The Work of Mourning

The Work of Mourning

by Jacques Derrida
     
 

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Jacques Derrida is, in the words of the New York Times, "perhaps the world's most famous philosopher-if not the only famous philosopher." He often provokes controversy as soon as his name is mentioned. But he also inspires the respect that comes from an illustrious career, and, among many who were his colleagues and peers, he inspired friendship. The…  See more details below

Overview


Jacques Derrida is, in the words of the New York Times, "perhaps the world's most famous philosopher-if not the only famous philosopher." He often provokes controversy as soon as his name is mentioned. But he also inspires the respect that comes from an illustrious career, and, among many who were his colleagues and peers, he inspired friendship. The Work of Mourning is a collection that honors those friendships in the wake of passing.

Gathered here are texts-letters of condolence, memorial essays, eulogies, funeral orations-written after the deaths of well-known figures: Roland Barthes, Paul de Man, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Edmond Jabès, Louis Marin, Sarah Kofman, Gilles Deleuze, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-François Lyotard, Max Loreau, Jean-Marie Benoist, Joseph Riddel, and Michel Servière.

With his words, Derrida bears witness to the singularity of a friendship and to the absolute uniqueness of each relationship. In each case, he is acutely aware of the questions of tact, taste, and ethical responsibility involved in speaking of the dead-the risks of using the occasion for one's own purposes, political calculation, personal vendetta, and the expiation of guilt. More than a collection of memorial addresses, this volume sheds light not only on Derrida's relation to some of the most prominent French thinkers of the past quarter century but also on some of the most important themes of Derrida's entire oeuvre-mourning, the "gift of death," time, memory, and friendship itself.

"In his rapt attention to his subjects' work and their influence upon him, the book also offers a hesitant and tangential retelling of Derrida's own life in French philosophical history. There are illuminating and playful anecdotes-how Lyotard led Derrida to begin using a word-processor; how Paul de Man talked knowledgeably of jazz with Derrida's son. Anyone who still thinks that Derrida is a facetious punster will find such resentful prejudice unable to survive a reading of this beautiful work."-Steven Poole, Guardian

"Strikingly simpa meditations on friendship, on shared vocations and avocations and on philosophy and history."-Publishers Weekly

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Over the last decade, Derrida (Of Grammatology), the doyen of deconstruction, has turned his attention to questions of ethics and politics. While the obtuse philosophical musings and sometimes torturous prose of his earlier books often frustrated readers, his more recent books (e.g., The Politics of Friendship) offer glimpses of Derrida's struggles to grapple honestly with the traces and aphorias of being that mark his more theoretical work. In this collection of funeral orations, letters of condolence, memorial essays, and eulogies, some published for the first time in English, Derrida celebrates close friends even as he grieves over their loss. The act of mourning, he says, begins as soon as friendship begins, for "one of the two of you will inevitably see the other one die." But the work of mourning is also a memorial act, for the other is alive in us, even after death. Characteristically, Derrida demonstrates the inextricable bond between name and memory; hearers remember a person when we speak his or her name, and thus we keep our friends alive. Some of these 14 pieces are marked by turgid prose, but others poignantly wrestle with life's ultimate mystery. Even so, this book will be most appropriate for academic libraries and large public libraries where Derrida is popular. Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Mourning, deconstruction-style. Derrida (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and Univ. of California at Irvine) laments the deaths of his friends and fellow philosophers in this collection of 14 essays. The dead so honored include Roland Barthes, Paul de Man, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Gilles Deleuze, and Jean-Francois Lyotard-each of whom is lauded individually through a range of genres, including the typical (condolence letters, memorial essays, eulogies, and funeral orations) and the atypical (academic lectures). Derrida, the godfather of deconstruction, whose theories of interpretation have stimulated unprecedented productivity in academia, offers some curiously stale and sterile words to mark the passing of his loved ones, as in these for Barthes: "The metonymic force thus divides the referential trait, suspends the referent and leaves it to be desired, while still maintaining the reference." To translate: "I love you and will never forget you." Brault and Naas write that we need "to learn something more from Jacques Derrida about taste, about a taste for death," but on the contrary: most people mourn truly, deeply, and powerfully without instruction in the opposition between the signifier/signified dyad. With the death of a loved one, grief and mourning rip into our lives and shatter the orders of affection we wish to maintain; unfortunately, too little instruction is needed to grasp its power. Mercifully, some less jargon-ridden sentiments do appear here, including the eulogies to Deleuze and Lyotard; still, these passages do little to elicit the interest of the general reader, as one enters into the relationship only at its very end. Still, Derridacan reach a plaintive and stirring lamentation to highlight, appropriately enough, the failure of words to communicate when we need them most. The cults, claques, and cliques of Derrida devotees will surely reach for their hankies; everyone else will look on dry-eyed.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226142814
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
09/15/2003
Edition description:
1
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author


Jacques Derrida is the director of studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, and professor of humanities at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of many books including The Gift of Death and Archive Fever, both published by the University of Chicago Press. Pascale-Anne Brault is an associate professor of French at DePaul University. Michael Naas is a professor of philosophy at DePaul University. Together they have translated several works by Derrida, including Memoirs of the Blind, published by the University of Chicago Press, and Adieu.

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