Interview With Jacques Derrida

OON: You had a role in our forthcoming print issue of [out of nothing]. How was that experience of responding directly to creative pieces?

JD: As one can imagine, such an experience was both premature and impossible. That much was to be expected; I am after all, a mere ghost – and not even that, a trace of a ghost. These [out of nothing] texts – most of them, at any rate -– will continue to accompany me, each in a different way. They will sustain my reflection, and thus also my political commitments and evaluations. At the same time – if one dare speak of a same time – I could be accused of being inexcusably generous with certain of the texts, and of yielding to the allure of “experimental fiction.” Whether my responses are too premature or too generous, I will not, in any event, have succeeded in properly adjusting the timing of them [a en ajuster le temps]. Like this belated response I am giving now, I am always tempted to reinterpret differently. One would be justified in saying, then, that I might have anticipated this failure – might have seen this anachronism coming. Indeed, is a certain untimeliness not at once the temporality and the theme of the life of Jacques Derrida?

OON: What do you see as the relationship between creative writing and theory? I ask especially in a climate where creative and critical writing get placed on such opposite poles, and there is often a distrust of theory among creative writers, often with the question of “Why should I read theory?” How would you respond to this?

JD: There is something more, something other than this difference in “creative writing” and “theory.” If we raise the ante a little higher “theory” brings together the divergent styles, practices, ethics, and politics of “discussion” to work, along with different rhetorics and diverse ways of writing theory. It would be absurd, and, indeed, insulting, to attempt to level out those singularities that makes up “theory” by pretending to address all the myopic concerns of “creative writing.” How can one undertake to formalize all these idiomatic, untranslatable differences, even while pretending to speak to one and all from, as it were, a “theoretical” position, the position at once the most advantageous and the hardest to find, the most absurd and the least tenable, and, at any rate, the most unjust? Though I do not pretend to know anything about contemporary “creative writing” I would nonetheless like to recall what, at a particular moment in reading the [out of nothing] texts, tied together, on the one hand, the very possibility of “creative writing” and the phenomenality of “theory”; and, on the other hand, the possibility of a “hauntology,” you are after all a spectrality irreducible to all that is “out of nothing,” which also means, even before one begins to read “theory”, one is intertwined in “theory.” Try as one may one can not delimit “theory,” in short, this gap in between creative and critical writing is a performative interpretation, a gesture that I thus hazard is, of course, one that others will always be entitled to deem as real or fictive.

OON: I recently watched 1983 film Ghost Dance in which you play yourself. You talk extensively about ghosts and the role of ghosts in memory, and how memory functions in the present. And as such, you yourself are currently a ghost. Can you talk a bit more about these ideas?

JD: A ghost is merely the “trace of the other”; for instance, the other who has died and that remains “other,” is at once inside and outside of us. The trace, or the ghost, is synonymous with the gap (even with respect to memory); for instance, most of the gaps in “Chaque fois unique” are the gaps of others, the gap, the trace of the other who has died. At the same time, there are so few gaps in the afterlife. The gap of death, of memory, of separation, can always be crossed; my answer to your question is but only one example of how easily penetrable this border is. I still have only watched the first five minutes of the film Ghost Dance. I will watch it, soon.

OON: You are most famous perhaps for your ideas on deconstruction. How should we read your work in 2012?

JD: “Deconstruction” today is an anachronism, an error. It is an error in computing time or fixing events, a relating of an event, custom, or circumstance to a wrong period of time. “Deconstruction” is an error of time (khronos), of the wrong time, of time as an error, of time as a repetition, a return, a going back, a renewal (ana) that is out of step, that makes the wrong step (pas) for succession as systematization. After my physical death, “deconstruction” is indicative of an unavoidable contretemps: “deconstruction” – like time – is “out of joint,” untimely: back to the drawing board.

OON: I always found the accusation that many of your ideas were borrowed from Borges interesting. Can you talk about your relationship with Borges’ work?

JD: What would be my spontaneous attitude to Borges? It’s a pensive one. I am reminded of an interview with Borges, during a visit to Harvard in 1968. His father had a theory of forgetting that lingered with him. “I think if I recall something,” his father said, “for example, if today I look back on this morning, then I get an image of what I saw this morning. But if tonight, I’m thinking back on this morning, then what I’m really recalling is not the first image, but the first image in memory. So that every time I recall something, I’m not recalling it really, I’m recalling the last time I recalled it, I’m recalling my last memory of it. So that really, I have no memories whatever, I have no images whatever, about my childhood, my youth.” My relationship with Borges works precisely in this fashion; I have no relationship with him whatever. The only relationship I have with him, his writings, is his ghost – the traces of Borges.

OON: Might you have any notions about the future of literature?

And do you, or your ghost, have anything else you want to state in this forum?

JD: Already we have rapidly accumulated data on the precise characteristics and dynamics of the constituent parts of the brain (for example, we know that the hippocampus is vital for learning new information and long-term storage of memories) and systems of the brain, ranging from individual synapses to large regions such as the cerebellum, which comprises more than half of the brain’s neurons. In 20-30 years, after we have reverse-engineered the human brain, it will be startling to read the first series of A.I. literary works of fiction. I plan on being there to read them all; how? – you ask.

Extensive databases are methodically cataloging our exponentially growing knowledge of the brain. Researchers have shown they can rapidly understand and apply this information by building models and working simulations. These simulations of brain regions are based on the mathematical principles of complexity theory and chaotic computing and are already providing results that closely match experiments performed on actual human and animal brains. In 30-40 years we can look forward to all of the works of Derrida downloaded onto a simulated AI mind; precisely at that moment, I will cease to be dead! As a spontaneous member of the undead, I will be a corporeal ghost! And from that flash of new consciousness I wish to further our conversation and perhaps, by then, I will have the privilege of asking your ghost a series of impossible questions – ad infinitum into the Electronic Baroque.

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Jacques Derrida is a French philosopher commonly associated with post-structuralism and post-modernism. His early works On Grammatology and Writing and Difference, though which he developed the now-widespread critical framework of “deconstruction,” stand as the most noted of his 40+ published books.

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