“JACQUES DERRIDA – Dialogues with Philosophers In Coronavirus Times” by Saurabh Todaria
Care Consciously! # DEFEAT CORONA

I don’t know why I am remembering Derrida today. A philosopher who is extremely popular as well as notorious for his writing style. While his admirers hail him as the major thinker of our age, others mock him as a charlatan.

Nonetheless, his fame endured and he is acknowledged as the major thinker of our age. A few days back, I read the news that his wife passed away because of COVID 19 infection. I still remember seeing her in the famous documentary on Derrida. Sometimes I wonder whether his views have any relevance for our time.

I am thinking so because yesterday somebody remarked that the COVID 19 spread would gradually ear away all the moral fiber of our society. As I was brooding over these questions, Derrida made entry into my room.

Derrida – Hello!

Me – Hi. I was just thinking about you!

D – Nice. Thank you!

Me – I was about to ask whether your thoughts like deconstruction holds any significance now. People often criticize you for professing the negative philosophy or negativity in philosophy, which did not give a positive solution.

D – Before discussing this, I would like to ask whether you have any idea that this so-called free discussion has been possible because of the certain privileges we enjoy.

Me – What do you mean?

D – If you had been a daily wage worker with no support from anybody and a family to support then what would have been your priority during that situation, discussion or earning?

Me – Of course, I would have been toiling at this point.

D – Precisely. Therefore, any ideological position is not dropped from heaven but is shaped by the uneven distribution of power. In my works, I have attempted to highlight the possibilities which have been already there but could be manifested because of the hegemonic structure.

Me – Okay. This you have referred to as Margins in your works.

D – Yes, hence the name ‘Margins of Philosophy’ as these possibilities have been suppressed and therefore reduced to the margins in the history of philosophy. They become the ‘other’.

Me – Other?

D – Yes, the other is that which does not get any voice.

Me – All right but philosophy is the search of wisdom so why you charge it with this bias?

D – I am not anti-philosopher but I do not privilege the Platonic ideal of philosophy.

Me – And what is that?

D – It is the search for Ideality, which reduces the different singularities into some metaphysical, ideological view.

Me – But what is wrong with your critique against the  ‘metaphysics of presence’ as philosophy’s main task is to inquire into the fundamental principle.

D – That’s my point that the urge to the ‘metaphysics’ inevitably produces the Margins because you cannot completely do away with it. This I have referred to as Logocentrism.

Me – Can you give me some examples?

D – All right. Take the case of Husserl’s work, ‘Origin of Geometry’. Husserl asks the question that what makes the geometric truth universal. He responds that geometric Truths are ideal in nature and does not depend on the particular space and time.

Me – That’s right.

D – However, he makes an interesting claim that though geometric truth is ideal in nature but they require to be put in the writing for preventing them from remaining locked in the head of the mathematician.

Me – Okay.

D – He then says writing though not essential but is needed, just as an appendage for the geometrical truth. However, it occurs to me that writing is the very embodiment by which geometrical truth appears. Hence rather than being mere as a supplement, it becomes the necessary condition for the geometrical truth.

Me – Interesting!

D – I, therefore, say that writing delays or defers the hope of absolute ideality in Husserl. Though writing has been considered as just a supplement it is basically the dangerous supplement that delays the transcendental truth.

Me – I see.

D – I, therefore, call this spilling over of these Margins over the whole of discourse as writing, grammatology.

Me – I see, that’s what you mean by ‘dissemination.’

D – Exactly. The Margins or the dangerous supplements disseminates over the hegemonic structure and deconstruction is being attentive to it. In other words, deconstruction happens in the face of other.

Me – But how can we find these Margins? Are you offering some techniques like deconstruction to figure it out?

D – No. I just want to say that otherness is visible only when we pay the meticulous attention. It is the ‘unthought’ of the metaphysical tradition. In the words of Heidegger, ‘unthought is the highest gift which thought can give.’

Me – But how do you connect writing with the whole of western discourse.

D –  Grammatology is neither hermeneutics nor critique, with which it is often misunderstood. I am saying that since we have inherited the discourse of western philosophy which is metaphysical in nature therefore unconsciously we subscribe to it. Grammatology argues that this spilling over or dissemination is the condition of any discourse. In fact, any claim to the metaphysics has been possible because of this originary violence. For e.g, the discourse of modern philosophy based on reason and clarity became possible only when madness and dreams were ‘othered’ by Descartes in the Cogito argument.

Me – Right. This means writing is the condition of any discourse.

D – That’s what I meant when I said that writing is prior to the speech. People rubbished it as sheer nonsense. However, I meant that any discourse is based on the writing only; on the logocentric violence of privileging and marginalizing.

Me – Hmm. Now I got the sense of grammatology but why are you obsessed with so much negativity? What is the solution to it?

D – I always said that deconstruction is justice. Deconstruction arises from the call of justice.

Me – But don’t you think that justice has been discussed so much in philosophy since Plato then what’s new you are saying?

D – Well, philosophy has thought of justice always in terms of the law like Moral law in Kant. We think that there is some regulative principle by which we would interpret the instances of justice or injustice. But I talk of justice which cannot be programmed in the advance, it shatters all your expectations.

Me – Hmm. Levinas calls it as the experience of alterity, of otherness.

D – Exactly. My idea is to think of the self-other relation on the basis of the singularity when we cannot approach the other in terms of any preconceived notion. It is the very fountainhead of ethics.

Me – Can you give me some examples.

D – Okay. Have you watched the movie, ‘Life of Pi’?

Me -Yes.

D – There is a particular scene in the movie where the protagonist was about to kill the drowning tiger but when he looked into its eyes, he stops.

Me – Yeah, I vividly remember that scene. D – According to my interpretation, that scene shows the advent of ethics.  The protagonist has been socialized to behave ethically with human beings but at that moment he became aware of the emotions in animals and he becomes respectful of life as such. This ethics is not based on the law but on the experience of the singularity.

As I was in a hurry so I started to walk back towards my home but the example from ’Life of Pi’ had made a deep impact on me. I started to think that what I would do if I see some person fainting on the road. Should I immediately help him or maintain the social distancing? Can I excuse myself by saying that since I am following the COVID related precautions so I should not touch her and rather wait for the medical team to come?

After all, I am not a doctor. But suppose if it had been my family member- my father or my child- would I have reacted in the same way? Isn’t it the humanity is the sea of singularities rather than the lump of uniformity which we categorize in the binaries of healthy/ill, good/bad, Hindu/Muslims, Rich/Poor.

All this shows that ethical action cannot be followed in a law-like manner but involves a lot of emotional upheavals in the decision-making process. Perhaps nobody knows how the singularity arrives. That’s why Derrida says, ‘the secret of other is that the other is secret.’

Disclaimer: The opinions endorsed by the speaker is solely the author’s and not in any way endorsed by the Institute/Programme.