Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Event, Death, and Poetry: The Death of the Other in Derrida's "Rams"

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Event, Death, and Poetry: The Death of the Other in Derrida's "Rams"

Article excerpt

The theme of the event has received significant attention within current debate in continental philosophy, especially around several appropriations of Martin Heidegger's work on the event (das Ereignis) in French philosophy.1 This turn to the theme of the event has become integral for philosophers who wish to develop approaches to ontology that twist free from the assumptions of traditional metaphysics-for example, that our experience of being can be reducible to some rationally determined foundation that adheres to the principle of sufficient reason, whether this foundation is conceived as substance, subjectivity, or otherwise. For philosophers concerned with the event, such traditional metaphysical assumptions fail to address decisive aspects of life and being that exceed these conceptual and linguistic horizons of rationality. Most of these thinkers, if not all, agree that the event "concerns the unexpected, the incalculable, and the unforeseeable," which "interrupts" or "interjects something new" into the world, precisely because the event remains outside of the principle of sufficient reason and exceeds what we can anticipate.2

While scholars recognize the important contributions that Jacques Derrida has made to discussions of the event, the significance of his considerations of the death of the other for his approach to the event nevertheless continues to warrant more consideration than it has received. Many venerable discussions about the event and death have focused on the event of one's own death or mortality rather than on the event of the death of the other.3 I maintain that Derrida's careful consideration of our experience of the death of the other for his account of the event shows that the ontological questions at the foreground of recent focus on the event are part and parcel of ethical and existential concerns that confront us in the everyday, in the most ordinary, and, particularly, in the fact that those around us die. The focus of my essay is Derrida's treatment of a poem by Paul Celan in commemoration of the one-year anniversary of Hans-Georg Gadamer's death. Specifically, I argue that Derrida offers a three-fold contribution to the discussion about the event. First, through his reading of Celan's poem, Derrida shows that an ethos or comportment of poetic attestation provides access to this event.4 Second, through this access, the event appears as an impossible appearance insofar as the death of the other discloses a loss of being when the other dies. Such loss is an absence not only of the person but also of the world as a whole. Third, in this loss, the event carries with it an originary call of responsibility for remembering and commemorating the other-a responsibility that precedes the responsibility we have to ourselves as individuals.5 This responsibility of remembrance exposes our ethical possibilities-to-be not first and foremost through rational agency or deliberate practical action, but, instead, in the movement of what I describe as workless mourning. Taken in its entirety, then, Derrida's engagement with Celan's poetry shows that poetic attestation grants us access to the appearance of the event of the other's death in which our ethical possibilities-to-be are disclosed in workless mourning.

Poetic Attestation to the Event

Derrida has been concerned with these themes of the event and death throughout his writings.6 When he engages the death of the other as an event, he sheds light on the manner or mode of our access to the event. In short, he suggests that this access is granted by a performative, rather than constative, form of speech, namely, poetic attestation, that operates as a shibboleth to this event of the death of the other. With this, Derrida treats poetry, especially Celan's poetry, as a performative speech that grants access to the particular structure of appearance of the event understood as non-repeatable, singular, and impossible. This singularity and impossibility are the touchstones of the event for Derrida. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.