Sunday, December 30, 2007

The thrust of The Gift of Death

The fundamental thesis of the Gift of Death is that the experience of the apprehension of death is inseparable from an experience of responsibility. This in itself is nothing new: among the people Derrida himself discusses in his book, Patočka, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger all explicitly say the same thing. Fundamentally, the finitude of existence conditions existence itself. However, Derrida shows, using all these thinkers, that this finitude also implies a certain structure of a relation to infinitude: that is, the apprehension of death is also inseparable from responsibility because infinitude intrudes in this apprehension and in this responsibility.
This too is not unique, though: Kierkegaard and Patočka also include this explicitly--not to mention the passages from the Bible that Derrida discusses. Where Derrida is perhaps unique is in his elaboration of this dual structure of responsibility and apprehension as a double bind: that is, as a dual structure that, extended to encompass both the implications of finitude and infinitude that split it, in fact rends it apart (i.e. makes the dual structure incompatible to itself) in its being constituted thus. In other words, Derrida rigorously thinks the space between the determining forces of finitude and infinitude qua between, qua difference. And, as he shows, in order for this difference to be rigorously sustained, it must be conceived as différance.
This différance is manifest in the trembling both before God (the infinite) and before death (the finite), in the experience of what Derrida calls a gift of death.

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