Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Crossings: An Interview with Michael Naas

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Crossings: An Interview with Michael Naas

Article excerpt

The following Interview with Michael Naas took place In Chicago on 25 April 2014. Mosaic Is pleased to publish this interview, which originally appeared in Mosaic 47.4 (December 2014).

DM So here we are, Michael Naas and I in Chicago on April 25, 2014.

Let me start, Michael, with Starts, which is a great title for that inaugural edition of the Oxford Literary Review, the re-launched issue, Volume 30.1 (2008), where you refer to the journal title as an "old new name" and cite the expression "old new" that Derrida uses in a 1983 interview, in Points ... Interviews, 1974-1994, reminding me just how well you know Derrida's work and how profoundly he and his work inhabit and inform your own. I am wondering how you first encountered Derrida's work, and then Derrida, or was it the other way around?

MN First, thank you so much, Dawne, for this invitation. I very much appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about my work and past. As for this first question, Derrida is someone I really encountered only in graduate school. I was an undergraduate at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and I studied a lot of philosophy there, but I never encountered Derrida. It was really only when I got to Stony Brook, where I did my MA and then PhD, that I first began reading Derrida, early essays such as "Differance" and "Plato's Pharmacy," in courses with Hugh Silverman and Mary Rawlinson. I thus began reading Derrida at Stony Brook, and then had the great chance of being offered a fellowship to study in Paris in 1986-87. That's when I decided to attend Derrida's seminar, which was on questions of philosophical nationality and nationalisms. That was the year I really started getting to know both him and his work. I was reading him outside of class, I was going to his Wednesday afternoon seminar, and I met him over the course of that year a couple of times. So that's when my interest and knowledge of Derrida really developed.

DM You were still a graduate student?

MN I was still a graduate student. Exactly. I spent that entire year in Paris, then I went back to Stony Brook for one year, and subsequently was offered another fellowship for the 1988-89 school year to return to Paris. That's the year that I would say I actually began "working" with Derrida. At the very beginning of that year Derrida announced that the topic for the year would be the question of friendship and he asked the seminar room, filled with two to three hundred people, I would say, who would like to give an expose on the question of friendship at the end of the year. Now I'm absolutely the last person to volunteer for such things, I rarely raised my hand in graduate seminars, but--I don't know what possessed me--I did raise my hand and Derrida asked me to come discuss the subject of my expose after class. Which I did, and then, of course, I was stuck. I was committed to presenting something at the end of the year. I thus spent the next eight months working on my dissertation, reading Derrida, and trying to come up with something that would address the topic of friendship. It was in May of 1989 that I gave that expose in Derrida's seminar, a presentation titled "Le tournant de l'amitie chez Homere." It was as a result of that session, giving a fifty-minute paper and then answering questions for about an hour afterwards, that I really became much closer to Derrida and he began to treat me as a student. It was shortly thereafter that Pascale-Anne Brault and I began translating his work. So my relationship with Derrida dates back to the mid-to-late-eighties. By the end of the eighties, we had become teacher and student and, in some ways, friends as well.

DM How was your French on your first study-abroad trip?

MN It was rather minimal. So I would not have raised my hand that first year of sitting in on his seminar. I dared to raise my hand the second year because I had worked very hard on my French that first year, pretty much refusing to speak English or to read anything in English or to write in English for that entire first year. …

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