A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida

By Kearney, Richard | Philosophy Today, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida


Kearney, Richard, Philosophy Today


New York City, 16th of October, 2001

Kearney: In your debate with Dominique Janicaud (Heidegger en France, 2002) you talk about deconstruction as being a prefer-ence for discontinuity over continuity, for differance over reconciliation and so on. These two traits are always at work in your thought. I was wondering, at the practical level, what this preference might mean in the current political situation. In the wake of September 11, there is much talk of the West versus "Islam." In Northern Ireland, there was much negotiation over decommission-ing of arms. And there are all these tensions between Pakistan and India and, of course, between Palestine and Israel. My instinct here is to ask: don't we need reconciliation in these areas of the world? It is perhaps a naive question but also a pragmatic one. What I am really saying is: where could a hermeneutics of reconciliation meet the deconstruction of differance on these issues-the issues of agreement, consensus, and reconciliation between enemies?

Derrida: It is a very good question. First the quick answer. Of course, politically and socially speaking, I have nothing against reconciliation and I think we should do whatever we can to reach a reconciliation worthy of that name, be it the end of war, the end of violence, and so on. And I think, since you gave us these examples of what is going on today in the world-with a war which is not a war in the classical sense, a terrorism which is not terrorism in the classical sense-all these forms of new violence which challenge the old concepts of war, ter-rorism, and even nation/state, given, then, the fact that you referred to these examples, of course my political choice will be toward reconciliation. But a reconciliation which would not be simply a compromise in which the other (as it is always the case) in this or that way looses his or her singularity, iden-tity, desire, and so on. A reconciliation also that will not be simply a sort of "deal" in or-der to take advantage of the other. So, if there were a reconciliation that could be just, then, of course I would be interested in reconcilia-tion. Each time my choice will be on the side of life and not of death. Now, if we try to do justice, to both sides of all the examples you cite, I suppose, we would have to acknowl-edge that many think that they act for a just cause. Those who hijacked the airplanes on 9/11 or those who spread the anthrax, think probably that their actions were provoked by an act of terrorism from the opposite side, an act of state terrorism on the part of the United States. So, if there were a kind of reconcilia-tion that would signal a stop which could bring violence to a halt and reach an agree-ment or a common conviction, then why not? But if reconciliation is just a pretext for a cease-fire so that tomorrow violence can start again, the violence of the one trying to prove that it is stronger than the other, then, I would be very reluctant. Since we cannot avoid the reference to September 11 and since I have difficulty starting any public speech or discussion without reference to these unspeakable events that have been named after that date, I think that today, the type of violence is such that there will be no reconciliation before violence stops.

Kearney: Is that a precondition?

Derrida: Let me say that I do not find the United States innocent but, given what is go-ing on, whatever the purpose might be, we cannot reach a reconciliation before this type of violence (either through military or police agents) stops. But the terrain has changed. Assuming that we manage to identify the criminals behind these attacks, let's say, Bin Laden or some of his followers-and cap-ture them or kill them, this would not change the situation. The terrain of reconciliation requires a radical change in the world; I would say a revolution of some sort. Any reconciliation worthy of that name requires not only that someone stops the violence through military or police force, or, as they call them, the peacekeeping forces. …

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