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Mpls, MN, United States

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Thursday, July 17, 2008


Today I finished Derrida's The Gift of Death. Although its title is less misleading than that of Gogol's Dead Souls (which is in fact quite funny), the book is not as dark as might be imagined.

Here is a passage I found particularly interesting (go on, it's only three sentences):

On the other hand, the smooth functioning of such a society ((which would prosecute Abraham for intending to kill Isaac)), the monotonous complacency [ronronnement*] of its discourses on morality, politics, and the law, and the very exercise of its rights (whether public, private, national, or international), are in no way perturbed by the fact that, because of the structure of the laws of the market that society has instituted and controls, because of the mechanisms of external debt and other comparable inequities, that same "society" puts to death or (but failing to help someone in distress accounts for only a minor difference) allows to die of hunger and disease tens of millions of children (those relatives or fellow humans that ethics or the discourse of the rights of man refer to) without any moral or legal tribunal ever being considered competent to judge such a sacrifice, the sacrifice of the other to avoid being sacrificed oneself. Not only does such a society participate in this incalculable sacrifice, it actually organizes it. The smooth functioning of its moral discourse and good conscience, presuppose the permanent operation of this sacrifice. (pp. 85-86)
Potent, eh?

You may recall that Derrida did not used to be my favorite. I still don't pick him up for a light read, but appreciate him much more than I used to. In fact, I had the odd experience last semester, after reading his contemporary Paul Ricoeur, of not only really enjoying the former's Memoirs of the Blind, but actually finding it alarmingly clear, straightforward, and even entertaining. If you ever find yourself hankering for some Derrida, I'd suggest that one--although carrying around a book called The Gift of Death does lend one a certain gravity.

Speaking of gravity, tonight my parents and I watched The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I thought it was skillfully, even startlingly done, in a way that was both entirely absorbing and made me as a viewer very aware of my own gaze and the camera's gaze (per Mulvey), as well as the limited gaze of the protagonist. I had read the book about a decade ago and had been very impressed; the film struck me as true to its content, tone, and hopefulness. The director's background was also evident in the carefully composed, painterly visuals, making it a very beautiful film as well. Highest marks.

Now, back to this book for a bit before bed.

*Isn't that amazingly onomatopoetic?


strovska said...

those are probably the longest sentences i've read since i had to read proust for school (which i very surprisingly ended up really liking). all i know about derrida is that he's someone grad students talk about a lot (which makes me scared of him), but i might look into him now after this little sample.

c said...

Zzzzz.... Oh, hey. Is the Derrida quote over yet? :) Incidentally, and quasi-relatedly,


K L said...

Oooh synapse tingle, I think I just got smarter. Derrida makes me think about elementary school where we sacrifice children on the alter of conformity. It is at once sad and thrilling to see how quickly children abandon their unique approaches and adopt new ideas. Sounds like Derrida might be worth slogging through.

Larissa said...

I don't mean to deride your Derrida quote :] but I think I might have to sentence map those 3 suckers. I have been around ESL students too long....