For Strasbourg: Conversations of Friendship and Philosophy

For Strasbourg: Conversations of Friendship and Philosophy

by Jacques Derrida

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For Strasbourg consists of a series of essays and interviews about the city of Strasbourg and the philosophical friendships Jacques Derrida developed there over a period of some forty years.

Written just months before his death, the opening essay, “The Place Name(s): Strasbourg,” recounts in detail, and in very moving terms, Derrida’s deep attachment to this French city on the border between France and Germany. More than just a personal narrative, however, the essay is a profound interrogation of the relationship between philosophy and place, philosophy and language, and philosophy and friendship. As such, it raises a series of philosophical, political, and ethical questions that might all be placed under the aegis of what Derrida once called “philosophical nationalities and nationalism.”

The other three texts included in the book are long interviews/conversations between Derrida and his two principal interlocutors in Strasbourg, Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. These interviews are significant both for the themes they focus on (language, politics, friendship, death, life after death, and so on) and for what they reveal about Derrida’s relationships to Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe. Filled with sharp insights into one anothers’ work and peppered with personal anecdotes and humor, the interviews bear witness to the decades-long intellectual friendships of these three important contemporary thinkers.

This collection thus stands as a reminder of and testimony to Derrida’s unique relationship to Strasbourg and to the two thinkers most closely associated with that city.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780823256495
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Jacques Derrida was the single most influential voice in European philosophy for the last third of the twentieth century. His many books include Of Grammatology, Specters of Marx, and The Animal That Therefore I Am.

Pascale-Anne Brault is Professor of French at DePaul University. She is the co-translator of several works of Jacques Derrida’s, most recently For Strasbourg: Conversations of Friendship and Philosophy (Fordham).

Michael Naas is Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University. His most recent books include The End of the World and Other Teachable Moments: Jacques Derrida’s Final Seminar; Plato and the Invention of Life; and Don DeLillo, American Original: Drugs, Weapons, Erotica, and Other Literary Contraband.

Read an Excerpt


The Place Name(s) — Strasbourg (2004)

"Der Ort sagt ..."

This is going to be about thinking [il y va de la pensée], to be sure, about thinking as a going concern, about whether it's going well or poorly (just try to translate this into another language, into German, for example: la pensée comme elle va). It is going to be about the thinking writing [l'écriture pensante] that traverses philosophy, literature, poetry, music, theater, the visual arts — as well as politics — and the rest.

Why begin with such a dry, cold, abstract statement? If I insist on saying that, first of all and finally, everything will have had to do, in the last analysis, for me, for us, for you, with thinking and with writing, whatever this may mean and whatever it may entail, it is in part in order to protect myself. To protect myself against myself. It is in order to try to stem the flow, in truth, to stem the tears of emotion, of gratitude, of love and of friendship, of nostalgia as well, indeed of melancholy, which would otherwise overwhelm my words here today in Strasbourg. My tone should not be one of an eschatological pathos in philosophy. This is not a last meeting with my friends from Strasbourg. That is at least my hope, and I mean it with all my heart.

If I thus begin by recalling thinking or writing, it is not because I still know, after all these years, what these words mean or, at least for us, what they will have one day had to mean. No, it is so that through the effusion we do not lose sight, in the so very rich landscape of our common memory, of this certainty and this truth: what called me from the beginning to Strasbourg, what attracted me to your city (which I have never been able to consider, and for decades now, apart from the concrete existence, from the bodies and shapes, from the faces, of my first and dearest friends in thinking and writing, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Claire, Jean- Luc and Hélène Nancy, Lucien Braun, Isabelle Baladine Howald, and others still, Paola Marrati, Francis Guibal, Daniel Payot, Denis Guénoun, who, in November 1992 and under the aegis of the Department of Philosophy, organized with Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Daniel Payot, at the meeting of the Carrefour des littératures européennes in Strasbourg, presided over by Christian Salmon, very rich discussions published under the title Penser l'Europe à ses frontières [Thinking Europe at Its Borders]), what has brought us together here, what has made of my love for this city one of the blessings of my life, was first and always, among us, among all those whom I have just named, the uncompromising injunction of thinking. Nothing would have taken place, in this place Strasbourg, without this, without this injunction, which was also a desire to think and to write, each in his or her own way, philosophy, on philosophy, but also on literature, poetry, theater, music, and the visual arts, and then through all of that, since what I am speaking of is the love of a city, of a metropolis that is not just any metropolis in France and in Europe, since it is municipalities that I also wish to thank, through all of that, as I said, there was politics, the political, which we will have occasion to discuss again. For what Strasbourg, the city and my friends, my first hosts and my hosts of today have once again given me the chance to share with them, as I have never done with others, is also, and I will recall a few moments of this, a political experience. An experience that has been not only academic and cultural but political: national, European, and international.

All of this — thinking, speaking, writing in Strasbourg, to Strasbourg — would not have been possible, let me repeat, and would not have been political, without that initial impetus, which Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jean-Luc Nancy, and myself understood from the very beginning was calling us together, calling us to live and to come together, to convene and concur in something like a synagogue. As you know, that is the first meaning of the word: a synagogue (synagoge) is the gathering, the place (name) or locality [le lieu dit] that says [dit] or dictates coming together, the place where one comes and goes to meet up with others, the space where our steps lead us and where we walk side by side. In the Jewish Algerian milieu of my childhood, one used to say, curiously, "temple" in place of "synagogue." As if to hide this word by veiling it, by reforming it.

Strasbourg is also for me the blindfolded synagogue of your cathedral. I idolize this idol, this woman bereft of sight and voice, this mute and sorrowful figure. It was she whom I visited the very first time, only to notice that the name on the postcard reproductions of this image (those printed by the cathedral) is not "The Blindfolded Synagogue" but simply, as if this were obvious, "Synagogue, Allegory of the Old Testament (first quarter of the thirteenth century)." Hélène Nancy, whom I wish to thank here, just sent me another postcard that reads "The Synagogue, 'Old Testament Law.'" For beyond the insult or calumny that is no doubt insinuated, namely, that of a certain Jewish blindness to the truth of Christian revelation, it seemed to me that this blindfolded synagogue was calling out to us, addressing to us a silent request, the three of us and all those close to us. As only a woman can do, she would not be naively asking us: what is the truth of revelation, what is sight, what is the veil or unveiling? What is Judaism, Christianity, or Islam in the Europe of today and of tomorrow? She presses us with a preliminary question: what does it mean to bind or to band, to get it up — over the eyes [bander], to blindfold the eyes or have eyes blindfolded for thinking, writing, philosophy, politics, existence in general?

This question also comes to us through the trial of a certain Judeity that will have always been a deep and constant concern for the three of us, each in his own way, Jean-Luc the Jew, Philippe the Judeo-Catholic, and I who am, as everyone knows, half-Catholic, half-Calvinist. The "Jewish question," in all its dimensions — religious, philosophical, political — resonates in Strasbourg in a very singular way. Not only Because of the proximity to Germany and the memory of Nazism, but Also because of the active presence of a remarkable and vibrant Jewish community with very old roots. Hélène Nancy often brought Me to La Petite-France and to places where this Jewish community is concentrated. Our friend Hélène Cixous, who is at once Ashkenazi and Sephardic, was invited a few weeks ago (as I myself once was) to the Kléber Bookstore by Isabelle Baladine Howald. Accompanied by Eve, her mother, and Anne, her daughter, she was looking for the traces of her Strasbourgeois ancestors. And it is again she who suggested to me yesterday that synagogue was la Chose même, the Cause, das Ding, the Thing [in English in the original], that is, as Heidegger recalls and never ceased to ponder, the place where one gathers to speak, to debate, to parlement around some litigation. And then I think of the singular relation between the Church and the State in Alsace. And it seems to me not insignificant that one of my hosts and friends today at the University of Strasbourg is Gérard Bensussan, who, I will never forget, generously invited me to Aix-en Provence to discuss nothing other than the relationship between Scholem and Rosenzweig with regard to the Hebrew language, and who participated with Jean-Luc and others in a conference on Judeity in Paris, and who has become in everyone's eyes a leading expert in Judeo-German philosophy, and not just in the work of the great Rosenzweig.

Since I am playing a bit at circling around your famous cathedral and this blindfolded synagogue, I ask you to allow someone who has written a great deal on eyes, on blind men and on blinding in the history of the arts, on the singularity of women and of women mourners in this story, to go on just a little longer. I recall in passing that synagoge was first the Greek translation of the Hebrew knesset, which means precisely the place or house of gathering (bet-ha-knesset), in short, the Parliament. After the Temple was destroyed and during the captivity in Babylon, synagogues sprang up everywhere during the diaspora. The Parliament, the synagogue, the knesset, is, in the end, not only la même chose, that is, the same thing, but la Cause, la Chose même, das Ding, the Thing. And so Strasbourg, the city of Parliaments (European Parliament, International Parliament of Writers, Parliament of Philosophers), Strasbourg as the city of Parliament in general, of the Parliament par excellence, of the Parliament itself, becomes at once a synagogue, a knesset, and the Thing itself. If someone today were to retranslate "the blindfolded synagogue" by "the blindfolded Knesset," and if, in order to give the Knesset of Jerusalem its sight back, this person were to appeal not to the United States but to Europe, whose Strasbourg, seat of the Council of Europe and then of the European Assembly, is to my eyes the metonymy, and thus the other Knesset, I bet that, unfortunately, this imprudent person would be deemed an anti- Semite, if not a neo-Judeophobe. For one of the most revolting and intolerable things about our time is that one can no longer criticize Sharon and the Israeli politics coming out of the Knesset and supported by the United States without being accused of anti- Semitic racism or, as one says today, of Judeophobia. And even of complicity with the terrifying resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. It is as if the forgetting of the Shoah were on the side of those who criticize this Israeli politics supported by the United States, rather than, as I myself believe, on the side of those who conduct and support this disastrous politics, which is unfortunately not completely unrelated to this reawakening of the anti-Semitic monster, even if this does not explain everything, far from it, and does not justify in the least either of the two anti- Semitic racisms, Judeophobia or Islamophobia. But I am getting away from my topic, as always.

What my first friends and first hosts of Strasbourg, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jean-Luc Nancy, and those close to them, taught me to think, as early as their first invitation some thirty- five years ago (in short, almost our entire adult lives), is that thinking, what I call here by this at once modest, abstract, and pompous word thinking, the thinking that traverses and exceeds philosophy, literature, poetry, music, theater, drawing, and painting — as well as politics — this thinking would not think, it would not give anything to be thought, it would not let itself be thought, without the body of love, of friendship, of hospitality, without the experience of the gift at the limits of the possible and the impossible. I would venture to claim that the one thing of which we are certain, the three of us and those who have accompanied us during these Strasbourgian decades (but I will get to this, Strasbourg was also a radiating center that sent us, I insist on saying sent us, all over the world, to Paris first of all but then throughout Europe and onto every continent), is that without the concern for thinking while writing that has traversed the three of us with the same stroke, the same trait [trait] — even if the same, as we know, is not the identical — without the attraction of this trait that attracted the three of us to one another and all of us to Strasbourg, our friendship would have made — how shall I put it? — no sense at all (in all the senses of this word sense, as Jean-Luc Nancy would say); it would not have stood a chance. In any case, inversely, I know that without this friendship I myself would have never dared move forward in what I still call, to say it quickly, thinking and writing. But because I knew I would not have the time, because this is neither the place nor the moment, because this infinitely overdetermined genealogy would call for an interminable analysis, I decided to restrict myself, in a rather crude and hardly philosophical way, to anecdotes and thus not to take up, either from up close or from afar, the many writings whose content nonetheless forms the very mainspring of the rich experience I have been speaking about.

I have just, in a no doubt rather abusive and unfaithful way, privileged, as I also thought I had to, our trio. But before giving in to the desire — I am not saying to the duty — of memory, before recounting a few stories, I do not want to betray or pass over in silence all those who remain inseparable from our common adventure and from the long journey that leads always from Strasbourg to Strasbourg. I will acknowledge them along the way and express to them all my gratitude.

Rest assured, I will not subject you to the long version of what were my loves, my love for your city, which for no one in the world is simply one great metropolis among others since it is at once the capital of Europe, in a certain sense, and a border city, a city that was constantly expropriated and reappropriated, an open city, open to more than one language, a city of refuge even before the International Parliament of Writers, which was founded right here (I will say a word about this in a moment), reinvented the biblical and medieval institution of cities of refuge; a city of political speech as well, of the freedom of public speech, a city, in a word, dare I say, of parliamentary speech, of a speech that democratically argues, dialogues, discusses, deliberates, and "parliaments" with the other. And to "parliament" is not only to speak or to take up speech; it is to leave speech to the other and to listen. City of parliamentary speech, city of "parliament" [parlement] therefore.

Parlement is an ambiguous word. It is freighted with a political or unconscious charge that is formidable, not only because of what the crisis of parliamentary representation will have engendered in this century from at least the 1920s onward and not only because the signifier lets itself be invaded or perverted in so many ways: parle m'en donc, de Strasbourg, "speak to me, then, of Strasbourg," le parle-ment, la parole ment, "speaking lies, speech lies," the parlementer, the speaking, becoming often a parlementir, a speaking of lies. But parlement, despite or because of all this, remains a magnificent word. We should substitute it for parole, so long as we understand parlement as a parler, a speaking, an act of speaking, a speech act [in English in the original], a speech in act, even the act of giving speech or giving one's word: as for what I am doing right now, let's imagine that I were to call this not a discourse or a speech but a parlement, a parlement that, like any parlement, tries to welcome more than one voice in its speech, in a given or sworn word that also engages one, let me repeat it, to leave speech to the other, to listen as much as to talk. The parlement that I am delivering here recalls that in my generation, in the course of these last decades, Strasbourg, this parliamentary city par excellence, will have hosted the European Parliament, the International Parliament of Writers, and now the new Parliament of Philosophers, which you had the wonderful initiative to inaugurate this year. I had the incredible honor and opportunity to speak and to parlement at each of these, without forgetting, of course, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where I was also given the chance to speak.

When I think of what counts most in my life, Strasbourg will have been a city of refuge for the Algerian exile who I am and who never felt quite at home in Paris, especially in relation to the institutions of the university, of philosophy, culture, and the media in general. Since I've just named my country of origin, allow me to evoke in just a couple of words the singular experience, yet again parliamentary, that I had one day here in Strasbourg somewhere around 1995 or 1996. During a roundtable discussion at the International Parliament of Writers on Algeria and the terrorism that was rife there at the time, I found myself on stage next to a young Algerian academic who had lived her entire life in the house and even the bedroom of my childhood in El- Biar. When my parents left their house in 1962 they entrusted it to this young Algerian woman's parents, who were neighbors of ours. In the course of a very moving testimony, she recounted how a new wave of Algerian terrorism had just forced her to seek refuge in France, where a university in Paris and, on that particular day, Strasbourg had welcomed her.


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Table of Contents

Translators' Preface
1. The place name(s): Strasbourg
2. Discussion between Jacques Derrida, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Jean-Luc Nancy
3. Opening
4. Responsibility-Of the Sense to Come

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