Derrida essay questions


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In the first version Ish, or Adam, is described as male and female and the couple is given authority over the animals in obedience to God. Naming of the animals, however, only takes place in the second version where Adam is described as male alone, before woman. Responding to the names Adam gives them, moreover, the animals come after or follow him rather than vice versa , as does woman.

Such naming, Derrida suggests through a compelling reading of a passage from Walter Benjamin, is necessarily linked to death and is what renders the animals mortal. Disavowal is a term repeated frequently in the lectures and with the full psychoanalytic meaning of denying a reality that has potentially traumatic implications. As David Wills suggests, Derrida recasts the scene of Genesis in such a way that consciousness of nudity and hence vulnerable subjectivity is awakened by this animal gaze and is strengthened by the gaze of a woman imagined to be witnessing the scene, perhaps in a mirror.

The scene with the cat thus evokes something of that fluidity of identity where otherness is explicitly the other--animal or animot that branches of feminism acknowledged and embraced at least since the 70s. While not referencing feminism, Derrida seems to demonstrate what many feminists theorized: that fear of such fluidity is a masculine fear, and the need to guard against it to disavow is productive of specifically masculine forms of hiding or dissimulation.

The term animot , should not be read as a term to stave off or overcome this fear whether through the denial of difference or the acceptance of a transspecies or transgendered appellation. Difference is not to be overcome, but rather as the plural heard in animot animaux suggests, it is to be pluralized, calling attention to the many differences that may or may not distinguish sexes and species. These are also differences that we harbor in ourselves, differences from the names we give ourselves, differences from the human-animal we think we are.

Might not our language be proof of our own inability to know the world outside of our own projects, outside of our own autobiographical efforts, and not the proof of our true apprehension of the world? Letting animals be in their being, outside our projects and outside our will for knowledge, would, Derrida seems to suggest, constitute the ultimate ethical stance. The fresh judgment, says Derrida, can very well, must very well and in some way conform to preexisting law. On the other hand, it cannot merely do so as if every other, every case, is already anticipated in the horizon of present law leaving nothing to come.

Life and work

It is the truth of the simple summary. But the simple summary is ultimately misleading. Because of the generality of the law, and the singularity that is always involved with questions of justice, the ideal of the finally just system of law, the idea of a system of law of ideal adequacy that would, as it were, deliver justice beyond further reform, and which, crucially, could anticipate every other, is a theoreticist illusion.

I want to finish with a story, and it is very important that it is a story, a fiction. Because for Derrida any attempt to state speak the origin of the force of law will necessarily involve a kind of fictive narrativity. It is not just a fictional story a work of imagination but, as it were, the fiction of a narrative.

It is a short story by Kafka. The man wants to find out not only what he has supposedly done wrong but also the source of the authority of the order to place him under arrest.

Jacques Derrida | Biography, Books, & Facts | vornexslpenesdee.gq

The fictive narrative told by a priest towards the end of the story in The Trial is one of the very few things that Kafka published in his lifetime as a text to which he gave his name. And while it is a moment within The Trial it turns out to describe the structure of The Trial itself, as a kind of mise en abyme.

Here it is. Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in sometime later on. But take note. I am powerful.

And I am only the lowliest gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the last.


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I cannot endure even one glimpse of the third. The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests.

The Problems of Presence

The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet. The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper.

He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this first one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud; later, as he grows old, he only mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has also come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper. Finally his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him.

Habermas, Derrida, and the Question of Religion

But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death he gathers up in his head all his experiences of the entire time into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body.

The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the difference between them has changed considerably to the disadvantage of the man. I think the law in question here is law with a capital L, and as such it maintains the non-purity of any putative distinction between law and justice. The simple summary calls for that distinction. While attempting consistently to distinguish law and justice in the way I have outlined, Derrida, from the start, refuses that simple construal.

I think that capital L Law is what interests Kafka in this story. And if you think about the religious law in the Jewish tradition which he comes from we should recall that it is a tradition in which the Law is both the revealed word and the object of interpretation for which interpretation never comes to an end. However, the structural point that is perhaps most interesting here is the narrated fiction of the singularity of the Law as it is described at the end by the doorkeeper, and the generality of the Law that the man from the country assumes must belong to it, something applicable not just to him but to everyone and at all times.

What is revealed to him at the end is that the gate to the Law was only made for him, that the Law is Law only insofar as it maintains a relation to the singular, the unique, the unreplaceable, the unsubstitutable. It is just that there is legal reasoning. Legal justification is just.

But justification comes to an end somewhere: there is a limit to the giving of reasons. Reasons give out. But where justification comes to an end there is not the certain perception of truth—but: acting without reasons, without a secure covenant in reason for its correctness. The judge must act, decide, respond, invent the law at the very moment of remaining most faithful to it. It is not as if, for example, the later Wittgenstein replaces a mystical limit with a practical one.


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  7. It is not mysticism or pragmatism, ever. Rather, he speaks against the explanatory voices of both historicist conventionalism and intellectualist Platonism, and does so throughout with the phenomenological voice of description of what we do.

    Jacques Derrida

    It sides with the conventionalist in thinking that the only thing we can milk out of different legal institutions are customs and conventions, and it sides with the Platonist in thinking law has a history. But it does not conceive that history either relativistically or teleologically: there is progress , there are advances , through juridico-political struggles against the experienced inadequacy of prevailing laws, and these advances are real and necessary.

    But they do not have a telos in a condition of ideal adequacy. Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Derrida and the Philosophy of Law and Justice. Open Access. First Online: 18 April I This essay explores how Derrida navigates between two main ways in which the relationship between law and justice has been understood in philosophy.

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