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Jacques Derrida

This document contains the following items pertaining to writings of Jacques Derrida.  After the first notes by Donald Morse, all the others are by Jeffrey Wattles

Notes on “Structure, Sign, and Play” (first set)

Notes on “Structure, Sign, and Play” (second set)

Notes on “Violence and Metaphysics”

Notes on "The Politics of Friendship"

Notes on “A Word of Welcome"


Notes on “Structure, Sign, and Play”

by Donald Morse (a graduate student contribution to the 1997 Kent State University course, Phenomenology and Beyond).


1.  As the title indicates, this essay is about the social sciences—about “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.”

2.  To understand  the essay, it is helpful to know where Derrida is going, what he’s up to.

3.  Grossly speaking, I would say the essay is about the fall of metaphysics—about the disbelief in all secure intellectual and moral foundations.  In any system of thought, play (or contingency) replaces certainty and coherence.  All meaning getes transformed into discourse, the continual play of signification in which signs only point to more signs, never to things, beings, presences, or other landmarks of security.

As Derrida will say at the end of the essay, living with the desire for metaphysics AND at the same time sensing the impossibility of metaphysics defines the paradoxical situation and field of the social sciences.

  That’s what I think this essay is up to:

(1)  It charts the rise of the “incredulity toward all metanarratives,” as Lyotard says, showing in what way cherished values of the West have been irrevocably altered; and

(2)   it points, via Levi-Strauss, to the possibility of a new discourse and a new capacity for dealing with the demise of metaphysics.

            The social sciences reflect the Western situation; stuck between a desire for foundations and the realization of the necessity of anti-foundationalism but the social sciences also offer at least the suggestion of a new discourse for modernity.   The essay charts both cases: the demise and the future possibility.


4.  Fleshing out some key terms may aid in understanding the essay.

By “structure” I take it Derrida means an intellectual edifice or philosophical system of ideas, a kind of discourse in which all elements are defined by their relation to one another and given meaning by the position they occupy in the system’s total arrangement.

Ex. The constitution of the United States, Husserlian p henomenology, or Christian cosmology.

            Each lends meaning and support to experiences within the system by defining experience in relation to a definite, structured pattern.

A center is that part of a structure which focuses and organizes the entire system.

            One good example is Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover: the UM does not itself move but it nonetheless guides and maintains the motion or animation of the entire ordered cosmos.  Whatever accidents or mutations may occur, the unmoved mover provides unshakable stability to the Aristotelian cosmology.

            Derrida’s claim is that the West has been—and in part still iss—obsessed with the search for a center.  And, again, the center’s function is to supply a foundation which coheres the system and limits the amount and degree of arbitrariness or play in “the total form.”  The center designates an invariable presence.

Play is simply any shift in the structure, any unplanned, unordered event.  Deviance, alteration, contingency, arbitrariness, perversion, spontaneity, mutation—all these are synonyms for play. 

            If the center mitigates and moderates play within the structure, it thereby provides the requisite coherence, organization, and stability for making the world appear to be ordered and intelligible. 

5.  “The center is not the center.”

--This phrase defines “the event” of the rupture which Derrida talks about in the first paragraph.

            Throughout the history of Western philosophy, the center (so Derrida asserts) was conceived as that safe, untouchable region which was immune to play.  It was immune to play but it also “permitted the play of its elements inside the total form” of a structure.  The center was seen to regulate play but also to avoid its effects. 

But to avoid its effects the center could not be conceived of as within the structure, for the structure is the scene of play, play that is allowed for and contained.  To not be influenced by the play which pervades a structure, the center had to be conceived of as “beyond” the structure, as “transcending” it.

But to regulate and guide the system, the center had also to be conceived of as within the system, as implicated within it, as a part of what the system is.  How else could it effect the system?

            This paradox gave rise to “the rupture” of the notion of the structure: it decentered the structure.  “The center is  not the center,” as Derrida says.  This means that “the concept of centered structure . . . is contradictorily coherent” (p. 279).  That which had given security and certitude to Western thought, had provided the basis for the Western world, rests upon a contradiction and, more, cannot thereby attain the coherence it had striven for.  By its own standards, the concept of centered structurality critiques itself and falls prey to—play.  A center that is contradictory is no center.

The center itself results from play, and this realization defines the event of the internal disintegration of the concept of structure.  Play has become fundamental. 

6.  Precursors to and Exponents of Rupture

            Derrida mentions that Nietzsche, Freud, and Heidegger all contributed to “The event” of the rupture.

            Nietzsche critiqued metaphysics, finding it everywhere; he “substituted the concepts of play, interpretation, and sign “for the concepts of truth and Being.

            Freud critiqued consciousness, showing how the subject cannot amount to a secure center; it is not even known to itself.

            And Heidegger called for the destruction of all metaphysics and the destruction of the “determination of Being as presence.”

            On interesting point here is that in each of their critiques of metaphysics and centered structures, these thinkers are bound to the very language of metaphysics.  This is because there is no language available to the West beside this kind of language.  This fact, that critics of metaphysics are caught in a circle, also defines the situation for the human sciences.  But as we shall see with this discourse of Levi-Strauss, the human sciences also hint at a way somewhat to accept Nietzschean affirmation.

7.  Difference

            To say that play has become fundamental is to say that all meaning has become discourse.  The center, which was supposed to be fixed, turned out to vary with different philosophical systems.  It could not be repeated in just the same way or as just the same thing. 

            Formerly signs pointed to the center and received their justification and stability therefrom.  But now that the center is seen as a kind of play, signs only point to more signs, “an indefinite chain of representations.”  A sign does not achieve anything but more signs.  One sign endlessly substitutes another sign and meaning is a kind of vertigo.  In terms of our course, the transcendental ego, say, provides no secure foundation, grants access to no apodictic certainty.  Rather it is a sign that points to other signs continuously.

            Difference, then, is this disparity between signs; it is the play of sign substitution in which one sign in any discourse always remains other than itself and points to another which is other than itself.  Meaning always gets passed along and never attained.  More importantly, Difference is the condition of play which precedes and makes possible all sign production or use.  Difference means that no sign achieves what it signifies; it is the disruption of presence; nothing is ever made present; all sings declare an absence.

8.  The role of Levi-Strauss

            The role of Levi-Strauss in this essay is, I think, to epitomize the situation.  Levi-Strauss uses the language of metaphysics to criticize metaphysics.

            “The language of metaphysics” is a language of oppositions, opposition between being and non-being, truth and error, God and man, form and matter, subject and object, nature and culture.

            Levi-Strauss focuses in particular on the nature-culture distinction.  In a system of thought which maintains this distinction, the distinction should hold for all cases, at least insofar as the system itself is consistent and fixed; the center should designate the same invariable presence.

            However, the opposition breaks down with the case of the prohibition of incest.  The prohibition of incest, which Levi-Strauss made an object of study, is both cultural (in the sense that it is subject to a norm of culture and is relative and particular) AND natural (in the sense of being universal and spontaneous).

            The incest prohibition thus disrupts or thwarts the dichotomy so crucial to a certain cosmology.  The very center swallows itself up, at least for this system.

            The important point to note here is that the concept of centered structure does not meet its own requirements for being a centered structure. Derrida states that this means “language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique.”

            There are two ways to deal with this situation: (1) to step outside of philosophy, no longer to employ its discourse; and (2) “conserving all these old concepts within the domain of empirical discovery while here and there denouncing their limits” (p. 284).  That is to say, the second choice is to “preserve as an instrucment something whose value” is criticized.l

            Levi-Strauss takes the second way.  The bricoleur is a person who employs the concept of metaphysics to get something done while yet critiquing the limits and adequacy of those concepts.  He “uses the means at hand.” 

            Levi-Strauss thus studies other cultures, their myths, but realizes full well that his own discourse about myths is a kind of m ythology.  For it presupposes and requires concepts which break down, i.e., which are the result of a play as unavoidable as the play in the cultures whose myths he studies.

            The main point here is that Levi-Strauss offers a way to confront what is our situation anyway.  That is, since we are stuck using the concepts of metaphysics while being also incapable of accepting them, we need a way to confront the situation.  Levi-Strauss suggests bricolage, not passing beyond philosophy but using philosophy to critique itself.

9.  Two interpretations of interpretation

            This position that Levi-Strauss offers is middle-ground.  It rests between two interpretations of interpretation, just as, for Derrida, the entire West does.  Taking a little from both interpretations, the West is not more of one than the other.

            Two interpretations of interpretation means two differing ways of confronting “the situation,” where “the situation” is also an interpretation, a play, a playful discourse—not a centered structure which true interpretation is necessary, not “true.” 

            One way of confronting the situation of the rupture of the concept of centered structure is to regret the rupture, to be sad and nostalgic and “live” the necessity of interpretation as an exile.”  Derrida equates this position or interpretation with Rousseau.  Its principal feature is that it considers the noncenter as a loss of center.  It would rather have the security and certainty of a fixed presence, a firm principle which accounts for all things and all variance, than accept the necessity of interpretation.  The second interpreration of interpretation is what Derrida calls Neitzschean affirmation.  Briefly put, Nietzsche said that truth was error—that all our cherished concepts of truth and certainty are merely lies the truth of which we are incapable of doubting because we desire that they be true.  Nietzschean affirmation, a kind of impossible request, would be the acceptance of this case. It would embrace the necessity of interpretation and not miss truth.  Its life would be fulfilled by play alone, by “the security of play.”  It would no longer need the security of a fixed purpose or all-embracing concept.,

            We cannot choose between the two.  We are the two, half-bricolage and half-engineer.  We are nostalgic for an abiding, all-embracing center as presence and as bricolage, we are capable of reveling in play.  Presently we cannot choose (choice would presuppose some common fixed ground from which to choose, but this is impossible given the interminable play and differences which separates any two positions or signs.

            “Here there is a kind of question.”  We cannot choose and yet half of us, the bricoleur, criticizes the other half with its own language.  Something new is in the making.  We still look away from what is being born.  Derrida’s suggestion is that we be aware of the condition and confront its monstrosity face to face.  And prepare for it.


            Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," tr. Alan Bass, 278-293 in Writing and Difference (University of Chicago Press, 1978)

            Paragraph Summary Notes by Jeffrey Wattles (1997)

1.  An event--a rupture and a redoubling--has occurred in the concept of structure.

2.  Traditionally, structure has had a neutralizing or limiting point of presence, a fixed origin, a center whose function--to orient, balance, and organize--limited the play of the structure.

3.  The center--which contradictorily (expressing Desire) escapes the structure as the point where change is interdicted--masters anxiety (in play oneself is at stake) on behalf of an source or destiny, a full presence beyond play.

4.  This history of the concept of structure is . . . the history of the substitution of metaphors and metonomies expressing Being as presence: essence, existence, substance, subject, truth, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth.

5.  Once it was realized that the center has never been originally present, it became necessary to think it as linguistic function: an infinite play of signifiers

6.  This re-[visioning] of structure may be seen in Nietzsche, Freud, and Heidegger, each of whom still retained, necessarily, the language of metaphysics; therefore there have been ongoing, mutually destructive commentaries. 

            There are two ways to erase the difference between signifier and signified: (1) the classic way, to reduce or derive the signifier, to submit the sign to thought [e.g., for Husserl, the word expresses the thought]; (2) JD way, by contrast, "putting into question the system in which the previous reduction functioned; first and foremost, the opposition between the sensible and the intelligible."


7.  Ethnology perhaps occupies a privileged place among the human sciences.  It arose as European dominance waned, and alongside the destruction of the history of metaphysics, but qua scientific discourse, it necessarily retains the presuppositions of the ethnocentrism it seeks to deconstruct . . . and can sustain vigilance regarding those historic metaphysical concepts.

8.  Levi=Strauss is here chosen, mostly for his criticism of the language used in the social sciences.

9.  From his first book, L-S uses and rejects the nature-culture

opposition: after defining the first as what is "universal and spontaneous" and the latter in terms of socially inculcated norms and laws, he points out that the incest prohibition is both.  As what can't be thought within the opposition of these concepts, the prohibition "precedes them, probably as the condition of their possibility."

10.  (the first indented paragraph on p. 284) Such study deconstituting the founding concepts of the history of philosophy exceeds facile attempts to go beyond philosophy.

11.  L-S uses as methodological tools concepts whose truth can no longer be affirmed . . .

12.  . . . and persists in this double intention:

13.  on the one hand, he envisions an integration of sciences to be carried out by the exact natural sciences, "the reintegration of culture in nature and finally of life within the whole of its physico-chemical conditions";

14.  on the other hand, he set forth methodological "bricolage"--to use whatever is at hand, eclectically, adapting, pluralistically.

15.  Actually, every discourse is bricolage: the bricoleur constructs the myth of the engineer (who allegedly sets up a self-constituting language); and thus the bricoleur is not radically different from the "engineer."


16.  Transition to a second thread.

17.  L-S describes bricolage as mythopoetical.

18.  L-S's work reflects on its own language as abandoning "all reference to a center, to a subject, to a privileged reference, to an origin, or to an absolute archia.  Thus, from The Raw and the Cooked:

19.  1. The "key" myth is irregularly placed among neighboring ones (i.e., does not function in any central way)

20.  2. Myth is not centered/sourced, so mythology must not betray it by a centered discourse.  Mythology "intended to ensure the reciprocal translatability of several myths."  The science here has no center, subject, author.  Myths are anonymous; the audience become silent performers.

21.  Thus ethnographic bricolage as explicitly mythopoetic makes the need for a center appear mythological, makes the need appear as an historical illusion.

22.  (the paragraph beginning at the bottom of p. 287)  There are risks.  What will distinguish a higher quality of mythopoesis?  This is an inevitable question which requires thematizing the relation of philosophy and myth, without which attempts to go beyond philosophy end up being merely bad philosophy--empiricism--and note L-S's consistent claim to be presenting empirical science, as proposals that can be revised by a more complete sampling of a totality of data which it is useless or impossible to require as prelude.

            But non-totalization can be determined from the standpoint of the concept of play--which field excludes totalization, since there is no center which arrests and grounds the variability of the structure.  This is the movement of supplementarity--the sign that replaces the center is added as a surplus.  L-S: to sustain the required complementarity of signifier and signified you need a supplementary ration of signification.  Mana, for example, is "force and action, quality and state, noun and verb; abstract and concrete, omnipresent and localized."  Its function is to endow a signified with added content.

23.  (the paragraph beginning just below the middle of p. 290)  Such a term as mana opposes "the absence of signification without entailing by itself any particular signification."

24.  The overabundance of the signifier is the result of the necessary supplement to what is finite [and lacks a center].

25.  Therefore play is important in L-S.  Play is always also caught up in tension.

26.  (the paragraph beginning at the bottom of p. 290) . . . play is in tension [first,] with history, which has always been conceived as "a detour between two presences."  There is a risk of ahistoricism (a moment in the history of metaphysics): with new structures arising on account of change and in radical discontinuity, e.g., L-S on the origin of language--"born in one fell swoop." 

27.  (the first indented paragraph on 292)  There is also a tension between play and presence.  It is necessary to think the play of presence and absence radically--on the basis of play, not on the basis of presence (in spite of L-S's nostalgia for exemplary societies).

28.  There is an alternative: Nietzschean, affirmative, joyous, uncertain, play, surrendering to generic indetermination and the seminal adventure of the trace.

29.  There are two interpretations of interpretation: (1) deciphering a truth; (2) affirming play beyond man and humanism.

30.  These 2, finally irreconcilable interpretations of interpretation share the field of the social sciences.

31.  It seems trivial to talk of choosing between them, since their common field is not yet conceived.  We are just in the beginning of the conception, formation, gestation, and labor to bring forth a monstrosity, as any new birth is, formless, mute, infant.


episteme: knowledge/system of thought

arche: origin/beginning/foundation/source

telos: end/ goal/destiny

metonomy: substitution

eidos: Plato's term: "form," essence

energia: "energy"/activation

ousia: essence/being

aletheia: truth

transcendentality: the realm of (for Kant) the conditions of    possible experience and knowing

physis: nature

nomos: law [culture]

techne: technique, skill, art, craft

factum: fact

bricolage: using whatever means are linguistically at hand, regardless of their truth

bricoleur: one who engages in bricolage

poesis: making/poetizing

mana: in the anthropology of religion, this is a term used for a magical sort of "substance" or quality, etc. held in special regard as sacred.

mythomorphic: having the form of myth

ratio: reason, ratio

phoneme: unit of sound, the minimum perceivable unit that can be associated with a difference of meaning in spoken language.

signifier: a word that signifies or refers to something

signified: that to which a signifier refers.  JD's idea is that the signified is supposed to be, but never is, an anchor for reference, a solid Reality; in fact, it is simply another signifier, point on endlessly in the circling chain of signifiers.  The meaning of each "thing" is in terms of its reference to others in a linguistic web.


Jacques Derrida, "Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas." 

Notes by Jeffrey Wattles, 1997, for the course on Continental Philosophy 


                                                       Derrida's Critique of Levinas

1.  EL criticizes other philosophers for retaining vocabulary that reeks of the violent tendencies western philosophy, yet continues to speak of truth and essence.

2.  EL challenges coherence as a sop to the intellect that wants to reduce everything to the same, but by introducing ethics—ultimately, law—into his thought, he introduces coherence.

3.  EL insists that "infinity" names something positive, and yet its very structure--"in-finite" means that which is not finite; moreover, it is crucial to EL's thought to emphasize that the infinite exceeds [is not] every concept.

4.  EL wants to remove the Other from space, since space is an affair of material extension, continuity, and thus an extension of the same; but the face cannot appear except in space.

5.  EL calls us beyond violence, but all discourse uses spatial metaphors and continues its link to the same.



The other can only be what it is in finitude and shared mortality. (III.11)

God can only be found in History, the Difference between life or the All and death or Nothing. (III.12)

Ethics finds its true meaning "within a phenomenological development of respect." (III.23)

The system of self-and-other is neither exactly infinite nor exactly finite. (III.26)

The self always knows itself as the other for the other. (III.37)

Violence--implicit in using language to categorize any phenomenon--cannot be eliminated; one may choose the least, most economical violence.



Every experience of a material object already refers to an infinity of potential future experience: seeing the cup, I sense that there are countless other perspectives from which the cup could be viewed and countless times at which the cup could be re-viewed, and viewed by others. (III.21-22; 30) 

The other [person] is legitimately an object or theme for thinking, for reflection. (III.24-25)

The other's consciousness does not appear in the consciousness of the ego-observer. (III.28-29)

Ego and other are as a matter of experiential and conceptual necessity co-implicated--mutually involved.  The other is the not-I, and vice-versa.  There is thus a fundamental symmetry of relation between them.

The term alter ego, other I, is an appropriately paradoxical expression for referring to the other (not a reduction to the same).

The other can only manifest to consciousness in present experience--and this is an unavoidable "violence" (since it amounts to taking the other into the same).



Phenomenology has its limits, and it does well, then, to open itself to silent "dialogue"            with an alien evocation of a future beyond violence.



Phenomenology presupposes what ontology must and may legitimately explore--the meaning of Being.  It is a profound truth that "to know the existent it is necessary to have comprehended the Being of the existent" (III.46-49)

Being is a uniquely non-metaphorical "concept" (it cannot be conceptually grasped), not to be assimilated to a totalitarian threat.  It embraces a cluster of key linguistic functions. (III.52)  Nor is Being (hierarchically) prior to beings.

To let the Other be who and what the other essentially is does not reduce the Other to something that can be (totally) comprehended.

The thinking of Being is the best antidote to violence. (III.62)

Whereas EL proposed that the face is beyond metaphor or, better, the original metaphor, MH poses the deeper question of how "the essence of man belongs to the truth of Being." (III.65)

            Being lets itself be interpreted, from age to age, in various metaphors that partly reveal, partly conceal.  To discover their character as metaphors is to awaken from the violence of this miscomprehension. (III.72) This account of "progress" points to a future of a speech beyond history (III.76).

Against fascist readings of Heidegger's attachment to place, MH's place is not a here but a there, not pagan because never given to present enjoyment/ceremony but only promised in conjunction with a waiting for revelation.

The essay ends with profound questions to ponder, subtle intellectual suggestions about the frontier of the concept of God, and an acknowledgement that EL's Jewish refusal of philosophy (comparable to empiricism's forgetfulness of its own philosophic involvement) awakens the philosophic response in the most stimulating way.




foreign expressions:

epikena tes ousias--beyond being (Plato's characterization of the good, Republic 509b)

agora--market place

kath'auto--according to itself (Plato's term marking the way that the eide ("forms") relate to themselves, independent of others

Gyjes--Gyges is a character who, in Book II of Plato's Republic, is granted the power of becoming invisible and is thereby enabled to perform unjust acts while being able to evade the customary penalties: his story sharpens the question whether justice is a valuable quality of character only because of the customary consequences associated with justice and injustice.

heteron--other (Greek)

alter--other (Latin)

huic--this? (Latin: hic)

ille--that (Latin)

idem--same (Latin)

ipse--self (Latin)



[paragraphs 1-4 are on the question of the death of philosophy and on the question and importance of rigorous return to the origin of tradition]

 1.  Philosophy cannot pronounce regarding the question of its own death or future possibility (as an important discipline).

 2.  But there is a tradition of this question that must be maintained.  This command authorizes every ethical law--which in turn encloses the question.  What question?  It takes hermeneutics to distill it.

 3.  Those involved confront the difference between the question and finite, historical philosophy.

 4.  Today we're beginning to realize if philosophy can have a future, it is necessary to summon and adhere rigorously to philosophy's origin.


[paragraphs 5-10 are on the Greek character of philosophy in Husserl and Heidegger]

 5.  Since Hegel, Husserlian phenomenology and Heideggerian ontology appeal to tradition.

 6.  . . . briefly:

 7.  (1) Both return to Greek concepts: Plato's reason and philosophical telos (Husserl) and Plato's forgetting the question of being (Heidegger) as philosophy which continues to dominate . . . as the same.

 8.  (2) . . . so as to reduce metaphysics (subordinating metaphysics [Husserl] or transgressing metaphysics [Heidegger]).

 9.  (3)  The re-archaised ethical is no longer "specifically" segregated: law, the power of resolution, and the relationship to the other.

10.  Greek concepts are [foundational] in both to the sense of world, history, crisis.


[paragraphs 11-16 are on EL's alternative]

11.  It is at the level that the thought of EL (Emmanuel Levinas) can make us tremble.

12.  . . . not after Being and phenomenality . . . make us dream of inconceivable . . . dismantling, dispossession.

13. (1)  Closer to the source than Greek logos, "by remaining faithful to the immediate but buried nudity of experience itself" to liberate thought from the domination of the Sam e and the One . . . origin or alibi of all oppression . . . . "

14.  (2) . . . a thought defining itself as metaphysical (but not in the way of Aristotle)

15.  (3) . . . appealing to the infinitely other Other as [key]"in a nonviolent relationship to the infinite."

16.  Beyond philosophy without appeal to Hebraic theses or texts, to be understood within a recourse to experience itself.


[paragraphs 17-18 tell the structure of the following article]

17.  What up in this speech, passageway (not the "spiralling return of Alexandrian promiscuity"--an allusion to Philo, the first century philosopher who harmonized Hebrew theology and Platonic philosophy)?  Without explicating this question-space, we will

[1] offer something like a commentary, trying to remain faithful to the theories and audacities of a thought, despite parentheses and notes enclosing our perplexity, faithful also to its history

[2] we will ask several questions: explication, objections, EL's questions to us.

18.  We will pursue a historical sequence through a set of themes whose potential systematicity will remain obscure.  Therefore we'll be incoherent without resigning ourselves to empiricism.


I The Violence of Light

[I.  Husserl and the critique of theoretism]

 1.  EL (Emanuel Levinas) (1930) protested Husserl's theoria (light) which predetermined Being as object.

 2.  At this point the accusation remains timid and fragmentary.

 3.  (a) this theme grows in importance, exposing the nudity of the face of the other, non-light . . to disarm violence.

 4.  (b) Husserl's object is for consciousness, for the subject; there are axiological (valuational) and practical (e.g., ethical) levels of consciousness, too.  EL emphasizes frontier themes in Husserl: intentionality and otherness, exteriority which is not objective, sensibility, passive genesis, temporality).

 5.  (c) for EL Plato's good beyond being is an excellent example of infinity, paternal, not theological ex-cedence, beyond light (not transcendence to what is higher).

 6. (d)  El notes the non-theoretical in Husserl.

 7.  EL prepared to "take our leave," given Husserl's persistent primacy of the theoretic.

 8.  Difficulties were coming for EL: (a) he continues to appeal to "the most uprooted rationalism and universalism against the violences of mysticism and history against the ravishing of enthusiasm and ecstasy.  (b) The very separation/distance/impassiveness that EL exalts is conventionally associated with the theoretic attitude.  EL's target: "the complicity of theoretical objectivity and mystical communion."


[II.   ]

 9.  EL (1930) found Heidegger greater than Husserl: (a) Being is primarily a field or center of activity or solicitude (b) beyond historicism, man is historical.

10.  Unease: critique of trans-historical philosophy, while appealing to eschatology: no contradiction (within Logic) but displacement.

11.  Though Heidegger's critique "destroys clarity and constitution as authentic modes of the existence of the mind" and self-evidence, Heidegger retains an inside-outside dichotomy inadequate to EL's radical exteriority.

12.  Mitsein ("being-with," i.e., being with others) is still Eleatic (a continuation of Parmenides), and falls short of realizing eros, paternity, waiting for death.  (Cf. Plato's feminine conceived as matter according to passivity, activity, and polis imitating the world of ideas.)

13.  To break with Parmenides by "parricide," EL adopts the Greek language to destroy a speech.  Plato's Eleatic stranger acquired a debt to the language of being.

14.  Plato's critique of Parmenides falls short of the absolute solitude of the existent (Dasein) in its existence . . .

15. . . . not based on EL's neutral, anonymous there is (not Heid's es gibt); EL's terror (not Heid's angst), different from fright.

16.  Only from such solitude arises a post-Eleatic relation to the Other.  EL develops thought of original difference (unlike Heid).

17.  Against the Greek community of with-subjects turned toward the experienced sun, EL--face to face, without intermediary and without communion, neither mediate nor immediate, negation yields metaphor's opening silently reveals experience.

18.  Eros with distance, a community of a certain absence . . . blindness.  Other shows phenomenology and ontology as violent; since they eliminate the alterity necessary for time, history is also gone--continuing "the ancient clandestine friendship between light and power, the ancient complicity between theoretical objectivity and technico-political possession."  "To possess, to know, to grasp are all synonymous of power."  The metaphor of light is associated with technico-political oppression.  Universal history as the history of (the intonation of) several metaphors (Borges).


II.  Phenomenology, ontology, metaphysics

1.  EL's critique derives from analyses (especially in Totality and Infinity--T&I--of phenomena where the cleavage between classical and EL's thought opens.  Metaphysics/ethics="the positive movmeent which takes itself beyond . . . appreciation or possession...."  "Metaphysical transcendence is desire."

2.  . . . not to be equated with Hegel's desire: no transgression, no assimilation, but beyond the affectivity of need

3.  . . . desire is not unhappy consciousness on the way to Reconciliation, but rather opening and freedom: "a desired infinity may govern desire itself but it can never appease desire by its presence."

4.  The infinitely Other is the invisible (beyond what theory/need see): the most high (non-spatially) (cf. the face).

5.  EL narrates the non-radical interior negativity and alterity that characterizes the ego/same, e.g., with regard to work and history.  JD: But isn't history precisely encounter with the Other?  EL's denial on this point is the premise for his anti-Hegelianism.

6.  without the Other there is no radical alterity, so no negative path by way of work and history to separation/metaphysical transcendence.

7.  Whoever does not accept this [evidence/argument] re: the ego/same will be put off by EL's "overturning" of the classical logical disymmetry of the same and the other.  [For example, Plato in the Sophist discusses five key forms, including motion and rest, and the same and the other.]

8.  The Encounter can't be conceptualized e.g., as a relationship (in which totality may dominate), nor in language, which is given to the other.  The dative or vocative dimension--inclusion in or modification by the accusative or attributive dimension of the object.  [In Latin, "dative" is the name of a case for endings of nouns and pronouns: Give the book to me.  "Me" is in the "dative case" (expressed in a single, thus modified word, so no preposition is needed to express the relation).  Vocative is the case for calling, e.g., Oh, God!  I use a different case to speak of God as the subject of a sentence.  Accusative is the case used to express a direct object: Sandy Alomar, Jr., hit the ball; the Other accuses me.]

9.  The eschatology is without hope for the self.  [Eschatology is the doctrine, especially in religion, of the last things, e.g., the alleged end of history, the final judgment of the world, the culmination of the divine plan.  In secularized philosophies of history (e.g., Kant's) it is advanced civilization.]

10.  Not on the horizon, where "eruptions and surprises are always welcomed by understanding and recognized," nor in the form of an intuitive contact, the encounter of the unforseeable in "present not as a total presence but as a trace" in all experience.

11.  Being-together as separation maintains distance, interrupts totalities, precedes or exceeds society, collectivity, community.  EL calls it religion . . . the ethical relation is the religious relation, a respect for the Other which (in contrast to Kant, note 26) does not pass through the neutral element of the universal).

12.  "This restitution of metaphysics" makes possible a newly radical criticism of phenomenology and ontology as neutralizing the Other.

13.  The ethical relation to an existent makes possible the logos to the other; to invert the priority is Heidegger's germ of domination.

14.  Infinity overflows ontology, and is expressed in the face

15.  . . . which, naked, sees. I see that he looks at me.

16.  The anti-Hegelian Levinas, characteristically resembles Hegel: the eye as trans-desire, theoretical sense, expressive of the soul.

. . .


Derrida, "Violence and Metaphysics," II.17- (pp. 99ff)



prosopopoeia: mask-making (or, in this context, facemaking, since a face that is made is a mask) 101

messiah: the agent of God awaited by the Jews, destined to establish the rule of righteousness and world peace.

eschatology: the Biblically-based doctrine of "the last" times, when the culmination of history and the plan of God are to be fulfilled.


17.  When desire is absent, where there is no respect that transcends "grasp and contact," when there is only a glance [a look that refuses to be expressive], the way of relating to the other is violence.  Hearing the other is more appropriate than seeing.

18.  Hegel agrees that hearing is more ideal than sight.

19.  Several passages in Hegel are noted.

20.  The face immediately (directly, without metaphor or sign) presents the Other himself as irreducible to the separation of the hearing ear, the seeing eye, and the hungry mouth.

21.  The face expresses itself.  "Only living speech ["in its mastery and magisteriality"] is expression and not a servile sign."

22.  What one says is not a separable product.

23.  Study this paragraph closely; here JD sets forth his own different ideas as the fulfillment of those of EL: writing, even better than speech, performs the metaphysical function of making the author nonviolently present.  Or rather, the difference between violence and metaphysics [cf. Heidegger: inauthentic and authentic] is not a difference between speech and writing, but a difference that arises within each.

24.  Levinas should agree [with JD] on the importance of writing, since for EL "'To love the Torah more than God' is 'protection against the madness of a direct contact with the Sacred'." Moreover, for EL, the time of God's ideal speech cannot be said to have occured "before" the writing.(?)

25.  EL anticipates the messiah but rejects a decontextualized Christian affirmation.

26.  I cannot [contra Husserl] make the other a theme, an object, but must speak to--call--the other in "the bursting forth, the very raising up of speech."  The face does not appear but lies radically beyond appearance; it is the origin of the world.

27.  For the face to present the infinite Other, the body must remain a language (rather than being a phenomenon in the world).  Where some had criticized the idea that thought is prior to language, for EL, in order for thought to be language, it must be oriented to the Other, Infinity.

28.  The face, beyond the world, forbids violence without any use of power.

! 29.  Properly speaking, there is no concept of (the) Other (Autrui).  Linguistically speaking, autrui is neither a general term nor a proper noun.  Autrui cannot be reduced (as Buber does) to the thou encountered in intimate reciprocity nor to the (Husserlian) product of constitution by a subject.  "No phenomenology can account for ethics, speech, and justice."

30.  The face may properly, without metaphor, be said to be nude, whereas the nudity of the body is only a way of expressing the nudity of the face.  Nevertheless, since nudity implies an opening into a surrounding fullness, talk of the nudity of the face must be abandoned.

31.  Commandment would be injustice if the speaker and the one addressed are merely finite--and note that every totality is finite for EL (a theologically protective assumption).  If God were present in such a way that every Other were fully respected there would be no war; nor is there war if there is no infinite Other against whom violence can rage, in other words, if God is utterly absent.  So the absence-presence of God is implicated in war.

32.  Human interaction is not between upright equals: appropriate regard for the Other presupposes humility, inferiority before God.

33.  The uncanny resemblance between a human face and the Face of God is not a classical (Plato, Thomas Aquinas) affair of the participation of the finite in divine presence.  This resemblance may be interpreted atheistically. 

34.  According to the Bible, no man may see the face of God and live.  Levinas's dependence on this thought betrays his reliance, in spite of his careful intention, on theology even as he writes philosophy.

35.  "The face is neither the face of Gor nor the figure of man: it is their resemblance."


III.  Difference and Eschatology

1.  The following questions are about language, but they touch every aspect of EL's thought.


Of the Original Polemic         

2.  EL is already involved in the questions to be raised now.

A  3.  EL attacks all his philosophic precedessors--Kierkegaard as well as Plato and Hegel--for their failure go beyond a philosophical-conceptual-categorical distinction of same and other. 

4.  Kierkegaard speaks not only of his own personal subjective existence but of subjective existence in general.  EL might--but does not--try to renounce conceptual generality by renouncing talk of essence and truth.  Instead EL struggles, as he knows, hopelessly, to use philosophical language to say what philosophy (bound to conceptual generality, the domain of the same) cannot say.

5.  Kierkegaard, in fact, had an interesting transcendence of, and critique of the ethical: it presents the law as something for the mind to rely on (rather than relying on faith in God).  But is not EL's ethics (which generates no specific code) not a supreme law?  And does that law not thereby introduce the very coherence that EL questions?

6.  EL in his critique of Hegel is more akin to Feuerback than to Kierkegaard. 7.  But why does EL use the old vocabulary he rejects to criticize Hegel?

8.  Is it just a modus operandi or is there some uncanny necessity of the logos which obliges EL to use the language of philosophic tradition in order to destroy it?

B.  9.  EL does not manage to eliminate spatial "metaphors" from philosophic language (e.g., "exteriority").  (JD's thesis:) "Before being a rhetorical procedure within language, metaphor would be the emergence of language itself."  JD: except for "the name of God and the verb to be" every philosophic concept has natural-language origins.  Should not philosophy play with such natural origins (as Hegel did) even in its logical-speculative work?

10.  [Descartes had insisted, in the 3rd Meditation, that "I" [we] have a positive idea of the Infinite, not merely a negative one, a negation of limitation.  JD challenges RD and EL on this point, and here is part of the reason why JD is included among the ranks of those who advocate "negative theology":]  The infinite, as even its word--"not-finite" implies, cannot function as it does for EL without being a negative, without reference to that which exceeds the completion of every human work [e.g., counting, conceiving, voyaging]. 

11.  "The other cannot be what it is, infinitely other, except in finitude and [common] mortality (mine and its)."  If spatiality is denied to the Other, the metaphysics of the face ("the nonmetaphorical unity of body, glance, speech, and thought") collapses. 

12.  The only way to reconcile death and positive infinity is to conceive God as Nothing as much as All.  "Which means that God is or appears, is named, within the difference between All and Nothing, Life and Death.  Within difference, and at bottom as Difference itself.  This difference is what is called History."  [This is a variation on the opening dialectic in Hegel's Science of Logic, in which the oscillating transition between Being (without any specific characteristics) and Non-Being (which nonetheless is) is understood as Becoming (remember the ancient Greek notion of becoming as the transition between non-being and being and vice-versa).]

13.  If EL opposes the [JD's] preceding philosophic discourse, he still has problems.  All discourse essentially retains within it space and the Same and is thus violent.  Therefore we cannot remove ourselves from violence (except by eschatological reference to a future, final peace beyond finite discourse).  Therefore we must practice an "economy of violence," using limited violence (speech, the original polemic) in order to avoid the worst violence.


Of Transcendental Violence

14.  Metaphysics always presupposes a phenomenology in its critique of phenomenology.


15.  EL acknowledges a debt to the phenomenological method, but one cannot borrow a method without borrowing much more than a tool.

16.  Phenomenology's method is the ambition of western philosophy to be scientific--an aim EL's phenomenology will question.


17.  EL wants to keep--and alter--Husserl's notion of the intentional directedness of consciousness to its correlated other.  Husserl, however, represses the Other:

18.  On the one hand, there is the Husserlian tendency to claim that thoughts are adequate to their objects.

19.  On the other hand, there is the Husserlian tendency to regard subjectivity as infinite--but (for EL) not the truly infinite Other (--all of which, however, makes no sense from the western philosophic (Hegelian) tradition of language which associates alterity, negativity, and the false-infinite).

20.  Any critique of the false (e.g., the false infinity of subjectivity, which Husserl indeed seems to have recognized) presupposes (some grasp of) the true--Hegel's point, which any critique of Hegel cannot help presupposing.

21.  But since Husserl portrayed so well the inadequacy of perception, whose object is always given incompletely, indicating an infinite horizon of future possible experience, is Husserl guilty as charged by EL?

22.  EL should welcome and recognize his reliance on Husserl's recognition of the (unconstituted) horizon of infinite potential future experience, the basis of respect.

23.  Within a phenomenological development of respect, ethics finds its true meaning (especially insofar as phenomenology emphasizes the themes of temporality and alterity, thus moving beyond a simplistic metaphysics of presence).


24.  Husserl so expanded the notion of object that any theme for thought exemplifies his claim.  There is no hierarchal, totalitarianism in the primacy of the transcendental phenomenology: in other words, any effort to think even in ethics, presupposes meanings to be clarified through reflection on experience in the broadest sense.

25.  Husserlian phenomenology is not wedded to an inappropriate model of objectivity; indeed, it displays (as a theme or object in the broadest sense) what transcends objectivity in the narrower sense.



alter ego - other I

pros eteron - with reference to the other

eidos - form, the intelligible as named by Plato

ekastan auto tauton - each self-same self

res - thing (Latin, with connotations of "real" economic property)


26.  JD: a system or structural totality escapes EL's dichotomy of finite/infinite [?because it has an "origin" which is both within it, as an organizing center and beyond it--e.g., the relation of the ego in consciousness?].

27.  EL criticized Edmund Husserl (EH) for, in his Fifth Cartesian Meditation, setting forth the other as merely another ego or I [self], understood by analogy with the self.

28.  (a) In defense of EH: EH emphasizes the alterity of the other ego who/which does not appear; this is just the kind of point that EL wants.  And EH recognizes what EL presupposes, that the non-appearing other is part of a system [the mind-body system] of which there is an appearance (the body).

29.  (b)  EH's main point is that we have no immediate knowledge of the other (as contrasted with the immediate access we have to our own stream of conscious life).  Instead (in the simplest case) I approximate an "apperception" of the other by estimating how things would look (geographically) if I were standing where the other is standing.

30.  EH, unlike EL, sees the things of perception as testifying already to alterity in two ways: first, they present only one side, with necessarily countless sides hidden from direct view; second, our sense of things as objective things in the world contains the notion that the things are there for others, too.  Thus, without totalizing, EH indicates infinity.

31.  EH [lucidly, for JD] acknowledges that the other is initially indicated as other with reference to the ego.  If this may be considered violence, it is nevertheless presupposed in even EL's nonviolence.

32.  EH's insistence on the other precisely as another ego (transcending the world as I do, constituting its sense of the world as I constitute the sense of the world for myself) affirms a basic symmetry that is presupposed if the dissymmetric relation of e.g., command is to be possible.

33.  In the interrelation of two egos (selves, subjects), each is a source of consciousness of the world and each has an asymmetrical relation to the other.  Each knows that the other is aware of him/her as other.  There is a logical requirement that the other can only be other with reference to the same.  An infinitely remote other could no longer be recognized as other at all.


p. 128..


34.  EL's very talk of the play (e.g., in work and economy and history) of alterity within the same betrays the fact that the same is not a monadically enclosed totality, but is pervaded by alterity.

35.  There is a basic interrelation of same and other that is (1) intrinsic to each and (2) more general, profound, original than EL's concept of the Other (Autrui, which EL wants to separate from the other (heteron, l'autre).  [Here it seems to me is JD's crucial identification with Husserl: the (other) personality is a special kind of an object or theme.  This thesis, it seems to me, is what EL is protesting.  (Observe, nevertheless, that JD asserts that he does not reduce Autrui to l'autre.)]

36.  The illogic of "other I" (EH's term which EL refuses) manifests the inability of thought to function normally "in the region of the origin of language as dialogue and difference" (?).  [This is an example of what JD earlier called a system, and it includes a formally contradictory moment as its launching pad.]

37.  GLOSSARY: archia (arche?) - foundation, beginning, source, origin (perhaps in the form of an "abstract" noun: foundationality, etc.)

EL employs the notion of violence as though it were self-evident, but he overlooks something that really is self-evident on the basis of which alone what he calls violence is possible: the mutual implication of self and other as finite.  EL never acknowledges that the self always knows itself as the other's other.  (This seems to mean that each finite being dislodges the other--in its cognitive presumption of consciousness, that the other is also an I, a subject--even in the friendliest process of getting to know the other; and this displacing is "violent.")  Indeed the very notion of infinity implies violence, since in the infinite (either as self or other) absorbs the finite into itself.  There is a minimal ("economic") violence implicit in even gaining the most peaceful access to the other.  [JW: does any disturbance count as violence?  Has sensitivity gone this far?  Where is robust faith?]  Indeed, violence is "the origin of meaning and of discourse" [and EL's claim about directing speech to the commanding other who ruptures my self-centeredness seems akin to JD's point].  But the more serious violence is reducing the other to "a real moment of my life" ["You make me feel so good, you do so much for me."].  "What 'other' means is phenomenality as disappearance."  The term "trace" may be used, but as a metaphor that can only be articulated in "contradictions."

38.  Since (as noted at the end of the previous paragraph), every phenomenon is meaningful, namely in terms of the conventions of language called signs, and since language implies relating to the other in a situation in which violence cannot be absolutely eliminated, JD says, "War, therefore, is congenital to phenomenality."  [Now that ineliminable the intrusiveness and cognitive presumption of consciousness has been called violence, we are ready for JD's next claim, which he associates with Hegel:] War is the very emergence of speech and appearing.

39.  One cannot hold back from the violence of discourse without risking the worst violence, a brutal nihilism that does not articulate itself in critical opposition to anything.  Therefore we must speak acknowledging the violence of our discourse, unlike the pre-Kantian dogmatic theology, which does not "pose the question of responsibility for its own finite philosophical discourse."  The criticism of theological dogmatism does not imply that it is irresponsible to appeal to God; rather, divine responsibility requires such acknowledging such a problem.

40.  The inevitable persistence of the (in some sense) rational ego (the ego that synthesizes, puts experience together in meaningful harmonies) is a wonder, a question to which philosophy (and eschatology) can open itself but cannot answer.  (Cf. Heidegger: Jemeinigkeit: human existence is never anonymous, always belongs to someone, is always, for someone, mine.)

41.  We must not attempt, fearing solipsism or relativism, to flee the primal fact that the world opens to me through my experience.  It is within my mind that I form my idea of whatever it is that I acknowledge as transcending my mind.  Before I can affirm or deny God, the consciousness of an ego must first form the notion of God.  The alternative is "the totalitarianism of the neutral, the impersonal "absolute Logic," that is, eschatology without dialogue and everything classed under the conventional . . . rubric of Hegelianism."

42.  There is another necessity that EL proposes (unthinkably) to transcend in recent writings on the trace: the necessity for all experience, including our experience of the past and future, to occur in the living present.  (But EL has not shown EH misguided in asking about the way in which the constitution of the other as other precedes the constitution of the Other as Other.)

43.  Time would be violence by EL's criterion, since it is only in the living present, the flowing experience of the ego, that the other can appear.  Thus JD speaks of "presence as violence" and calls such presence "the meaning of finitude."  Since it is within the living present of the ego's stream of consciousness that the intelligibilizing (or rational or interpretive) synthesis of experience occurs, meaning arises in temporal process, in history.

44.  Considering this result, obtained by working with the implications of EL's notion of violence as applied to the sturdy insights of Husserl, why-questions pile up.  "Why?  Why finitude?  Why history? . . ."

45.  (EL's) metaphysics presupposes the very transcendental phenomenology (EH's) which it intends to call into question.  But this conclusion does not close the conversation.  At this point, (Greek) phenomenology reaches its limits and is prepared for a silence in which it can enter into silent dialogue with (nongreek) eschatology.


Derrida, "Violence and Metaphysics," Section III, last part: Of Ontological Violence, pp. 134ff.



praesens - present

ens - being


46.  Western philosophic tradition (as Heidegger has shown) has conceived Being as presence in various ways (e.g., the present (to the mind) intelligible form [Plato], actuality [Aristotle], thinking substance [Descartes], will-to-power [Nietzsche]).  Heidegger (MH) establishes time as the meaning of being.  [Note the difference between this and the traditionally pious observation that all created things are temporal; they come into being and pass away.  For MH: Dasein, the being we are (and the being the explication of whose structure alone gives a methodologically appropriate access to the question of the meaning of being) is above all temporal: "thrown" (without choice) from a past which reflection cannot bring into view into existence toward a future, death, "the possible impossibility of being."]  Therefore, to pose the question of the meaning of Being is to challenge traditional philosophic security and "self-confident presence."  [JD is famous for highlighting absence and the ways that absence haunts presence.]

47.  This inquiry carries us beyond EH.

48.  Husserl presupposes an answer to the question of the meaning of being (which must be investigated prior to an exploration of the meaning of being in specific regions: the region of material-factual actualities, the region of numbers, the region of musical objects, the region of essences, and to on).  For Husserl, the ontological center of gravity [JW's term] is in the region of essence, the ideal which is no (material-factual) "reality."  (Did EH's transcendental phenomenology radically get past "Platonic" metaphysical dogmatism?)

49.  For EL, in the case of the Other it is not legitimate to affirm with MH the priority of Being over the entity.  MH subordinates "the relation with someone . . . to a relation with the Being of the existent, which, impersonal, permits the apprehension, the domination of the existent (a relationships of knowing), subordinates justice to freedom."

50.  Consider the "truism," "To know the existent it is necessary to have comprehended the Being of the existent."  For EL, MH--ontology--can only move beyond a trivial obviousness in this observation by seizing and murdering the Other.

51.  JD begins to defend MH, in part by claiming that the two are not so far apart as EL claims.  First of all, regarding the charge of "truism," MH could respond, "Why should one seek a fancy theoretical interpretation?  We need rather to accept simplicities in their plainness."  Moreover, MH and EL seek to speak the terrain between theory and practice, e.g., a pre-practical ethics.

52.  The totalitarian "priority" that EL alleges in ontology does not do justice to the uncanny originality of Being as set forth in the truism, which truism is, after all, not an analytic tautology in which the predicate is implied in the subject.  Being is the unitary focal point of the following possibilities: a predicate of the existent, the subject of the existent, essence, existence, copula, positing of existence.  Being is the root of essence and existence, beyond genre (genus, the universal) and categories--all these presuppose Being, and Being makes all of them possible.         53.  Read this paragraph, pp. 136f.  Only an entity, an existent of some sort could be prior (in time, dignity, etc.) to another.  EL misreads of MH (on the whole) in allege that Being is prior to being.  Rather, "Being is but the Being-of this existent (for example, someone), and does not exist outside it as a foreign power, or as a hostile or neutral impersonal element.  Actually, MH has profoundly described and criticized the neutral, impersonal, anonymous inauthentic existence of das man [--the way "everyone" thoughtlessly speaks, behaves, taking everything for granted].  The thought of Being is pre-political, notwithstanding EL's tendency to interpret a political sense in every philosophy.  On the subject of anonymity (which EL reads as proto-fascist), Jewish tradition, analogously with MH, speaks of "the unnameable possibility of the Name."

54.  The thought of Being has no human design and escapes anthropology, ethics, and psychoanalysis.

55.  The thought of Being or the precomprehension of Being is required for every recognition, whether of a material thing or an Other.  To let the existent be, according to MH, accords no privilege to comprehension; it is utterly compatible with what MH has in mind to specify that letting the Other be means letting the Other be, in the Other's essence and existence, as one with whom one relates in speaking, in commanding, etc.  Without such letting be (ontological openness), violence reigns.

56.  Thus for MH, Being cannot be the kind of [godlike] "excellent existent" that could dominate anything at all.  Just as EL criticizes the notion of a relation to the Other, so MH would criticize the notion of a relation to Being (inasmuch as relation [allegedly] presupposes that the relata are both finite).

GLOSSARY: lichtend-verbergende Ankuft des seins selbst: illumining-concealing announcement of being itself

57.  Despite the difficulty of eliminating spatial metaphor in attempting to express the [relation (sorry)] between Being and existents, "Being itself is alone in its absolute resistance to every metaphor."  Every attempt to explain "Being" by giving an (empirical) etymology (a word-history that would explicate Being in terms of some metaphysical notion, e.g., respiration) is an attempt that forgets that respiration and non-respiration are.  Metaphor is always used to explain things, and the character of empiricism is to forget the metaphoric character of its own language.  Once a metaphor is recognized as such, it is "ripped apart as the veil of Being."

59.  This is a first reason why Being should not be regarded as dominating.

60.  A second reason: A relation with the Being of the existent is not an affair of knowledge, of theory, of a concept--which could only inform us about existents (not Being).  But EL's critique takes the thought of Being as a concept of Being, and thus a totalitarian presumption of comprehension.  "Being is not the concept of a rather indeterminate and abstract predicate, seeking to cover the totality of existents in its extreme universality: (1) because it is not a predicate, and authorizes all predication; (2) because it is "older" than the concrete presence of the ens; (3) because belonging to Being does not cancel any predicative difference, but on the contrary, permits the emergence of every possible difference."  The thought of Being grounds the possibility of a concept of Being (MH in fruitful dialogue with Hegel, the one who includes all metaphysics in his own system).

61.  [Beware the misleadingly literal translation of the first sentence.]  Since the thought or pre-comprehension of Being is presupposed in every grasp of existents, but Being cannot be conceptually grasped, neither can anything else (existents) be fully grasped (known) either.  Being is the primary Other for thinking.  At the same time, since things cannot be without letting-be (on the one hand, what Being "does," on the other hand, what thinking does), Being and thinking are so closely interrelated that we may call them (in a philosophically complex sense) the "same" (not the [Leibnizian mathematical] identity--sharing every predicate).

62.  Since Being is not a category or species, it does not reduce the Other to a species.  Being is not a thing or foundation (archia) that could be metaphysical (in the traditional sense) and totalitarian.  The thinking of Being is the best antidote to violence, since it brings a trembling to the quest for a foundation which could be totalitarian, and to its companion, the anxiety over anarchy in history.

GLOSSARY.  agathon: good (in Plato)

63.  EL continues to write ontologically, showing that he, too, must presuppose the thought or precomprehension of Being.  Thus moving beyond being, amounts, for EL, to moving beyond the totality of the existent or beyond the existence of the existent.  MH shows that we need to be more cautious in assuming that we grasp the good that is beyond beings.

64.  The thought of being cannot be violent; the thought of Being is required to let beings be.  EL's metaphysics exemplifies MH's generalization: "Metaphysics represents the existent in its Being, and thus thinks the Being of the existent.  But it does not think the difference of Being and the existent."

            65.  For MH, metaphysics is limiting, since it "transcends the existent only toward the (superior) existent, or toward the (finite or infinite) totality of the existent."  EL, similar to medieval thought, thinks of man as resembling God, posits "the face as analogous to the visage of God" (inviting the critique of "atheistic humanism" [which accuses of projection and alienation]).  Where EL had wanted to declare the face as beyond metaphor, his doctrine of resemblance suggests that the human face is the original metaphor.  The deeper Heideggerian question asks "in what manner the essence of man belongs to the truth of Being" (challenging every humanism that would think of man Thoughtlessly).  Being is not God, nor a substitute for God (an absolute or infinite being), nor a foundation for God.

66.  "Eyes and mouth make a face only if, beyond need, they can "let be," if they see and they say what is such as it is, if they reach the Being of what is.  But since Being is, it cannot simply be produced, but precisely must be respected by a glance and a speech . . . ."  If thinking is not subordinated to Being, then philosophical discourse would be "only a failed act, the pretext for an uninterrupted psychoanalysis or philosophy or sociology."

67.  Since, it is not correct to think (as is always done) of Being as an existent that precedes existents; since (as EL rightly says), "the relation to the existent preexists the unveiling of Being"; since Being is not a great Existent that comes before all other existents, . . . Being is History.  History is, most of all, the sequence of epochs of ways in which Being is (mis-)interpreted.  The end of history, the unveiling of Being, implied in these concealments is an eschatology unlike (EL's) messianic eschatology.  Being is a new kind of war with its misrepresentatives (eidos [form], actuality, subjectivity, etc.).

68.  Being in its history of moving from one alienated metaphor to another is like the [Jewish] wanderer, not a complacent, sedentary, allegiance to native soil.  EL has taught us how to see the Other--why not also MH?--beyond one's personal need to distance oneself from his "climate" and other phenomenal characteristics.

GLOSSARY: Illic--that place

69.  MH's Site is not here but That Place, not pagan, because it is never given, only promised.  The sacred, for MH, is prior to God or the Gods; it is a space which both faith and atheism presuppose.  "That the gods or God cannot be indicated except in the Space of the Sacred and in the light of the deity, is at once the limit and the wellspring of history. . . . Wellspring, because this anticipation . . . always sees God coming, opens the possibility (the eventuality) of an encounter with God and of a dialogue with God."

Derrida, "Violence and Metaphysics, p. 146ff:

70.  The Deity of God, which permits the thinking and naming of God, is nothing, and above all is not God himself.  [14th century Christian mystic] Meister Eckhart's way of saying this, with its trinitarian baggage, does not thoroughly liberate and acknowledge the ineffable transcendence of an infinite existent.

GLOSSARY: Mitsein: being-with, MH's word for primordial sociality

71.  The turn toward Being makes it possible to understand "the word God, . . . even if this understanding is but the ether in which dissonance can resonate"; it also makes possible a Being-together more original than solidarity, the team, or companionship.

72.  This being-together is not absolutely without violence: the face tempts as well as forbids violence.  The first violence is what Being does to itself by letting itself be stated and appear.

GLOSSARY: logos: language, speech, word, concept, discourse, science, reason

73.  For EL, nonviolent language would use no verb to be, no predication ("the first violence"), indeed no verb.  Such ideal speech would be "pure invocation, pure adoration, proffering only proper nouns in order to call to the other from afar."  But Plato has already taught us that no such logos is possible.

74.  Lacking predicates, without being able to say anything, EL's ideally pure language would not be able to fulfill what EL requires: to give the world to the other.  Such calling would, then, be a game, addressed to a slave, doing no (post-"economic") work.

75.  Even peace cannot be had without a speaking which accepts the minimal violence necessary to conceptualize, e.g., the idea of peace.

76.  EL's appeal to an origin of the possibility of speech beyond history (is that not unhebraic and in conflict with EL's determination to reject the priority of thought to speech?).  [Recall that for EL history is an affair of the same.]  Talk of the economy of violence is incompatible with history associated with traditional teleological or eschatological connotations.

77.  For EL and MH language is "a coming forth and a holding back, enlightenment and obscurity; and for both, dissimulation would be a conceptual gesture."  EL differs from MH: for EL Being connotes concept; for MH concept is an affair of existents.

GLOSSARY: determinate: having some specific characteristic(s)

78.  Both MH and EL criticize philosophy since Platonism.  One can imagine questions from each of them to the other one.  These questions culminate in the following: (to MH) Is not God the other name of Being (name because nonconcept), the thinking of which would open the horizon, not posit something in the horizon?  (To EL) Is not eschatology the true form of history beyond any self-same original or final presence?


GLOSSARY: ontic: pertaining to existents, entities, things, beings; as opposed to ontological: pertaining to Being

79.  The alternative emerges: infinity, named God, without specific characteristics ("indeterminate") yet active ("concrete operation"), is the presupposition of all thinking/speaking--including questions about itself, which answer themselves by their very presupposition.  EL's effort to make the relation to the infinitely other the origin of language subverts his own attempt to parade a philosophical discourse (just like historicism psychologism and relativism refute themselves) just like empiricism which attempts allegiance to the radically other in the masquerade of philosophic, self-forgetting and self-inconsistent discourse.  [Historicism claims that all philosophic pretensions are merely expressions of the historic situation of the claimant--ignoring that this claim which, by extension, points to its own historic situation, refutes itself.  Psychologism asserts that philosophic claims to truth are merely psychological reports--but then does this not imply that this very theory is itself merely the expression of the psychological state of its advocates?  Relativism, the challenge that all alleged truth is relative [to the individual or the group] should thus itself be merely a relative claim.]  [Empiricism looks down on philosophy's obscure controversies regarding being or essence in behalf of its asserted fidelity to the facts of the surrounding world--but has all the time a complacent philosophy, its own sense of what is being and of what is essential.]

80.  EL is willing to speak of empiricism and of the experience of the other, even though "experience" has been associated with "the metaphysics of presence."

81.  Note the complicity between empiricism and metaphysics.

82.  READ THIS PARAGRAPH.  Empiricism challenges and awakens the philosophic logos. 

"But empiricism always has been determined [characterized] by philosophy, from Plato to Husserl, as nonphilosophy: as the philosophical pretension to nonphilosophy, the inability to justify oneself, to come to one's own aid as speech.  But this incapacitation, when resolutely assumed, contests the resolution and coherence of the logos (philosophy) at its root, instead of letting itself be questioned by the logos.  Therefore, nothing can so profoundly solicit the Greek logos--philosophy--than this irruption of the totally-other; and nothing can to such an extent reawaken the logos to its origin as to its mortality, its other.

83.  It is not possible to set aside philosophy without philosophizing.  The Greek logos does not passively permit itself to be the terrain of Jewish-Christian dialogue. 

84.  We live in the history which is the tension of Greek philosophers and Jewish prophets.

85.  How shall we identify ourselves?  As primarily Jewish or Greek or as the meeting of those who identify diversely?  Peace is "the strange dialogue between the Jew and the Greek."  Does peace have the form of Hegel's logic or "of infinite separation and of the unthinkable, unsayable transcendence of the other?  To what horizon of peace does the language which asks this question belong?"




Jacques Derrida, "The Politics of Friendship" (Abstract, 1988)

[I.  Practical demonstration]

1.  By quoting "O my friends, there are no friends," I have not yet asserted anything.

2.  The quote comes through Aristotle and Montaigne.

3.  But though I have not personally authorized what I have quoted, you (rightly) hold me personally responsible (implying some knowledge of what 'person' and 'responsibility' mean) for the fact that I am speaking.

4.  You are actually beginning to respond to me by paying attention and preparing the content of your response which is now only potential.  The dominant category scheme of actual and potential pervades Aristotle's discussion of friendship (philia) in the Nicomachean Ethics, including "political friendship" (homonomia, agreement, harmony of opinion).


[II.] 5! (633.2) The previous practical demonstration permits us to observe a "first result": even before asserting anything, the speaker is caught in responsibility to the other ("a kind of asymmetrical and heteronomical curvature of the social space"; note: society from socius, ally or comrade).  [=EL]


[III.] 6 (634.1).  Let us investigate the (tension within the) uses of "friendship" in "our" tradition.

7 (635.1).  There is no contradiction between the assertion, "there are no friends," and the apostrophe, "O my friends," since the two are not in the same logical space.  The apostrophe appeals to, and prays for, a future, ideal friendship that is never given in the present.  [Notice, as with EL, the distinctly non-Christian character of this denial.]

8 (636.1).  The apostrophe, "O my friends," also refers back to a supposed, minimal friendship: the irreducible community required for one's appeal to be heard at all.  Moved now to ask what is friendship, we participate in a classic philosophic WHAT IS? question, and observe that such philosophic questioning presupposes a community that cannot be presented within an ontology, since it makes ontological inquiry possible. In note 5 JD outlines a possible article using Heidegger to respond to the question of friendship (philein to sophon=to love the wise).

9 (637.1).  The phenomenal presence of the proposition is wound up within a necessary dynamic of future and past.


[IV]  10 (638.1).  We will turn to "the question of the response"--and to the special way in which friendship is linked to respons-ibility.  Our linguistic inquiry will exhibit structures shared at least by "our" European languages.

11 (638.2).  (1) One answers for oneself or for something (for someone, for an action, for a thought, for a discourse).  (2) One answers before another, a community, a tribunal.  And, most fundamentally (among these entwined aspects of response) (3) one answers to someone.

12 (638.3).  1.  Answering for myself involves answering for who I have been--as the same person over time (though memory never totally synthesizes this identity).  For example, I will be held responsible after my death by those who will know my name and what I have done.

13 (639.1).  2.  The primacy of answering first to the other is not only because one only answers in response to the question, challenge, etc. of the other.  The primacy of the fact that I respond to the other is also on account of the fact, first, that my very name is pervaded by the other: someone else gave it to me (and I was thus initiated into the realm of law), and others use it.  Finally, even when I retire from interaction or assert my autonomy, I do so by means of a gesture regarding the other.  This priority of the relation to the other, the priority of "responsibility," is the origin of temporality [cf. Heidegger: temporality is Dasein's primary mark (not MH's term].

14 (639.2).  3.  Answering before implies a shift to an institutionalized or universal other. 

JD notes "in passing": "respect" seems involved with distance, space, and the look; whereas "responsibility" orients to time, the voice, and listening.  Friendship involves both, as Kant wrote.  The note on Kant sets forth that friendship is an unrealizable, but obligatory ideal, presupposing both the attractive vector of love and the distancing vector of respect.  Friendship (for IK) is to be equal and reciprocal, characterized by sharing, but not sharing every secret.  JD finally notes IK's notions of a "friend of mankind," who acknowledges a morally significant equality among [human beings]; and he notes the familial "schema" ("between intuitive singularity and the generality of the concept"): "Here one represents to oneself all men as brothers submissive to a universal father who wants the happiness of all."

15 (640.1).  The two moments imply each other: orientation to the single Other and to a universally moral or legal or institutional Other!


[V.]  16 (641.1).  The distinction between the singular and the universal "has always divided the experience, the concept, and the interpretation of friendship"--and many other important distinctions as well.  Should friendship and politics be linked?  Treat carefully in interpreting the texts of the tradition.

17 (642.1).  What is the connection between the anxious domination in our culture of the singular-universal split and the the fact that the canonical treatises on friendship "exclude" women and privilege brotherhood?  (In Glas JD wrote on the problem of the woman, the sister, and the brother in Hegel.) 

18 (642.2).  Questions accumulate about the exclusion of the feminine, the politicization of friendship, and discourses organized around polarities (e.g., Hegel's) and discourses with problematic relations to the tradition (e.g., Nietzsche's). 

19 (643.1)  The great texts on friendship "entrust and refuse the death of the unique one to a universalizable discourse."  Thus they reinstate oppositions: "singular/universal, private/public, familial/political, secret/phenomenal, etc."  What about the ruptures between Greco-Roman friendship as reciprocity, marked by "homological, immanentist, finitist, and politicist concord" and another paradigm involving "heterology, asymmetry, and infinity"?


[VI.]  20.  The closing paragraph poses three suggestion-questions: that the fracture is Judeo-Christian, that it has profound political implications, and that today, with Nietzsche and Blanchot, we must think beyond such questions.  Note 13 begins with JD's own testimony to friendship, follows with a long quote from Maurice Blanchot (affirming that the death of the friend terminates the gap between them, pulling the living, remaining friend into a void of memory) and a quote from Georges Bataille, "friends even to that state of profound friendship where a man abandoned, abandoned by all his friends, meet up in life with the one who will accompany him beyond life, himself without life, capble of free friendship, detached from any ties."  [The implication, I think: for JD friendship between Jews and Christians makes a beginning beyond what has been our history.]



Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas

(Adieu means “good-bye”; literally, it means a (to) Dieu (God).

“A Word of Welcome”


            First we have opening, welcoming remarks, that manifest JD’s ethical sensitivity to the problems involved in an apparently simple gesture of beginning the conference.  Pay attention to the T&I quote, p. 18.  Welcome is an opening to the Infinite, unlike maieutics (Socratic midwifery addressed to the same) (15-19).

            Next is a thematic introduction to the wider inquiry.  Can ethics yield a cosmopolitan politics of hospitality (19-20)?  It’s not a matter of strict, formal derivation; rather what is necessary is an inquiry into the conditions of (legal or political) decision and responsibility—to which we come at the conclusion.

            Note the references to Descartes: 23, 59, 102, 142, 139.


I (21-45).  JD gives an exposition of EL: the implications of welcome to the Infinite in a relation interrupted by the third, inaugurating justice.  Sometimes philosophy addresses the theme of one-to-one relationships, e.g., Buber’s I-Thou relationship; Levinas’s writing about the Other seems to be of this sort.  “The third” refers to a third person.  In Sartre, the third watches, objectifies, breaks up the dynamic between the pair.  Three (or more) persons form a social system, quite different from a relationship.  There are two interpretations of seemingly and notoriously sexist passages in T and I about women.  Without “privileging” either interpretation, Derrida puts more in play in Levinas’s feminist affirmation of feminine hospitality as primal.  Notice how Derrida teases out implications (dialectic, deconstruction) that overturn the main momentum of some things Levinas says, but then, stopping short of outright critique, moves on to sustain a respectful and fruitful discussion of selected texts of Levinas.


II (45-57).  This section explores EL’s ethics as first philosophy (metaphysics in that sense) as opposed to ontology as first philosophy.  EL’s proposal for perpetual peace differs from Kant’s, since EL’s is rooted in a not-only-political hospitality of the subject, whose intentionality (consciousness of, consciousness directed towards . . . [Husserl’s leading theme], consciousness open to, ultimately, the other) amounts to hospitality.  Husserl had advocated the epoche, the suspension of belief in the real-world-reality of the self and its objects of consciousness; this amounts to a modification of consciousness: instead of positing things as reality, we shift into neutrality about their reality (so as to be able the better to study the structures of consciousness and its correlates)(do you recall Heidegger’s talk about stepping back?).  But when Husserl came to the problem of the other (in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation), according to JD he interrupted, shifted away from the epoche.  Phenomenology thus interrupts itself, and does not thematize, just as the self is interrupted by the infinity of the other. 


III (58-70).  What is the relation between the subject as host (Totality and Infinity) and as hostage (Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence)?  What is presupposed by hospitality?  Though EL uses a “sometimes pacifying vocabulary of the welcome and of the hospitality of the host”, the welcome presupposes what is “violent, indeed traumatizing” (59).  Pay attention to the non-experience of God on 60-61.  Pay attention to what will be the focus in our second unit on the Kantian concept of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man: on fraternity and humanity, pp. 67-69; note 69 on pp. 144-45; and note 135 on p. 152; cf. also pp. 72, 91, 166-67Illeity—thatness—the He in the depths of the You—is part of the phenomenology of withdrawal crucial to EL’s religious concept.  In what sense is there Torah (revealed teaching) before Sinai (where, e.g., God gave Moses the commandments)?  Substitution here implies taking the punishment that would come to someone else.  EL replaces the unique in the experience of unicity (cf. p. 98 and the emphasis on the unity of God, e.g., in Islam—p. 75 and 145f).


IV (70-78).  This section is largely political, less central to the focus of this course, but easier to read.  The test of welcome to the stranger is at home, on one’s home soil (immigration policy; JD is also interested in establishing a group of cities of refuge/asylum where people could come from anywhere and be well treated.  JD notes the Christian capacity to abuse political power and expresses, for EL, the promise of a trans-political polity in Israel.


V (78-101).  This section continues the political emphasis at the beginning, speaking of the hope of Israel and noting the greatness of Egypt’s President Sadat, who courageously opened peace negotiations by coming for a visit to Jerusalem.  Pay special attention to the discussion of fecundity and paternity on 93-95 and to the argument that only EL’s concept of welcome paves the way to Kant’s goal of perpetual peace.


VI (101-123).  In this section, JD explains EL’s distance from Descartes (102f).  For JD it helps a lot not to have to affirm an existing God (cf. 143), but one who loves the stranger (104).  Pay special attention to the discussion of the silence of God that interrupts; this will be important for our third unit on religious experience (114-123).