Much Obliged

By Wood, David | Philosophy Today, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Much Obliged


Wood, David, Philosophy Today


I would like to do a number of things here: trace the account of responsibility that Jacques Derrida is developing back to Nietzsche's account of breeding animals with the right to make promises, back to Husserl's sense of an ability to give intuitive redemption to one's claims, and back to his own previous treatments in The Force of Law, the Other Heading, "Eating Well," and elsewhere; follow through his account of the gift (and death, sacrifice, and the secret) from Aporias, Given Time, Passions, etc.; trace this text to his previous discussions of Heidegger, to Nietzsche's The Genealogy of Morals and Freud's The Uncanny; trace through Derrida's discussions of God and religious discourse back to the last chapter of De lesprit, to Comment ne pas parler, and beyond; satisfactorily link Derrida's discourse of the other to that of Lacan and Levinas.

I can only hope that others will supply the lack here as I cannot, unfortunately, address all these issues. What I would like to do, instead, is to focus on one or two of Derrida's explicit, powerful, and connected claims about responsibility and about God in The Gift of Death, to see how we might understand and assess them.'

First his claim about the shape of the conflict between singular and general responsibility:

I can respond only to the one (or to the One), that is, to the other, by sacrificing that one to the other. I am responsible to any one (that is to say to any other) only be failing in my responsibility to all the others, to the ethical or political generality. And I can nevery justify this sacrifice, I must always hold my peace about it. (GD, 71)

and again:

There is no language, no reason, no generality or mediation to justify this ultimate responsibility which leads me to absolute sacrifice, absolute sacrifice that is not the sacrifice of irresponsibility on the altar of responsibility, but the sacrifice of the most imperative duty (that which binds me to the other as a singularity in general) in favor of another absolutely imperative duty binding me to every other. (GD, 71)

Second there is Derrida's explicit suggestion about the formal status of God-language: It is perhaps necessary, if we are to follow the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic injunction, but also at the risk of turning it against the tradition, to think of God and of the name of God without such idolatrous stereotyping or representation. (GD, 108)

Then we might say: God is the name of the possibility I have of keeping a secret that is visible from the interior but not from the exterior. Once I can have a secret relationship with myself and not tell everything, once there is secrecy and secret witnessing within me then what I call God exists.... God is in me, he is the absolute "me" and "self," he is that structure of invisible intensity that is called, in Kierkegaard's sense, subjectivity. (GD, 109)

It feels momentous to witness to Derrida's encounter with Kierkegaard. Prima facie one might have thought that deconstruction would take Kierkegaard's oppositions-interior/exterior, objective/subjective-and demonstrate their deep metaphysical indebtedness. Instead Derrida is clearly intrigued by Kierkegaard's erection of an alternative economy of thought, one that takes delight in an exaggerated inversion of traditional privileges (such as: Truth is subjectivity). Derrida sees Kierkegaard as something of an ally in his own campaign against good conscience. That he should focus on Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling can be no surprise. I would like to rehearse Derrida's argument and raise some questions about it.

Derrida explains Kierkegaard's reasoning as to the paradox involved in Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac in language not too distant from Kierkegaard's own. It is not enough that Abraham act genuinely out of duty rather than merely in conformity to duty. Beyond that his Absolute Duty requires "a sort of gift or sacrifice," "a gift of death. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Much Obliged
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.