- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Jacques Derrida on Writing, Language, the Impossible, and More

Happy birthday, Jacques Derrida! Here are some quotes from the philosopher:

 

“I always dream of a pen that would be a syringe.”

 

“No difference without alterity, no alterity without singularity, no singularity without here-now.”

 

“What cannot be said above all must not be silenced, but written.”

 

“We must do the impossible, we must do and think the impossible. If only the possible happened, nothing more would happen. If I only did what I can do, I wouldn’t do anything.”

 

“The poet…is the man of metaphor: while the philosopher is interested only in the truth of meaning, beyond even signs and names, and the sophist manipulates empty signs…the poet plays on the multiplicity of signifieds.”

 

“I believe in the value of the book, which keeps something irreplaceable, and in the necessity of fighting to secure its respect.”

 

“Without knowing from whence the thing comes and what awaits us, we are given over to absolute solitude. No one can speak with us and no one can speak for us; we must take it upon ourselves, each of us must take it upon himself.”

 

“This question is therefore not only of Rousseau’s writing but also of our reading….the writer writes in a language and in a logic whose proper system, laws, and life his discourse by definition cannot dominate absolutely…, cannot legitimately transgress the text toward something other than it…There is nothing outside of the text.”

 

“The disciple must break the glass, or better the mirror, the reflection, his infinite speculation on the master. And start to speak.”

 

“A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game. A text remains, moreover, forever imperceptible. Its law and its rules are not, however, harbored in the inaccessibility of a secret; it is simply that they can never be booked, in the present, into anything that could rigorously be called a perception.”

 

“To live, by definition, is not something one learns. Not from oneself, it is not learned from life, taught by life. Only from the other and by death. In any case from the other at the edge of life. At the internal border or the external border, it is a heterodidactics between life and death.”

 

“No one gets angry at a mathematician or a physicist whom he or she doesn’t understand at all, or at someone who speaks a foreign language, but rather at someone who tampers with your own language, with this ‘relation,’ precisely, which is yours.”

 

Interviewer: “Have you read all the books in here?”
Derrida (referring to his personal library): “No, only four of them. But I read those very, very carefully.”

 

“All Nation-States are born and found themselves in violence.”

 

“Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: ‘here are our monsters.’ without immediately turning the monsters into pets.”

 

“No one gets angry at a mathematician or a physicist whom he or she doesn’t understand at all, or at someone who speaks a foreign language, but rather at someone who tampers with your own language, with this ‘relation,’ precisely, which is yours.”

 

“The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of these metaphors and metonymies. It’s matrix—If you will pardon me for demonstrating so little and for being elliptical in order to come more quickly to my principle theme—is the determination of Being as presence in all sense of this word.”

 

“The end of man (as a factual anthropological limit) is announced to thought from the vantage of the end of man (as a determined opening or the infinity of a telos). Man is that which is in relation to his end, in the fundamentally equivocal sense of the word. Since always.”

 

“In writing what he does not speak, what he would never say and, in truth, would probably never even think, the author of the written speech is already entrenched in the posture of the sophist; the man of non-presence and non-truth. Writing is thus already on the scene. The incompatibility between written and the true is clearly announced at the moment Socrates starts to recount the way in which men are carried out themselves by pleasure, become absent from themselves, forget themselves and die in the thrill of song.”

 

“How can one be late to the end of history? A question for today. It is serious because it obliges one to reflect again, as we have been doing since Hegel, on what happens and deserves the name of event, after history; it obliges one to wonder if the end of history is but the end of a certain concept of history.”

 

“The time is out of joint. The world is going badly. It is worn but its wear no longer counts. Old age or youth—one no longer counts in that way. The world has more than one age. We lack the measure of the measure. We no longer realize the wear, we no longer take account of it as of a single age in the progress of history. Neither maturation, nor crisis, nor even agony. Something else. What is happening is happening to age itself, it strikes a blow at the teleological order of history. What is coming, in which the untimely appears, is happening to time but it does not happen in time. Contretemps. The time is out of joint. Theatrical speech, Hamlet’s speech before the theater of the world, of history, and of politics. The age is off its hinges. Everything, beginning with time, seems out of kilter, unjust, dis-adjusted. The world is going very badly, it wears as it grows…”

 

“What is called ‘objectivity,’ scientific for instance (in which I firmly believe, in a given situation) imposes itself only within a context which is extremely vast, old, firmly established, or rooted in a network of conventions…and yet which still remains a context.”

 

“No one gets angry at a mathematician or a physicist whom he or she doesn’t understand at all, or at someone who speaks a foreign language, but rather at someone who tampers with your own language, with this ‘relation,’ precisely, which is yours.”

 

“Whatever the poverty of our knowledge in this respect, it is certain that the question of the sign is itself more or less, or in any event something other, than a sign of the times. To dream of reducing it to a sign of the times is to dream of violence.”

 

“The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of these metaphors and metonymies. It’s matrix—If you will pardon me for demonstrating so little and for being elliptical in order to come more quickly to my principle theme—is the determination of Being as presence in all sense of this word.”

 

“Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other. This spacing is the simultaneously active and passive (the a of différance indicates this indecision as concerns activity and passivity, that which cannot be governed by or distributed between the terms of this opposition) production of the intervals without which the ‘full’ terms would not signify, would not function.”

 

“To live, by definition, is not something one learns. Not from oneself, it is not learned from life, taught by life. Only from the other and by death. In any case from the other at the edge of life. At the internal border or the external border, it is a heterodidactics between life and death.”

 

“What is going to come, perhaps, is not only this or that; it is at last the thought of the perhaps, the perhaps itself.”

 

“The difference between the who and the what at the heart of love, separates the heart. It is often said that love is the movement of the heart. Does my heart move because I love someone who is an absolute singularity, or because I love the way that someone is? Often love starts with some type of seduction. One is attracted because the other is like this or like that. Inversely, love is disappointed and dies when one comes to realize the other person doesn’t merit our love. The other person isn’t like this or that. So at the death of love, it appears that one stops loving another not because of who they are but because they are such and such. That is to say, the history of love, the heart of love, is divided between the who and what. The question of being, to return to philosophy, because the first question of philosophy is: What is it to be? What is ‘being’? The question of being is itself always already divided between who and what. Is ‘Being’ someone or something? I speak of it abstractly, but I think that whoever starts to love, is in love or stops loving, is caught between this division of the who and the what. One wants to be true to someone—singularly, irreplaceably—and one perceives that this someone isn’t x or y. They didn’t have the properties, the images, that I thought I’d loved. So fidelity is threatened by the difference between the who and the what.”

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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