kept under surveillance through the cooperation of social "power" and 'knowledge." Others turned to psychology, searching for the repressed Other in the libido or the unconscious.


1 This next generation is usually called "post-structuralist" in English to mark the break with structuralism's original scientific program. This term is not used in French, however, and Dosse employs "structuralism" to refer to the entire movement. I follow him in this.

By the mid-Seventies the structuralist idea had declined from a scientific method informed by political and cultural pessimism into a liberation anti-theology celebrating difference wherever it might be found. In one sense, then, little had changed since 1956. French intellectuals still thought of themselves on the Dreyfusard model, and philosophers continued to write thinly veiled political manifestoes. But the structuralist experience had changed the terms in which political engagements were conceived philosophically. It was no longer possible to appeal to a rational account of history, as Sartre had, to justify political action. It was not clear that one could appeal to reason at all, since language and social structure loomed so large. One could not even speak of man without putting the term in quotation marks. "Man" was now considered a site, a point where various social. cultural, economic, linguistic, and psychological forces happened to intersect. As Michel Foucault put it in the closing sentence of Les Mots et les choses (1966), man was a recent invention that would soon disappear, like a face drawn in the sand.

That surely was not what Levi-Strauss had in mind when he spoke of creation outlasting man, but the die was already cast. What this radical anti-humanism would mean for politics was not altogether clear. For if "man" was entirely a construct of language and social forces, then how was homo politicus to deliberate on and justify his actions? Whatever one thought of Sartre's political engagements, he had an answer to that question. The structuralists did not.


François Dosse describes Jacques Derrida's doctrine of deconstruction as an "ultrastructuralism." This is accurate enough but does not tell the whole story. In France at least, the novelty of deconstruction in the Sixties was to have addressed the themes of structuralism--difference, the Other--with the philosophical concepts and categories of Martin Heidegger. Derrida's early writing revived a querelle over the nature of humanism which had set Heidegger against Sartre back in the late Forties and had many political implications. Derrida sided with Heidegger, whom he only criticized for not having gone far enough. And it is to that decision in favor of Heidegger that all the political problems of deconstruction may be traced.

The Sartre-Heidegger dispute followed Sartre's 1945 lecture on humanism, which Heidegger read as a travesty of his own intellectual position. Sartre had appropriated the Heideggerian language of anxiety, authenticity, existence, and resolution to make the case for man as "the future of man," by which he meant that man's autonomous self-development should replace transcendent ends as the aim of all our striving. In a long, and justly famous, "Letter on Humanism" (1946), Heidegger responded that his aim had always been to question the concept of man and perhaps free us from it. Ever since Plato, he wrote. Western philosophy had made unexamined metaphysical assumptions about man's essence that disguised the fundamental question of Being--which is the meaning of Being apart from man's comprehension of the being of natural entities--and placed man himself at the center of creation. All the scourges of modern life--science, technology, capitalism, communism--could be traced back to this original "anthropologization" of Being. This was a heavy burden, which could only be lifted through the dismantling (Destruktion) of the metaphysical tradition. Only then could man learn that he is not the master but rather the "shepherd" of Being.

Deconstruction was conceived in the spirit of Heidegger's Destruktion, though Derrida had no intention of making man the shepherd of anything. In a remarkable lecture in 1968, "The Ends of Man," Derrida pointed out that by anointing man the "shepherd of Being," Heidegger had returned to humanism "as if by magnetic attraction." He then claimed that the metaphysical tradition could only really be overcome if the very language of philosophy was "deconstructed," a language in which even Heidegger was snared. At the root of the metaphysical tradition was a naive notion of language as a transparent medium, a "logocentrism," as Derrida dubbed it. The Greek term logos means word or language, but it can also mean reason or principle--an equation of speech with intentionality that Derrida considered highly questionable. What was needed was a radical "decentering" of the implicit hierarchies imbedded in this language that encourage us to place speech above writing, the author above the reader, or the signified above the signifier. Deconstruction thus was described as a prolegomenon to--or perhaps even a substitute for--philosophy as traditionally conceived. It would be an activity allowing the aporias, or paradoxes, imbedded in every philosophical text to emerge without forcing a "violent" consistency upon them. The end of logocentrism would then mean the end of every other wicked "centrism": androcentrism, phallocentrism, phallologocentrism, carnophallologocentrism, and the rest. (All these terms appear in the books under review.)

As a specimen of normalien cleverness, Derrida's attack on his intellectual forefathers could hardly be bettered. He accused both structuralists and Heidegger of not having pushed their own fundamental insights far enough. Structuralists destabilized our picture of man by placing him in a web of social and linguistic relations, but then assumed that web of relations-- structures--to have a stable center. Heidegger's blindness to his own language led from the Destruktion of metaphysics to the promotion of man as the "shepherd of Being." Derrida's contribution, if that is the correct term, was to have seen that by pressing further the anti-humanism latent in both these intellectual traditions, he could make them seem compatible ways of addressing logocentrism.

But having done that, Derrida then found himself bound to follow the linguistic principles he had discovered in his campaign against logocentrism, especially the hard doctrine that since all texts contain ambiguities and can be read in different ways (la difference), exhaustive interpretation must be forever deferred (la differance). That raised the obvious question: How then are we to understand deconstruction's own propositions? As more than one critic has pointed out, there is an unresolvable paradox in using language to claim that language cannot make unambiguous claims.2 For Derrida coping with such evident paradoxes is utterly beside the point. As he has repeatedly explained, he conceives of deconstruction less as a philosophical doctrine than as a "practice" aimed at casting suspicion on the entire philosophical tradition and robbing it of self-confidence.


2 See, for example, John Searle, "The World Turned Upside Down" The New York Review, October 27, 1983.

Anyone who has heard him lecture in French knows that he is more performance artist than logician. His flamboyant style--using free association, rhymes and near-rhymes, puns, and maddening digressions--is not just a vain pose (though it is surely that). It reflects what he calls a self-conscious "acommunicative strategy" for combating logocentrism. As he puts it in the interview published in Moscou aller-retour:

What I try to do through the neutralization of communication, theses, and stability of content, through a microstructure of signification, is to provoke, not only in the reader but also in oneself, a new tremor or a new shock of the body that opens a new space of experience. That might explain the reaction of not a few readers when they say that, in the end, one doesn't understand anything, there's no conclusion drawn, it's too sophisticated, we don't know if you are for or against Nietzsche, where you stand on the woman question....

It also might explain the reaction of those readers who suspect that the neutralization of communication means the neutralization of all standards of judgment--logical, scientific, aesthetic, moral, political--and leaves these fields of thought open to the winds of force and caprice. Derrida always brushed aside such worries as childish, and in the atmosphere of the Sixties and Seventies few questions were asked. But the Eighties proved to be trying times for deconstruction. In 1987 a Chilean writer named Victor Farias published a superficial book on Martin Heidegger's involvement with the Nazis and its alleged roots in his philosophy. While the book contained no revelations, it was taken in France and Germany to confirm the suspicion that, to the extent that philosophy in the Sixties and Seventies was Heideggerian, it was politically irresponsible. Jacques Derrida rejected these associations out of hand, as readers of this paper will recall.3

But that same year it was also revealed that the late Yale professor Paul de Man, a leading champion of deconstruction and close friend of Derrida's, had published collaborationist and anti-Semitic articles in two Belgian newspapers in the early Forties. These might have been dismissed as youthful errors had Derrida and some of his American followers not then interpreted away the offending passages, denying their evident meaning, leaving the impression that deconstruction means you never have to say you're sorry.4 It now appeared that deconstruction had, at the very least, a public relations problem, and that the questions of politics it so playfully left in suspension would now have to be answered.


3 See Thomas Sheehan, "A Normal Nazi," The New York Review, January 14, 1993, as well as letters from Derrida, Richard Wolin, and others in The New York Review, February 11, March 4, and March 25, 1993.

4 For a full account, with references see Louis Menand, "The Politics of Deconstruction," The New York Review, November 21, 1991.

Yet how would that be possible? Derrida's radical interpretations of structuralism and Heideggerianism had rendered the traditional vocabulary of politics unusable and nothing could be put in its place. The subjects considered in traditional political philosophy--individual human beings and nations--were declared to be artifices of language, and dangerous ones at that. The object of political philosophy--a distinct realm of political action--was seen as part of a general system of relations that itself had no center. And as for the method of political philosophy--rational inquiry toward a practical end--Derrida had succeeded in casting suspicion on its logocentrism. An intellectually consistent deconstruction would therefore seem to entail silence on political matters. Or, if silence proved unbearable, it would at least require a serious reconsideration of the anti-humanist dogmas of the structuralist and Heideggerian traditions. To his credit, Michel Foucault began such a reconsideration in the decade before his death. Jacques Derrida never has.


The most we are ever likely to learn about Derrida's understanding of strictly political relations is contained in his most recently translated work, Politics of Friendship--the only one of his books with the word "politics" in the title. It is based on a seminar given in Paris in 1988-1989, just as Europe was being shaken to its foundation by the rapid collapse of the Eastern Bloc. As it happens, I attended this seminar and, like most of the participants I met, had difficulty understanding what Derrida was driving at. Each session would begin with the same citation from Montaigne--"O mes amis, il n'y a nul ami" ("O my friends, there is no friend")--and then veer off into a rambling discussion of its possible sources and meanings. The published text is much reworked and gives a clearer picture of what Derrida has in mind.

His aim is to show that the entire Western tradition of thinking about politics has been distorted by our philosophy's peccatum originarium, the concept of identity. Because our metaphysical tradition teaches that man is identical to himself, a coherent personality free from internal difference, we have been encouraged to seek our identities through membership in undifferentiated, homogenizing groups such as families, friendships, classes, and nations. From Aristotle to the French Revolution, the good republic has therefore been thought to require fraternite, which is idealized as a natural blood tie making separate individuals somehow one.5 But there is no such thing as natural fraternity, Derrida asserts, just as there is no natural maternity (sic). All such natural categories, as well as the derivative concepts of community, culture, nation, and borders, are dependent on language and therefore are conventions. The problem with these conventions is not simply that they cover up differences within the presumably identical entities. It is that they also establish hierarchies among them: between brothers and sisters, citizens and foreigners, and eventually friends and enemies. In the book's most reasoned chapters, Derrida examines Carl Schmitt's conception of politics, which portrays the political relation as an essentially hostile one between friends and enemies.6 Derrida sees Schmitt not as a mere Nazi apologist with a thirst for conflict, but as a deep thinker who made explicit the implicit assumptions of all Western political philosophy.


5 In case the reader failed to grasp the real target of Derrida's campaign against the idea of fraternite, in Politics of Friendship he emphasizes that "this book set itself up to work and be worked relentlessly, close to the thing called France. And close to the singular alliance linking nothing less than the history of fraternization to this thing, France--to the State, the nation, the politics, the culture, literature and language."

6 On Schmitt's concept of politics, see my article, "The Enemy of Liberalism," The New York Review, May 15, 1997.


Living On (Happily) Ever After: Derrida, Philosophy and the Comic

Robert S. Gall

Originally published in Philosophy Today 38 (1994):167-180

They were offered the choice between becoming kings or the couriers of kings. The way children would, they all wanted to be couriers. Therefore there are only couriers who hurry about the world, shouting to each other -- since there are no kings -- messages that have become meaningless. They would like to put an end to this miserable life of theirs but they dare not because of their oaths of service.Franz Kafka(1)

In reading the texts of Derrida, one easily notes how they repeatedly exhibit the frivolous and joking character of writing (AF 125-127; D 93)(2) through puns, double entendres, and turns of phrase that, like jokes, are often untranslatable. Taking a closer look, we also recognize occasional allusions to the conventions and strategies of comedy in these texts. For example, Derrida's call for a kind of thinking at the end of philosophy that is affirmed "in a certain laughter and a certain step of the dance" (MP 27; cf. WD 136) recalls the feast and reconciliation typical of the end of comedy. One also cannot help but notice how Derrida, either as commentator (AT 30; EO 141; Ltd 82) or signatory (WD 300: "Reb Derrisa," a homonym of "Reb de risée", the "rabbi of the laugh" or the "laughing rabbi"), frequently reminds us of the comic implications of his texts. Add to that their playful and performative nature (which suggests a comparison with literary- dramatic forms) and their labyrinth of forms and styles that is reminiscent of comic texts, and it is no wonder that there are frequent references to the genres of comedy and the comic in characterizing the texts of Derrida.(3)

However, despite the frequent references to a comic quality in the texts of Derrida, little has been done to show what this means for understanding those texts. That is, commentators (including Derrida) use the trope "comedy" and the "comic" to suggest/promote an understanding of philosophy and a comportment toward the world that is "comic" in some larger sense, but they tend to leave that comic quality unexplored. It is, however, just this comic quality, and the larger sense of "comedy" that it implies, that I wish to explore in an effort to distinguish the texts of Derrida. Noting this comic quality and the comic strategies employed by Derrida will, I suggest, prove helpful for suggesting how we might better understand the texts of Derrida, their relationship to the philosophical tradition and such traditional concerns as ethics, politics, and religious thought.

* * *

It is difficult to find unanimity on the subject of comedy and the comic. As one critic has put it, not only comedy but its criticism is a labyrinth. Yet a labyrinth is an order as well as a tangle,(4)and we can take note of a number of features and strategies that are important, if not absolutely necessary, for characterizing the comic, and which are echoed in the texts of Derrida.

(1) The Arbitrary and Discontinuous. A variety of critics have noted that a common feature of comedy and the comic is an emphasis on discontinuity and the arbitrary.(5) On the one hand, this means that comedy usually represents the dominant society or practices of its play as operating according to arbitrary laws. The dominant order is a matter of chance, not necessity. For instance, Aristophanes attempts to show his countrymen in Lysistrata that war between Athens and Sparta is not necessary; another order (i.e., peace between Athens and Sparta) is not only possible but beneficial. So too Molière, in The School for Husbands, by contrasting the way in which two brothers treat their wards (and intended brides), shows that the traditionally 'proper' way to raise a faithful wife is not the only way and can in fact (does, in fact, in the play) fail. Figaro, in the 5th act of Beaumarchais' play, challenges his master by pointing out that his master's position is only an accident of birth. On the other hand, this emphasis means that the accidental and the discontinuous tend to dominate the comic rhythm. As far back as Aristotle, it was noted that plot was not very important for comedy. Comedy tends toward the episodic -- witness the comic strip, or Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. There is sometimes a jumping back and forth in time, as in Billy Pilgrim's "progress" through Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5. Chance encounters are the rule, rather than the exception. Magic and fantasy are not uncommon, as is the case when a magician enables a humanities professor at CCNY to become a character in Madame Bovary in Woody Allen's short story "The Kugelmass Affair."(6) Even the magic is chancy; Puck's magic is less than certain in Midsummer Night's Dream, and Kugelmass accidentally ends up trapped in a remedial Spanish textbook, chased ever after by the verb tener ("to have").

Of course, Derrida takes the arbitrariness of the sign acknowledged and repressed by Saussure as one of the starting points for his deconstructive enterprise of/from grammatology (OG 44ff; cf. MP 10f, AF 110-112). Since "the thing itself" is a sign, and what is represented is always already a representatum (OG 49, 50), the presumed necessity of any system of signs -- which assumes the priority of one sign as signified and others as properly or improperly signifying that signified -- is subverted. Since what is signified always already implies a sign that points to it, what is signified is itself a sign, a trace, the trace of a presence (an absolute origin) that never was there. By showing the interconnectedness and con-textual nature of sign/signified and all other metaphysical binary oppositions, deconstructive discourse, like comedy, shows that the presumably absolute, categorical authority of a law (BL 190ff; cf. Par 249-287) assumes an authority it does not have.

But then, like comedy, Derrida also shows this arbitrariness by enacting it. His texts often take their point of departure from accidental or incidental features, correlations or correspondences in language and texts. A footnote in Sein und Zeit (MP 31ff), an incidental piece by Kant (AT), an isolated comment by Nietzsche (SNS 123ff) become starting points for his analyses. The "mute irony" of substituting an "a" for an "e" creates the nonconcept différance (MP 3ff); the unheard accent grave changes a feminine pronoun into a place in Cinders. Seemingly incongruous commentaries are laid side by side in Glas and "Survivre" (Par 119-178). The writing is telegraphic, as postcard dispatches punctuate The Postcard, and aphorisms (even the less than aphoristic) leave their mark on Roland Barthes and architecture, and mark time in Romeo and Juliet (Ps 273-304, 509-518, 519-533). Seemingly odd associations are made, and concepts transformed: différance becomes the trace becomes hérisson (a hedgehog, also reminding us of hérisser, "to spike"; CCP), or fire and ashes (C; OS). The texts of Derrida are like the harlequin's costume -- patchwork and piecemeal -- showing us the pretense of our presentations to the world.

(2) Repetition and Reproduction. The arbitrariness of laws leads to the arbitrariness of ends in comedies and in Derrida. On the one hand, this means that since the established order has no point or purpose, repetition overdone or not going anywhere belongs to comedy (Frye 168; et. al.). Comedy reveals that the dominant society is caught in obsessive, repetitive behavior that accomplishes nothing. Abbott and Costello's comic routine "Who's on First[?]", in which each participant asks the 'proper' questions and gives the 'proper' answers about the players on the new baseball team, over and over, to no avail, is a classic example of this point. "The Roadrunner" cartoons, where the predator (Wile E. Coyote) quite 'properly' pursues the roadrunner, over and over, even attempting, like a proper American coyote, to employ modern technology in his quest, would be another example. On the other hand, since there is no point, the end, i.e., the finish, of comedies likewise often enact this arbitrariness; they interrupt something that will go on ever after (happily or not). The Taming of the Shrew, at first glance, seems to end, happily, but Kate's submission is suspect (and is usually played so that we are not convinced she has submitted); we have the sneaking suspicion that the agon of this marriage (and all marriages) will go on indefinitely. Molière, much to the chagrin of drama critics, is often blatantly arbitrary, ending Tartuffe with the miraculous intervention of the king, for example, or rather incredibly tying together all sorts of loose ends in The Miser. And exactly how could you end the "Who's on First[?]" routine, or "The Roadrunner" cartoons, except arbitrarily?

It is much the same with deconstructive discourse. Derrida sees philosophical discourse ruled by a desire, an obsession, namely, a desire and obsession for "meaning", i.e., "wanting to say" (vouloir dire) something -- a full and unspoiled presence, a foundational and/or constant arche or telos. Yet this desire is infinitely deferred and comes to nothing. Why? There could be no meaning, no communication, without the absence of what is meant, and without the iterability of words and meanings. Hence all presentations (of meaning) are always already (possible) re-presentations. The purity of the origin or end is disrupted "from the start"; mimesis, imitation, 'rules' something like philosophy. But a mime (e.g., a philosopher) does not do anything (D 216), does not accomplish anything. Hence philosophy -- which thinks that it is going somewhere, from somewhere, i.e., that it has an absolute telos and/or arche -- is ultimately unable to justify its beginning or end (e.g., AF 108-109, 118-119; D 182n, 271). Meaning -- the burning desire and obsession of philosophy -- entails a wandering from sign to sign, trace to trace, deferring infinitely the presence it desires.(7)

The desire and obsession in comedy that is reproductive rather than productive often turns, not surprisingly, on sex. Old comedy such as survives in the work of Aristophanes included wearing huge artificial phalluses and telling obscene jokes. Ever since, from high comedies of manners to the low comedy of farce, whether it is women getting the better of men, youth overcoming obstacles to their desire, or the cuckold winning his horns, comedy has usually had something to do with sex. It is not hard to see why. Being perhaps the lowest common denominator among human beings, sex is a natural focus for a genre concerned with the common interests of mankind. Thus sex can serve as a great equalizer and leveller, an ideal focus for showing that the rich, the powerful, the unique, are really no different, no better, than anyone else. Likewise, if you wish, as comedy does, to show the impotence of the old order, there seems no better way to do that than by reference to sex.

Derrida and deconstruction have had recourse to much the same strategy, noting the "phallo-centrism" of "logocentrism" (= "phallogocentrism"; see, e.g., D 48-49 & n.47; Gl 113a, 188a; PSF 477ff) and the (intellectual) "masturbation" of trying to erect a philosophical system (OG 141-164). Deconstructive reading therefore involves castration -- "always at stake" (D 302) -- that cuts into the columns of text that are the erection of philosophy to note the gaps, the fissures, the openings (as in a woman) -- i.e., the radical alterity ("woman") -- on which philosophy depends, and which it therefore does not control. Deconstruction takes note of the feminine phantom haunting the smoke (and mirrors) of philosophy (C 33) and thereby seeks to think as a woman, "woman being one name for the untruth of truth" (SNS 51; cf. Gl 126a, 126bi, 187a; PSF 442ff). To think as a woman would not be to erect a philosophy but to be fertile in another way -- by playing, affirming an endless substitution that is neither signified nor signifier, presentation nor representation, showing nor hiding (P 86-87).

(3) The Ironic. The arbitrariness, discontinuity, and mimicry in comedy make meaning and self a tricky matter. Comedy usually deals in characters (a Falstaff, a Groucho Marx, Chaplin's Tramp) that fit any number of situations and therefore come across as representative figures, general "types" rather than "individuals." As representative figures, they do not evolve or change. But in order to maintain themselves in a hostile world, we find that comic characters need to show wide variances in their appearance and their language. Their persona become fluid and multiply; puns, double meanings, and the disguises of language proliferate. Thus Euripides, in Aristophanes' The Poet and the Women, appears in various parts from his plays (Menelaus, Perseus, Echo) in an attempt to save his once-disguised father-in-law Mnesilochus. Groucho Marx plays with language to say the unspeakable, i.e., to attack an enemy, or make lecherous advances toward a woman, all the while remaining Groucho. Woody Allen's Zelig is a "human chameleon" so as to fit in the world around him. The incongruity between character and mask, word and meaning, is ironic, and evokes laughter. In addition, as the designation of Zelig indicates, this duplicity often goes to the point of breaking the bounds of humanity, mixing (with) the divine, the bestial, or the mechanical. Many of Aristophanes' plays, with their bestial titles (The Birds, The Wasps, The Frogs), point to this breakdown between man and beast, as do stock comic figures like the cuckold (who grows horns), the shrew (as in The Taming of the Shrew), or the often inhuman babel of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. Likewise, the mechanization of comic characters by reducing them to the physical -- with emphasis on their predictable desires for food, shelter, and sex, or their routine bodily functions -- emphasize these breakdowns. Humanity is shown to be but one more mask. Indeed, everything is turned into mask and revealed as mask in comedy; everything reduces to pure surface and inessential appearance.

This masking in comedy is the truth of deconstruction, a truth that will not be pinned down by truth, a truth that is no truth because it plays at dissimulation, ornamentation, deceit, and artifice (SNS 55, 59, 67, 69; cf. WD 263). Here the self is a trace, i.e., "the erasure of selfhood, of one's own presence" (WD 230; SP 66, 85), disrupting the proximity of self-presence necessary for self-identity and identification by "the proper word and the unique name" (MP 27; cf. OG 107ff). The self always exceeds the récit (story) it tells (itself) (Par 272-273), because it is not what it is unless it adds to itself the possibility of being repeated (of being a re-citation). As a result, the self withdraws in the supplement (e.g., its name) that presents it (D 168). Such is the "anonymity" of the trace in which the possibility of being repeated makes one's "own", "proper" name (e.g., one's signature) available to anyone (D 143-144; Ltd 29ff). The "democracy" of writing (D 144) that comes at the end of history, whereby the individual is 'lost' in the Dionysiac mirror-play of language, thereby marks the end of man and humanity (MP 111-136; cf. the inhumanity of the name, Ps 528). Thus Derrida too, like comedy, breaks the bounds of humanity, writing in a language that is monstrous, bringing forth monsters from the tradition (DO 123): Francis Ponge/sponge, or Hegel/eagle, or the death that haunts one's name, the Geist of humans reduced to fire and ashes.

(4) U-topia. Much of what has been said so far in characterizing the comic comes into focus with regard to what we may call the comic u-topia -- what others have called the argument or the discussion, reminding us of the links between philosophy and comedy since the (anti-tragic) dialogues of Plato.(8) Comedy aspires to, or culminates in, or takes its perspective from, a u-topia, literally, a "non-place" free of the constraints of the everyday world, detached from the old or dominant order and outside of time, a ludicrous context marked by the lack of (conventional) rationality, morality, and/or work in which the comic character is not threatened. Such a u-topia takes many forms. It might be the traditional, festive end of comedy, that "bliss beyond time" in which everyone lives happily ever after, or simply the carnivalesque atmosphere of a pilgrimage such as we find in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It might be a safe haven in the midst of the world -- the parlor (where women rule) in domestic comedies, the forests of Shakespeare's romantic comedies, the Boar's Head Tavern where Falstaff presides, the hospital ward where Yossarian finds refuge in Catch-22. It might simply be a different, detached perspective on things that is neither inside nor outside the comedy. A comedy of shifting perspectives like Thackeray's Vanity Fair that recognizes the universal folly of human being would be one such example; the ironic discussions that take place between author and reader in such works as Cervantes' Don Quixote or Fielding's Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews would be other examples. Whatever form it takes, the detached perspective of the comic u-topia thoroughly informs the play, for what is at stake is the conservation and survival of the comic, whatever his or her point.(9)

Correspondingly, Derrida has characterized the task of deconstruction in terms of a search for the non-place, the non-lieu, the non-site or u-topos from which to interrogate philosophy (DO 108, 112) (or any other dominant order). Deconstruction tends to what is neither inside nor outside, what does not 'take place' (n'a pas lieu), is not an 'event,' or is an event (événement) whose advent (avènement) is to come (à-venir). On the one hand, this involves constant reference to what are called "undecidables" or "quasi-transcendentals." Undecidables (non-concepts such as pharmakon, supplement, gram, etc.) are unities of simulacrum that inhabit but are not included in a system, resisting and disorganizing it instead (P 43; cf. 101n13). Undecidables might be described as u-topias of language, holes in the fabric of the text, punctures that punctuate the text and give it its texture (cf. Ps 274, 278-280). These "non-places" then are not resources and reserves of meaning, but mark a mise en abyme/abîme, an abysmal staging and setting of meaning, a simultaneous creation and ruination of meaning. On the other hand, what is 'accomplished' by Derridean deconstruction is not some new system but "undecidability" (D 93, 127, 219ff; S 64). In other words, it seeks in its writing to inhabit and enact a u-topia, a "non-place" of alterity and otherness that marks the end of history, the closure of the history of meaning and being.(10)

The way in which this u-topia shows itself and is inhabited, however, is crucial to understanding the debates surrounding the texts of Derrida. We might make this clarification by taking a closer look at comedy, and to a distinction made by Charles Baudelaire between the significative comic (le comique significatif) and the absolute comic (le comique absolu).(11)The significative comic includes comedy that has some sense of utility about it; for instance, it serves as a moral critique and corrective to whatever dominant society, order or practice is depicted. Its critique favors those (either a character in the play and/or the audience) who, in one way or another, inhabit the dominant society depicted in the play but are nonetheless marginal and left out by that society. To do this, it focuses on those interests common to all men (civic and private concerns such as making money, getting a mate, etc.) and, with regard to these interests, applies a standard that is perceived to be the social norm and mean (or should be the norm and mean).(12) In Aristophanes' satiric comedies, for example, the famous (Socrates in The Clouds, Euripides in The Frogs) or the powerful (government officials or armies in The Knights and The Acharnians) are shown to be ridiculous and thus the cause for the troubles of the heroes (Demos ["the people"] in The Knights, Dikeopolis ["honest citizen"] in The Acharnians). In comedies of manners, gentlemen and ladies of high and sophisticated society (and who thereby presumably sets standards for society) -- because of their foolishness and/or violations of social norms (that they have established) -- are shown to be really no different or better than anyone else. So the drama critic hero of Arsenic and Old Lace learns that he is a bastard and, indeed, exults in the fact, for it allows him to get the girl. In romantic comedies (such as are common with Shakespeare), the true lovers are prevented for a time from coming together by an often patriarchal figure and/or society that reveals itself as old-fashioned, stuffy, conventional -- but their love survives these threats. What is accomplished in all this, as Frye notes (169), is a movement "from a society controlled by habit, ritual bondage, arbitrary law and the old characters to a society controlled by youth and pragmatic freedom." In the 'end,' everyone gets together and is brought together. In its classic form, comedy 'ends' in a feast or banquet, often attendant upon a marriage, from which even those characters who served as obstacles to the comic hero's desire are not excluded. Taking its cue from its utopian perspective, significative comedy administers the quintessential pharmakon -- the laughter of comic relief -- which is both deadly to the old order or perspective, and therapeutic in providing a new, inclusive perspective on things.

Is the utopian perspective of the texts of Derrida to be understood along the lines of a significative comedy, with its celebration of conversation and community? Is there some ethical/political point to its practice? Some have thought so.(13)Such a view has its source not only in his apparently political "attacks" against racism and nuclear proliferation (Ps 353-362, 363-386, 453-475) or in the apocalyptic tone of some of his early essays, but also in the apparently subversive nature of the texts of Derrida. For instance, Derrida's deconstructive strategy, like that of comedy, places a great deal of emphasis on the marginal. Indeed, Derrida is almost obsessed with margins, evidenced not only by his investigations of titles, frames, signatures, and footnotes, but also by his continual writing in the margins. This margin(al) writing is sometimes extensive, as when seven page footnote dominates the text and contains a key to the entire text(14) or when a borderline text runs along the bottom margin of a main text (JD, Par 119-218). Sometimes this margin(al) writing is exclusive, as in The Truth in Painting, which Derrida notes is composed entirely of writing "around painting" (9), or Glas, which can be seen as a text of two margins, side by side (with additional writing inscribed in these margins), or the recently published Jacques Derrida, in which Geoffrey Bennington's account of the thinking of Derrida ("Derridabase") is accompanied throughout by a co-text from Derrida ("Circumfession"). Margins are important for Derrida because they are neither inside nor outside the system of meaning which they enclose and thus indicate that the system does not have the self-control that it thinks it has (MP xff; P 40). Margins are "loose ends" that provide deconstructive discourse with a way of inhabiting the structures it seeks to demolish, whereby it can use the logic of the system to unravel it and thereby subvert and overturn its logic. This subversion, as in comedy, is accomplished by overcoming the paternal/patriarchal obstacles put in its way (by 'castrating' them, i.e., showing their impotence). So Derrida cuts into the texts of philosophy through imitation (of their desire for presence) and, looking for presence, does not find it. He thereby cuts down the "transcendental signified", Logos, God the Father (D 76-78) -- which seemingly had stopped "play" -- and thereby accomplishes the play (irony) that was always already there (e.g., in philosophy) by affirming it.

This affirmation is an affirmation of freedom and the future -- freedom from the unrealizable and illusory desires and obsessions that bound the past, freedom for the future and "an entirely different logic" (Ltd 157n) which is radically other, unfettered, and undefinable (by current standards). So we find Derrida speaking frequently in and of the future perfect, e.g., when he notes that the phrase il y a là cendre "says what it will have been" (C 35), or when he mulls over the phrase "He will have obligated" (il aura obligé; Ps 159ff), or when he disclaims any intention to present a work by saying: "This therefore will not have been a book" (D 3). Derrida, like comedy, gives priority to the future, the future that always already will have been perfect(15) -- perfect in that it is always already privy to the imperfection (the "dead time", "le passé absolu"; OG 66, 68) of the present (and the past). Moreover, just as this movement toward the future in significative comedy is a move toward greater inclusiveness and integration, so it is with Derrida. The value of truth is not contested or destroyed, but reinscribed within a wider context (Ltd 146). Past thinkers like Hegel and Plato are not ignored and dismissed but read over and over (P 77; EO 87). The thing attacked in the deconstructive 'attack' is not ruined but monumentalized (S 4; cf. Gl 1b); past thinkers are erected (relevé), elated, raised up, put into relief and relifted (relève) in the affirmative comic relief (relève) of deconstruction that shows that there always already was play (irony), and nothing but play (irony). As a result, speaking of ourselves and others "in a deconstructive vein is precisely to unfold their absolute sociability, their constitutive entanglement in alterity and difference."(16)

However, there is reason to doubt an ultimately significative reading of the texts of Derrida, just as there is reason to doubt that comedy has any ultimately significative function. The doubt arises from the double bind in which both comedy and Derrida are caught. The double bind of comedy is that if one defines one's u-topian perspective, it is no longer a u-topia: defined, it is placed within the oppositional order of the dominant society, and is appropriated into that society. Comedians and comic characters are aware of this and, since part of what animates them is a desire to be free of any appropriation, their attitude tends to be that of Groucho Marx: they do not want to belong to any club that would have them as members. As a result, the comic immediately turns against the goal toward which he seemed to work. The comic is only comfortable as the loyal opposition. This is hardly the basis for an ethical or political program, which may be why Prince Hal had to abandon Falstaff and the Boar's Head Inn in order to govern, and one reason why so much of comedy avoids making ethical or political points altogether. Indeed, when you come right down to it, one may forcefully argue that comedy does not lend itself to making ethical points; at best one can say that comedy can influence conduct in one way or another, which is to say that it could serve to deprave and corrupt just as easily as reform and elevate.(17)

Derrida, like a (good) comic, is also conscious of his double bind. All too aware of the trap of becoming entangled in the order of metaphysics, he insists that he opposes nothing to the oppositional logic of philosophy (Ltd 117; PSF 259f); any apocalyptic tone he has taken in the past is "ironic," and does not try to lead or conduct (AT 30, 33ff). In addition, this irony is not the traditional sort of irony that masks some secret knowledge or presence (as the "good" irony or play in Plato presumably does). There is no secret knowledge (C 41, BL 205), no law behind the representation (BL 207ff); this is why Derrida works so hard sometimes to distance himself from negative theology (Ps 535-595; cf. MP 27). The texts of Derrida supplement rather than supplant, mimicking the desire of philosophy by continuing to desire, to play, endlessly. Put another way, one always begins again, one is always beginning; "the whole does nothing but begin" (Par 275; cf. Ps 649-650). So Derrida's 'hope' is not to erect another truth in the place of metaphysics (which would only re-establish an opposition), but simply to neutralize the system by laughing at it. But even that is not quite right, for the subversions playing about the law that he shows us do not mock or transgress the law; these games would not be possible, would have no force, without the instance of the law they seem to defy. There is no reason for Derrida's "play" unless he draws reason from the law, unless he provokes it. Hence he must produce the desire of philosophy in twisting it; he must demonstrate the madness of philosophy rather than oppose it from the outside with another madness (Par 246; cf. Par 285-286). As castration and mimesis (P 84), transgression and affirmation (WD 274), the double reading (writing/bind/science) of deconstruction might be either conservative or revolutionary, depending upon how it is deployed (Ltd 141). Or, put another way, despite whatever ethical/political stance it takes, Derrida's theory of deconstruction "leaves the world as it is and was," though "our grasp of why it is and must be left as it is and was" has changed.(18)

(5) Living On. This seems to completely deconstruct Baudelaire's distinction between the significative and absolute comic, and return us to the singular purpose of any and all comedy: to go on, to survive. As W.D. Horwath has put it (6),

comedy may be said to be 'moral' if it is based on a wholesome, positive attitude to life. Though it does not normally set out to change men's attitudes, nevertheless its effect is to reinforce our acceptance of a viable social order, a norm of behavior based on an unwritten compact between the playwright and the audience. The misfits, the social schemers, those who would upset the order of things are rendered harmless; if they are not converted to a right way of thinking, at least they are excluded from the social microcosm that the dramatist has created. The tricks and deceits, the moral turpitude of the rogues and villains, become part of a larger scheme which flatters the spectator's need for security and sends him home reassured.

In other words, comedy in its many forms is a celebration and affirmation of life, of living on, of conserving oneself and/or society. The fertile imagination of the comic ironist is put in the service of securing the comic and/or his view of the world. This is the case from the simplest fairy tale, where everyone (all the "good" people, anyway) lives (happily) ever after, to the grandeur and abstractness of life everlasting in Dante's Divine Comedy (where both the good and bad live on ever after, both happily and unhappily), from philosophy's escape into the magical forest of the Academy and Plato's dialogues, where Socrates lives on to play the fool who makes the wise seem foolish as he carries on endless discussions that espouse a multiplicity of views (and hence no particular view) of no one in particular, to Kierkegaard's "transcendental buffoonery" (Simon, 78ff) that parodies systematic philosophy (and even his own work) from behind pseudononymous masks. Ethics is incidental or irrelevant to the ultimate task of salvation, of being saved in order to live on.

So too the Derridean u-topia seems to consist of a comedy of ever-shifting perspectives that refuses to take a stand, or takes a stand "to be specified," because it is self-conscious that every stand is always already contaminated by what it is not, every point of view no view (point de vue; PSF 442, 459) with the goal of making us more self-conscious of the games we play, including the fact that there is nothing else but games. What lives on with Derrida? The text, including the text of philosophy, lives on, like some inhuman hypertext on computer that goes on being written from semester to semester in contemporary university writing classes.(19) Or, more precisely, what lives on is the law and desire of texts, and of philosophies. Indeed, Derrida wants it to live on, for if it were to reach its goal, its telos (a conclusive thesis), the desire of philosophy, and its telos, would disappear, become paralyzed, immobilized, die (Ltd 129; Par 119ff; PSF 285). Hence deconstruction strives to keep the discussion going, living on, open (Ltd 111,116); that is the ethics of this discussion, this u-topia. As a result, we can see Derrida as the end of philosophy in the sense that philosophy attains its goal in Derrida: to go on, to survive and continue in a world that is especially hostile to it.

Nevertheless, it is far from clear that we should rejoice in this prospect, for there is much despair in comedy, a despair that comes from the recognition that the repetitive, obsessive, foolish behavior depicted in the comedy will go on and on, indefinitely. In Stanley Kubrick's black comedy "Dr. Strangelove," Joint Chief of Staff "Buck" Turgidsen relishes the future life underground proposed by Dr. Strangelove (complete with numerous women for every man!) to the point of worrying about a shelter gap; the film then closes with shots of mushroom clouds accompanied by the song "We'll Meet Again." In Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo," the heroine (Cecilia), having foresaken the ideal man come to life from the screen for the "real" actor (who played the ideal man), only to be dumped by the actor, returns to her escape into the movies. In both cases, nothing has been accomplished, nothing has been learned; both stories begin again. Or, as Derrida says, we are always beginning; the arche-originary "yes" with which we "begin" and "end" can only be a fiction, a fable, hearsay (Ps 647-648; UG 57ff). We are given over to affirming an endless recitation of ourselves that never takes place (Par 243, 266ff).

Walter Kerr puts an escapist twist on this theme, suggesting not only that "within comedy there is always despair," but also adding that it is "a despair of ever finding a right ending except by artifice and magic."(20) Comedy is an escape-aid; its celebration and affirmation of life requires a triumph of fantasy and imagination over the realities of life (and death). One must rise above (beyond) the 'real' world, without gravity -- one must detach oneself from the way things are -- in order to accomplish one's desire. Comedy's triumph of life involves a triumph over life. But detachment, distance, tends to make one insensitive. This is certainly true of comedy, where we laugh at the faults, foibles and injuries of others. Comedy is the original theater of cruelty, the comic the original assassin whose highest aspiration is "to kill the audience." Horace Walpole's famous line -- "The world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel" -- rings true.

Since Derridean deconstruction works on the basis of, and directed toward, an undecidable, undefinable, all-inclusive u-topia of endless re-presentation and re-production, with a faith that, at bottom, it all comes to the same thing (a will-to-presence, "wanting to say") and the superior, comprehensive view that "one politics is always being played against another (Ltd 135), it is not surprising that the detachment, violence and insensitivity of comedy shows itself in the texts of Derrida as well. We can see it in the lack of feeling for Romeo and Juliet (Ps 519-533) or for the country man denied access to the law (BL). We can see it in the priority given to freedom, to the unfettered future rather than the limited past, for in giving the future priority, Derrida would seem to exhibit the revenge that characterizes metaphysics, the will's ill will toward time and its 'It was'. 'It was,' the imperfect: that is "the fundamental trait of time in its authentic and entire unfolding as time,"(21) whereas the future is "the incognito of the eternal which is incommensurable with time" (Caputo, 15). To be is to be in time and therefore imperfect or, shall we say, questionable and questionworthy. Dissatisfied with such 'imperfection', such "questionable-worthiness" [frag-würdigkeit], Derrida and comedy seek to suspend time and achieve the perfection of some transcendental archilimbo ("neither inside nor outside") that exceeds the grasp of history though it is only realized within the context of history (Ps 648). Everything is contretemps (Ps 521). Or, as pointed out before, for Derrida "the whole does nothing but begin", such that history is mastered in a total and present resumption (Par 275; IOG 103). Such a suspension of time is revenge against time -- and that is the project of philosophy (metaphysics).

From its superior, u-topian perspective, comedy thrives on representation; caricature, for instance, is a staple of comedy. Derrida shares this strategy with comedy; Derrida in fact finds representation, as a posited image, to be the necessary character of all presentations (Ps 120, 123). However, in this Derrida would seem to repeat the slippage that takes place in Aristotle whereby all being is something produced, reproduced, ultimately, in the modern era, by man himself.(22) The world then becomes how I see it, how I produce it, how I want to represent it, since there is no authority other than the representer (D 195). So Derrida (like comedy) claims to be free of destiny; all sendings are messages without message or destination (see "Envois" [PSF 3-256]; cf. AT 34-35; Ps 391-392, 519ff). What, for example, is left of Hegel? Just quotations (Gl 1a), quotations which, like aphorisms and names, can be quoted infinitely out of any context (Ltd 65; MP 316-317; Ps 520) -- which is exactly what Derrida does in a text like Glas (196bi-198b; see his comments in AT 30) or the whole of Cinders. Everything is thus at the deconstructionist's disposal (AF 118, 134). Derrida's will to control is on display in several areas: his effort to control the 'undecidability' of language by intending (like Joyce; see IOG 102) the ambiguity of various signifiers in his texts, in his desire (like Plato and others) to choreograph a multiplicity of voices (EO 183-184; see, e.g., Cinders), and, most recently, in his refusal to allow his thought to be characterized without having a say (JD). This even goes so far as to affirm an "active forgetfulness" (MP 136; WD 247, 265; cf. Ps 649-650) whereby one tries to control one's forgetfulness and oblivion, at least a little -- by affirming it. The result of all of this would seem to show deconstruction as manipulative and frivolous as philosophy, but self-consciously so, a willful dissemination of fictions and constructs by which one is aware of being the fool.

Indeed, the self, characterized as a network of traces, a tele-phone exchange (UG 84), or (like Plato) a post-master (PSF 200, 207; Ps 271), is not attached to others but to a multiplicity of disembodied voices and languages. As a result, for all the apparent sociability of the comic-Derridean u-topia, an isolated, narcissistic individualism seems to prevail here. This, not surprisingly, is in keeping with what Frye notes as the final stage of comedy: the comic society collapses and disintegrates such that "the social units of comedy become small and esoteric, or even confined to a single individual," with "the love of the occult and the marvelous, the sense of individual detachment from routine existence" becoming more prominent (185; my emphases). Such a para-sitical individualism -- constantly subjecting all others who profess even a provisionally unified meaning to continual analysis and criticism that it always already will have been inadequate (whereby the other does not speak to deconstruction) -- coupled with a self that is no self, unbound by limits that would define it and give it responsibility, makes for the ultimate u-topia. It constitutes an escape into a faith that grants that "kind of certainty which is safe even in the uncertainty of itself, i.e., of what it believes in."(23) With Derrida, that faith is an affirmation of the innocence of becoming that aspires to the immortality of Dionysus (who survives, though torn to pieces, and who is the technician of and spectator to tragedy [e.g., in Euripides' Bacchae]) rather than mortal participation in the play of the world, an affirmation of fantasy and imagination over reality.(24) One puts on the mask of Kierkegaard's knight of faith, or Zen Buddhism's laughing Buddha, safe and secure behind an ironic smile.

To conclude. In conjuction with the comic, we have seen that the task of delimitation as set forth in the texts of Derrida is u-topian in the radical sense of the word, attempting to breach the very limit that it marks. Unravelling the texture of philosophy and its obsession for a presence infinitely deferred, Derridean deconstruction laughs at the old order, breaking the rules as it defines them, marking the end of authority, of history, of the self. Freed from constraint, deconstruction affirms the irony and play that is always already there, scattering meaning to the winds in an infinitely repeatable dissemination of significance. But this, as Derrida shows us, is what philosophy always already has been doing. Thus philosophy lives on in the texts of Derrida, for better or for worse, in the hands of couriers from a king that was never present, (doubly) bound by their oaths of service. On the one hand, there is the apparent duty and desire to be significant, to matter, to be relevant, to be useful, to impart a secret knowledge, even if that secret knowledge is only knowing that one does not know, that no one knows. On the other hand, there is a desire for freedom, bound not to be bound by the past, or even the desire for significance. One longs to retreat from politics in the streets to the magic forest of the Academy, from the world to the labyrinth of the (cogito's) imagination. Such is the double bind of comedy, of Derrida, of philosophy.(25)

1. "Couriers," in Parables and Paradoxes, bilingual ed. (1958; rpt. New York: Schocken Books, 1971), p. 175.

2. The abbreviations of the texts of Derrida cited in this article:

AF Archeology of the Frivolous: Reading Condillac, trans. trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987).

C Cinders, trans. Ned Lukacher (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991).

CCP "Che cos'è la poesia?", trans. Peggy Kamuf in A Derrida Reader, ed. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), pp. 221-237.

BL "Before the Law," trans. A. Ronell and C. Roulston in Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge (New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 183-220.

DO "Deconstruction and the Other," in Richard Kearney, Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers: The Phenomenological Heritage (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984).

D Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).

EO The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation, trans. Peggy Kamuf (1985; rpt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988).

IOG Edmund Husserl's "Origin of Geometry": An Introduction, trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989).

Gl Glas, trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986).

JD Jacques Derrida by Geoffrey Bennington and Jacques Derrida. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

Ltd Limited Inc, ed. Gerald Graff (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988).

MP Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

AT "Of an Apocalyptic Tone Recently Adopted in Philosophy," trans. John P. Leavey, Jr., Oxford Literary Review 6 (1984), pp. 3-37.

OG Of Grammatology, trans. G. C. Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976).

OS Of Spirit. Heidegger and the Question, trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

Par Parages (Paris: Galilée, 1986). Three of the four essays in this text ("Survivre," "Titre à préciser," "La loi du genre") have appeared in English translation in various books and journals.

P Positions, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).

PSF The Postcard: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

Ps Psyché: Inventions de l'autre (Paris: Galilée, 1987). Most of the essays in this text have appeared in English translation in various books and journals.

Sb "Shibboleth," trans. Joshua Wilner in Midrash and Literature, ed. Geoffrey H. Hartman and Sandford Budick (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), pp. 307-347.

S Signéponge/Signsponge, bilingual ed., translated by Richard Rand (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).

SP Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs, trans. David B. Allison (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973).

SNS Spurs: Nietzsche's Styles, bilingual ed., translated by Barbara Harlow (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).

TP The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).

UG Ulysse gramophone: Deux mots pour Joyce (Paris: Galilée, 1987). The two essays in this book, named in the title, have been translated separately in collections of essays on Joyce.

WD Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).

3. Geoffrey H. Hartman, Saving the Text: Literature/Derrida/Philosophy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), p. 24 and passim notes the constant "jesting" and "comedy" of Derrida's texts, and Eve Tavor Bannet refers to the way in which Derrida "parodies traditional forms of scientific discourse in the humanities" in Structuralism and the Logic of Dissent: Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, Lacan (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), p. 225, while Allan Megill, Prophets of Extremity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 267, makes reference to the wit and possible recovery of the comic in Derrida. David Farrell Krell, Intimations of Mortality (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986), p. 151, hints at the comic character of Derrida's though by noting its playful (almost silly) nature, and John D. Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), pp. 195, 291-293 notes the comic nature of Derrida's thinking as characteristic of one side of postmodern thought. While Mark Taylor, Erring: A Postmodern A/theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 15, 158-168, makes reference to the "levity of comedy" that results from a deconstructive a/theology that exploits the insights of Derrida, and Candace D. Lang, Irony/Humor. Critical Paradigms (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), pp. 3-4, 55-58, and passim refers to Derrida's "humorous" (i.e., postmodern ironical) critical strategies, Stephen W. Melville hints at the laughter of deconstruction in the title of his book, Philosophy Beside Itself: On Deconstruction and Modernity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).

4. Richard Keller Simon, The Labyrinth of the Comic (Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1985), pp. 8, 10.

5. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 169; Maurice Charney, Comedy High and Low: An Introduction to the Experience of Comedy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 5 and passim; Harry Levin, Playboys and Killjoys. An Essay on the Theory and Practice of Comedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 20.

6. Side Effects (New York: Random House, 1980), pp. 41-55.

7. See, e.g., SP 50, 52, 57, 67, 99 and MP 162-163, regarding the issues of "meaning", "wanting to say", representation, repetition and "nonproductive re-production." See also "Différance", "Signature Event Context" (MP 3-27, 309-333), Ltd 29-110, Par 173-174, 241, concerning these matters. Regarding the desire of philosophy, see AF 119, 129-131, 133-135, and DO 126.

8. See Levin, pp. 29-39, regarding the comic ethos as "the argument," and George McFadden, Discovering the Comic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), pp. 35ff and passim, regarding the comic ethos as "the discussion". Regarding the anti-tragic character of Plato's dialogues, see Martha C. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness. Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 122-135; regarding the figure of Socrates as comic, see, e.g., Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, with Continual Reference to Socrates, ed. & trans. Howard V. and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), pp. 129, 152, and Wylie Sypher, "The Meanings of the Comic" in Comedy. ed. Wylie Sypher (1956; rpt. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), pp. 215, 229-230.

9. W. Moelwyn Merchant, Comedy (London: Methuen and Co., 1972), p. 82. Regarding the superiority, detachment and comprehensive vision of comedy, see also Horwath, p. 6, Ricoeur, p. 323, and Kern, p. 8, 19, 37 and passim. Regarding the definition of the comic context as "ludicrous", see Neil Schaeffer, The Art of Laughter (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981).

10. Regarding "undecidables" and "undecidability," see also Ltd 116, 145, 148-149. Regarding "quasi-transcendentals", see, e.g., Ltd 127, 152; Par 273; Ps 640ff. See D 183-184; MP 63f; P 56ff; SP 68, 102; WD 165-168 regarding the 'concept' of time and the end of history in deconstruction. For references to, and play on, the "en abyme/abîme", see, e.g., Gl 137bi, 151a, 257a; PSF 488; TP 17, 24. The u-topian character and aspirations of deconstruction (i.e., "no place", not taking place, not having a place, an event to come) emerge in a variety of ways and contexts; see, e.g., AT 33f; BL 205-206, 208-209; EO 14, 168-169; Gl 56b, 232ai; MP 22, 24; Par 150-151, 181, 234, 244-245; P 6-7; Ps 15-16; PSF 274; Sb 335; SNS 61, 63; and A. J. Cascardi, "Skepticism and Deconstruction," Philosophy and Literature 8 (1984), p. 4.

11. See "De l'essence du rire" in Oeuvres Complètes (Paris: Pléiade, 1961), pp. 985-986; translated by Jonathan Mayne as "On the Essence of Laughter," The Mirror of Art (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956), p. 143-144. Edith Kern has made use of this distinction to explore the comic genre in her book The Absolute Comic (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980).

12. Herbert J. Muller, The Spirit of Tragedy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968), p. 15. See also W. D. Horwath, "Introduction: Theoretical Considerations" in Comic Drama: The European Heritage (London: Methuen and Co., 1978), pp. 2-3, and W. G. McCollom's discussion of comedy in terms of The Divine Average: A View of Comedy (Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University Press, 1971), p. 7 and entirety.

13. E.g., Christopher Norris, What's Wrong with Postmodernism: Critical Theory and the Ends of Philosophy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990); Caputo, pp. 257ff ("An Ethics of Dissemination"), 293; Lang, p. 66; Melville, pp. 154-155. Bannet, pp. 184-227, locates Derrida within the "logic of dissent" of structuralism in post-war France. Simon Critchley, The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), attempts to find an ethical demand in Derridean deconstruction via the thought of Emmanuel Levinas.

14. In De l'esprit, nearly 8 pages (147-154) are dominated by a footnote, a textual matter that is obscured in the English translation, Of Spirit. What is even more remarkable is that the footnote in many ways ties together much of what Derrida is trying to bring to light in the "main body" of the text, and is therefore hardly "mariginal" in the sense of "unimportant."

15. See Andrew J. McKenna, "Postmodernism: It's Future Perfect" in Postmodernism and Continental Philosophy, ed. Hugh J. Silverman and Donn Welton (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), pp. 228-242. Cf. David Farrell Krell's "The Perfect Future: A Note on Heidegger and Derrida" in Deconstruction and Philosophy, ed. John Sallis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 114-121.

16. Melville, p. 154. Cf. WD 118-119 and the "community" of the question(s) (of philosophy).

17. A parallel between the comedian's attitude toward utopia and philosophy's can be seen in Plato: Plato excluded himself from his dialogues, and excluded all philosophers of his type (i.e., "poets") from the utopia he portrays in The Republic. And, of course, the Platonic dialogues have been used in a variety of ways politically.

Regarding the unclear formulation of the 'conclusion' of comedy, see Frye, p. 169. Regarding the ethics of comedy, see Charney, p. 145, and Levin, p. 22.

18. Joseph Margolis, "Deconstruction; or The Mystery of the Mystery of the Text" in Hermeneutics and Deconstruction, p. 149.

On deconstruction's inhabiting the text, see, e.g., OG 24; WD 194, cf. 284-285. Regarding the nonoppositional character of deconstruction, see, e.g., D 3ff; MP 329; P 40-42; MP 27, 136; WD 252, 256-257; cf. D 201; Gl 187a-188a, 232ai.

See DO 120 on how Derrida's political stances are detached from his intellectual project of deconstruction. See also WD 274, Ltd 141, Christie MacDonald's comments in questioning Derrida at EO 174, and Hartman, p. 24, regarding the conservative nature of Derrida's deconstruction.

19. It is interesting in this regard to note the following prefatory remark in JD: "The guiding idea of the exposition comes from computers: G.B. would have liked to systematize J.D.'s thought to the point of turning it into an interactive program which, in spite of its difficulty, would in principle be accessible to any user."

20. Walter Kerr, Tragedy and Comedy (1967; rpt. New York: Da Capo, 1985), p. 79.

21. Martin Heidegger, "Who is Nietzsche's Zarathustra?" in Nietzsche, Volume Two: The Eternal Recurrence of the Same (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), p. 224.

22. For an account of this slippage, see Reiner Schürmann, Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy, trans. Christine-Marie Gros (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), pp. 83, 86, 97-105, 255f.

23. Martin Heidegger, The End of Philosophy, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), p. 23.

24. See Merchant, pp. 79-82 ("The Metaphysics of Comedy") and Clifford Leach, Tragedy (London: Methuen and Company, 1969), p. 77, regarding the ultimate attitude of comedy. See also, Kern, pp. 13, 41-49, 114-15 and passim, regarding the triumph of fantasy and imagination over reality that occurs in comedy. See Hartman, p. 24, regarding the forced nature of Derrida's jesting, Schürmann, p. 321n.44, regarding Derrida's apparent regret over the loss of the One, and the readiness of some Christian theology to take up deconstruction (see, e.g., note 3), all of which suggest these conclusions. Carl Raschke, "The Deconstruction of God" in Thomas J.J. Altizer, et. al., Deconstruction and Theology, (New York: Crossroad, 1982), pp. 29-30, suggests the link between deconstruction and the immortality of Dionysus.

25. An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy in Boston, MA in October, 1992. My thanks to Jim Walter at Sinclair Community College, who read a draft of this paper and provided helpful suggestions. Some of the work for this paper was done while attending an NEH Summer Seminar during 1991 at the University of California-Riverside, "Postmodern Postures: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida and Rorty." My thanks go to the NEH and especially the seminar director, Bernd Magnus, for their support.

[After Post-Modernism Conference. Copyright 1994 by the author.]