Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Situating Derrida: Between Kierkegaard and Hegel

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Situating Derrida: Between Kierkegaard and Hegel

Article excerpt

This essay presents an interpretation of Derrida's project, and has two main goals. First, I argue that Derrida's work is best approached through the concepts of questioning, metaphysics, complication, trembling, and insecurity. Second, using these concepts I situate Derrida's work historically. In the literature, there are four main interpretations of Derrida's project: the literary (Rorty, Habermas), the Kantian (Gasche), the Nietzschean (Behler), and the Kierkegaardian (Caputo). I find myself in greatest agreement with the last, and argue that Derrida's anti-system is an articulated aporetics.1 Of course there are other historical reference points for situating Derrida, the most obvious being Heidegger. In the course of my argument, I will discuss Derrida's proximity to Heidegger, but these references will lead back past Heidegger to Hegel. Thus, at the most general level of interpretation, at which this essay will deal, I argue that because Derrida pursues a more persistent and consistent aporetics than Kierkegaard, we find Derrida's project situated between Kierkegaard and Hegel.

My point in suggesting that Derrida's work can best be conceived as a Kierkegaardian meditation on Hegel is not in any way to dismiss Derrida as in some way out of date. On the contrary, I believe that Derrida provides an original and profound metaphilosophical position, one which offers a third possible response to philosophical questions. In addition to traditional attempts to provide answers (whether of a straightforward or transcendental kind) to philosophical questions and Wittgensteinian attempts to dissolve philosophical questions, deconstruction provides a completely new approach, that of complicating philosophical questioning.

Questions Without Answers

One of the most disconcerting aspects of Derrida's texts is that although they are rife with "questions" and "problems," mentioned and discussed as such, no answers or solutions are offered. One comes across "the question of the text," "the question of writing," "the question of language," "the problem of metaphor," "the question of the machine," "the question of the margin," "the question of ontological subordination," "the question of history," to name just a few. If one expects answers to these questions, then one becomes bewildered and frustrated.

To expect an answer to these questions is naive, and "naive" is one of Derrida's key pejorative terms. Derrida says in "The Pit and the Pyramid" with regard to questions which cannot be used to clarify the question of the (signification of the) relationship between signs and truth: "Formulated this way, the questions would be stated naively, presupposing or anticipating an answer. Here we are reaching a limit" (p. 81) Derrida does not mean that the questions presuppose a specific answer; rather, they presuppose that there is some answer, any answer at all. Derrida never answers the multitude of questions and problems he addresses because he believes that they cannot be answered.

This is an elementary point, perhaps too elementary to be mentioned. But it is absolutely crucial, so citations are in order. Only occasionally, but nevertheless distinctly, Derrida says that the questions he is posing can't be answered. In "'Genesis and Structure' and Phenomenology," he says: "The question of the possibility of the transcendental reduction cannot expect an answer" (p. 167). At the beginning of "Of an Apocalyptic Tone Newly Adopted in Philosophy," he says: "But I must forewarn you right now: the (hi)stories or enigmas of translation I hear spoken of, that I intend to speak about, and that I shall get myself entangled in for reasons more serious than my incompetence, they are, I believe, without solution or exit" (p. 25). Each of these claims refers only to the questions under discussion in the particular essay at that point, but the point is generally true. Travel the length and breadth of Derrida's philosophical work and one never finds that the "questions" and "problematics" named and discussed as such are answered or solved (by, say, the propounding of theories), no doubt because Derrida believes that they cannot be solved or answered. …

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