Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The movements of Donner la mort

The Gift of Death (Donner la mort) perhaps can be interpreted as having four movements, each named roughly by the title of each section (chapter in the English edition).

1. Les secrets de la responsabilité européenne ("Secrets of European Responsibility"). Here Derrida insinuates that (a logic of) a secret is present in Jan Patočka's narration of the history of (European, Christian) responsibility, against his wishes to eradicate this secret through a passage of this history into Christianity.

2. Au-delà: donner à prendre, apprendre à donner -- la mort. This section's title gets rendered in English as: "Beyond: Giving for the Taking, Teaching and Learning to Give, Death." This understands the play going on here but perhaps brings to the fore the language of the classroom and instruction too much. For the subject of this movement is how this secret intrudes as or appears as the gift of death. The emphasis thus falls on the word that is being played upon, apprehénder: how is one going to anticipate (Heidegger) or intuit (Husserl) the phenomenon of this secret if it comes forth as (and in) the experience of death--i.e. if the secret of responsibility is in every case a way of grasping (almost in the German sense of begreifen) this dreadful experience? Furthermore, grasping it as it is given, in the Husserlian sense of what is there before us phenomenally, as a given?

3. A qui donner (savoir ne pas savoir). "Whom to Give To (Knowing Not to Know)" excellently captures the sense of this movement, except that "savoir ne pas savoir" can also be rendered to better accommodate the play on "ne pas," that we find throughout Derrida's work, so as to elucidate the thing known as opposed to the knowing involved (David Wills again emphasizes the "learning" perhaps too much, even though his translation is in most respects just unbelievably good, given Derrida's extremely fuzzy phrasing of things in this particular text). The remark in the parenthesis would then be closer to "knowing not-knowing." This is important because the name of this section gets at the experience of that apprehension featured the last section. Furthermore, upon traversing this section's content we see that this "not-knowing" is the precise experience of the responsible subject that Derrida finds in Kierkegaard. The movement here, then, seeks to show via the secret in the gift of death that Patočka's responsible Dasein can be interpreted (if he is reshaped a little) as a responsible knight of faith. However, we then find that this Knight, in order to accommodate the secret of responsibility Derrida has already wrested from Patočka, gets reshaped precisely to encompass the "formula" named in the title of the last movement:

4. Tout autre est tout autre ("Every other (one) is every (bit) other"). Responsibility can only be constituted if it comports itself towards the other (and this implies towards the gift of death) as an infinitely recursive or already-othered other, an other that is other than its alterity. This other then is finally interpreted and reintegrated within the history determined by secrecy that was elaborated in the first movement or chapter, to ask the question as to whether this history is still as determined by secrecy as Christian secrecy or not. The answer is that it remains between both determinations, being an evangelist as well as a heretical history. The history does not show us merely this, however, but brings out how we must think the giving in the gift of death in more than one way. The gift of death is an offering, as Jean-Luc Nancy puts it (somewhere, I think in "The Sublime Offering"): it withdraws itself as it proffers itself in order to continue giving itself, that is, in order to never be reducible to what is given or to the act of giving itself. But two ways of this withdrawal are here constituted, which means that two ways of giving also simultaneously are implicated if the gift is an offering. First, the withdrawal of what is given, and, second, the withdrawal of the giving in favor of the what. One can formulate this in the following statement that reduces to one gift: giving is always to give all (one has) and to give (one's) all--the first instance withdrawing the giving, offering the what, the second withdrawing the what and offering the giving.

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