Thursday, January 1, 2009

Jacques Derrida On Prayer Pts. 1-3

Jacques Derrida On Prayer

Part One

Part Two

Part Three


Michael Ducey said...

Out-of-body Thinking

Derrida gets the language for his epistemology from Husserl. Phenomenology starts with a "principle of principles" that "primordial presence to intuition is the source of sense and evidence, the a priori of a prioris."

This means that "the certainty, itself ideal and absolute, that the universal form of all experience (Erlebnis), and therefore of all life, has always been and will always be the present. The present alone is and ever will be. Being is presence or the modification of presence. The relation with the presence of the present as the ultimate form of being and of ideality is the move by which I transgress empirical existence, factuality, contingency, worldliness, etc." [Speech and Phenomena, 53-54.]

However, the choice of the words "present" and "presence" to indicate the ground of all knowledge has some very unfortunate consequences. That choice sets up a confusion between two completely different meanings of the word "presence."

One meaning is "phenomenological presence". This refers to the immediate access to being in the original act of knowledge. It does not refer to time at all. So, phenomenological presence might be better expressed by calling it presence-to-being. That would save it from being confused with the other meaning of "presence", what we should call "temporal presence", that is, the occurrence of an event at a particular moment in time.

Derrida also calls this living presence "the now". This reinforces the confusion between presence-to-being and occurrence-at-a-particular-moment-in-time. It is also unfortunate that Derrida uses the word "form" in the phrase "the universal form of all experience". What he wants to refer to is the "universal basis of all experience", which is not a form. It is an act. But this word-slippage is also quite telling, and one of the many clues in Derrida's work that he is confusing the order of abstract concepts and the order of actual reality.

This epistemology leads to the cornerstone mistake of claiming that iterability is an a priori condition of knowing, whereas in fact iterability is an a posteriori result of knowing. An original presence-to-being (insight) occurs in time. Consequently it is repeatable. So, iterability is not "inside" phenomenological presence, it is extrinsic to it. This mistake is made all the more easy since both relationships are necessary. Once you get this, then all of Derrida's objections to realist epistemology collapse, and his whole philosophical system collapses into imaginary ashes.

I have discussed these issues at length in my article "Dealing With Derrida", which you can find on the Radical Academy web site.

Although running down Derrida's mistakes in his text is difficult, once you get the key point that he was dissociated, the whole pattern of his out-of-body thinking makes sense. Once you discover Derrida's dissociation, you find it in many thinkers. There is a lot of out-of-body thinking in philosophy and social theory. Perhaps leaving one's body is an occupational hazard for professional thinkers. Dissociation is the result of trauma, and trauma is easy to come by.

There are many sources of insight into dissociation. I recommend Trauma and the Body (2006) by Pat Ogden et al. as a start.

Josh Haden said...


Thanks for your comment. Much appreciated.

However, I'm not sure what it has to do with my post, a series of audio recordings, no explanation or endorsement attached, in which Derrida talks about the concept of prayer from the self-concious point-of-view of a thinker (Derrida) who has often been accused of not recognizing the validity of prayer.

My post wasn't an attempt to confront Derrida's philosphy in general, but since you bring it up, I'll try to respond, albeit briefly. I'm not an expert on Derrida, in fact, I'm quite the amateur, but I'll do the best I can.

Anyone who reads Derrida's writings, or who is at least familiar with his work, would have to agree that Derrida gets the language for his epistemology from a variety of sources, not just Husserl. He gets his language from Hegel, Descartes, Nietzche, St. Augustine, (most of all, some would say) Plato, and many other philosophers who have been active and influential in the progress and evolution of human thought.

As I read it, Derrida takes exception to the term "presence" because, in his opinion, "presence" as it has been traditionally defined philosophically (for example, phenomenologically) can never be obtained in its entirety or completeness within the boundaries of its definition. "Presence" is (to borrow a Derridian term) always already its other, and therefore never itself.

But, as you point out in your essay "Dealing With Derrida", Derrida would never state unequivocally that "presence" doesn't exist. This would be as imprecise as saying "presence" exists. This is where Derrida introduces the concept of the "double bind", that is, that we are forced to use a language to describe "presence" that cannot adequately describe "presence", coming as our language does from a logo-centric philosophical "foundation" of "presence".

Therefore, we do the best we can with the language we have. You find this self-serving of Derrida, and I disagree with you. That is neither here nor there.

I don't need a lesson on Derrida's thought from you as a comment on my blog, and, respectfully, I don't know why you assume it is your right to do so, especially when you aren't specifically addressing the content of my original blog post, that is, prayer.

There are many intelligent writers, thinkers, and philosophers who, like you, do their best to "discredit" Derrida. That is your business to do so and I'm not criticizing you in that regard.

However, I hope you agree with me that Jacques Derrida was (and still is) an important and influential figure in the evolution of human thought, and just because one might disagree with his views Derrida's writings shouldn't be considered from a neutral point of view, and his books shouldn't be made available to the interested reader in schools, bookstores, etc. empty of caveat.

Most people don't care about Derrida, let alone even heard his name, because, in my opinion, of the resistance of many acadmicians who, self-servingly, feel that because they disagree with Derrida's views, Derrida's views shouldn't be taught, or if they should be taught, should be taught starting from the conclusion that Derrida was wrong.

Michael Ducey said...

Hi Josh,
Well, you are interested in D, and so I thought you might be interested in the dissociation premise.
So, I guess we are not on the same page there.
And elsewhere. My main web site is called, and so my view of prayer is quite different from yours.
However, the exchange of ideas is good.