THE WORK OF MOURNING by Jacques Derrida


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Mourning, deconstruction-style.

Derrida (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and Univ. of California at Irvine) laments the deaths of his friends and fellow philosophers in this collection of 14 essays. The dead so honored include Roland Barthes, Paul de Man, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Gilles Deleuze, and Jean-Francois Lyotard—each of whom is lauded individually through a range of genres, including the typical (condolence letters, memorial essays, eulogies, and funeral orations) and the atypical (academic lectures). Derrida, the godfather of deconstruction, whose theories of interpretation have stimulated unprecedented productivity in academia, offers some curiously stale and sterile words to mark the passing of his loved ones, as in these for Barthes: “The metonymic force thus divides the referential trait, suspends the referent and leaves it to be desired, while still maintaining the reference.” To translate: “I love you and will never forget you.” Brault and Naas write that we need “to learn something more from Jacques Derrida about taste, about a taste for death,” but on the contrary: most people mourn truly, deeply, and powerfully without instruction in the opposition between the signifier/signified dyad. With the death of a loved one, grief and mourning rip into our lives and shatter the orders of affection we wish to maintain; unfortunately, too little instruction is needed to grasp its power. Mercifully, some less jargon-ridden sentiments do appear here, including the eulogies to Deleuze and Lyotard; still, these passages do little to elicit the interest of the general reader, as one enters into the relationship only at its very end. Still, Derrida can reach a plaintive and stirring lamentation to highlight, appropriately enough, the failure of words to communicate when we need them most.

The cults, claques, and cliques of Derrida devotees will surely reach for their hankies; everyone else will look on dry-eyed.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-226-14316-3
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2001


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