Learning to Deconstruct Finally

Derrida seems satisfied if not happy with his contradictions, with having learned finally to live with them unencumbered by any implicit criticism. His primary concern in his last days appears to have been what comes after the final act of writing. After all, “there are, to be sure, many very good readers (a few dozen in the world perhaps, people who are also writer-thinkers, poets)” (34). Were he a blogger, would Derrida be thus assured of 36 followers? Jesus had only 12, but even they were not always reliable.

Can a writer ever finally trust any reader? Part of the problem seems to be that readers do have an unconditional freedom to read from their own particular singularity, always peculiar. It’s all they can do, as general readers, apart from the 36 carefully selected followers, who must leave their families behind. It’s not that whatever you say will automatically be misunderstood, but that conditions of freedom vary among individuals. But Derrida says at the same time, “You don’t just go and do anything with language; it preexists us and it survives us” (36). For Derrida, deconstruction was a form of “self-critique” (45). Before “learning to live finally,” one must deconstruct oneself.

In his idea of “The University Without Condition,” Derrida wants “absolute claim to an unconditional freedom to think, speak, and critique” (48). The presumption is there are conditions set by “political or religious power” (48). Kant’s solution that scholars be free to say whatever they want as long as they keep it in the University was not enough for Derrida. But the philosopher who leaves the University becomes an outsider, a blogger, as opposed to a scholar. Not that it matters, because

“…you do not know to whom you are speaking, you invent and create silhouettes, but in the end it no longer belongs to you. Spoken or written, all these gestures leave us and begin to act independently of us.” (32)

Jesus spoke to a general audience, asked for similar unconditional freedom wherever he happened to be located, but he was ready to give to political power what belongs to political power, while Christianity too often has turned into a University that, like the University of Kant’s that Derrida points out, is only free on its own grounds.

Any notion of finally can only be fantasy; life goes on with and without us. What happens finally is the words stop coming, we stop thinking with words, and must figure out some other way to deconstruct.

Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview [with Jacques Derrida]. Melville House, 2007. 95 pages, including a 27 page selected bibliography of works by Derrida published in English.


  1. Many thoughts and visions get lost in a wilderness untamed by time, to be dug up, or not.
    Been thinking – am I attached to my novels, still not published? Yes, until they’re released. Then I’ll leave them to join the library of Babel, for the adventurous reader to re-construct.
    And I’ll move on to other myths.

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Interesting comment in this short interview with Caleb Crain:

      “It’s good for the soul to write sentences that you know that no one will read while you’re alive.”

      To which I reply, my soul runneth over!

      Also I was thinking of something I remember attributed to Basho: “No matter what we may be doing at any given moment, it has a bearing on our everlasting life.” Note the singularity of “any given moment,” because it won’t be repeated. That’s the meaning of infinity. Anyway, if we bring Basho’s thought to our daily writing, while we still presumably would like readers, that moment of singularity of writing continues because of that bearing, not because of the possibility of a reader – that’s a different everlasting life, another singularity.

  2. bristlehound says:

    Joe, I have contemplated the idea of thinking without words and find that it is something that must become possible in a meditative state.
    My mind seems constantly alive with words darting left and right. To deconstruct one’s living, perhaps one needs to be in that pure meditative state of death.
    I love the idea of releasing writing to the masses only to have it interpreted purely by perhaps one other ( or none others). Surely this is a sign of inverse deconstructionism.
    Maybe by blogging we are all, in effect, thinking without words.
    Great piece Joe. B

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Math comes to mind, as well as meditation, free falling thought. And aphasia, and what is thought? It’s probably an argument of definition. You play tennis, right? As I recall? You probably don’t play tennis thinking with words. It’s too fast. But some idea of thought must occur for the batter to swing at a ball?

      1. bristlehound says:

        I came across a TED talk recently about brain function. Memory plays a large part in our response to many situations.
        Perhaps by chance we are all walking paradigms and our actions mimic those of our cave-dwelling predecessors.

        1. Joe Linker says:

          So maybe singularity is overstated, when repetition is auto-response.

          1. bristlehound says:

            Repetition does imply auto-response but does not therefore reduce the significance of singularity. Only through individual thought can we first believe but not necessarily understand. So a response, be it thoughtful or auto, must first have been comprehended. This makes it even more difficult to think without words.
            This is like food for the brain and ignites my curiosity. Thanks Joe.

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