Cinders, Traces, Shadows on the Page

International Philosophical Quarterly 43 (3):269-288 (2003)
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In this paper I examine important texts by Jacques Derrida in which, either implicitly or explicitly, the Shoah, the catastrophe of the Holocaust is signified, interrupting, disrupting, even disfiguring the texture of the text. The question is how appropriately to remember and mourn the dead within philosophical discourse, how to remember what happened and how to understand it as a question not only of ethical and political responsibility but also as an evil deeply and pervasively reflected in the ontology and epistemology of the philosophical tradition—an evil circulating within the very substance of philosophical thought, and in such a way that Derrida will make this philosophical complicity in the violence and evil of the Holocaust register its painfully oppressive guilt in textual configurations haunted by the presence of the victims, remembered in traces of their absence. Thus we see how Derrida lets the question of an appropriate form of historical memory, a fitting way to remember the Shoah, invade his texts—how he lets the texts of his thought be exposed to its radical evil and exposed to the pain of an impossible mourning. We also see how the deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence implies a contestation of historicism, a writing of history that betrays the past in the very process of making it present.



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