Derrida on Forgiveness & Secrets

On Forgiveness

page 32

“Forgiveness is not, is should not be, normal, normative, normalizing. It should  remain exceptional and extraordinary, in the face of the impossible: as if it interrupted the ordinary course of historical temporality.”

“In order to approach now the very concept of forgiveness, logic & common sense agree for once with the paradox: it is necessary, it seems to me, to begin from the fact that, yes, there is the unforgivable. Is this not, in truth, the only thing to forgive? The only thing that calls for forgiveness? If one is only prepared to forgive what appears forgivable, what the church calls ‘venial sin’, then the very idea of forgiveness would disappear. If there is something to forgive, it would be what in religious language is called mortal sin, the worst, the unforgivable crime or harm. From which comes the aporia, which can be described in its dry & implacable formality, without mercy: forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable. One cannot, or should not, forgive; there is only forgiveness, if there is any, where there is the unforgivable.”

page 48

“Can there be, in one way or another, a scene of forgiveness without a shared language? This sharing is not only that of a national language or idiom, but that of an agreement on the meanings of words, their connotations, rhetoric, the aim of reference, etc. It is here another form of the same aporia: when the victim and the guilty share no language, when nothing common and universal permits them to understand one another, forgiveness seems deprived of meaning; […] For forgiveness it is necessary on the one hand to understand, on both sides, the nature of the fault, to know who is guilty of what evil toward whom, etc.”

page 54

“We can imagine that someone, a victim of the worst, himself, a member of his family, in his generation or the preceding, demands justice be done, that the criminals appear before a court, be judged and condemned by a court — and yet in his heart he forgives.”

[…] 55

“The inverse, of course, is also true. We can imagine, and accept, that someone would never forgive, ever after a process of acquittal or amnesty. The secret of this experience remains.”

page 59

“What I dream of, what I try to think as the ‘purity’ of a forgiveness worthy of its name, would be forgiveness without power: unconditional but without sovereignty. The most difficult task, at once necessary and apparently impossible, would be to dissociate unconditionality and sovereignty. Will that be done one day?”

( ^ It is not around the corner, as is said. But since the hypothesis of this unpresentable task announces itself, be it as a dream for thought, this madness is perhaps not so mad… )

page 13, ‘Implications’

Of Grammatology is the title of a question: a question about the necessity of a science of writing, about the conditions that would make it possible, about the critical work that would have to open its field and resolve the epistemological obstacles; but it is also a question about the limits of science. And these limits, on which I have insisted on no less, are also those of the classical notion of science, whose projects, concepts, and norms are fundamentally and systematically tied to metaphysics.”

page 19, ‘Semiology & Grammatology’

Now, “everyday language” is not innocent or neutral. It is the language of Western metaphysics, and it carries with it not only a considerable number of presuppositions of all types, but also presuppositions inseparable from metaphysics, which, although little attended to, are knotted into a system.

page 42, ‘Positions’

“To remain in this phase is still to operate on the terrain of and from within the deconstructed system.”

A Taste for the Secret

page 26

“I would like to say a few words about the right to remain silent, to refuse to answer. The glaring paradox here is that, on one hand, democracy, especially in the form it wants to give to freedom of expression, the press and opinion, ought to gaurantee the right to reply. But, on the other, out everyday experience tells us it does not do so, and in fact does less so all the time, with the development of mass media & their one-sided communication; even if the law accords a right to reply, one knows that this right is never technically ensured. As a result democracy is never ensured and never will be — will never be what it has to be, unless this right is absolutely guaranteed.

And it never will be. This is one phase of the question: the lack of a right to reply in democracy. IF democracy is always ‘to come’, this is because the right to reply, which is an infinite right, will never be fully ensured. This can be easily demonstrated.

Taking the question the other way around, the self-same concept of democracy is founded on subjective responsibility, i.e. on the subject’s obligation to answer. And thus on the fact that he has no right now to answer. In a democracy, when someone asks you your name you have to answer; public space is a space in which a subject is question and has to answer. If someone who is called upon to testify, vote, give his name, replies ‘I’m not answering’, ‘I refuse to answer’, he can be put in prison. Although democracy ought to guarantee both the right to answer and the right not to answer, in fact it guarantees neither one nor the other.”

[In patamodernity, this once truth is waining. Internet allows for all responses & lack of]

Geneses, Genealogies, Genres, & Genius

page 20

“What can a library do with secret letters? We shall define libraries as places devoted to keeping the secret but insofar as they give it away. Giving a secret away may mean telling it, revealing it, publishing it, divulging it, as well as keeping it so deeply in the crypt of a memory that we forget it is there or even cease to understand and have access to it. In one sense a secret kept is always a secret lost. This is what happens in general in places one calls library archives.”

Page 21

“Having force of law, this secret is always the power of someone. There would be no secret without a pledge to the other. Without swearing. As such, this other, this person, so-and-so, is the secret and insists on secret.

page 40

“Her handwriting reminds me of all the squirrels in the world.”

(Of Helene Cixious)

page 69

“Everywhere, therefore, the idea of counterfeit genius steals in. Genius can be faked, but there is also a genius for fakery.”