Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Modernity and Intentional History: Edmund Husserl, Jacob Klein, and Jacques Derrida

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Modernity and Intentional History: Edmund Husserl, Jacob Klein, and Jacques Derrida

Article excerpt

To bring together the work of Jacob Klein and Jacques Derrida, as this essay does, may well seem unexpected.1 One reason to do so, the most obvious, is that both Klein and Derrida published interpretations of Husserl's late fragment Die Ursprung der Geometrie, "The Origin of Geometry."2 They were some of the few to attend to this work in print during their own lifetimes, and for both, Husserl's late, vexed fragment proved central to understanding their own projects.

Why this coincidence takes on more than merely historical importance only really starts to become plain, however, when another less obvious reason for attending to Klein and Derrida in tandem is grasped. Jacob Klein assigned enormous importance to modernity as a philosophical category-as did a number of other twentieth-century thinkers, notably his friend Leo Strauss, but also, for example, Michel Foucault, Hans Blumenberg, Claude Lefort, and Niklas Luhmann. Klein was by no means an historicist, and the precise status of his inquiry will have to be examined further, some of the questions raised by it being ones Klein turned to Husserl's late fragment in order to answer. Nevertheless, Klein at the outset of his career, and always, took modernity as a category that thought today necessarily had to confront.

By contrast, this category, modernity-roughly the shift in scientific, political, and other sorts of thinking that is commonly acknowledged to get under way in the early seventeenth century-precisely does not have this sort of central role in the work of Jacques Derrida. Though Derrida early and late attends to authors comprising the modern canon-Descartes, Rousseau, Condillac, Kant-and assigns them a relative specificity, Derrida, thanks to a position that Derrida in his own way gleans from Husserl, never sees these authors as representing a radical break, a real discontinuity in philosophy or the character of knowledge.

Indeed, Derrida's downplaying of modernity is but the other side of the coin of what might be called, non-pejoratively, his presentism: his belief, announced as early as 1965 in the opening paragraphs of what became the first half of Of Grammatology,3 that now, if any, is the time to herald an epoch of metaphysics and its coming to a close, now the time when a really radical discontinuity in conceptual, ontological, and semiotic reference points has begun to emerge.

Derrida's stance toward history and historicality consists in such a belief, and he does not seem significantly to alter it, only to expand, flesh out, and perhaps tweak it in his writings on ethics, politics, and religion in the eighties and nineties. More specifically, this shift for Derrida is of a magnitude that eludes all concrete periodization and indeed draws into question the very terms-the now; a chronological, linear history; ultimately history itself-provisionally used to identify it as a phenomenon. Yet, from here also stems the historicity of his own thought. One may only think forward into what is today coming to pass, Derrida insists. The leading edge of his thought-what calls it on or calls it forth-is to take responsibility for this event in all its dimensions (some of which are not themselves strictly historical), to take responsibility for this now worldwide movement having no adequate or proper characterization in itself.4

Klein and Derrida thus give very different weight to modernity. And, given how many of those writers named a moment ago are, in some fashion, social, political or specifically historical thinkers, part of what is at stake in this difference will be Derrida's own stance toward these fields, toward politics, society, and history. Indeed, one issue in what follows is whether, or to what extent, a standpoint that thus leaves modernity out, that does not credit this moment with its own perhaps radical specificity and discontinuity, can effectively overrun the borders of philosophy into these fields in the way Derrida has so long desired. …

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