Jacques Derrida

There is No "One" Narcissism

(Autobiophotographies)

An interview broadcast in the program prepared by Didier Cahen over France-Culture, "Le bon plaisir de Jacques Derrida," on March 22, 1986 and published with the title "Entretien avec Jacques Derrida" in "Digraphe" 42 (December 1987).


- Jacques Derrida, what strikes me, what strikes your readers is your great vigilance with regard to public manifestations, as well as a certain retreat. One could cite many examples of this: very few photographs of you, very few interviews in the press. Is this a deliberate choice, a necessity, or probably both at the same time?

- I would like to pick up on the word vigilance . . . I take it to be an evaluation on your part. If you say vigilance, it is because you suppose I have a desire to be lucid on this subject. I don't know how far lucidity can go in this domain. In any case, I will begin with a precaution. If there is, in fact, as you said, retreat, a rarity of photographic or journalistic manifestations, this does not proceed from a will not to appear. Like many, I must have a certain desire to appear; but also a misgiving as for the modalities of appearing such as these are in general programmed in what is called the cultural field. Let's take the example of the photograph since you alluded to it. I have nothing against photography, on the contrary photography interests me a lot and I will even say: photographs of myself interest me. During the fifteen or twenty years in which I tried - it was not always easy with publishers, newspapers, etc. - to forbid photographs, it was not at all in order to mark a sort of blank, absence, or disappearance of the image; it was because the code that dominates at once the production of these images, the framing they are made to undergo, the social implications (showing the writer's head framed in front his bookshelves, the whole scenario) seemed to me to be, first of all, terribly boring, but also contary to waht I am trying to write and to work on. So it seemed to me consistent not to give in to all of this without any defenses. This vigilance is probably not the whole story. It is likely that I have a rather complicated relation to my own image, complicated enough that the force of desire is at the same time checked, contradicted, thwarted. What I have just told you about photography is valid for other manifestations. You mentioned interviews, live broadcasts, the organized appearance of what is called an author: there too I have the same worry. I have never found a kind of rule or coherent protocol in this regard. No doubt there is a lot of improvisation and inconsistency

- In your text, one always feels a lot of pleasure, a pleasure in writing, even a certain playfulness. For you, is the pleasure of philosophizing or the pleasure of philosophy essentially a pleasure of writing?

- That's a very difficult question. To go with what is most certain, I will say that it must be the case that I take a certain pleasure in philosophy, in a certain way of doing philosophy. There is much philosophy and many books of philosophy that I find terribly boring, that I do not like to read, and before which I have great resistance. I try to find a certain economy of pleasure in what is called philosophy. Your question aksed about the pleasure of writing: Yes, if one uses this word "writing" very carefully. I don't believe, for example - and perhaps contrary to what certain people might tent to believe - that I have a lot of pleasure in writing, that is, in finding myself before a sheet of paper and in devising sentences. I probably even have a certain immediate aversion for the thing. On the other hand, and also contrary to what certain people might think, I love to "talk" philosophy. Of course, it is also a writing, it is a certain form of writing. I don't particularly like improvising, except in very favorable conditions (not like here!), but I do like a certain manner of talking philosophy which, for me, is a way of writing. And I believe that in what I write in the graphic sense or the sense of publication, the experience of the voice, of rhythm, of what is called speech is always marked. I insist on this point because, in general, at least for those who are interested in what I do, I am presented as someone who is for writing, a man of writing rather than speech. Well that's wrong! Yes, it's wrong. It's just that I think that the concept of writing has now been sufficiently transformed that we should no longer let ourselves be taken in by the somewhat trivial opposition between speech and writing.
So pleasure, yes, but, you know, pleasure is a very complicated thing. Pleasure can accumulate, intensify through a certain experience of pain, ascesis, difficulty, an experience of the impasse or of impossibility; so, pleasure, yes, no doubt, but in order to respond seriously and philosophically to your question, we would have to open up a whole discourse on the pleasure principle, on beyond the pleasure princile, etc.

- What is more your taste for philosophy also always takes a path through risk, adventure, high stakes . . .

- To have the very complicated pleasure we were just talking about, to have this pleasure, I suppose one must, at a given moment, stand at the limit of catastrophe or of the risk of loss. Otherwise, one is only applying a surefire program. So, one must take risks. That's what experience is. I use this word in a very grave sense. There would be no experience otherwise, without risk. But for the risk to be worth the trouble, so to speak, and for it to be really risked or risking, one must take this risk with all the insurance possible. That is, one must multiply the assurances, have the most lucid possible consciousness of all the systems of insurance, all the norms, all that can limit the risks, one must explore the terran of these assurances: their history, their code, their norms in order to bring them to the edge of the risk in the surest way possible. One has to be sure that the risk is taken. And to be sure that the risk is taken, one has to negociate with the assurances. And thus speak . . . in the mode of philosophy, of demonstration, of logic, of critique so as to arrive at the point where that is no longer possible, so as to see where that is no longer possible. What I am calling here assurance or insurance are all the codes, the values, the norms we were just talking about and that regulate philosophical discourse: the philosophical institution, the values of coherence, truth, deomnstration, etc.

- What also sometimes attracts you is the will to provoke: first of all to provoke philosophical events, but also to provoke in the common sense of provocation. An example among others is this sentence drawn from "Right of Inspection": "the right to narcissism ought to be rehabilitated . . ." ("Droit de regards" by M.-F. Plissart, Paris: Minuit, 1985).

- Narcissism! There is not narcissism and non-narcissism; there are narcissisms that are more or less comprehensive, generous, open, extended. What is called non-narcissism is in general but the economy of a much more welcoming, hospitable narcissism, one that is much more open to the experience of the other as other. I believe that without a movement of narcissistic reappropriation, the relation to the other would be absolutedly destroyed, it would be destroyed in advance. The relation to the other - even if it remains asymmetrical, open, without possible reappropriation - must trace a movement of reappropriation in the image of oneself for love to be possible, for example. Love is narcissistic. Beyond that, there are little narcissisms, there are big narcissisms, and there is death in the end, which is the limit. Even in the experience - if there is one - of death, narcissism does not absolutely abdicate its power.

- Closest to, farthest from narcissism or narcissisms, or rather I should say, closest to the idiom and to singularity, you have often repeated that deconstruction is not a method, that there is no "Derridean method." How, then, is one to take account of your work? How do you evaluate its effects? To whom is your work addressed and, finally, who reads you?

- By definition, I do not know to whom it is addressed. Or rather yes I do! I have a certain knowledge on this subject, some anticipations, some images, but there is a point at which, no more than anyone who publishes or speaks, I am not assured of the destination. Even if one tried to regulate what one says by one or more possible addressees, who would have typical profiles, even if one wanted to do that it would not be possible. And I hold that one ought not to try to master this destination. That is moreover why one writes. Now, you mentioned idiom. Yes, but I also do not believe in pure idioms. I think there is naturally a desire, for whoever speaks or writes, to sign in an idiomatic, that is, irreplaceable manner. But as soon it there is a mark, that is, the possibility of a repetition, as soon as there is language, generality has entered the scene and the idiom compromises with something that is not idiomatic: with a common language, concepts, laws, general norms. And consequently, even if one attempts to preserve the idiom of the method - since you spoke of method - of a system of rules which others are going to be able to use, so the idipom of the method . . . well, by the fact that the idiom is not pure, there is already method. Every discourse, even a poetic or oracular sentence, carries with it a system of rules for producing analogous things and thus an outline of methodology. That said, at the same time I have tried to mark the ways in which, for example, deconstructive questions could not give rise to methods, that is, to technical procedures that could be repeated from one context to another. In what I write, I think there are also some general rules, some procedures that can be transposed by analogy - this is what is called a teaching, a knowledge, applications - but these rules are taken up in a text which is ech time a unique element and which does not let itself be totally methodologized. In fact, this singularity is not pure, but it exists. It exists moreover independently of the deliberate will of whoever writes. There is finally a signature, which is not the signature one calculated, which is naturally not the patronymic name, which is not the set of stratagems elaborated in order to propose something original or inimitable. But, whether one like it or not, there is an "effect of the idiom for the other". It is like photography: whatever pose you adopt, whatever precautions you take so that the photograph will look like this or that, there is a moment in which the photograph surprises you and it is the other's look that, finally, wins out and decides. So, I think that in what I write in particular - but this is valid for others - the same thing happens: there is idiom and there is method, generality; reading is a mixed experience of the other in his or her signularity as well as philocophical content, information that can be torn out of this singular context. Both at the same time.

- In one of your recent books, "Feu la cendre", you note that you write "in the position of non-knowing rather than of the secret"; is it this non-knowing that marks the idiom, the magnetizes desire?

- It is not a non-knowing installed in the form of "I don't want to know." I am all for knowledge [laughter], for science, for analysis, and . . . well, ok! So, this non-knowing . . . it is not a limit . . . of a knowledge, the limit in the progression of a knowledge. It is, in some way, a structural non-knowing, which is heterogeneous, foreign to knowledge. It's not just the unknown that could be known and that I give up trying to know. It is something in relation to which knowledge is out of the question. And when I specify that is is a non-knowing and not the secret, I mean that when a text appears to be crypted, it is not at all in order to calculate or to intrigue or to bar access to something that I know and that others must not know; it is a more ancient, more originary experience, if you will, of the secret. It is not a thing, some information that I am hiding or that one has to hide or dissimulate; it is rather an experience that does not make itself available to information, that resists information and knowledge, and that immediately encrypts itself. That is what I try to underscore about Celan, who is supposed to be a difficult and cryptic poet, for example, in the way in which he arranges dates, allusions to experiences he has had, and so forth, with all the problems of decipherment that this supposes . . . What I suggested is that he didn't do it out of calculation, in order to put generations of academics to work looking for the keys to a text. It is the experience of writing and language that is involved in this crypt, in this cryptics.

- If we are going to continue what we've been doing for the last while, that is, trying not to identify but, perhaps, to mark how one can understand and receive your work, there is a word that comes to mind, the word "thought" or "thinking" ["pensée"], in its Heideggerian overtones. At the same time, you seem to be almost more on guard in relation to this word than in relation to the word "philosophy."

- Yes and no. There are situations in which the word "pensée" takes on in fact very marked connotations, which I would tend to want to guard against. But, generally, I prefer it to the words "philosophy" and "knowledge," with reference, in effect, to Heidegger's gesture. But here, one would have to speak of the languages, because "pensée", the French word, is not at all the Heideggerian "Denken". But with reference to what Heidgger did when he distinguished precisely thinking from "philosophy" and from "science", I care about . . . a "thinking," let's say, that is not confined within the particular way of thinking that is philosophy, or that is science. There are forms - I don't dare say forms of questions because it is not at all certain that thinking means questioning, that it is essentially questioning; I am not sure that the question is the ultimate form or the worthiest form of thinking - there are perhaps "pensées" that are more thinking than this kind of thinking called philosophy. So, I have used this work "pensée" from this point of view, with these intentions, since this is the way Heidegger's distinction between "philosophy" and "thinking" gets translated. But perhaps in Latin, in a Latinate language like French, "pensée" shouldbe replaced by something else. Here, one would have to go into that which, in Heidegger's text, makes the link between thinking and other meanings that the word "pensée" does not have links to in French: "Andenken", memory, gratitude, thanking. None of this is present in the Latin of French "penser". So, to a certain extent, it's a conventional word for me, it's a translation; it's not necessarily the best word.

- You just mentioned memory, which is a word to which I would like to return and first of all by asking an "indiscrete" question. It is part of those autobiographical elements which are, a priori, more or less certain: you were born in Algeria.

- That's true.

- You confirm it! So, what memory do you have of Algeria, of that time? What is the legacy of that link and that period? But first of all is there a possible narration ["récit"] of this?

- I would hope that the narration were possible. For the moment, it is not possible. I dream of managing one day, not to recount this legacy, this past experience, this history, but at least to give a narration of it among other possible narrations. But, in order to get there, I would have to undertake a kind of work, I would have to set out on an adventure that up until now I have not been capable of. To invent, to invent a langue, to invent modes of anamnesis . . . For me, it is this adventure that interests me the more in a certain way, but which still today seems to me practically inaccessible. So, having said that, am I going to take the risk here, while improvising, of telling you things that would resemble a narration? No! Unless you ask me precise factual questions that I will not dodge, but I don't feel capable of giving myself over to . . . variations on my memory, my inheritance. All the more so in that this inheritance - if it is one - is multiple, not very homoegenous, full of all kinds of grafts; and to talk about it seriously, we would need a different apparatus than the one at our disposal for this program. I was born in Algeria, but already my family, which had been in Algeria for a long time, before the French colonization, was not simply Algerian. The French language was not the language of its ancestors. I lived in the pre-independent Algeria, but not all that long before Independence. All of this makes for a landscape that is very, very . . . full of contracts, mistures, crossings. The least statement on this subject seems to me to be a mutilation in advance.

- During a colloquium in Canada, you said to the only Frenchman present in the room: "You are French, I'm not; I come from Algeria. I have therefore a different relation to the French language." Can one speak of exile in language?

- I don't know if one ought to speak simply of language, in the strict sense of the term. I have only one language. I don't know any other. So, I was raised in a monolingual milieu - absolutely monolingual. Around me, although not in my family, I naturally heard Arabic spoken, but I do not speak - except for a few words - Arabic. I tried to learn it later but I didn't get very far. Moreover, one could say in a general way, without exaggerating, that learning Arabic was something that was virtually forbidden at school. Not prohibited by law, but practically impossible. So, French is my only language. Nevertheless, in the culture of the French in Algeria and in the Jewish community of the French in Algeria, there was a way in which, despite everything, France was not Algeria; the source, the norm, the authority of the French language was elsewhere. And, in a certain manner, confusedly, we learned it, I learned it as the language of the other - even though I could only refer to one language as being mine, you see! And this is why I say that it is not a question of language, but of culture, literature, history, history of French literature, what I was learning at school. I was totally immersed, I had no other reference, I had no other culture, but at the same time I sensed clearly that all of this came from a history and a milieu that were not in a simple and primitive way mine. Not counting what I was saying a moment ago about the gap between the figure of the French of France and the French of Algeria, a very marked social gap - about which there would be a lot to say. It's that the Frenchman of France was an other. And an other who was, to be sure, higher on the ladder: he was the model of distinction, what one should say and how one should say it. So, it was the master's language in a certain way - I mean this also in the pedagogical sense of the term, it was what we were taught by the schoolmasters. And yet, there was and there still is - I think this is still true for the "pieds-noirs", a common nickname for the French of Algeria, many of whom were "repatriated" to France when Algeria's independence was declared in 1962, who returned to France - in relation to the French of France a condescendance on the part of the "pieds-noirs", a suspicion, and, at the same time, the feeling that these people, when you get right down to it, are still naive or innocent ["niais"]. Innocent with the sexual connotation that this word can have. They are credulous, in a certain way. People from the South often have this feeling about Northerners; it's also tru within France. The Southerner tends to think - I'm talking about a very primitive but strong feeling - that the Northerner is more credulous, less cunning, and there was some of this among the "pieds-noirs". So, the Frenchman was the master, the norm, the authority, the source of legitimation, and at the same time, he was the one who had not yet really opened his eyes, who was credulous, who will not put one over on me, etc.

- You just mentioned your Judaism. Were you raised in a family context that was strongly marked by Judaism?

- My family was observant very banally, but I must say, unfortunately, that this observance was not guided by a true Jewish culture. There were rituals to be observed in a rather external way, but I was not really raised in what is called Jewish culture. I regret this moreover. I don't regret it simply out of nostalgia for sense of Jewish belonging, but because I think it is a lacune in anyone's culture, mine in particular. The paths of this inheritance have to be extremely complicated for it to be passed along neither by genes, nor by a thematics, nor by language, nor by religious instruction. It can follow other trajectoris. So what are they? It is very difficult to improvise an answer, but one can imagine that a community cut off from its roots can, by way of non-conscious paths, communicate with . . . a certain manner of managing its unconscious, of reading, deciphering, living its anxiety. All f this can give rise to a certain relation to the world, a certain attitude that compels one to write in this way or that. I know I am giving a very inadequate answer concerning these trajectories, but it is in the direction of these very singular trajectories that one must look in order to pose the question. That is, neither in the direction of religion, nor themes, nor language, nor content, but of another mode of transmission.

- Reading you, one has at first the feeling that your intellectual and cultural legacy is Greek and German, which is not surprising for a philosopher: Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger, the list of names could be extended. Might there not also be with you a sort of Judaic intrusion, difficult to define, which would come along to undo again, deconstruct this line of division that is so tradition between the Greek and the German? An inscription of Judaism within the Graeco-German?

- Perhaps. I hesitate for all the reasons given up until now, I hesitate to call it Judaic. There is certainly (and here I am describing naively a naive experience) a feeling of exteriority with regard to European, French, German, Greek culture. But when, as you know I do, I close myself up with it because I teach and write all the time about things that are German, Greek, French, even then it is true that I have the feeling I am doing it from another place that I do not know: an exteriority based on a place that I do not inhabit in a certain way, or that I do not identify. That is why I hesitate to call it Judaic. There is an exteriority! Some might say to me: But it's always like that, even which a German philosopher writes about the German tradition, the fact that he is questioning, writing, interrogating inscribes him in a certain outside. One always has to have a certain exteriority in order to interrogate, question, write. But perhaps beyond this exterirority, which is common to all those who philosophize and write, ask questions . . . beyond this exteriority there is perhaps something else, the feeling of "another" exteriority. Finally, If I wanted to rush toward a more coherently formulated response, also perhaps a more elegant one, I don't know, and which perhaps would not true to the extent it was elegant, this place that for the moment I cannot identify and that I refuse to call the place of Judaism is perhaps what I am looking for, very simply. If I were optimistic enough on this subject, I would say that I see the journey of my brief existence as a journey in view of determining and naming the place from which I will have had the experience of exteriority. And the anamnesis we were talking about at the outset, this anamnesis would be in view of identifying, of naming it - not effacing the exteriority, I don't thank it can be effaced - but of naming it, identifying it, and thinking it a little better than I have done so far. And that's it, finally, the narration I refused to give a moment ago, because a "récit", as you know, is not simply a memory reconstituting a past; a "récit" is also a promise, it is also something that makes a commitment toward the future. What I dream of is not only the narration of a past that is inaccessible to me, bt a narration that would also be a future, that would determine a future.

- Does this signal toward that experience that traverses also your work and that one can read as, in its own way, an experience of loss?

- Yes, it's a very common experience. I would say that what I suffer from inconsolably always has the form, not only of loss, which is often! - but of the loss of memory, that what I am living not be kept, thus repeated, and - how to put it? - decipherable, as if an appeal for a witness had no witness, in some way, not even the witness that I could be for what I have lived. This for me is the very experience of death, of catastrophe. I would be reconciled with everything I live, even the worst things, if I were assured that the memory of it would stay with me, or stay as well as the testimony that gives meaning or that brings to light, that permits the things to reappear. The experience of cinders is the experience not only of forgetting, but of the forgetting of forgetting, of the forgetting of which nothing remains. This, then, is the worst and, at the same time, it is a benediction. Both at once.

- If one were to try to measure your . . . well, I don't know! - there are a lot of words one could propose: route, path, adventure, experience, trajectory . . . Which one do you prefer from among all these words? Perhaps it is in fact a different one?

- Adventure, trajectory, experience . . . ?

- . . . trajectory, route, path . . . to designate, then, your . . .

- I don't know. I rather like the word experience whose origin evokes traversal, but a traversal with the body of a space that is not given in advance but that opens as one advances. The word experience, once dusted off and reactivated a little, so to speak, is perhaps the one I would choose.

- So, in order to try to take the measure of your experience, one could, for example, start out from "cinder." It seems to me that a displacement has occurred from the question of writing, of trace toward, precisely, the question of the cinder. First of all, is this a thread that permit one to describe the experience and what would be the principal stages?

- That's not the right word! But perhaps it is the least bad word for gathering all this together. If I say that at a given moment, I collected in "Cinders" everything that had received the name "cinders" in a number of earlier texts, it was not with the systematic aim of bringing out a continuity. Moreover, I also wrote that text, as I frequently do, in response to a demand. At that moment, I remembered that I had written a very crypted, deliberately crypted little sentence, which is: "Il y a lá cendre." It's on the last page of "Dissemination", in a paragrpah of acknowledgments. So I began by wishing to read this sentence, which is, in its brevity, very overcharged. And then, along the way, I became more vividly, clearly aware of the fact that cinders formed a very, let's say, insistent motif in a number of earlier texts. Whence this sort of "polylogue," an indeterminate number of voices on the subject of this text of ashes or cinders, or on cinders, in the course of which I tried to show . . . or someone tried to show that the words I had privileged somewhat up until now, such as trace, writing, gramme, turned out to be better named by "cinder" for the following reason: Ashes or cinders are obviously traces - in general, the first figure of the trace one thinks of is that of the step, along a path, the step that lives a footprint, a trace, or a vestige; but "cinder" renders better what I meant to say with the name of trace, namely, soemthing that remains without remaining, which is neither precent nor absent, which destroys itself, which is tota;lly consumed, which is a remainder without remainder. That is, something which is not. To explain it in a consistent manner, one would have to undertake a meditation on Being, on "is," on what "is" means, what "rest" means in the texts in which I distinguish "to remain" from "to be." I.e, "rester" and "tre." Derrida's displacement of "tre" by "rester" takes advantage of the visual pun possible in the third person singular present indicative forms: "est" and "reste." The cinder is not! The cinder is not: This means that it testifies without testifying. It testifies to the disappearance of the witness, if one can say that. It testifies to the disappearance of memory. When I keep a text for memory, what remains there is not cinders apparently. Cinders is the destruction of memory itself; it is an absolutely radical forgetting, not only forgetting in the sense of the philosophy of consciousness, or a psychology of consciousness; it is even forgetting in the economy of the unconscious by repression. Repression is not forgetting. Repression keeps the memory. Cinders, however, is an absolute non-memory, so to speak. Thus, it communicates with that which in the gift, for example, does not even seek to get recognized or kept, does not even seek to be saved. Well, to say that there is cinders there ["il y a l cendre"], that there is some cinder there, is to say that in every trace, in every writing, and consequently in every experience (for me every experience is, in a certain way an experience of trace and writing), in every expereince there is this incineration, this experience of incinceration which is experience itself. Naturally, then, there are great, spectacular experiences of incineration - and I allude to them in the text - I'm thinking of the crematoria, of all the destruction by fire, but before even these great memorable experience of incineration, there is incineration as experience, as the elementary form of experience. In the text on Celan ("Shibboleth"), I evoke certain poesm by Celan on ashes or cinders, on the disappearance not only of the cherished one, but of his or her name - when "mourning" is not even possible. This is the absolute destruction of testimony and, in this regard, the word "cinder" says very well - provided, of course, that one also makes it say this in a text that writes the cinder, that writes on cinders, that writes in cinders - cinder says very well that which in the trace in general, in writing in general, effaces what it inscribes. The effacement is not only the contrary of inscription. One writes with cinders on cinders. And not only is this not nihilist, but I would say that the experience of cinders, which communicates with the experience of the gift, of the non-keeping, of the relation to the other as interruption of economy, this experience of cinders is also the possiblity of the relation to the other, of the gift, of affirmation, of benediction, of prayer . . .

- With "cinder," for example, one may note in your work a certain inflection: the desire to rework on a philosophical plane words that are less "technical" or at least less philosophically charged than those on which you previously insisted, such as margin, writing, or differance . . .

Certainly. In the text "Cinders", I do what I cannot do again here while improvising in front of a microphone, which would be both impossible and indecent: I take an interest in the word "cinder," effectively. Everything that can happen to it and everything that it can cause to happ in the French language, for example, and in other languages since "Cinders" is also concerned with the translation of the word cinder into other languages. Yes, so beyond an analysis - which is not only an analysis, which is also a manner of writing the word "cendre" in French in other languages - beyond this analysis which I undertook in "Cinders", one might get the impression that I am trying to bestow a philosophical legitimacy on this or that word, such as "cinder" for example, to transform it into a philosophical concept. This is true and false. No doubt, that interests me and I am tempted to take a word from everyday language and to make it do some work as a philosophical concept, provoking thereby restructurations of philosophical discourse. That interests me. For example, in "Glas", I tried to talk about cinders in Hegel, to say what the meaning of fire was in Hegel: sun, fire, holocaust, the total destruction by fire. There are passages that could be read as a kind of philosophy of cinders. And, at the same time, I restrain this movement because to write a philosophy of cinders, to give to the word "cinder" a philosophical dignity, is also to loss it. It is to make of it precisely something other than what I think it "is" or remains, since "cinder" cannot be an essence, a substance, a philosophical meaning. It is on the contrary what ruins philosophy or philosophical legitimacy in advance, in a certain way. Whence this double gesture that proposes a philosophical thinking of cinders and shows how "cinder" is that which prevents philosophy from closing on itself.

- "Toward deconstruction": an affirmation (which I am responsible for) on the cover of an issue of "Digraphe" and perhaps as well, the occasion to recall what deconstruction is or is not?

-I have constantly insisted on the fact that the movement of deconstruction was first of all affirmative - not positive, but affirmative. Deconstruction, let's say it one more time, is not demolition or destruction. Deconstruction - I don't know if it is something, but if it is something, it is also a thinking of Being, of metaphysics, thus a discussion that has it out with ["s'explique avec"] the authority of Being or of essence, of the thinking of what is, and such a discussion or explanation cannot be simply a negative destruction. All the more so in that, among all the things in the history of metaphysics that deconstruction argues against ["s'explique avec"], there is the dialectic, there is the "opposition" of the negative to the positive. To say that deconstruction is negative is simply to reinscribe it in an intrametaphysical process. The point is not to remove oneself from this process but to give it the possibility of being thought.

-Here, I am going to interrupt to say that the word "deconstruction" is one you have used a lot, although less now. I am doing what many others have done, no doubt somewhat pointlessly, when they throw the word back to you, despite everything, very often.

-I don't use it, let's say, spontaneously; I use it only in a context that requires it. I didn't think, moreover, when I used it for the first time that it would become, even for me, a particularly indispensable word. I am saying very simply, very naively that I didn't think, when I first used it, that it would be accentuated to such a degree by readers. I don't say this in order to erase it, and I am not saying that it never should have gotten repeated; I used it and I underlined it in a certain way but, for me, it was not a master word. I have tried to explain several times how this word imposed itself on me: it is a part of the French language, rather infrequently used it is true, but it can be found in the Littré; it plays on several registers, for example linguistic or grammatical, but also mechanical or technical. What people retained of it at the outset was the allusion to structure, because at the time I used this word, there was the dominance of structuralism: deconstruction was considered then at the same time to be a structuralist and antistructuralist gesture. Which it was, in a certain manner. Deconstruction is not simply the decomposition of an architectural structure; it is also a question about the foundation, about the relation between foundation and what is founded; it is also a question about the closure of the structure, about a whole architecture of philosophy. Not only as concerns this or that construction, but on the architectonic motif of the system. Architectonic: here I refer to Kant's definition, which does not exhaust all the senses of "architectonic," but Kant's definition interests me particularly. The architectonic is the art of the system. Deconstruction concerns first of all systems. This does not mean that it brings down the system, but that it opens onto possibilities of arrangement or assembling, of being together if you like, that are not necessarily systematic, in the strict sense that philosophy gives to this word. It is thus a reflection on the system, on the closure and opening of the system. Of course, it was also a kind of active translation that displaces somewhat the word Heidegger uses: "Destruktion," the destruction of ontology, which also does not mean the annulment, the annihiliation of ontology, but an analysis of the structure of traditional ontology.
An analysis which is not merely a theoretical analysis, but at the same time another writing of the question of Being or meaning: deconstruction is also a manner or writing and putting forward another text. It is not a "tabula rasa", which is why deconstruction is also distinct from doubt or from critique. Critique always operates in view of the decision after or by means of a judgment. The authority of judgment or of the critical evaluation is not the final authority for deconstruction. Deconstruction is also a deconstruction of critique. Which does not mean that all critique or all criticism is devalued, but that one is trying to think what the critical instances signifies in the history of authority--for example in the Kantian sense, but not only the Kantian sense. Deconstruction is not a critique. Another German word of which deconstruction is a kind of transposition is "Abbau," which is found in Heidegger, and also found in Freud. With this latter word, I wanted to place what I was writing in a network with the kinds of thinking that are important to me, obviously.

-One notices, for example in your most recent publications (I'm thinking of "Psyché -Inventions de l'autre"), an increasingly lively interest in architecture. To deconstruct/architecture: some will hasten to see there a paradox! And yet you are involved in a project with architects who describe themselves as "deconstructivists" . . .

-In fact, there are two aspects of this project: on the one hand, at the initiative of Bernard Tschumi, there is a project in which I am associated with another American architect, named Peter Eiseman, who also talks a lot about deconstruction in his texts. A project that concerns the development of a certain space at the Villette. You know that Tschumi is responsible for the park overall with his project of the "Folies." And then, on the other hand, there are exchanges with Tschumi. I have just written a text, in fact, for a boxed book in which will be assembled all the designs, the whole graphic but also architectural work on the subject of the "Folies" at the Villette. "Point de folie--manitenant l'architecture," first published in a bilingual edition in Bernard Tschumi, "La case vide" (London: Architectural Association, 1986); reprinted in "Psyché", p. 477 ff.

-Your interest for architecture in general?

-My interest in architecture is not that of an expert, nor is it very cultivated. And I even have to say that, when I read certain texts written by the milieu of Tschumi and Eisenman about their architecture and their projects, when I saw the concepts, the words, the schemas of deconstruction appear, I at first thought naively of a sort of analogic transposition or application. And then I realized, by working, precisely, by seeing these projects, by preparing this text, that that was not at all what was going on, and that, in fact, what they are doing under the name of deconstructive architecture was the most literal and most intense affirmation of deconstruction. Deconstruction is not, should not be only an analysis of discourses, of philosophical statements or concepts, of a semantics; it has to challenge institutions, social and political structures, the most hardened traditions. And, from this point of view, since no architectural decision is possible that does not implicate a politics, that does not put into play economic, technical, cultural and other investments . . . an effective, let's say radical deconstruction must pass by way of architecture, by way of the very difficult transaction that architectures must undertake with political powers, cultural powers, with the teaching of architecture. All of philosophy in general, all of Western metaphysics, if one can speak in this global way of a Western metaphysics, is inscribed in architecture, which is not just the monument in stone, which gathers up in its body all the political, religious, cultural interpretations of a society. Consequently, deconstruction can also be an architectural deconstruction, which once again does not mean a demolition of architectural values. On the one hand, one has to consider that this architecture called deconstructive, to go quickly, begins precisely by putting into question everything to which architecture has been subjugated, namely, the values of habitation, utility, technical ends, religious investments, sacralization, all of these values which are not themselves architectural . . . If, therefore, they have tried to extract architecture from these partly extrinsic ends, one may say that, not only do they not demolish architecture, but they are reconstituting architecture itself in what it has that is properly architectural. That would be a first moment. But in fact, to say this would be to let oneself once again be taken in by the desires, the phantasms, the illusion of something "properly" architectural that would have to be rescued from its subjugation or its contamination. In fact, when one sees what these people like Eisenman or Tschumi are doing, it is something else altogether. First of all, they do not only destroy, they construct, effectively, and they construct by putting this architecture into a relation with other spaces of writing: cinematographic, narrative (the most sophisticated forms of literary narration), finally experimentations with formal combinations . . . all of this is something other than a restoration of architectural purity, even though it is also a thinking of architecture as such, that is, architecture not simply in the service of an extrinsic end. So, I am now increasingly tempted to consider this architectural experience to be the most impressive "deconstructive" audacity and effectivity. Also the most difficult because it is not enough to talk about this architecture; one has to negociate the writing in stone or metal with the hardest and most resistant political, cultural, or economic powers . . . It is these architects who come up against the resistances, which are the most solid ones in some way, of the culture, the philosophy, the politics in which we live.