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Fear of writing
October 25, 2008 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Derrida's fear of writing. ("I have a nap or something, and I fall asleep" in English, rest in French with subtitles).
posted by internationalfeel (20 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've kept a notebook near my bed for years. Some of my best stuff comes to me near beddy
bye time. Something happened to me years ago that made me stop writing. To this day,
I censor my paper notes because certain people take them the wrong way. When you work for the government, you have to be very careful of what is written down, because they can't tell if it's fact or fiction.
posted by doctorschlock at 9:48 AM on October 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is great! Thanks very much for posting this.
posted by puckish at 9:56 AM on October 25, 2008


Absolutely fascinating - I've always wondered how Derrida felt about the violence inherent in deconstruction (as I see it). Also, the sense of back and forth he expresses between the kind of political-correctness that seems so sacrosanct in academic dialogue these days and his desire to actually get at the thing itself... I also love his humility - that sense that, childlike, he risks everything by exposing the frailties in other people's work.
However, sometimes I wish he would express that voice in greater detail. He gets close, I think, in his dialogues with Roudinesco.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:01 AM on October 25, 2008


It's a very interesting video, if only because it shows such a human side of a brilliant thinker. I think I remember watching the movie (or series of interviews, really) that it came from and being pretty unimpressed with the students that directed it. Perhaps it is the "students" part that made it so intolerable. At times, it seemed more like the interviewer simply wanted to show Derrida how smart he was, how fully he understood his ideas. I kept thinking to myself, "You're interviewing Derrida and you're asking him that?"

There wasn't any detachment from Derrida the thinker. They weren't very interested, in my opinion, in producing a film that explored more than that. I do think there was one scene during which they attempted to talk about his personal life, and he was very unwilling. However, I'd argue a scene such as this one (which they, tellingly, cut from the film) told me a lot more about who Derrida was, his way of thinking. As someone who isn't an ardent deconstructionist (but is still fascinated by the ideas) that's what I am most interested in coming to the film.
posted by theantikitty at 10:03 AM on October 25, 2008


As someone who isn't an ardent deconstructionist (but is still fascinated by the ideas)...

This is true of me as well, but my appreciation of deconstruction is not that it is the center of things or the determinant of meaning, but rather informs a total picture of what is happening in [your favorite object here]. I recognize that this runs counter to its central theme, so I feel like I'm stealing a holy cross to pry open a storeroom I can't get to any other way.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:35 AM on October 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's a very interesting video, if only because it shows such a human side of a brilliant thinker.

I've only read a chapter or so of Derrida, something assigned in some class in college, and I found it pretty much impenetrable to the casual reader.

But this was so human, and so universal -- anyone who has written anything has suffered those doubts and contradictions. How he confronted these doubts is, to me, a lot more interesting than what he actually ended up writing.
posted by Forktine at 10:47 AM on October 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Potent stuff, watching a writer discuss the presence of negative introjects, internal contradictions, in his writing process and the part half-sleep plays in releasing these introjects from his unconscious. It was revealing how much courage it takes to be an innovative thinker.

It's particularly interesting when that ambivalence is discussed by Jacques Derrida, since his forte is deconstruction, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as "A strategy of critical analysis [...] directed towards exposing unquestioned metaphysical assumptions and internal contradictions [emphasis mine] in philosophical and literary language."

What is Introjection?

There are two main states of sleep, dreaming and non-dreaming but there is a half-sleep stage too, both before deeper sleep and just as one is coming into wakefulness. That's called the hypnogogic state. There is as well a kind of determined sleep, when I need to sleep on a problem, a deliberate demand of the unconscious mind to work during the sleep state on a problem in my conscious life. Derrida uses the French expression for half sleep, "demi sommeil".

I find half-sleep to be a dynamic state of mind and I enjoyed watching a writer/thinker talk about both introjects and sleep as aspects of his creative process.

Thanks for the stimulating and interesting post, internationalfeel.
posted by nickyskye at 10:56 AM on October 25, 2008


"...a nap or something." This guy's always in character.
posted by Rykey at 11:04 AM on October 25, 2008


I'm actually kind of curious why he would say one random sentence in English like that, it didn't seem like something that could only be expressed in English. Is that common for French speakers?

I know the reverse (casually peppering your language with French) is a signifier for sophistication, etc, I'm curious if the reverse is also true.
posted by empath at 11:13 AM on October 25, 2008


Perhaps he just likes the word nap. I don't think English sounds sophisticated to the French, I think it sounds young and modern. And maybe in going along with that, informal or cute. I believe the French borrow English words for technology and casual slang.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:33 AM on October 25, 2008


I've noticed that a lot of people who commonly speak both english and another language do that. I think perhaps they get used to saying certain common phrases in english and then unconsciously (or perhaps consciously at times) just slip into bilingual conversation, especially if they know the people they're talking to knows english as well. My Austrian friend does this, as do a lot of hispanic people I know. I'll hear friends on the phone babbling away in spanish and suddenly there will be smatterings of english mixed in. Actually, now that I think about it, I've heard French friends do this when they're talking to other French people on the phone too. But that's in America... I don't imagine it's as common for someone in France unless they are used to being around English speakers on a regular basis.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:43 AM on October 25, 2008


As someone who is nowhere near fluent in French, sometimes I say à bientôt without thinking about it.
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:45 AM on October 25, 2008


"And so I do what must be done."

Beautiful. The writer prevails. The inner peanut gallery gets silenced. I quoted Nellie McClung the other day. I'll do it again here:

"Never recant; never apologize; never explain. Get the job done and let them howl."

It's also worth noting. I go through this kind inner turmoil every time I post a comment to MetaFilter.
posted by philip-random at 11:54 AM on October 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


Did you hear about the kidnapping down the street?


He woke up.
posted by doctorschlock at 12:16 PM on October 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


@ Forktine:

But this was so human, and so universal -- anyone who has written anything has suffered those doubts and contradictions. How he confronted these doubts is, to me, a lot more interesting than what he actually ended up writing.

In a way, that's exactly what I mean. This is the kind of thing I was interested in seeing in a film about Derrida, and it's precisely the sort of scene that the directors cut in favor of grilling him about the specifics of his ideas. If anyone's interested, I'm pretty sure the whole film is available on Netflix's instant watch. Or it used to be, anyway.

I've only read a chapter or so of Derrida, something assigned in some class in college, and I found it pretty much impenetrable to the casual reader.

I think you're right about the complexity of the work on the page, though I think it's important to remember that when an author must, by necessity, be read in translation, the result is that a lot of the author's voice is lost even if the ideas remain intact. But beyond the text on the page, I have always felt that the basic principals of the Deconstruction movement are pretty easy to grasp, and that's remarkable to me.

Essentially, it's the bullshit bingo of the literary world.
posted by theantikitty at 1:25 PM on October 25, 2008


My view of Derrida, like my view of Foucault, is unfortunately deeply prejudiced by the uses to which the man has been put by his successors (real and self-defined). Incidentally, anyone who's looking for some more "informal" Derrida might want to check out the interviews with him in Philosophy in a Time of Terror. Even if you don't agree with his take (or that of Habermas, who's the other featured intellectual) is saying, it's still kind of interesting, and he's also operating in a more human and informal mode than one sees in his own writings.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:03 PM on October 25, 2008


At Oxford, I attended a lecture by Valentine Cunningham where he discussed Derrida's point about writing antedating speech. It's generally assumed that speech came before writing but Derrida pointed out that driving a path through a forest could be considered an act of writing. This connection between writing and ecology made me anxious about writing for years and years, given the precarious state of our planet. Now I think I was "not even wrong" to think like that.
posted by Tarn at 7:23 AM on October 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Fantastic. Thanks.
posted by facetious at 8:44 AM on October 26, 2008


Yeah, this is a great post. And a good, non-axegrindy discussion.

I suspect that the reason he interjects a sentence in English is that he's speaking to someone whose native language is English (and the meaning of "demi-sommeil" isn't necessarily obvious, even though it literally translates to "half-sleep"). He's also speaking slowly and deliberately, I think for the same reason--in normal conversation, it would be twice as fast.

At Oxford, I attended a lecture by Valentine Cunningham where he discussed Derrida's point about writing antedating speech. It's generally assumed that speech came before writing but Derrida pointed out that driving a path through a forest could be considered an act of writing. This connection between writing and ecology made me anxious about writing for years and years, given the precarious state of our planet. Now I think I was "not even wrong" to think like that.

Well, Derrida's main point is not that writing chronologically antedates speech, it's that it antedates it conceptually. In the sense that, to think speech, you need to think writing first. This is significant in more than just the sense that you need a concept of evil to have a concept of good. Speech (in Derrida's "system") stands in for authenticity, for the origin, for the original "sameness." But since speech is conceptually generated after the fact as "different from" writing, that destroys its ability to represent these things and hence destroys speech as a central point of origin.

That's just my take on it--but the point is, you might have rushed to judgment a bit
posted by nasreddin at 6:53 PM on October 26, 2008


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posted by nasreddin at 6:53 PM on October 26, 2008


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