Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Being Just with Freud ... after Derrida

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Being Just with Freud ... after Derrida

Article excerpt

Beyond his first essay treating Freud, "Freud and the Scene of Writing," Jacques Derrida's preoccupation with Freud is remarkably focused. His attention is almost exclusively directed towards the text signalling a shift in the Freudian trajectory, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. In the final instalment of Derrida's encounter with the work of Michel Foucault, that focus is brought to bear on the very same text of Foucault that had earlier occasioned one of Derrida's earliest public entrances onto the French philosophical scene. The title of Derrida's essay, translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas as "To Do Justice to Freud: The History of Madness in the Age of Psychoanalysis," is formed by means of a citation from Foucault's book History of Madness in the Classical Age. My contribution is itself formed by Derrida's essay and its concerns. For it is through an appeal to Beyond the Pleasure Principle--which speaks to both power and the subject, a coupling under which Foucault saw all his later work--and its concern for power and mastery, all the while exhibiting an example of the loss of both, that Derrida will express a concern for life that has everything to do with justice. In a text from roughly the same period of time, Derrida makes another call for the doing of justice, a call to which he responded in being-just with Marx, a being-just that began with the same concern that closed the final chapter of his public relation to Foucault. He begins Specters of Marx with the following sentences:

   Someone, you or me, comes forward and says: I would like to learn
   to live finally.

   Finally but why?

   To learn to live: a strange watchword. Who would learn? From whom?
   To teach to live, but to whom? Will we ever know? Will we ever know
   how to live and first of all what "learn to live" means? And why
   "finally"? (xvii)

As Derrida draws the consequences of these words throughout the remainder of this, his proem, to what will follow in the next five parts, we discover a kind of aporetic quality to them all. What is it to learn when learning can only draw from what is to be learned? How might we learn to live when it is life itself that is the one and only teacher? Furthermore, who is it that would learn, who is it that would learn from life what living is? Is not this who determined only through such a teaching? Is not this who determined only inasmuch as the teaching has been taught? If life is to teach what it is to be alive, would this not require that the one taught be alive throughout the teaching so as to receive this gift? But how can the one taught already be alive while being taught what it is to be alive? Indeed, as Derrida writes, "Will we ever know?" whoever this "we" might be, and whatever to know might mean, or even if to know means anything at all. That is, is the point of, or does the meaning of, life have anything whatsoever to do with knowing? Does the learning of what it is to live really have anything to do with knowing, as if it were some epistemological object like any other? And what of the "finally"? It would seem that the learning to live must concern more than some little aspect of life, some little moment of life. That is, it would certainly seem that whatever it is that life teaches about learning to live would have to do with the all of life and not some one moment lopped off for the sake of convenience, for the sake of producing some little piece of knowledge. If the learning from life of what it is to live, of what it is to survive or to live on, then would it not be proper to be just to the whole damn thing? Derrida's more eloquent way of putting it is to say "It has no sense and cannot be just unless it comes to terms with death" (Specters xviii). But does this ever happen? Does one ever come to terms with death? Is it even possible to come to terms with death? It would seem not, unless life holds in store some little surprise yet to be discovered in death. …

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