Arendt, Derrida, and the Inheritance of Forgiveness

By Haddad, Samir | Philosophy Today, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Arendt, Derrida, and the Inheritance of Forgiveness


Haddad, Samir, Philosophy Today


In his published writings, Jacques Derrida rarely concerned himself with the work of Hannah Arendt. He discusses Arendt's essays "Truth and Politics" and "Lying in Politics: Reflections on the Pentagon Papers" in "History of the Lie," and interrogates her famous statements on her relationship to the German language are interrogated alongside comments made by Rosenzweig and Levinas in a long footnote in Monolingualism of the Other.' In addition to these readings, Derrida briefly evokes Arendt's remarks on the decline of the nation-state and the rights of refugees in several analyses of hospitality and cosmopolitanism, and he speaks of her in discussions of Jankélévitch and forgiveness, as well as in remarks on the name of "democracy."2 On none of these occasions is Arendt's work submitted to the kind of scrutiny and analysis that Derrida performs on so many other philosophers and writers. The citations, when they occur, are extremely limited in their scope, and Derrida makes no attempt to draw out any implications his claims might have for Arendt's oeuvre as a whole. Arendt just is not an important figure in Derrida's thinking.

One can only speculate about the reason for this lack of interest. What Derrida does say, brief as it is, suggests that he did not perceive Arendt's writings to be a rich enough resource to warrant further attention. It is only in "History of a lie" that any positive possibilities arising out of Arendt's work are proposed, and even there it reads a little half-hearted. In the other discussions Derrida quickly passes from Arendt's claims to those of others, or to broader tendencies in traditional thinking. Another explanation might be found in Derrida's avoidance of reading women, and in particular of reading women as philosophers.3 Or it could just be that constraints of time, which work against all philosophers prevented any deeper engagement.

I do not want to overplay the significance of this absence of reading, claiming that it demonstrates some deep or decisive point concerning Derrida's writings as a whole, or that Derrida committed some grave error in this omission. However, I would like to suggest that even if Derrida himself did not engage extensively with Arendt's writings, there are good reasons for thinking that such an engagement would have proved more fruitful than his work might lead us to believe. At the very least, Arendt and Derrida share much in their personal and intellectual biographies. Both were Jewish with a distant relationship to their religion. Both emigrated, for different reasons, from the countries of their upbringing. Both were educated in philosophy, but had a greater influence outside of this discipline. Both enjoyed greater success and acceptance in America than in the Europe that trained them. Both addressed political questions-Arendt at every moment, Derrida more in his later writings-and in these investigations many of the same issues are discussed, including sovereignty, human rights, violence, promising, and forgiveness. And both constantly worked through an intense engagement with the philosophical tradition-their writings always refer back to traditional texts, with a view to challenging and transforming received interpretations.

It is this last point that provides the impetus for this essay. That the work of both Arendt and Derrida are marked by a continuous struggle with traditional texts is no doubt due to the thinker who influenced them the strongest (another point in common), Martin Heidegger. Heidegger's "destruction" of the history of being instituted a new way of reading the history of philosophy. Both Arendt and Derrida took this seriously, and took it up, uniquely, in their inheritance of the Heideggerian legacy. In this essay I will investigate the relationship between Heidegger's thinking on the one hand, and the writings of Arendt and Derrida together on the other. Such a study would be fascinating, but it would need much more space than is permitted in an essay.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Arendt, Derrida, and the Inheritance of Forgiveness
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.