For someone so enthralled by ghosts, it seems fitting that a ‘long-lost’ manuscript should appear within Jacques Derrida’s oeuvre posthumously. Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity (University of Chicago Press), a text produced from the ghosts of Derrida’s archive, constitutes the third instalment of Derrida’s four essays on Geschlecht – a word which has no equal translation in English nor French but refers to sex, nation, race, generation, humanity, lineage in ambivalent measure. This posthumous reconstruction is based on: Derrida’s 1984-1985 seminar on philosophical nationalism (Ghost of the Other) at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS); and an ‘incomplete’ version of its seminars 7-8 distributed to participants at Loyola University, Chicago in March 1985 where Derrida had intended to present this manuscript (titled Geschlecht III) but instead presented Heidegger’s Hand (Geschlecht II). As such this volume comprises two parts: the first being the ‘unfinished and incomplete’ Geschlecht III manuscript; the second, Sessions 9-13 of Ghost of the Other.
Despite the impossible task at hand, the volume is perhaps as ‘faithful’ a reconstruction as Derrida scholars could hope for. The editors have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure as much of Derrida’s original material has been kept intact: where necessary Derrida’s own French translation is kept alongside Heidegger’s German, the original French translation and now their English translation; and ambiguous or illegible words (much has been transcribed from Derrida’s hand-written notes) remain and are marked out. As far as possible attempts have been made to ensure this reconstruction preserves the polysemy of the text and ensure no interpretation is foreclosed through editorial procedure.
That the lost should re-appear is a fitting place to start. It would be tempting to classify the publication of this text as a missing puzzle piece that completes the Geschlecht-series jigsaw and answers long-standing questions. David Krell (2007; 2012) has become a leading authority on this lost piece and poses the following: (a) ‘what sense are we to make…[of this] tranquil childhood’ (p. 178, 2007) or peaceful division of Geschlecht that Heidegger demands?; (b) the importance of animality (and its refusal) in the fundamental ontology of Dasein and Geschlecht; and (c) that ‘gathering is always a privileged signifier for Heidegger’ which ‘protects the unborne’ (p. 180; p. 189, 2007). It would be a mistake to argue that Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity reveals hidden answers that remained entirely elusive until now. The idea of a singular location which resolves disparate issues is precisely the problem Derrida targets here. This volume does provide crucial answers – but these answers are not entirely absent from Derrida’s other works. Nevertheless this is crucial reading for those interested in Derrida’s thought on the dangers of gathering as a privileged signifier; the ways in which polysemy remains distinct from dissemination for Derrida; and, finally, the problems of demarcating any characteristics as proper to the human. In sum, Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity threads these together in order to demonstrate a nascent political thought propelling Derrida’s earlier works which remain more radical than his later ‘political’ writings such as Rogues (2005).
Derrida opens Geschlecht III by drawing the audience’s attention to Heidegger’s interpretation of the German poet George Trakl in order to determine to whether a ‘Heideggerian reading’ succeeds in destroying or ‘extend[ing] beyond’ the ‘metaphyisco-aesthetic representation’ (p. 4), or whether it walls up to and becomes entangled and caught within its snare. In short, the entire volume centres around this singular question — how can Heidegger’s position be understood through his Trakl interpretation? — and Derrida’s dismay at this position. This should come as no surprise to those who have read Krell (2007; 2012): he suggested as much of Geschlecht III.
To begin Derrida analyses two pairs of literary criticism terms that Heidegger employs when interpreting Trakl’s poetry: Gedicht (poetic style or essence, oeuvre) and dichtendes Sagen (poetic speech, poetic expressions, poems); Erläuterung (elucidation, clarification) and Erörterung (situation but also contextualisation, discussion, debate) – rooted in the German Ort (place; location). Heidegger names Zwiesprache (dialogue) as the relation between Gedicht and dichtendes Sagen: ‘a two-way speech, exchanged here between Denken [thought] and Dichten [writing]’ (p. 23). It is thus a case of translation. Writing is exchanged for thought. For Derrida, this institutes a propriety to speech. To delimit Zwiesprache as the ‘most appropriate’ form of speech – that which defines the ‘Greatness’ of the Great Poet – is to situate (situation; Erörterung) thought as the Ort (place) where Greatness resides: Gedicht.
For Heidegger, the wandering path of Fremd (the root of stranger (Fremder) and the strange (das Fremde)) is a symbol in Trakl’s poems for accessing Gedicht. Following the Stranger leads to difference but not conflict. This is the Greatness of humanity that Heidegger envisions: peaceful difference. This path distinguishes the ‘thinking animal’ from bestiality for him. It marks the ‘tranquil childhood’ Krell (2007) implored us to make sense of. For Heidegger, humanity (Geschlecht) must follow this path, but designation or inauguration of a new Geschlecht (humanity, generation) is a two-step process: ‘there are…two blows, two strikes [Schlag], two stamps’ (p. 46) of Geschlecht. The first mark (Schlag) is discord or difference and the second is the inscription of that discord in grapheme as conflict or decomposition. The former attempts to mark the neutrality of Dasein without effacing the differences that comes with being-in-the-world. The Stranger is a return to this first step and enables peaceful difference as humanity’s salvation.
This wandering path and its facilitation of difference evokes an erratic drifting which refuses the propriety of any direct path. Derrida argues this is an illusion: ‘the wandering of [this] Stranger we won’t call “nomadic”: he is not “countryless” or “destinationless”’ (p. 29). This gathering of heterogeneous elements can always be traced back to a singular Ort (place): the first step of Geschlecht. The desire to return to the origin, to find ‘the true’ (wahre) and safeguard (verwahren) it, is troubling for Derrida: it is an attempt to gather ‘our primitive language and we are not far from Fichte here’ (p. 17). Obliquely, Derrida infers the political implications of such a philosophical position: the expansionist logic of the nation and the exceptionalism that propels it. These themes of Ort, nationhood (Geschlecht) and gathering are, as the rest of the volume illustrates, caught within a politics of propriety.
Geschlecht III thus seems to provide an overview of Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity with Sessions 9 to 13 each further elucidating an aspect of this overture. Session 9 focuses on: the role of Platonic-Christian metaphysics in Heidegger; the role of the untranslatable idiom and the importance of place (Ort); and finally, the difference between polysemy and dissemination. It is this last part which most demonstrates the difference Derrida wishes to institute between his own work and Heidegger’s. I would argue that it is this distinction which marks the difference between a politics of propriety and a politics which attempts to displace propriety and the violence it authorises.
First, Derrida proposes that Heidegger’s emphasis on the unicity of place (Ort) fails to be reducible to Platonic-Christian metaphysics, and yet also remains unable to think beyond it. Krell (2007) argues that Heidegger thinks of himself as offering a ‘reversal and overcoming of, or coming to terms with, Platonism’ (p. 184). Here we see Derrida dismiss the idea of any ‘reversal’ and argue instead that Heidegger’s emphasis on the unicity of Ort reveals a foregrounding to Plantonic-Christianity: a ‘more-originary’ place which is non-temporally ‘before’ or ‘prior to’ the Platonic-Christian ontological oppositions. Gedicht is not a spiritual place but a place of the material world, a place in-the-world. It is only the poems written (dichtendes Sagen) which enables the possibility of accessing the unspeakable Gedicht. Despite this, Gedicht gathers these ‘material’ polysemic poems into a singular and univocal, that is a proper, understanding. In sum, Derrida argues that Heidegger destrukts (not deconstructs) the metaphysical opposition of spiritual-material and reanimates it to think it differently. Yet, he merely tethers them to another singular site of origin (Geschlecht, Being or Dasein).
Second, Derrida focuses on the role of the untranslatable idiom in the ‘second step’ or second blow/mark (Schlag) which institutes division and, as Krell (2012) argues, ‘magnetises’ Derrida. Here, Elis, a young boy in Trakl’s An den Knaben Elis (‘To The Boy Elis’), is introduced alongside the Stranger which, for Heidegger, also promises salvation and the new Geschlecht. Both enable the possibility of resisting the conflict of the ‘second blow’ by returning to this ‘pre-originary’ first step: peaceful difference. Derrida argues this ‘pre-originary’ foundation is not neutral. The figures of Elis and Stranger can only be understood through the ‘Old and High, secret, idiomatico-poetic’ German (p. xxix) — not everyday German. Elis and Stranger are not universal nor ahistorical conceptions but deeply historical ones: they are impossible to translate, and only a deep, rich understanding of this history and its linguistic connotations allows for the possibility of their comprehension. Consequently, Derrida is concerned that Geschlecht, this new humanity, is delimited by the propriety of Old and High German as the proper thought of any ‘thinking animal’. Contingent characteristics are here made proper, neutral and universal. The Geschlecht that can salvage humanity must properly apprehend and understand this idiomatic and untranslatable history and be part of it.
This brings us to the third part of Session 9 and to the heart of Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity as a project (perhaps even the entire Geschlecht series itself): the gathering and untranslatability of Ort as ‘a difference between polysemy and dissemination’ (p. 52). Polysemy is not a word Heidegger himself uses. It is Derrida’s own translation of mehrdeutig (ambiguous) which aims to: a) capture the multiplication of difference that Being inaugurates; and b) to differentiate from his own conception of dissemination which, unlike Heidegger’s mehrdeutig (ambiguous) or polysemy, does not gather these differences into a singular unicity. For Heidegger, difference is coterminous with singularity but the former must converge or gather in a singular place: for instance, poems and Gedicht do not efface or annul one another, but the former are possible because of the singular Gedicht. For Derrida, this is highly problematic. It privileges this singular, idiomatic place above all others as the necessary starting point for humanity’s salvation from decomposition. Dissemination then is difference tout court; perpetual deferral and displacement. Any attempt to gather or locate is always a violent imposition. As Noah Martin (2015) wryly comments: ‘the kind of dissemination [polysemy] that is not in opposition to gathering is a watered-down dissemination’ (p. 3). A polysemic conception of difference continues to institute a proper place amongst perpetual difference. It is a violent and always unjust imposition which installs boundaries of propriety: moving from the metaphysical origin to the ‘pre-originary’ Being. What is proper to humanity’s salvation then is a thinking animal contingent on the boundaries of Old and High German: others can exist but the future begins here.
If Session 9 is critical of Heidegger’s polysemic gathering, which privileges a contingent historical Ort (place) as proper to humanity, then Session 10 explores the violent implications of this boundary demarcation. Derrida argues that this privileging of historical place (Ort) enables a quasi-nationalism, one tied to myths of a discreet language, land and history, to overwhelm Heidegger’s account of the new Geschlecht.
Session 10 opens with a clarification: Gedicht is not something other than the Dichtung (poetry). Gedicht is rather the fundamental tone (Grundton) of the Dichtung; it is a silence that marks what is really being said when we speak. Grundton is not elsewhere with regard to the poems of Dichtung; it is the unspokenness of these poems. Gedicht is the unspoken, ‘true’ meaning of these poems. Heidegger finds this unspoken meaning by metonymically linking of words and phrases from everyday German to Old and High German. Gedicht, like Being, is always an essence of becoming: made through poems but not existing outside them. This negotiation means that the supposed neutrality of Gedicht and Being is then always marked by a discreet linguistic history: Old and High German. Derrida here summarises the fear that has stalked his reading of Heidegger thus far: it is not merely a form of nationalism, but a propriety of Being dependent upon these contingent, historical conditions and something far more delimiting in its scope. Session 10 argues then that just when Heidegger is at his most radical, he stutters, redoubles back on himself and imposes a quasi ‘philosophical nationalism’. This ‘proper thought’ of Erörterung, the thinking animal and Geschlecht act as necessary pre-conditions for humanity — reaffirming the propriety of those who can have access to it and can enter subjectivity. Anything less is bestiality or non-human. In this singular move, some humans then become sub-human and this marks the ultimate danger of any politics or philosophy of propriety.
If Session 10 outlines the violent implications of delineating Geschlecht as a proprietary foundation for humanity’s salvation, then Session 11 hammers these home. First, Derrida situates the Stranger and Elis between and against two concepts of modernity and German Idealism: cosmopolitanism and humanism. Second, Derrida argues that Heidegger’s conception of the Occident (Europe, the West) is integral to this positioning. Moreover, Derrida argues that a Geschlecht which retains the Occident as its home is a dangerous form of proprietary violence which radically excludes.
The Stranger and Elis, unlike humanism or cosmopolitanism, refuse the human being as the foundation for the human experience: ‘what throws [the throwing, das Werfende] in such projection is not the human being but being itself, which sends [schickt, which destines] the human being into the ek-sistence of Da-sein that is his essence’ (p. 97; my italics). Heidegger turns to Holderlin’s Heimkunft (‘Homecoming’) to designate Heimat (homeland) as this thrownness [das Werfende] of Da-sein. Yet this homeland, Derrida argues, must be thought, not nationalistically nor patriotically, but rather ‘in term of the history of being’ (p. 98). Moreover, for Heidegger this history, this Heimat, must be understood as Abendland – a phrase Trakl uses in his oeuvre to denote the Occident and which literally translates as Land of the Evening. Heidegger eulogises that the evening prepares and clears the way for the morning and the new to come, just as Being is a site (Ort) which prepares and clears the way for the unborne Geschlecht to come. For Derrida then, Heidegger’s assimilation of Holderin’s Heimat and Trakl’s Abendland announce the limits of the new configurations that can emerge from Being (that pre-originary place) and which can resist the decomposition of the second step, the bad Geschlecht. The Heimat’s “countrymen” are not the citizens of the German nation; countrymen refers to those who inherit the history of being. In other words, it is those who retain ‘a belongingness to the destiny of the West’ (p. 98) – those who understand this history and inherit through Old and High German. Consequently, Derrida argues this move to steer clear of nationalism only violently reaffirms the propriety of ‘the West’ as the origin of Being thus destined (Geschickt) as the future of humanity’s salvation.
Session 12 sees Derrida, in knowingly provocative fashion, name this discourse a ‘revolutionary promise’. The new Geschlecht, inheritors of Old and High German and descendents of Abendland, and thus destined (Geschickt) by virtue of this unique place (Ort) they hold in history, is this singular subjectivity – it may spawn others but this is where it all begins. Derrida further argues that Heidegger’s emphasis on the “Ein” (one) in Ein Geschlecht promises the possibility of a ‘completely other experience’ (p. 128): peaceful difference. Yet he concludes that it is this very demand for the Ein, for the singular and the securing of it, which ‘guarantees the ultimate foundation of every nationalism’ (p. 132) and thus reanimates the possibility of exclusion, dispossession and violence that Ein Geschlecht promises to release us from.
The new Geschlecht appear through Schlag – a mark or strike which clears the decomposition and inaugurates the unborne Geschlecht of Abendland. Two things remain important for Derrida. First, this mark (Schlag) is not only a singular mark. It announces the singularity of Being and the differences of all beings which might emerge from this singular Geschlecht. There is both Einfalt (oneness) and Zwiefalt (two-fold). Singularity does not efface difference; differences are maintained alongside the singular place (Ort) even as they are gathered into it. Second, Schlag, as strike or mark, does not merely mean destruction but operates as ‘an opening and a path-breaking’ (p. 130). This makes sense given singularity does not efface difference for Heidegger and it is the Schlag which clears decomposition for a new Geschlecht to break forth. It is for this reason that Derrida argues Schlag is untranslatable from German because any translation fails to carry over Schlag’s inextricable relationship to Weg (path). The mark of the singular (ein Geschlecht) is thus a pathway to multiplicity wherein all the new, unborne Geschlechter of the future gestate.
Schrijvers (2017) proposes that Derrida hopes for a unisexuality, a singular Geschlecht which ‘resists (even his) deconstruction’ (p. 2). However, Session 12 demonstrates that even this polysemic, path-breaking (Weg) Schlag, which promises difference alongside singularity (Ein) and a future of possibility over closure, ‘remains a path of return’ (p. 131). Derrida argues, the pathway (Weg) of the Schlag (the mark) and the Ein (the one) ‘gives way to the more ancient, the more matutinal of the night before’ (p. 131). That which is closest to the most Ancient civilisation (this ‘first’ civilisation) — Ancient Greece, the West, Abendland — structures Geschlecht (humanity, species, races, sexualities) and can be considered proper to the future to come of humanity and its true descendants. Proximity to Heimat determines Ein Geschlecht. Thus, this account of Being, for Derrida, remains an act of enclosure within the field of difference. Schrijvers misses what Derrida always targets: enclosure, the demarcation of boundaries and propriety. His hope, if one can exist, is to resist unjustified enclosure.
For Derrida, Heimkunft (homecoming) organises Heidegger’s thought on the proper and commands and enables all possible forms of nationalism and nationalist claims. The polysemic differences of Geschlecht are organised through the singularity of Heimkunft. Derrida understands Heimkunft as a ‘return to the source [which] can be a withdrawal or preparation for a new morning or new leap…this nationalist circle’ (p. 132). The homecoming is then a ‘path-breaking step’ which clears the way forward for national and colonial exploitation to operate. It is a harkening back to the ‘most original’ in order to justify venturing forth and appropriating all that is ahead. It is not simply then that those improper differences outside the singular propriety of Heimkunft (i.e. those other, non-Western Geschlecht or ‘races’, nations, ‘species’) are eviscerated — they are eviscerated through their interpolation into this ‘most original’ logic of Being. The Other is only understood through the terms of the self – ‘neutralising’ any sense of Other-ness. This propriety of self therefore eviscerates the Other by appropriating it into the self and this ‘most original’ logic.
Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity’s final session, Session 13, provides the clearest indication yet of what decomposition means for Heidegger: modernity. It is against this backdrop Derrida argues, that the new Geschlecht of the Stranger and Elis must be understood as an arche-origin. Derrida claims that Heidegger’s differentiation between Historie (history as representation), Geschichte (history as that which happens but also tale or narrative) and Geschick (destiny) demonstrates how he constructs a certain history of Old and High German, descended from Abendland, as the arche-origin of humanity (Geschlecht). In naming the new Geschlecht as an arche-origin Derrida forcefully shows what has been latently pointed to throughout the book: this new Geschlecht as Stranger and Elis are proprietary claims, which replay in dissimulated fashion the metaphysical trap it seeks to escape.
In Die Sprache im Gedicht (1953) Heidegger rallies against those who argue that Trakl’s work is ahistorical because it does not contain ‘historiographical objects’ (p. 149). For Heidegger, there is no need for these when dealing with history of the ‘highest sense’ (p. 150). Failure to understand this is a ‘modern and metaphysical objection [which] stems from this objectivism and this philosophy of representation that is the mark of post-Cartesian philosophy’ (p. 149). The distinction between Historie, Geschichte and Geschick is then Heidegger’s attempts to return to the past and articulate a different account of history altogether – one that Trakl apparently pronounces perfectly: ‘his poem is Geschichtlich [historical] in the highest sense’ (p. 149-150). Geschichte literally translates to history, story, tale, narrative, saga. Trakl’s poetry may not name historical objects, but it does mark Stranger and Elis; symbols of the new Geschlecht, the bearer of history and the future, and the destiny (schickt/Geschick) of the history of ‘the West’. Like the path-breaking Schlag (mark), these symbols carry history forth – continue its story — by returning to the ‘most original’ mark of humanity (Geschlecht) and making way for the future.
For Derrida, reanimating history cannot mean a return to an origin. This ‘movement toward the future is a return toward the arche-origin’ (p. 153). There is no undecidability nor uncertainty regarding this future. It is rather determined by the false construction of an originary moment which then legitimises ensuing violence. Here the ‘arche-origin’ legitimates Ein Geschlecht as both (a) the historical and proper subject of Abendland and ‘the West’, which has always existed; and (b) the one which is also its future and can act as its salvation. Derrida argues that Heidegger’s circular account of history only serves to ‘save what is proper to man’ (p. 152). It designates and delimits a Geschick (destiny), Ein Geschlecht, to ‘give humanity its proper stamp and make it come into itself, into its essence, saving it from what it is not or must not be’ (p. 152). This may be an essence of becoming: the future Geschlecht enables the fulfilment of this promise of history. Nevertheless, this future and this promise are always premised upon a return that is not ‘accidental or supplementary predicate of dwelling or the homeland [Heimat], it is the essential movement that originarily constitutes the homeland or country as a promise of dwelling. The country begins with the promise of return’ (p. 153). As such even an ‘arche-origin’ of becoming such as the Heimat of Ein Geschlecht (like all arche-origins) is an act of ownership over the future, which denotes what can appear within it by demarcating a past and a future (Abendland, ‘the West’ and the Occident) which do not exist. This demarcation and delimitation of the future thus marks its proper bounds. It institutes what does and does not count.
After reading Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity some might be tempted to argue that if gathering, even in the polysemic fashion Heidegger suggests, is so problematic, it must be avoided at all costs such that nothing is ever united. As responses to Spectres of Marx (1994) demonstrated, some will affirm then that deconstructive politics is no politics at all. Others would lament the lack of overt references to sex and sexuality, which Krell (2007; 2012) promised were the ‘proper subjects’ of Geschlecht III. Both responses would be short-sighted. In refusing the propriety of gathering and affirming dissemination as a form of anti-proprietary politics, Derrida argues we cannot rely upon the histories and systems we inherit. Gathering is possible; it happens all the time. But, in ‘protecting the unborne’, it will necessarily exclude, and failure to acknowledge any ‘arche-origin’ as contingent is fundamentally dangerous. Reading sex and sexuality through this lens disavows the imposition of boundaries that binary logics of sex designate. Male and female must be understood as limits which govern the propriety of bodies, determine our political horizons and authorises violence (be it the absence of appropriate and socialised healthcare or vigilante attacks) against those who defy these limits. These borders always overlap and coalesce with those of the human, race, nation, lineage to institute forms of propriety. This is the reason, it seems, that Derrida is so intrigued by Geschlecht – a phrase which points to these intersecting forms of properness and cannot be reduced to any single one.
Derrida’s concern throughout Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity is that Heidegger replays a metaphysical trick. A ‘Heideggerian reading’, Ein Geschlecht, Elis, Abendland cannot be reduced to the metaphysical, but neither do they entirely escape that metaphysical inclination for propriety: a proper way to write, a proper way to read the poem, a proper path to follow and more significantly a proper locale of Being – a properness to humanity. It is this propriety which threads each of the sessions in Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity as Derrida elucidates the violence which is authorised by any stalwart defence of propriety to humanity: be it thought (over animality), a race, a sex, a sexuality, a nation, a lineage and so forth. Dissemination is positioned as the perpetual displacement of any attempt at gathering or enclosure and, as such, the perpetual disavowal of any propriety. It is therefore the possibility of resisting rather than replaying the violences of racism, colonialism and sexism (but also heteropatriarchy) (and so forth), which attempt to designate the kinds of bodies that are proper and improper. What is most interesting then is not necessarily what this volume says about Heidegger (nor Derrida’s reading of him) but the dormant political force which Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity and other earlier works (1978; 1982; 1992) reveal – that most radical energy which becomes more cautious in texts such as Rogues (2005). It is that energy that Geschlecht III: Sex, Race, Nation, Humanity provides today and it is this Derrida we cannot forget and must inherit.
Derrida, Jacques. 1978. Writing and Difference. Great Britain: Routledge.
Derrida, Jacques. 1982. Margins of Philosophy. Brighton: Harvester Press Limited.
Derrida, Jacques. 1992. “Force of Law: The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority.’” In Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, edited by Drucilla Cornell, Michael Rosenfeld and David Gray Carlson, 3-67. New York: Routledge.
Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Spectres of Marx. New York: Routledge.
Derrida, Jacques. 2005. Rogues: Two Essays on Reason. California: Stanford University Press.
Heidegger, Martin. 1953. “Die Sprache im Gedicht.” In Unterwegs zur Sprache (On the way to Language). 1982. Harper Collins.
Krell, David Farrell. 2007. “Marginalia to Geschlecht III: Derrida on Heidegger on Trakl.” The New Centennial Review 7, no 2 (Fall): 175-199.
Krell, David Farrell. 2012. Phantoms of the Other. Albany: Suny Press.
Martin, Noah Gabriel. 2015. “Review of ‘Phantoms of the Other: Four Generation of Derrida’s Geschlecht.’” Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
Schrijvers, Joeri. 2017. “Review of ‘Phantoms of the Other.’” Phenomenological Reviews.
[i] My thanks to Viktoria Huegel for help with editing and proofreading, and for being kind to my butchering of the German language.
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).
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.