The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas
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The Ethics of Deconstruction, Simon Critchley's first book, was originally published to great acclaim in 1992. The first book to argue for the ethical turn in Derrida's work, it powerfully shows how deconstruction has persuasive ethical consequences that are vital to our thinking through of questions of politics and democracy.
Moving away from using deconstruction to find the contradictions inherent in any text, Critchley concerns himself with the philosophical context the ethical impetus Derrida's ethics to be understood in relation to his engagement with the work of Levinas, and lays out the details of their philosophical confrontation.
New for this edition: A new preface where Critchley reveals the origins, motivations, and reception of The Ethics of Deconstruction, plus three new appendices, which reflect upon and deppend the book's argument.
Levinas: An Emerging Homology But why should Levinas be given a privileged place in the discussion of the ethics of deconstruction? I should like to begin unfolding this question by looking at some remarkably candid comments that Derrida made about Levinas during a discussion transcribed in Altérités, which appeared in 1986. After explaining his approach to the question of ethics and responding to the charge that he rarely speaks on the subject (A 37, 70–2), matters that I shall take up below,
(Denoël/Gonthier, Paris, 1976). Ap Aporias, tr. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford UP, 1993). AT ‘Of an Apocalyptic Tone Recently Adopted in Philosophy’, tr. J. P. Leavey, Oxford Literary Review, 6, no. 2 (1984), pp. 3–37. CP La carte postale de Socrate à Freud et au-delà (Flammarion, Paris, 1980). D La dissémination (Seuil, Paris, 1972). E De l’esprit. Heidegger et la question (Galilée, Paris, 1987). ECM ‘En ce moment même dans cet ouvrage me voici’, in Textes pour Emmanuel Levinas, ed. F. Laruelle
26/SP 25) which Husserl sought to overcome. Husserl’s intention is rather to show how the pure linguistic expression is itself the possibility of truth and Being; his finger points to the distinction between expression and indication, and avoids a generalized notion of the sign. Derrida thus sketches the possibility of ‘two readings’ of Husserl, which together seem to comprise ‘the historical destiny of phenomenology’ (VP 26/SP 25). (1) Second reading: this would view phenomenology as the
(Autrui ). Now, if this ‘Il’ is sexually neutral, how can it be marked with a masculine pronoun? The silent slippage that occurs between ‘child’ and ‘son’ reveals that the supposed neutrality of ethical difference is marked, in Levinas’s work, by a certain priority of the masculine. The sexual indifference of ethical difference treats masculinity and neutrality as synonyms. However, these are not the only pair of synonyms at work here, because by making sexual difference secondary to ethical
is a clôtural reading. Was I wrong in this? No; but that is not to say that Levinas’s description of ‘Violence and Metaphysics’ is without any validity. Derrida’s text is a violent reading, which both raises many critical objections to Levinas and, I would claim, ignores some of the paradoxes of thematization already present in his earlier works. There is a dominant critical strand in ‘Violence and Metaphysics’ (and some of Derrida’s other work) which should not be reduced. I have shown in the