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SPEP 2009–More from Derrida

17th December 2009

Earlier this week, we told you about a session on Derrida at the annual SPEP conference in October. We are pleased to present two more papers from that session!

Geoffrey Bennington, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of French and Professor of Comparative Literature at Emory University, is one of the country’s premier Derrida scholars. Commenting on Michael Naas’ book, Derrida From Now On, Bennington writes:

Of course, nothing says that doing or saying something in the name of someone or
something makes it a good thing to say or do. If I was mentioning what I imagine to be
Michael’s anxiety a moment ago, that is because what I say in his name always might go horribly
wrong in some way. Indeed in his book, other examples of things done in the name of
something are not always reassuring at all: for example, in the chapter entitled “Derrida’s
Laïcité,” Naas quotes one of the few as yet published pieces by Derrida on the death-penalty,
and explains that in the exemplary cases of Socrates, Jesus, al-Hallâj and Joan of Arc, the deathpenalty
was invoked by the state and “each was thus condemned in the name of a certain
transcendence for worshipping or claiming a relationship with another transcendence or a
counter-transcendence.” (67) [I’ll skip a couple of further examples.] And just a little later,
Naas glosses the point further, writing “Rather than simply opposing the theological, the state
wishes to have a monopoly over it. It thus uses the death penalty not so much to protect the
lives of its citizens as to take or sacrifice natural life in the name of an excess or hyperbolization
of life, that is, in the name of a certain transcendence.” (Ibid.) Or more generally, helpfully
unpacking the mysteries of Derrida’s late interest in the question of life, “it is this emphasis on
sovereignty and life, on superabundant life, on what can easily become sacrifice in the name of
that life, that has to be questioned if not countered, I believe Derrida believed, by a relentless,
vigilant, and affirmative interrogation of the way in which life as such is only ever possible in
relation to death.”

To read more of Bennington’s take on Derrida, through Naas’ lens, you can find the paper in its entirety here.

Michael Naas also spoke at the session. To read his remarks, click here.