Raoul Moati: Levinas and the Night of Being

Levinas and the Night of Being: A Guide to Totality and Infinity Book Cover Levinas and the Night of Being: A Guide to Totality and Infinity
Raoul Moati, Translated by Daniel Wyche, Foreword by Jocelyn Benoist
Fordham University Press
Paperback $28.00

Reviewed by: Innocenzo Sergio Genovesi (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn)

From Deleuze to Derrida, from Badiou to Nancy and Marion, the concept of event (évènement) witnessed an important development in the last fifty years of French philosophy and it is present in the most influential authors’ thought. Today, this notion still plays a central role in several attempts to rethink ontology and phenomenology, such as Claude Romano’s evential hermeneutics (hermenéutique événementiale). Even if the ideas of these philosophers substantially differ from each other and cannot be simply grouped together, we can trace at least one common issue in the notion of possibility. Events – with capital E – are happenings inaugurating a new horizon of possibility. They can actualize unforeseeable potentialities or make the impossible possible. For this reason, Events are said to be extraordinary moments and it has been argued that they should be unpredictable (imprévisible) or even impossible (impossible) since they lie beyond the ordinary structure of possibilities in which normal ontological movements take place. It goes without saying that the foundation of the modal structure of Being in such Events attests several theoretical problems If such Events overstep the general structure of Being, how are they supposed to happen? And where should an Event take place and have a place if Being cannot harbor its excess?

Some years before the flourishing of French “event” philosophy, Emmanuel Levinas formulated the notion of nocturnal events (événements nocturnes) in the preface of his masterwork Totalité et Infini. Levinas’ purpose is not to develop a philosophy of events. Indeed, in the whole book the expression “nocturnal event” is no more used and the adjective “nocturnal” appears just a few more times. However, even this parsimonious use of the term is enough to give us an important suggestion. The ultimate events that allow the deployment of new possibilities and which our comprehension of the world is based on are maybe not to be thought as impossible (im-possible), neither as unpredictable (im-pré-visible). They could rather be just invisible (in-visible).

After his impressive book on Derrida and Searle, Raoul Moati keeps deepening his researches about contemporary French philosophy dedicating an entire essay to Levinas and his idea of nocturnal events. What these two works have in common is the great attention given to the concept of intentionality and its Husserlian origins in the phenomenological tradition. Levinas and the Night of Being offers a fine reconstruction of the path undertaken by Levinas in Totalité et Infini to trace the way from the sensible ego to the infinite Other. Moreover, Moati shows us to what extent Levinas takes distance from other phenomenologists such as Husserl, Heidegger and Sartre as well as what does he own to their ideas. This review will first address which are the ontological and phenomenological involvements of nocturnal events that Moati highlights in his book. We will then retrace the way to the infinite in the context of a nocturnal conception of Being. Finally, we will have an overview of this book and its English translation by Daniel Wyche.

The Night of Being.

What Levinas reproaches to ontology and phenomenology is not, as other philosophers would have it, to be a sort of metaphysics of presence. Moati shows that the main critique that Levinas addresses to ontology and phenomenology is to be in a certain sense a metaphysics of light: they are based on “structures of illumination” (65), such as intuition, intentionality or comprehension. Sight and touch tended to have absolute primacy in the philosophical tradition, where “to be” means thus to be visible and graspable (67). The immediate consequence of this “diurnal sense of being” (XVI), from which Totalité et Infini attempts to liberate ontology, is that there is no more room left for otherness and exteriority: being becomes a totalizing structure and the Other is reduced to the self. A drastic rethinking of ontology, as a nocturnal broadening, is therefore needed in order to establish a place for those events that cannot be understood as being part of Being as a totality. That is to say, the nocturnal events:

There must be an ontology that establishes a place for ultimate events of being. […] Such events will no longer draw their significance from a Hegelian totalization or even from phenomenological constitution (Husserl) or the comprehension of the sense of being (Heidegger). The horizon of their deployment consists in a relation to being that overflows the light of objective evidence and of which all of these cases constitute various avatars (11).

The representation of Being that Moati presents us with is thus not that of a light irradiating the sensible world anymore, nor would it be that of a unique and totalizing illuminated surface. There are actually more than one illuminated surfaces, and we are only able to perceive them because of the dark background that encloses and undergirds them. Being does not correspond to these bright spots, but rather to the infinite night surrounding them. This night can be lightened by our “structures of illumination” and this is what originates diurnal events. However, there will always be a dark part not being seen in which nocturnal events are taking place.

Nocturnal events are “the nocturnal dramas by which being exhaustively produces itself” and amount to “a more originary experience for consciousness than transcendental constitution” (15). Is it possible to find a concrete case of nocturnal events? Moati provides us several examples taken from Levinas’ philosophy to describe these “nocturnal dramas”, among them we find the erotic encounter, fecundity, sociality and messianic peace. All these are for Levinas elements that, on the one hand, ground our primordial openness toward the Other and his or her face and which, on the other hand, constitute the base of an ontology that renounces to contain Being within the unity and recognises rather its plurality, taking up the discontinuity of the same and the other (81).

Even though Levinas affirms the primacy of events that are more primordial than subjective comprehension and transcendental constitution, Moati decisively stresses that this gesture does not correspond to a denial of the fundamental role that subjectivity, sensibility and ego play on the path to infinity. Indeed, without the ego’s sensible rooting in Being, no experience of infinite otherness would be possible: “the metaphysical alterity of the Other requires the precondition of the position of the self, a here-below positioned in relation to an over-there” (30). We will now see how nocturnal events and the sensible ego lead us on the way to infinity.

The Terrestrial Condition.

While in the first and last chapters of Levinas and the Night of Being Moati outlines the idea of a nocturnal ontology and unfolds the ontological involvements of nocturnal events, in the central chapters he deploys Levinas theory of the sensible ego and follows the path to infinity he had already sketched in Totalité et Infini. The book structure self is in this way a good representation of the nocturnal conception of being, where nocturnal events are the dark frame of our illuminated terrestrial experience.

First of all, Moati recalls the Levinasian notions of jouissance and element (élément). As it is known, according to Levinas the pre-objective degree of sensation corresponds to what he calls il y a (there is), that is the undefined existence without the existent, the undifferentiated element in which the self is originally immersed, the starting point of any further experience: “the element is the content from which forms are carved out, but it is not, as such, itself delimited by anything” (52). The first break in the uniformity of the element coincides with the subject’s jouissance, representing “the concrete mark of separation” (41). Enjoyment is “the contact between sensibility and the formless quality of the element” (94). It corresponds to sensation and more precisely to the very moment when the instrumental schema of the sensible is rejected and the subject just perceives his or her distinction and independence from the elemental world. Before having the possibility to be part of an ethical encounter with the Other, the subject should first have an ontic consistency: “enjoyment thus reveals the fundamental priority of the ontic for ontology” (47). This idea of a detachment and a constitution of the subject from and through the element questions the phenomenological distinction between constituent and constituted. Indeed, if on the one hand the ego shapes objectivity starting from the undifferentiated element, it is itself in turn delimited by the element:

Enjoyment reveals the impossibility of reducing the constituted to the position of the intentional correlate of the constitutive acts of transcendental consciousness. Every constituted object reveals itself through enjoyment just as much as it occupies the position of the constituent, which is to say the sensible nourishment of the self (55).

Once subjectivity consolidated, the self is ready for the encounter with the Other. This encounter begins in two other well known topoi of the Levinasian production: the dwelling (demeure), that is “the starting-place of any finalized human activity” (91), and the labor (travail), that consists “in the transformation of elemental nature into a world of identifiable things” (94). In order to encounter the Other, that is to manifest himself or herself to the Other, the subject should first have some possession to share with the Other, something to communicate to him or her. Here lies the fundamental importance of labor. It allows us to substantialize the element and fix it between the dwelling’s walls. Through labor we make the world and its objects identifiable and we start having possessions. At this point, Moati highlights and develops another great Levinasian intuition that, as the idea of a nocturnal ontology does, anticipates and responds to several difficult theoretical issues emerging in later event philosophy, especially the ones related to the possibility of the given and to its ontological status. Labor and possession – says Moati – turn the category of being into the category of having and they do that through a neutralization of being:

The thing is also, therefore, nothing more than the element, because it coincides with an element whose ontological independence has been neutralized and, in other words, whose being has been anesthetized. Put differently, through labor and the possession that results from it, the being (l’être) of the element becomes the having (l’avoir) of the self. […] The element becomes something only through the suspension of its being. Here, the ontological frontiers of the element no longer exceed those of the self, which is to say that we are now dealing with being insofar as it is possessed by someone (the self) (95).

Furthermore, in the event of the encounter our possessions become gift for the Other (136), and this gift is the content of the fundamental relation of teaching, that is the constitutive relation that marks the Other as such. As someone being my master not because of his or her deeper knowledges, but because of his or her radical otherness (126). Our shared world, that is the object of our ontology, does not follow the logic of being anymore, but that of having and giving. We are here facing a movement from être to il y a, from sein to es gibt.

Nocturnal Events.

Our possessions, shared in the social contest, exceed thus the ontology of light and become constitutive of the nocturnal event of sociality, a feature that marks us as humans. As the last step of the reconstruction, Moati finally points out how such nocturnal events, way far from being transcendent moments indirectly concerning the terrestrial condition, are not to be thought separately from our sensible way of being and how it grounds all other diurnal activities. We will now cite two cases Moati presents us with: sociality and fecundity.

Sociality is the base of our relationship with the Other. Because ofit we always already possess the idea of the infinite (107), which otherwise would be paradoxical and unreachable, for it would be reducible to totality of the self. Through sociality, ultimate event of Being, it is possible to articulate a relationship between the two terms (me and the Other) and at the same time maintain their separation (112). It is remarkable that sociality is an event of Being itself, constitutively belonging to its nocturnal structure. Because of sociality, Being is not a totalized monolithic Eleatic Being but is rather open and plurivocal. Moreover, in reason of this fundamental sociality, subjects can live their ethical relationship with the others expressing themselves through their discourse and interlocutory presence. Discours and teaching are the way in which the Other reveals to us his or her transcendence and allows us to have a relation with the infinite without reducing it to ourselves. Moati stresses one more time that this kind of expression is not to be understood in the context of a structure of illumination: “The one who expresses himself or herself does not draw his or her intelligibility from the light ‘borrowed’ from intentionality and unveiling, from which the same emerges” (115).

If sociality allows a relation without totalising elements of a plurivocal being, fecundity makes possible the production and realization of the infinite becoming of being. Moreover, it also represents a valuable alternative to the Heideggerian Geworfenheit to describe our terrestrial condition and our rooting in the concrete temporal situation. Moati recalls the famous example of the father/son relationship and gives us an account of its ontological meaning:

For the self, to be is also, through fecundity, to be other. The father is his son, in the precise sense in which the father transcends the horizon of his own selfhood in the son. The selfhood of the son, in the form from which the self of the father emerges, no longer coincides with the selfhood of the departure, that of the father. In fecundity, the self is discontinuous, fragmented. This discontinuity is an ultimate event of being itself, insofar as it is social, which is to say, transcendent and plural (172).

Levinas and Phenomenology.

As we mentioned before, together with a detailed development of the concept of nocturnal events and a reconstruction of the sensible ego’s relation with the infinite, Moati provides us with illuminating comparisons between Levinas and other prominent phenomenologists throughout this book . These comparisons aim at explaining to what extent he kept following the Husserlian and Heideggerian ideas and what kind of disagreements he had with his contemporaries.

It goes without saying that the greatest dissent with Husserl concerns the ideas of transcendental ego and intentionality. We already saw how Levinas gives up the primacy of intentionality as a mean of objective representation since it is reduced to a structure of illumination, and how the distinction between constituent and constituted is questioned. Besides it, Moati also stresses the fact that Levinas cannot accept Husserl’s notion of transcendental ego for at least two reasons. First of all, the ego is always already sensible and we cannot think of an ego beyond its sensible situation. Second, Levinas reproaches the subjective non determination of the concept of transcendental ego. Indeed, its generality “hinders the possibility of establishing a relation that departs from the concrete immanence, from which only the other may speak — which is to say, deploy its ethical infiniteness” (182). All these remarks could be summed up in the general critic that Husserlian phenomenology brings about a totalization of the other and reduces it to the self.

Concerning Heidegger, Moati highlights that in the eyes of Levinas his historical and temporal conception of Dasein and thrownness (Geworfenheit) surely represent a step forward compared to the Husserlian suprahistorical model of consciousness. However, it would be a mistake to describe the sensible installation of our sensible ego within the element in terms of thrownness. More specifically, the concept of thrownness is linked to a conception of our existence based on the notion of power, that Levinas instead wants to quit: thrownness reveals our limits only in regard to the power that we have over our being. On the contrary, for Levinas our primordial situation is a position that locates consciousness beyond any positive or negative reference to power (78) and corresponds to the nocturnal event of fecundity. While thrownness puts us in the tragic condition of being powerless faced with our historical sensible determination and subject to the given horizon of possibility that is opened up to us with our birth, fecundity frees our terrestrial condition from this tragic connotation. Indeed, fecundity is here situated in the context of an ontology that renounces every claim of totalization and, therefore, renounces the primary role of power in representing our relationship with the Other: “the primacy of sensible happiness over any condition of misfortune becomes intelligible only once the nocturnal event of fecundity is elucidated, which in turn opens up the sensible depth of our being-in-the-world. It is thus fecundity that exhausts the reference to power and allows us to grasp the depth of our foundation in being” (83).

Another important disagreement drawn by Moati concerns Sartre. It is true that for both Levinas and Sartre the Other cannot be the object of a phenomenological reduction because of his or her transcendence and the encounter with the other takes the form of a dispossession of the world. But in this disagreement, Sartre understands this dispossession as a kind of alienation from the world, while for Levinas it actually corresponds to the “real becoming an objective world” (135). Indeed, Levinas sees a world that is only possessed and not shared, a silent world without discourse, as a contradictory world that remains subjective and relative. Since sociality grounds our being in the world, sharing our possessions with the other becomes the realization of our humanity and does not imply for us any kind of loss. The world is always a common world.

The last comparison that Moati presents us with is the one with Derrida and focuses especially on Derrida’s essay Violence et métaphysique. First of all, Moati points out a misunderstanding concerning the concept of “transcendental violence” in Derrida’s reading of Totalité et Infini. This misunderstanding is caused by the different grasping of the concept of intentionality and egoity that the two authors have: while Derrida thinks about the ego in the ethical relation as a transcendental ego (even if, as we all know, he strongly criticizes the Husserlian idea of transcendental), Levinas is instead talking about a sensible ego. The critique Derrida addresses to Levinas on “transcendental violence” thus misses its addressee, since Levinas refuses to problematize the subject’s relation with the other in transcendental terms (181). Moreover, the most stimulating remark that is formulated by Moati in this comparison is for sure the one concerning their two different conceptions of eschatology, for this thematic directly relates to event philosophy. Roughly, the greatest difference between the two authors lies in the fact that Derrida thinks the infinite in eschatology as a negativity, an endless process of spacing produced by the infinite waiting for an Other that never comes. In other words, as an infinite différance. For Derrida history designates “the ever-unachieved work of transcendental constitution” and is to be understood as “opening up to a nonpresence at the heart of phenomenality” (186). On the other hand, eschatology “lies in history as the movement of overflowing the closure of finite sameness” (187). Quite the opposite, Levinas sees eschatology as a relation to positive infinity. The Other manifests his or her infinite transcendence to us in a positive way, without a negative withdrawing. For Levinas eschatology is not contained within history but rather suspends it, “not only in that the transcendent passage from finite totality to the positivity of the infinite happens through it, but also in that eschatology suspends any recourse to our constituent powers to deduce the event of the revelation of the infinite” (187).

I would like to underline this final remark. In his late works, starting with Psyché. Inventions de l’autre, Derrida explicitly mentions the event of the coming of the Other as a fundamental – even quasi-transcendental – element of our experience and the human condition. Nevertheless, for Derrida the Other never comes and should never come in order to keep open the empty space needed to welcome him or her. This is why the event is impossible for Derrida; its conditions of possibility are its condition of impossibility. Levinas’ nocturnal events, and above all the event of sociality allowing our relationship with the infinite transcendence of the Other, free us from the paradox of an impossible foundation of our experience and knowledge. Indeed, both in Derrida and Levinas, our theoretical openness is based on the previous ethical striving for the Other. But while the Levinasian ethics finds its foundation in the nocturnal event of sociality, Derrida always misses the fundamental encounter with the Other.

In the night of Being, the Derridean spectre of the impossible could be chased by invisible ghostbusters: the nocturnal events.


Levinas and the Night of Being is an outstanding work of research in which Raoul Moati fully develops the ontological and phenomenological consequences of the notion of “nocturnal event” – on which very few was previously written – and properly contextualizes Levinas production in the phenomenological frame. Moati’s reading of Levinas thus provides us with new conceptual instruments to understand the key concept of ethics and otherness, theoretical core of Totalité et Infini. Inlight of his knowledge of phenomenology and French philosophy, Moati manages to explain with a remarkable clarity what is Levinas’ relation toward Husserlian phenomenology and how it is developed in contemporary philosophy, while also presenting critical readings of his work, such as the Derridean argument. Even though the chapters dedicated to the reconstruction of the sensible ego’s relation to infinity give us a general glimpse of Levinasian main concepts, I would not suggest reading this book to first approach Levinas’ philosophy because of its complex critique of ontology and phenomenology. I would rather warmly suggest this reading to anyone who is already familiar with Levinasian ideas in general and with Totalité et Infini in particular. Indeed, Moati’s book not only helps us understanding his work by giving us a rigorous phenomenological context but it also prevents us from misreading Levinas as an anti-metaphysical or anti-ontological author. On the contrary, Moati shows us that an ontology is definitively possible insofar as we accept to also consider its nocturnal component.

Last but not least, I would like to spend a few words about Daniel Wyche’s translation as conclusion. Translating such a book is for sure not an easy task. Beyond the difficulties caused by philosophical jargon and complex argumentative structures there are several expressions in French, untranslatable in English, that should be rendered with neologism or directly rewritten in French. The most complex paragraphs may therefore prove more difficult to understand in the English version. It is maybe for this reason that the author chose to completely rewrite several passages exclusively for the English version. Overall, Wyche’s realized an elegant translation and managed to render in English concepts that are so idiosyncratically French. However, I would suggest to francophone readers to check also the original version, at least the least clear passages.

David Farrel Krell: Phantoms of the Other: Four Generations of Derrida’s Geschlecht

Phantoms of the Other: Four Generations of Derrida's Geschlecht Book Cover Phantoms of the Other: Four Generations of Derrida's Geschlecht
SUNY Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
David Farrell Krell
SUNY Press
Paperback $34.95

Reviewed by: Joeri Schrijvers (KU Leuven)

David Farrell Krell’s Phantoms of the Other. Four Generations of Derrida’s Geschlecht is an in-depth study of Derrida’s Auseinandersetzung with Heidegger. Krell takes Derrida’s Geschlecht-series as his starting-point to focus on Heidegger and Derrida’s “magnetization” (25, also 113) with the poetry of Georg Trakl. Heidegger’s preference for poetry and language is well-known but his fascination with Trakl really stands out as a bit odd nonetheless: what on earth has Heidegger seen in the poetry of this young, rather rough and dark, poet?

Krell examines Derrida’s series thoroughly and focuses on its missing never published third piece. Geschlecht I and II are published as the opening of Derrida’s Psyche. Inventions de l’autre II (Galilée 2003), the fourth features in Politiques de l’amitié (Galilée 1994), all of which were written in the eighties of the previous century. Around that time Derrida, prolific writer as he was, also was composing his De l’esprit. Heidegger et la question (Galilée 1987), which Krell treats in his chapter three. Of Geschlecht III, there exists only a typescript of thirty pages or so that Derrida handed out to the happy few present at a colloquium in Chicago in 1985. Krell contends that this typescript was drafted from a seminar on ‘Nationalité et nationalisme philosophiques: le fantôme de l’autre’ that Derrida held in Paris from 1984 through to 1985 (2-3). For this seminar, Derrida drafted 100 or so pages on Heidegger’s 1953 essay Die Sprache im Gedicht, now in Unterwegs zur Sprache (Neske 1975: 35-82). Derrida’s text, however, was never published and it is not sure whether it will be—later in his beautiful book Krell complains that next to no one can read Derrida’s handwriting (218).

In his Introduction, Krell examines Derrida’s early confrontations with Heidegger, the recently published “Heidegger: la question de l’être et de l’histoire” (Galilée 2013) is included, for example, in order to look for “anticipations of the Geschlecht-series” (16n.2). Here Krell examines what will become one of his book’s main themes namely, what he calls “Derrida’s hope” (ibid.)—readers of Derrida will note the pun: had not Derrida once written rather critically about “Heideggerian hope” (in Marges de la philosophie 1972: 29). These anticipations and this hope will prove to be rather similar in Heidegger and Derrida, and my point in what follows will be that Krell takes the similarity perhaps a bit too lightly. To be sure, Derrida has never hoped for a primary word, nor for a gathering that gathers all and most certainly not for a ‘destiny’ that this or that people would have chosen. Yet Derrida’s hope, “for a sexuality that is not trapped in and by dualities and duels” (ibid.), for a humankind, a Geschlecht that is, or becomes, one is surely one of Derrida’s greatest dreams that resists (even his) deconstruction.

It is here, with questioning Heidegger’s Dasein supposed neutrality, transcending sexual difference that Geschlecht I, which Krell discusses in his first chapter. All of us, of course, have been struck by Heidegger’s repeated claims of neutrality, by his dismissing embodiment, especially in Sein und Zeit, lest ‘Dasein’ is not a thing, not a body primarily, but rather describes the phenomenological gaze, shared equally by women and men, arising from out of being-in-the-world—I have ventured something of this sort in my own work (Schrijvers 2016: 25 and 194).

Of course, Derrida is right in saying that Heidegger neutralizes and in a sense neuters Dasein. “To pass from the masculine and the feminine to the neuter is clearly, for Heidegger, to pass toward the transcendental, toward a meditation on the conditions of possibility of the being of Dasein” (27): if the being of Dasein would be neither male nor female, then what is it? This neutral, transcendental vantage point has a striking resemblance to what Heidegger will later call the ‘split’, or ‘blows’ the one Geschlecht faces (Heidegger 1975: 49-50). There is obviously a bit of a fog when it comes to these ‘blows,’ and Derrida will not stop questioning and exploiting these ‘blows’ or ‘Schlage’ nor will he stop being puzzled by them. For the moment, let us track what Heidegger takes from Trakl: there would be (there would have been or there will be: this is what separates Derrida from Heidegger) one Geschlecht, one humanity (but Heidegger will exclude all Latinate words and things. Hence, Krell and Derrida note, there ‘will never have been’ oneness in the first place), that then receives a blow, and one becomes two: this is the male-female Schlag, a sort of twofold that is not yet conflictual. The conflict and the duel, Heidegger states, comes later (like the third party in Levinas patiently waits until the ‘ethical relation’ between the other and me has been dealt with) and then the Zwiefalt becomes Zwietracht: there will be men and women, friends and foes, families and tribes against other tribes. This, Heidegger will call, with Trakl, the “decomposition [Verwesenden] of the human Geschlecht” (Heidegger 1975: 50). Not so much ‘beyond essence’ but, as it were, ‘out of essence’.

All of this surely sounds a bit mythological and for some, still versed in that tradition, Christian even: for, doesn’t it echo a tradition that narrates a ‘paradisiac’ state without shame or reticence that rather quickly had fallen (but when?) into dispute, into jealously, into ‘male’ and ‘female’ to such a point that it wasn’t even sure who was to be ‘his brother’s keeper’? For this, we would have to wait for that other great unifier, Versammlung, of which Paul (who gathers by dividing!) said that he inaugurates a state in which there will be ‘neither male nor female, neither master nor slave’ (but when?).

Heidegger makes no mention of these echoes of Christianity; Derrida, an Algerian Jew no less, will point them out to us. In his reading of Hölderlin, no less than in his reading of Trakl, the former theologian Heidegger will pretend not to know what this ‘bread and wine’ theme is all about. Derrida worries about this gesture: is this “not the classic metaphysical problem, namely, the attempt to ground negativity and dispersion on what ought to have been purely positive and unified” (35) and is not this metaphysics, with Heidegger, primarily Christian (and also without Heidegger of course: why else would he be in denial and/or repeating it, unbeknownst to himself)? These questions, Krell argues, would have prevailed in the Geschlecht III (43-45).

The second chapter, on Geschlecht II, is again a patient summary and meditation on Derrida’s piece on Heidegger’s imagery of ‘the hand’. Derrida’s hope “for a love where no quarrel can arise” (17) is here framed against Heidegger’s thinking of the hand, of handiwork and all things zuhanden. Why, Krell asks, is there again no mention of “loving hands” (50) in Heidegger, of handshakes perhaps, but of course also (and again) of caress, of sexual giving and taking? Derrida mentions Heidegger’s obsession with the hand in the singular, with apes who ‘have no hand’, but here again: is one always better than two? And would not “the folding of two hands into one, that is, into the gestures of pointing, signifying, praying and gathering” (58) deserve at least equal attention than, for instance, the ‘holding hands’ of lovers: why would these hands not form a unity and a gathering just the same? Yet, even though Krell notes how this “become[s] a crucial question for Derrida” (50) as well as for himself this early in the book, it already appears that these themes of love, of the sister, and of hope in general are suggested and intimated by Krell rather than straightforwardly addressed. This reader, at least, was a bit disappointed on that score, although Krell’s writing, humble, modest and suggestive as it is, is surely a strongpoint of the book. Countless are the ‘if I may’s, the ‘if I am allowed’s that preface a remark or a critique by Krell, who sometimes wants to side with Heidegger rather than simply follow Derrida (e.g. 87, 92, 116, 118 and so on).

I am not entirely convinced by Krell’s third chapter on Derrida’s De l’esprit. Krell contends that its importance is obvious from the fact that it was composed, more or less, at the same time Geschlecht III was drafted. Yet its themes and concerns seem to lie elsewhere. I remember the imagined dialogue in De l’esprit between Heidegger and the theologians fondly as one more example of how Heidegger’s thinking was at times being deconstructed by the Christianity he wanted to avoid. Krell, too, notes some important convergences between Heidegger and Derrida on this matter. Heidegger’s thinking about language shares the same paradox as Derrida’s question about the question: Heidegger was very much aware that to ask about the being of language, that “relation of all relations” (Heidegger 1975: 215), is only possible by already using language, just as Derrida’s questioning of the primacy of questioning, rather than of hearing or being addressed, is a similar way of a snake eating its tail (75). In the end, Krell too, concedes that De l’esprit is less radical than the Geschlecht series (85).

Nonetheless, we should recall that the third Geschlecht stems from a seminar on ‘philosophical nationalism’. Derrida’s remarks on Husserl’s Eurocentrism and, shall we say, his rather xenophobic remarks about gypsies should make us pause and think, beyond philosophical ‘scientificity’ (Derrida 1987: 94-95): it might be used to not too quickly condemn and judge Heidegger, for instance (not before reading him, that is) and to realize that, whatever neutral, transcendental vantage point we might desire to reach, this is not possible without somehow our locale and our context creeping in into our very desire for transcendentality—after all, one does not choose one’s metaphysics nor does one control how such a metaphysics could be overcome.

Chapter four turns to Derrida’s Geschlecht IV, where Derrida’s critique of Heidegger’s preference for ‘gathering’ and ‘unifying’ gains its full force. The problem with this gathering is that it gathers everything, “love or hate, amity or discord, peace or war—it does not really matter, it all gets gathered. One is all. For a thinker of différance, this is a nightmare” (125). Levinas, too, will criticize Heidegger for this: the ontological difference would have gathered both the same and the other, leaving no room for this Other to leave the ‘train of being’. Very true, this, but the opposite tendency might be just as well oppressive, for if nothing ever gets gathered, nothing ever gets united, we might lose the ability for reconciliation, for a certain dialectic perhaps, just the same. Hence, if I may, my critique of Derrida: whereas all naming might be a gathering of differences, not all gathering is just such an inappropriate naming (Schrijvers 2016: 352n.40). Sometimes, contra Derrida, the philosopher should simply try to say and name what ‘is’; and this ‘is’, of course, is ‘of the essence’. Perhaps not all differences can and should be gathered under the general heading of différance.

Krell contends that Derrida’s Politiques de l’amitié gestures toward the missing Geschlecht and its question about Heidegger’s desire to unite “what can distinguish between those two strokes that have struck our Geschlecht, the first, which coins a more gentle twofold, and the second, which condemns [it] to discord [?]” (129). How and when does the neutral “duality” become a malignant “discord” and duel (96), or: from whence and why this being chased out of paradise (see 162)?

Chapter five focuses on the thirty pages Derrida handed out to the participants in the colloquium in Chicago, entitled Geschlecht III. Here Derrida argues that in Heidegger’s reading of Trakl something similar occurs: on the one hand, there is the simple, traditional commentary of poetry (Erläuterung). On the other hand, Heidegger wants nothing to do with these commentaries, focusing on ontic affairs (such as biography for instance) and attempts what he calls an Erörterung, a ‘placement’ of the one poem that Trakl wanted to poetize and bring to speech. Just as every thinker truly has one thought, so Heidegger thinks that every real poet has but one poem. For Heidegger, obviously, there would be a rigorous difference between the two: the one ontic (and many), the other ontological, one might say: neutral (and one). For Derrida, however, such a neat distinction simply cannot be—if there is this one poem of Trakl (s’il y en a indeed) then some insight surely is to be gathered from his biography, from his coke addiction for instance (of which Heidegger says nothing), of his suicide (probably from an overdose, but Heidegger, again, remains silent), from his relation to his sister Gretl (again, of which Heidegger says next to nothing). One can see that the two realms are endlessly interspersed and there would be no way to distinguish them once and for all: their relation is in deferral and can in no way be denied. Krell comments: “For Derrida dissemination leaves only traces of sense, recognizing as it does the archaic non-origin of all meaning, for Heidegger dissemination is that paradox of an [essence] that peters out in a scattering of forces, a kind of ontic-existentiel entropy” (137).

The second blow to ‘humanity’ “irrupt[s] from the discord of the sexes” (163) and strikes everywhere, invading even, for Heidegger, das Geschwisterliche (Heidegger 1975: 60): it is no less than a plague—Heidegger mentions the Greek word, he could (and perhaps should) have mentioned the Hebrew. Heidegger, of course, pays no attention to the rumours of incest that surrounds the relation between the two Trakl’s, Gretl and Georg. Heidegger’s dream, for Krell, is the dream for a “new Geschlecht” (159), restored from out of the return of a (new) dawn, of a childlike state of being (before sex, neutral in any case to the question of sexual difference) (163). Krell asks, rightly, “does the poet ever dream Heidegger’s dream?” (165) and then, without further ado, wrongly I think, relegates the dream of Heidegger to the “utterly phantasmatic” (169). The chapter concludes with Derrida’s rather deft deconstruction of the difference between the ontological and the sexual difference: “it [is] impossible […] to keep these blows apart [and] equally impossible to deny that sexual difference and ontological difference are structurally identical. [If] the difference between being and beings, which is initially granted in Western history, is soon cursed by oblivion of being, so too is sexual difference initially granted, only to be cursed at some point by discord and dissension” (167). This, again, should make us pause and think about whether that which Heidegger wants to avoid—sex, Christianity, metaphysics—is not always that neatly avoided. The ontic and empirical—our history, our biography—penetrates the ontological.

Chapter six treats the hundred or so pages of Derrida’s seminar on nationalism that served as the inspiration for the thirty pages of Geschlecht III. These pages are now deposited in the archive in Caen where ‘Derrida’ is gathered. For the time being, Krell wants us to pause by “the coldness of Heidegger’s reasoning” (181), when stating that nothing is lost when this decomposing Geschlecht will have made its way onto a new dawn and a new gathering. There, supposedly, is a clear-cut between our past and our future. And even if Trakl mentions the “unborn grandchildren” in his last poem, written right after witnessing first-hand the horrors of the world war, then Heidegger will continue stating, in his ‘placement’ of Trakl, that these “are by no means the unengendered sons of the sons who have fallen” (Heidegger 1975, 65, Krell, 181). Something as ontic as the war surely will not have changed the one poem that Trakl needed to write. Heidegger’s attention goes to the ‘one Geschlecht’ that will rise from this new dawn, and here too this “resurrection” seems to have nothing to do with Christianity, nor, as Krell notes, with the lovers who Trakl nonetheless seems to intend (183). Derrida offers a benevolent but penetrating reading of the relations between women and men in this paradisiac state Heidegger is aiming for and states that, prior to the second evil blow, there would have been a sexual difference not yet disturbed by duel and discord. The typescript breaks off with the following enigmatic lines: “this relation between brother and sister is thus not asexual, but is a sexual relation within a difference that is without dissension” (184). Derrida and Heidegger’s hope, in a sense, coalesce. Here, in this fraternal moment, a moment of love, a relation to the other is envisioned in which our Geschlecht is set aright again, as in a “third stroke” (185), where the Geschlecht is one and where all are “brother to the brother” and “brother to the sister” in and through a sexual difference that is not a matter of discord anymore.

Such a dream means trouble nonetheless. On the one hand, Heidegger seeks to abolish the univocity brought about by technology and the current Gestell; on the other hand, the univocity of the Geschlecht remains something to be hoped for… Derrida does not sleep (or dream) lightly however and, in the typescript, likens such a paradisiac state to death. “Death lies in wait in on both sides,” he states, “with the phantasm of the integrity of the proper place and the innocence of a sexual difference without war, and also on the opposite side, that of impropriety or radical expropriation” (189). It is as if Derrida is voicing common sense (imagine!): it can’t be all good, but neither is it all bad. There is neither a paradise without the duel and the discord and yet the dual is not war and conflict all the way down. The place of life is in the movement between the two, between the dual and the dual. As long as there is movement, there is no death. In Heidegger, though, Derrida rightly perceives “the grand logic of philosophy […] still at work” (189) or, in Krell’s words, “a confidence in the purity and mutual exclusion of opposites” (190).

Heidegger dreams of a more originary dawn and future for us mortals, separating as it were the days and the nights, the heavens and the earth in a clear-cut manner (and so repeating a gesture of the Judeo-Christian tradition whilst silencing this tradition). Derrida, however, has a few qualms about such a “more originary repetition” (190). This is where the dreams of Derrida and Heidegger separate: while Heidegger explains away all references to Christianity in Trakl’s poems, Derrida offers a reading of them that will shock not a few theologians. Heidegger asked why Trakl’s last poems of horror do not call upon God if this poet is so decidedly Christian, calling for the sister instead (Heidegger 1975: 76)? Derrida answers, to his students, that “if they would grant him a bit of time he could show that the figure of the sister and that of Christ could in fact be substituted” (191).

Let us cite the passage in full:

“Son of God, Christ is the brother of all men and all women; he is simultaneously the image or the intercessor of the father. Yet he is a brother whose virility is never simply manifest or unilateral, a brother who presents himself within an aura of universal homosexuality, or in a sexual difference that has been appeased, pacified […] thus a brother who can be nothing other than a sister” (192-3).

The passage goes on: is this “not the essence of a relation to Christ, the essence or at least the destination, [the] entire Christian experience of the Holy Family, which is to say, of any and every family” (193)? Christ, being simultaneously both father and mother, or brother and sister, would then, for Trakl (and for a certain Derrida) be the one that gathers all and everything. Theology is rife, of course, with suggestions about Christ’s sexuality, gathering twelve fishermen around him, dwelling with prostitutes of the likes of a Mary Magdalene and with an institution that (more or less) condones homosexuality but abhors it when such sexuality would not be appeased or at all pacified.

Be that as it may, Derrida comments that in Heidegger “both Christian and Jews might well be happy to latch onto this moment […] as the affirmation of some sort of messianism” (199). But we know that messianism was not foreign to Derrida either. For Heidegger, though, this messianism as “the transition [of the West] to its matutinal essence” (ibid.) is a return to what once was. For Derrida, such a return is phantasmatic, that is, “a return to something that never was, an impossible return to a past that never was present” in the first place (229). No early Greeks, no pre-Socratics, no originary experience of being, no experience of a soft and tender childhood will tell us how to be our being.

But Derrida does dream, however, and Krell argues that “the entire Geschlecht series is magnetized by such a promise—the promise of a radically different sexuality for the future of humankind” (199). Derrida is not, for all that, laughing at Heidegger’s phantasm of a newly found childhood for humanity but “takes Heidegger’s effort […] quite seriously” by pondering that “it is perhaps when the sexual sense separates itself and determines itself as only sexual that discord appears” (204). Then, one might say, it is when eros separates itself from agape, that love is lost and one simply lusts (and vice versa perhaps: an agape without eros would not be love proper). Love, from then on (but when…?), is intermingled with instrumentality, with the techné of a Don Juan as it were. The question to Derrida here, of course, is, how can we name that difference? How can we state it phenomenologically: when and “how does the stroke strike” (207)?

Derrida takes Heidegger seriously, which in itself should be one of the lessons gained from Krell’s book. His “generous” reading will also try to see that Heidegger is not simply lamenting a lost and bygone era, but rather that Heidegger “is calling for, rather than to, a possibility” (217). In effect, what matters for Heidegger is more the transition to something new, a new gathering of being and beings, rather than a simple return to a phantasmatic past. It is such a transition, which dawns upon us a possibility precisely, that permeates Heidegger’s call out of technology and out of metaphysics. Krell, as we will see, is a bit too pessimistic about the possibility of this transition in Heidegger. Heidegger’s was not a revolutionary spirit for whom all that is past is bad and all that will come is good. Derrida, too, pondered this possibility, late in his life especially, and argues for the following: even though the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ stoke are always intertwined, even though there is no specific ‘beginning’ or ‘end’ to it, one might always hope for ‘moments’ of peaceful fraternity, of, well, democratic fervor for fraternity, equality and freedom in a “brotherland” (218). Following this, it is a bit odd that Krell does not turn to Derrida’s reservations about fraternity and community, notably in his Voyous (2003). Such a sexual difference, or such ontological differences over sexuality, has repercussions for the ontological difference too: not the one, grand history and sending of being, but rather “multiple sendings, sending of the other and of others”, of otherness, perhaps, in general and essentially (211).

Krell inserts Trakl into the debate in his final chapter, focusing primarily on his relation to his enigmatic sister, Gretl. Krell returns to Heidegger’s “coldness” when it comes to our falling Geschlecht and states that “Trakl does not dream of the demise of any Geschlecht” (231). It is in effect more than likely that it was the horrors of the battlefield that caused his own demise. There is no doubt that Heidegger could be harsh in his judgement of people, of persons and of era. There is however another Heidegger too, one for which the past is not simply a Christian, ontotheological mistake, but whom rather calls to a patient transformation of that past, for a meditation on the possibilities that lie dormant in these traditions, very much like Derrida’s deconstruction is the hornet on the back of those traditions rather than simply being ‘against tradition’. Heidegger, in Unterwegs zur Sprache, wrote that “die wahre Zeit ist Ankunft des Gewesenen” (Heidegger 1975: 75) and has, in other writings where he was on the way to language just as well, made clear just how to envision such an arrival of what was: “Gewesenheit darf aber nicht als Vergangenheit begriffen werden”—that which has been is never simply past. On the contrary, Heidegger argues, “it has always already grasped over every today and now: it essences as tradition” (GA38, 117; Heidegger 2009, 100). Concerning this matter of the Verwindung of a certain history, Heidegger and Derrida are closer than expected. This would mean that we cannot comprehend the call for a ‘brotherland’ without the call (back) to our past, our metaphysics and our discords (and all the phantasmatic risks involved). Here too, not the one without the other. Derrida, too, would have known that no one ultimately is immune for a certain nostalgia, and a certain hope.

That would be my small bit of critique of Krell’s remarkable book, the ease with which it is prepared to call Heidegger’s other thinking a phantasm (e.g. 238) and the concomitant silence about Derrida’s doubts, elsewhere, about fraternity. Far from a phantasmatic either/or on this score, Heidegger would never have “banish[ed] th[e] tradition” (241): it is certainly true that Heidegger wanted to ‘overcome’ and even abandon Christianity, but he also said that this metaphysics would be overturned very, very slowly (if at all), and since a lot of this metaphysics is Christian, there is thus no way, in Heidegger, to banish and bar the Christian tradition. What dawns upon us as lying ahead of us, is precisely an Abbau or deconstruction of Christianity.

Krell has written a magnificent book: at times it is a true adventure in thinking. We should call ourselves lucky that he has not been “dashing off to meetings” (Krell 2013, 6, also 75 and 149) too much lately. Another book of his is out, on the Black Notebooks this time, and my copy is on its way. Let us, to conclude ponder the motto of this fine book, on Derrida’s dream, Derrida’s dreaming, and the nature of dreaming: “does not the dream, all by itself, demonstrate, that of which it is dreaming” (200)? Or, to quote another thinker that received Heidegger’s cold gaze, pondering the nature of love and imagination: “in jener ‘Einbildung’ enthüllt sich nämlich ein anthropologischer Wezenszug” (Binswanger 1993, 298).


Binswanger, Ludwig. Grundformen und Erkenntnis des menschlichen Daseins (Heidelberg: Asanger, 1993).

Derrida, Jacques. Marges de la philosophie (Paris: Minuit, 1972).

Derrida, Jacques. De l’esprit. Heidegger et la question (Paris: Galilée, 1987).

Derrida, Jacques. Politiques de l’amitié (Paris: Galilée, 1994).

Derrida, Jacques. Psyche. Inventions de l’autre II (Paris: Galilée, 2003).

Derrida, Jacques. Voyous. Deux essais sur la raison (Paris: Galilée, 2003).

Krell, David Farrel. Derrida and our Animal Others. Derrida’s Final Seminar, The Beast and the Sovereign (Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 2013).

Heidegger, Martin. Unterwegs zur Sprache (Pfüllingen: Neske, 1975).

Heidegger, Martin. Logik als die Frage nach dem Wesen der Sprache (Frankfurt a. M: Klostermann, 1998).

Heidegger, Martin. Logic as the Question Concerning the Essence of Language, trans. W.T. Gregory and Y. Unna (New York: SUNY Press, 2009).

Schrijvers, Joeri. Between Faith and Belief. Toward A Contemporary Phenomenology of Religious Life (New York: SUNY Press, 2016).

Iris Elisabeth Laner: Revisionen der Zeitlichkeit: Zur Phänomenologie des Bildes nach Husserl, Derrida und Merleau-Ponty, Wilhelm Fink, 2017

Revisionen der Zeitlichkeit: Zur Phänomenologie des Bildes nach Husserl, Derrida und Merleau-Ponty Book Cover Revisionen der Zeitlichkeit: Zur Phänomenologie des Bildes nach Husserl, Derrida und Merleau-Ponty
Phänomenologische Untersuchungen, Band: 33
Iris Elisabeth Laner
Wilhelm Fink

Françoise Dastur: Déconstruction et phénoménologie. Derrida en débat avec Husserl et Heidegger

Déconstruction et phénoménologie: Derrida en débat avec Husserl et Heidegger Book Cover Déconstruction et phénoménologie: Derrida en débat avec Husserl et Heidegger
Le Bel Aujourd'hui
Françoise Dastur
Broché 34,00 €

Reviewed by: Innocenzo Sergio Genovesi (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn)

Sorry, this entry is only available in Italian. For the sake of viewer convenience, the content is shown below in the alternative language. You may click the link to switch the active language.

Derrida ha sempre presentato la sua filosofia come una scrittura a margine. Questo margine non corrisponde soltanto ai limiti della logica e della metafisica occidentale, che il filosofo francese cerca di destabilizzare dall’interno mettendo alla prova le strutture piú antiche e consolidate del pensiero. I “margini della filosofia” sui quali Derrida scrive sono i margini tangibili dei volumi dei classici filosofici: si tratta degli spazi bianchi non coperti dal testo stampato, della spaziatura tra le righe e le lettere, la quale apre nuove possibilità per una scrittura della disseminazione e per un pensiero della differenza rimasto ancora “inaudito”. Lo studioso di Derrida che si sia cimentato a sufficienza nella decifrazione di queste note a margine avrà senza ombra di dubbio compreso che la scrittura derridiana è sempre scrittura sopra e a partire da un testo. In questo modo, per Derrida la lettura di un autore va a coincidere fin da subito con un’operazione di scrittura. Cercare di enumerare tutti gli autori nei quali è possibile imbattersi all’interno della sterminata produzione derridiana sarebbe un’impresa filologica molto ambiziosa. Tuttavia, è noto che Derrida abbia nutrito una certa predilezione per alcuni autori le cui opere sono al centro degli scritti più conosciuti del filosofo francese: si pensi a Nietzsche, Levinas, Platone o Blanchot, solo a titolo d’esempio.

Nel suo libro Déconstruction et phénoménologie. Derrida en débat avec Husserl et Heidegger Françoise Dastur prende in considerazione due tra i filosofi che maggiormente hanno influito sul pensiero derridiano, se non addirittura le colonne portanti su cui si è sviluppato il pensiero della différance. Questi pensatori hanno segnato il debutto filosofico di Derrida come fenomenologo e hanno accompagnato il suo percorso fino alla fase di produzione più tarda, rimanendo rintracciabili in maniera più o meno esplicita anche nei suoi ultimi testi. Il lavoro della Dastur si prefigge di indagare il rapporto tra Derrida e questi due autori e di capire in che misura egli si sia allontanato dal loro pensiero nella sua operazione di riscrittura. L’investigazione è condotta con una raffinatezza analitica e una precisione filologica lodevoli. Grazie alla sua profonda conoscenza delle opere dei tre autori Françoise Dastur ci offre l’opportunità non solo di rintracciare con precisione nei testi dei filosofi tedeschi i luoghi di nascita delle future intuizioni derridiane, ma anche di comprendere se e quanto Derrida abbia ricostruito con fedeltà le idee dei suoi maestri nel momento in cui le ha presentate nei suoi testi. La decostruzione delle principali idee husserliane e heideggeriane è spesso dipinta come una specie di parricidio nel quale Derrida sovverte i sistemi filosofici dei suoi maestri servendosi dei mezzi teorici che questi stessi gli hanno dato. L’opera di Dastur ci mostra adesso che questo parricidio potrebbe in realtà non essere mai avvenuto e Husserl e Heidegger siano più vicini di quanto si creda al pensiero della différance.

Il libro si divide in tre parti. La prima e l’ultima sono dedicate rispettivamente al dialogo con Husserl e Heidegger. La parte centrale si propone invece come un terreno comune di confronto tra i tre filosofi. Il principale motivo di interesse di Derrida per Husserl è rintracciato nella discussione delle tematiche riguardanti la finitudine, la ripetizione e la presenza. Françoise Dastur sostiene infatti che il dibattito tra Derrida e Husserl corrisponda al dibattito generale tra la filosofia della presenza e il pensiero della non presenza (p. 37). L’accusa ben nota che Derrida rivolge a Husserl è di essere incapace di pensare la possibilità della propria sparizione e della propria morte. In altre parole, di non saper concepire la differenza originaria che si cela dietro alla presenza in generale; differenza che Derrida ha messo in relazione con la diacronicità della ritenzione e della ripresentazione in La voce e il fenomeno. Sono proprio queste strutture della costituzione temporale husserliana che catturano l’attenzione dell’autrice. In un’attenta analisi di La voce e il fenomeno, la studiosa osserva che l’idea derridiana di ritenzione e ripresentazione si basa proprio su una concezione discontinua del tempo come diacronia. Questa concezione non è tuttavia condivisa da Husserl, che ha piuttosto pensato la temporalità come un processo di autodifferenziazione continuo. Dastur evidenzia questo fatto richiamandosi alle Lezioni del 1905, dove Husserl sviluppa una concezione del tempo basata sulla differenza tra l’adesso – l’istante immediato – e il presente vivente, che comprende anche il passato appena trascorso e il futuro prossimo. Questa teoria della temporalità era stata utilizzata da Derrida contro Husserl in La voce e il fenomeno per criticare la sua teoria dell’idealità dei significati e per affermare l’originarietá della différance. Dastur rimarca con impegno che anche per lo stesso Husserl il presente vivente rinvia a un’alterità che si insinua nell’identità a sé del soggetto (p. 88 sg.), senza però che egli adotti una concezione discontinua del tempo: Husserl parla infatti di una modificazione continua della stessa impressione originaria nella coscienza. Françoise Dastur ci mette così di fronte al fatto che per decostruire la fenomenolgia in quanto “metafisica della presenza” Derrida deve uscire da essa, o per lo meno porsi al suo margine, e servirsi di un pensiero dell’alterità che viene assimilato alla “metafisica dell’esteriorità” levinassiana: è proprio l’alterità, vale a dire l’esteriorità, che costituisce la struttura diacronica dell’esperienza che non può mai essere totalizzata (p. 90).

Venendo al rapporto tra Heidegger e Derrida, il punto di contatto e di scontro più significativo è riconosciuto nel concetto di differenza nelle sue più svariate accezioni. Derrida ha illustrato in numerosi testi il suo debito nei confronti di Heidegger nel momento in cui ha coniato i due termini chiave della sua filosofia: decostruzione e differenza. La parola decostruzione vuole infatti tradurre l’Ab-bau heideggeriano, mentre la différance si pone fin da subito come un ampliamento della differenza ontologica. Dastur richiama all’attenzione che è proprio per via di questo pensiero della differenza come distinzione dell’essente in rapporto all’essere che Heidegger ricade, agli occhi di Derrida, nella metafisica della presenza e rimane più un pensatore dell’essere che della differenza (p. 116). Come è noto, le discordanze in fatto di differenza non si limitano soltanto all’ontologia. Anche i casi della differenza tra uomo e animale e della differenza sessuale, a cui Derrida ha dedicato svariati saggi a partire dagli anni ’80, sono riportati con grande accuratezza e l’esposizione è impreziosita dalla testimonianza personale dell’autrice, che era presente al convegno Reading Heidegger tenutosi nel 1986 a Colchester, dove Derrida tenne un lungo intervento. La domanda fondamentale che porta all’allontanamento di Derrida rispetto a Heidegger può essere generalizzata in questo modo: se vi è un primato dell’essere (ontologia), o della comprensione dell’essere da parte del Dasein umano (umanismo) o della neturalità del Dasein (differenza sessuale), in che momento e come può instillarsi una differenza in questo elemento primordiale? Come è successo nel dialogo con Husserl, anche qui sorge un problema genetico che porta Derrida a rifiutare la priorità di un pensiero dell’essere. La conseguenze di questo gesto risiedono da una parte nella negazione di unadistinzione tra uomo e animale basata sulla comprensione dell’essere da parte del primo, dall’altro nella rinuncia all’estromissione della sessualità dalla struttura essenziale del Dasein.

Sebbene la trattazione di questo problema teorico mantenga la sua ragion d’essere anche al di là del rispetto filologico del testo heideggeriano, Dastur ci mostra che la relegazione di Heidegger nel territorio della metafisica della presenza che opera Derrida è probabilmente troppo drastica e non tiene sufficientemente in considerazione gli sviluppi della filosofia heideggeriana dopo la Kehre. Facendo riferimento al testo Identità e differenza, apparso in tedesco nel 1957, l’autrice suggerisce che Heidegger, utilizzando gli strumenti offerti dalla lingua tedesca, voglia compiere un’operazione simile alla sostituzione derridiana della lettera e con la a nella parola différance: ridefinendo la differenza come entbergend-bergender Austrag e come Unter-schied egli fornisce infatti una nozione dinamica e processuale della differenza, secondo la quale essa non trova più origine nella trascendenza del Dasein, ma si presenta in maniera più originaria come una doppia piega dell’essere e dell’essente che li rende inseparabili l’uno dall’altro (pp. 129-130). Questa differenza non è più la relazione tra due termini dati, ma è l’accadere simultaneo della loro separazione e messa in relazione. In altre parole, anche nel secondo Heidegger, proprio come in Derrida, una differenza giace alla base dell’essere e della sua presentazione. Questo fatto risulta chiaro anche dallo sviluppo parallelo dei concetti di Ereignis ed Enteignis, per cui l’evento come coappartenenza di uomo ed essere si configura non solo come un’appropriazione, ma anche come espropriazione e privazione. L’elemento che in ogni caso distingue i due filosofi è il loro rapporto con la presenza: Heidegger non ha mai formulato un differimento all’infinito della presenza e non ha intenzione di mettere in questione il primato della presenza, che è la forma del darsi dell’essere nell’essente. Per questo motivo Dastur definisce Derrida come «il pensatore dell’assenza della presenza, di una presenza indefinitamente differita» e Heidegger come quello della «presenza dell’assenza, dell’estraneità dell’essente che emerge dal niente ed è portato dal niente» (p. 132).

La sezione del libro dedicata al confronto comune tra Husserl, Heidegger e Derrida mette bene in luce le sfide che il Derrida fenomenologo ha dovuto affrontare e i punti di distacco del suo pensiero rispetto all’impostazione fenomenologica in generale. Le questioni più controverse riguardano, com’è naturale aspettarsi, i problemi dell’origine e della temporalità, che trasposti su un terreno di studio più concreto corrispondono ai problemi della teologia e della storicità. Dastur evidenzia in maniera molto chiara che la differenza fondamentale tra Derrida e i due pensatori tedeschi risiede nel dato di fatto che la decostruzione non è un’analisi, ossia una regressione che porta a un’origine indecomponibile (p. 86). Non si cerca quindi di arrivare a un’elemento primo della nostra esperienza del mondo, cosa che il tardo Husserl vuole fare riabilitando l’esperienza antipredicativa della doxa e Heidegger ritornando alle esperienze originarie a partire dalle quali sono state definite le prime determinazioni dell’essere. Dal punto di vista del discorso sulla deità, questa rinuncia all’origine e alla validità fondamentale di un principio dei principi ha portato ad assimilare il pensiero derridiano della traccia e della differenza a una teologia negativa, cosa che in Husserl e Heidegger non può trovare luogo: da una parte infatti nella fenomenologia trascendentale la forma irriducibile di tutta l’esperienza, vale a dire l’egoità, precede anche la deità; dall’altra anche l’ontologia heideggeriana mostra di pensare la divinità al di là della totalità dell’essente, ma non dell’essere. Analogamente, trasponendo questo procedimento sul campo della storicità, Dastur ci fa vedere come il rifiuto di un’origine trascendentale e di una concezione ermeneutica e totalizzante dell’essere portano Derrida a respingere sia la proposta husserliana di una “storia trascendentale”, intesa come storia di ciò che rimane identico e può essere indefinitamente ripetuto, sia l’idea heideggeriana di una storia dell’essere, ossia della comprensione e riappropriazione dell’essere da parte del Dasein e del suo ritorno ad esso. Rinunciando a ogni originarietà, Derrida concepisce piuttosto la storia come gioco e scrittura della disseminazione: «Se ogni segno è una marca e quindi una ri-marca nella misura in cui essa non è originaria, se non vi sono che delle marche derivate, allora non è possibile stabilire tra di loro una gerarchia, né pensare la storia nella forma di un flusso continuo di tempo» (p. 105).

Déconstruction et phénoménologie. Derrida en débat avec Husserl et Heidegger è un’opera illuminante che ci offre la possibilità di ripensare il rapporto di Derrida con i suoi maestri e delinea una specie di map of misreading, o meglio una mappa della disseminazione che il filosofo della différance ha operato sul testo di Husserl e Heidegger. Se infatti la filosofia derridiana non può darsi che come scrittura della disseminazione, bisogna tener conto che ogni sua lettura e ogni sua scrittura a margine sono in una certa misura un misreading e un miswriting. Françoise Dastur evidenzia senza possibilità di fraintendimento quali sono a suo avviso i punti in cui Derrida si è tenuto fedele al testo e quali quelli dove un certo détournement è avvenuto, restituendoci le idee dei filosofi tedeschi al di qua della loro ricostruzione e decostruzione derridiana. Così facendo, l’autrice ci mostra come certe contrapposizioni teoriche siano state spesso esagerate o forzate e suggerisce che Husserl e Heidegger siano più vicini al pensiero della differenza di quanto si possa pensare. Ciò nonostante, anche i punti di distacco sono presentati con precisione inequivocabile, evitando di ricondurre i tre autori a un unico pensiero della differenza e salvaguardando l’originalità di ognuno.

Questa restituzione del pensiero di Husserl e Heidegger è sicuramente il punto di pregio più apprezzabile dell’opera, che in generale si presenta come uno studio rigoroso e accurato. Ciò che avrebbe potuto essere sottolineato con maggiore chiarezza e vigore è il passo in avanti che Derrida ha compiuto rispetto ai suoi predecessori attraverso la decostruzione e il pensiero dell’evento e che lo ha reso, come ha scritto giustamente Dastur, un pensatore dell’«assenza della presenza». Derrida riconosce con grande onestà intellettuale e con una certa ironia (che ha spesso portato al fraintendimento dei suoi testi) la paradossalità fondamentale di qualunque fenomenlogia genetica dell’origine e di ogni pensiero ermeneutico della riappropriazione e della riconduzione dell’altro al medesimo. Per questo motivo Derrida si distacca dalla concezione heideggeriana dell’Ereignis come coappartenenza di uomo ed essere e rappresenta l’événement come una venuta impossibile dell’Altro che non riusciamo a comprendere. È proprio questo messianismo senza messianismo o messianismo deserto di cui Derrida parla in Marx and Sons e in altri testi della sua produzione più tarda che rappresenta il motivo di allontanamento più pronunciato rispetto ai suoi maestri. Su questo punto cercare una comunicazione e un’apertura verso i suoi predecessori si rivela un compito difficilmente sostenibile, perché è proprio attraverso l’idea di una differenza e di un evento indecostruibili che Derrida vuole inaugurare un pensiero della (quasi-) origine e del (quasi-) trascendentale che rinunci definitivamente a una fondazione nell’egoità o nel Dasein.

Jacques Derrida: Heidegger: The Question of Being and History

Heidegger: The Question of Being and History Book Cover Heidegger: The Question of Being and History
Jacques Derrida. Translated by Geoffrey Bennington
University of Chicago Press
Cloth $40.00

Reviewed by: George Webster (University of Warwick)

In the academic year of 1964-65, Derrida taught two courses at the École Normale Supérieure: an agrégation course on ‘The Theory of Signification in the Logical Investigations and Ideen I’ and ‘Heidegger: The Question of Being and History’. Having fulfilled his curricular obligations with the former, it was Derrida’s own interests that governed the choosing and development of the latter. This volume, painstakingly transcribed and translated from Derrida’s own handwritten notes, therefore provides a glimpse into some of the earliest workings of Derrida’s thought.

Given through nine sessions, this lecture course is concerned with rendering apparent the essential link between being and history (referred to as ‘historicity,’ to avoid confusion with the academic discipline and actual world history) throughout Heidegger’s thought. As to it’s broad construction, sessions one-through-six of the lecture series constitutes an introduction to the titular concepts, Heidegger’s approach, and an account of the ways in which Heidegger breaks from two other prominent philosophical reflections on historicity – those of Hegel and Husserl. Sessions six-through-nine feature Derrida’s examination of the role of historicity in Being and Time (henceforth BT) as well as Heidegger’s corresponding critique of Western thought.

In his introductory session, Derrida focuses on the use of the word ‘being’ in his course title over that of ‘ontology’. He forwards the view that Heidegger’s destruction (Destruktion) of the history of ontology (initiated in BT) develops into the rejection of the very notion of ontology itself as Heidegger’s thought matures. This session also features the first of many comparisons with Hegel. Here Derrida clarifies Heidegger’s method of Destruktion by contrasting it with Hegelian dialectical refutation (Widerlegung). He demonstrates that whilst Hegelian Widerlegung gathers up and sublimates its previous elements in the process of producing a higher philosophy (3), Destruktion is a ‘deconstruction’ or ‘solicitation’ that reveals what is hidden within the structures of philosophical thought (9).

In his second lecture, Derrida turns to the place of the term ‘history’ in his course title. He explains that Heidegger is perhaps the first philosopher to identify an essential relation between being and history and highlights two basic ‘assurances’ (41) that betray the essential historicity of being. First, the fact that we are ‘always already’ linguistically familiar with the meaning of being in some preliminary fashion (42-3). Second, the fact that Dasein is the being that is interrogated (Befragtes) within the question of the meaning of being (46).

In session three, Derrida pauses to explore an implication of the first assurance just outlined: the connection between being and language. As he examines the role of metaphor in Heidegger’s thought, Derrida masterfully decodes the famous Heideggerian statement that ‘language is the house of being’ (57-9). Derrida suggests that, on Heidegger’s view, metaphor obscures the meaning of being and that a proper, poetic language capable of directly speaking being should eventually arise (62-3).

Session four opens with a lengthy analysis of Heidegger’s seemingly innocuous reference to the Befragtes as a text on which the meaning of being is to be read (77-84). Derrida then shifts back to focus on the second assurance of being’s historicity: the identification of Dasein as Befragtes. Derrida explicates the two principal reasons for this identification: first, the fact that Dasein is itself the being that poses the question of being (85); second, that through this questioning Dasein comes closer to its own essence (85-6). He then highlights the problem of the hermeneutic circle: the objection that we cannot identify Dasein as the being through which we will gain access to the meaning of being without first enjoying this access (86). Derrida argues that not only is this objection unproblematic, but that it emphasises the very historicity of being that Heidegger is working to reveal insofar as it demonstrates ‘the impossibility of a pure point of departure’ (90) for philosophical thought. This session closes with the beginning of a lengthy account of the differences between Hegel’s, Husserl’s, and Heidegger’s respective reflections on historicity. Here, Derrida contrasts Heidegger’s view that being is essentially historical with Hegel’s view that historicity depends on state, culture, memory, and consciousness (99-104).

Continuing this juxtaposition through session five, Derrida now brings in Husserl, who he suggests has a comparable account to Hegel’s insofar as they both assume a primary distinction between the historicity of culture and the non-historicity of nature (105). Derrida embarks on a perhaps unnecessary and tangential comparison of Hegel and Husserl (105-113) before beginning to account for the ways in which Heidegger breaks from the Husserlian account (114-126).

It is clear that Derrida struggled with timing toward the end of session five, leaving him to finish his survey of Heidegger’s breaks with Husserl in the sixth session (127-133). The most significant of these breaks is the fact that, for Heidegger, the Husserlian account constitutes a ‘worldview’ (129) – that is, a representation of the totality of beings. Derrida points out that, for Heidegger, the idea that philosophy offers such a worldview (Weltbild) has its origins in Plato. Heidegger therefore sees Husserl as part of the metaphysical tradition he is trying to deconstruct (130-1). Derrida now shifts to his analysis of BT, wherein he demonstrates that reflection on Dasein’s relation to its birth and death reveals the prejudice which has hitherto blocked any proper recognition of historicity: the privileging of presence and the present (137). Rejecting this prejudice, Heidegger suggests that birth and death are not events no longer or not yet present. Rather, they coexist in Dasein insofar as Dasein is the continuity (Erstreckung) between them (148).

In session seven, Derrida acknowledges the ‘running out of breath’  (153) of BT with respect to its analysis of historicity. He suggests that the thematic of temporality, as the origin of historicity, is what obscures any further results. Looking for clues as to the specific difficulties, Derrida exposits the later material of BT and identifies the terminology of (in)authenticity as something dropped in later works (168). Moreover, Derrida highlights Heidegger’s identification of the assumption that underlies various inadequate conceptions of historicity: the centrality of the human subject (170). Derrida makes clear that Heidegger is moving us away from the idea that there is a historical subject to whom events happen to the idea that subjectivity is supervenient upon already historical ek-sistence (175).

Not wanting to dismiss BT, in his eighth session Derrida explores its final chapters for any original concepts that might pertain to and differentiate historicity from its originating temporality. He examines the concepts of   ‘auto-transmission’ (Sichüberlieferung) (180), which describes temporality, ‘resoluteness’ (Entschlossenheit) (185), through which temporality and historicity become authentic, and ‘being-toward-death’ (188). This latter concept leads Derrida to an evaluation of Alexandre Kojève’s suggestion that there exists a relation of analogy between Heidegger and Hegel with respect to their reflections on freedom and death. Derrida is unsympathetic to this view, arguing that Hegel’s and Heidegger’s accounts are ultimately inconsonant because Hegel’s conception of temporality is, for Heidegger, inauthentic ‘intra-temporality’ (194-201). Finally, Derrida strikes upon what he believes to be a concept uniquely characteristic of historicity in BT: repetition (202).

In his final session, Derrida explicates Heidegger’s derivation of world history (Welt-Geschichte) and historical science from the historicity of Dasein (206-214). This involves a digress through Nietzsche and his relation to Hegel (215-221). Derrida then makes some conclusory remarks. He indicates the direction of Heidegger’s later thought and further emphasises the role of metaphor, suggesting again that, for Heidegger, the gradual deconstruction of metaphoricity will instigate a new language through which we could come into direct contact with being and in which the designation ‘being’ would itself be obsolete (223). Finally, in a comment that presages his own subsequent work, Derrida claims that the ultimate problematic for Heidegger will be that of difference (225).

It is evident that this course yields some of Derrida’s earliest reflections on ideas that would later come to define his mature thought: such as deconstruction, writing, trace, metaphysics of presence, binary opposites, and difference. Moreover, this is one of the most readable and accessible of Derrida’s works. He is clearly a gifted exegete, rendering much of Heidegger’s complex text transparent. His thoroughness as a scholar is also clear to see, given his numerous insightful comparisons with Hegel; not to mention the fact that only the first division of BT was available in French at the time of this course (and then only for a few months). As such, most of Derrida’s references to Heidegger were his own translations and this course likely provided an initial exposure amongst its attendees to much of Heidegger’s thought.

There are, however, some weaknesses that could be addressed. Although Derrida readily admits it (222), the tone of this course remains preparative throughout and the reader never feels as though they are getting to the heart of this essential relation between being and historicity. The transition between sessions five and six is awkward; it would also have been beneficial to see more on the distinction drawn between metaphor and poetry in session three – especially given the import Derrida assigns to it. Also, there are moments when the relevance of Derrida’s reflections on the relations of Husserl and Nietzsche to Hegel come into question. Finally, whilst there is the occasionally inconvenient ‘[illegible word]’ notation, this frustration more rightly serves as a testament to the immediacy of our access to Derrida’s thought and as a credit to the translators.

Juliet Fleming: Cultural Graphology: Writing after Derrida, University of Chicago Press, 2016

Cultural Graphology: Writing after Derrida Book Cover Cultural Graphology: Writing after Derrida
Juliet Fleming
University of Chicago Press
Cloth $30.00

Michael R. Kelly: Phenomenology and the Problem of Time

Phenomenology and the Problem of Time Book Cover Phenomenology and the Problem of Time
Michael R. Kelly
Palgrave Macmillan UK
Hardcover 96,29 €

Jason W. Alvis: Marion and Derrida on The Gift and Desire: Debating the Generosity of Things

Marion and Derrida on The Gift and Desire: Debating the Generosity of Things Book Cover Marion and Derrida on The Gift and Desire: Debating the Generosity of Things
Contributions To Phenomenology
Jason W. Alvis
Hardcover $129.00, ebook $99.00
XI, 269

Danielle Cohen-Levinas, Marc Crépon (dir.): Levinas-Derrida: lire ensemble

Levinas-Derrida: lire ensemble Book Cover Levinas-Derrida: lire ensemble
Rue de la Sorbonne
Danielle Cohen-Levinas, Marc Crépon (dir.)
Hermann Éditeurs
Hardcover, EUR 28,00