4th Question: I have a very simple question, actually, and it follows somewhat the remarks you've just made on the nature of community, of the impossibility of ethical right, the impossibility of justice as being one of the conditions of justice. In some of your more recent work the topic of justice has certainly grown more explicitly, more clearly, even though we might argue, one might argue that it's been there all the time; and I'd like to ask you to elaborate a bit more on the nature of justice... You speak, for instance in the Marx book, of a sense of justice that's so strong, so powerful that it shatters every calculus, every possible economy and can only be described in terms of the gift. In a number of little texts that you have... Passions, Sauf le Nom, the Chora text, you say that these texts together form a sort of essay from you, and then you say that this essay has been least understood from those other dimensions as political, as truth. So if you could elaborate a little more on the meaning of this justice that can only be described as a gift, that can't be linked to any calculus, to any kind of...no dialectic, no set of exchanges going on, impossibility of vengeance, of un-punishment, if you could say - and that might be an impossible question - but if you would say a little bit more about that, and if you would say something about that in relation to the question of the name of singularities, the ones you just made a response to in answering your question.

Derrida: Yes, all right. You see, before I start trying to answer this question I will again say this, that, as you see, these questions cannot be really dealt with in such a forum because they are difficult... really, to do justice to them you have to read texts, to revise a number of conditions, so it's very imprudent to address this question in such a way and if I were, let's say, more responsible I would simply say 'No, I won't play this game'. Nevertheless I think sometimes it's not a bad thing, at least sometimes, if you don't do that too often, it's not bad that we try to encapsulate 'in a nutshell' so that, one day, let me try... one day, I was in Cambridge three years ago. There was this terrible honorary degree crisis in Cambridge and a journalist said, 'Well, could you tell me, in a nutshell, what is deconstruction?' So sometimes, of course, I confess, I was able to do that, and sometimes it may be useful to try 'nutshells'. So what is this problem of justice...'in a nutshell'? It is true that all of the problem of justice has been all the time in my mind and in previous texts; its only relation here is that I address this problem thematically. And it was in a context in which, reading, at the moment of a conference in a law school on 'Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice' I had to address a text by Benjamin on violence and I find it, I found it useful to make a distinction between law and justice, what one calls in French le droit, that is, 'right', or Recht in German, and Gesetz... in English when you say 'law' you say at the same time 'right' and 'law', le droit et le loi; in French we distinguish between le droit et le loi, so there is a distinction between the law - that is, the history of right or legal systems - and justice.

Following Benjamin and at the same time trying to deconstruct Benjamin's text or to show how Benjamin's text was deconstructing itself I made this statement 'in a nutshell', that the law could be deconstructed. There is a history of legal systems, of rights, of laws, of political laws, and this history is the history of the transformation of laws. That's why you can improve law - you can replace laws by other ones, there are constitutions, there are institutions, this is a history and a history as such can be deconstructed. Each time you replace a legal system by another one or a law by another one or you improve... it's a kind of deconstruction, a critical deconstruction. So the law as such can be deconstructed, it has to be deconstructed; that is the condition of historicity, revolution, morals, ethics and progress. But justice is not the law. Justice is what gives us the impulse, the drive, the movement to improve the law - that is, to deconstruct the law. Without a call for justice we wouldn't find any interest in deconstructing law. So that's why I said that the condition of possibility for deconstruction is a call for justice. Justice is not reducible to the law, to a given system of legal structures. Which means that justice is always unequal to itself, it's non-coincident with itself.

Then in the book on Marx I went back again to the Greeks, to the word dike, to the interpretation of this word which is translated by 'justice' and I protested the interpretation by Heidegger on dikh and injustice and I tried to show that justice again implied non-gathering dissociation, heterogeneity, non-identity with itself and, less an adequation, infinite transcendence. That's why the call for justice is never, never, let's say, fully answered. That's why no one can say 'I am just'. The one who does you injustice, you can be sure that he or she is wrong because being just is not a matter of theoretical determination. I cannot know whether I am just. I can know that I am right; I can say, well, I act in agreement with norms or with the law; I stop at a red light, I am right, there is no problem, but this does not mean that I am just, which is to say that justice is not a matter of knowledge or theoretical judgement. That's why it's not a matter of calculation. You can calculate the law, the right; a judge can say, well, this misdeed deserves according to the code ten years of imprisonment and so on and so forth; that may be a matter of calculation but the fact that it's rightly calculated does not mean that it is just. Now a judge if he wants to be just cannot content himself with applying the law, he has to reinvent the law each time. That is, if he wants to be responsible, to make a decision, he has to not simply apply the law as a coded program to a given case but to reinvent in a singular situation a new judgement relationship. Which means that a law, that justice cannot be reduced to a calculation of sanctions, punishments or rewards. That is already right or in concurrence with the law, but it's not justice.

Justice - if it has to do with the other, the infinite distance of the other - is always unequal to the other, is always uncalculatable; you cannot calculate justice. Levinas says something like that - his definition of justice is a very minimal one which I love, which I think is really rigorous - he says, 'Justice - that is the relation to the other'; that's all. Once you relate to the other as the other then something incalculable comes in which cannot be reduced to the law, to the history of the legal structures. And that is I think what gives deconstruction its movement, that is, constantly to suspect, to criticize the given determinations of a culture, of institutions, of the legal systems not in order to destroy them or simply to cancel them but to be just, give justice, to respect this relation to the other as justice. Yes... I missed the last point of your... not only that, but also the last point of your question about politics. Indeed as you had mentioned I tried to read in a number of texts - mainly in a text by Plato, the Timaeus, in which the question of the place, the chora which disturbs and undermines the whole Platonic system - all the couples or positions which build the Platonic system - this reflection on chora is part of a political discussion and I tried to reconstitute this political scenario in order to suggest - and that's all that I can say here without reopening the text, Plato's, for instance - in order to suggest that if you take into account this strange structure of the chora, of the place which is the opening for any inscription, for any happening, for any event, then you have to not only deconstruct the traditional concept of politics but to think of another way of interpreting politics that is the place for the place, the place for hospitality, the place for the gift, and to think politics otherwise.

So that's part of a number of gestures I've tried in the recent years, to deconstruct the political tradition not in order to depoliticize but in order to interpret differently the concept of the political, the concept of democracy and so on and so forth and to try and articulate this concept of the political, this concept of democracy with what I said about the gift, about singularity, a gift. The gift, which is... that's the only thing that I will say about the gift, this is an enormous problem... but the gift is precisely - that is what it has in common with justice - something which cannot be reappropriated; a gift is something which never appears as such and is never equal to gratitude, to commerce, to compensation, to reward. When a gift is given, first of all it cannot be... no gratitude can be proportionate to it. A gift is something that you cannot thank for. As soon as I say 'thank you' for a gift I start cancelling the gift, I start destroying the gift by proposing an equivalence that is a circle and circumscribing the gift in a movement of reappropriation. So a gift is something that goes beyond the circle of reappropriation, beyond the circle of gratitude. A gift shouldn't even be acknowledged as such. As soon as I know that I give something, because I can say, well, I'm giving you something, I just cancel the gift and I'm just starting to congratulate myself or to thank myself for giving something and then the circle has already started to cancel the gift. So a gift should not be rewarded, should not be reappropriated, and should not even appear as such. As soon as the gift appears as such then the movement of gratitude has started to destroy the gift. So a gift - if there is such a thing, I'm not sure, but is there assurance that there is a gift, that a gift is given? - If the gift is given then it should not even appear to the one who gives it and the one who receives it, not appear as such. That is paradoxical but that's the condition for a gift to be given. So that is the condition the gift shares with justice. A justice which could be, could appear as such, that could be calculable, if you can calculate what is just and what is not just, let's say, well, what has to be given in order to be just and so on and so forth, it is not justice, it's just social security, it's just economics, it's just... So justice and gift should go beyond calculation, which doesn't mean that we shouldn't calculate, we should calculate it as rigorously as possible but there is a point or a limit beyond which calculation must fail and we must know it and must fail. And so what I tried to think or to suggest is a concept of the political and of democracy which would be compatible, which could be articulated with these impossible notions of the gift and justice. If a democracy or a political system which would be simply calculatable without justice and gift could be, it is often this horrible gift, this terrible thing.

Question: Can we talk a little bit about theology?

Derrida: We have started...

Question: You have written... I don't know how many of us, how many of our audience know this, but you have written a book called Circumfessions which is constantly drawing an analogy to St. Augustine's Confessions. You were raised in the Rue Augustin, and born there, were you not?

Derrida: No, I wasn't born there... three months after I was born I went back to the house in which was in Algiers, which was on the Rue Augustin.

Question: And so like St. Augustine you were born in North Africa. Circumfessions draws a constant analogy... and one of the things that appears in the Confessions that you single out is that like St. Augustine your mother was worried about you and she thought that you were... she was worried about whether you still believed in God, you said, and that she wouldn't, she didn't ask you about it but she was asking -

Derrida: - Never.

Question: - She was afraid to ask you... so she asked everyone else. And you go on to say that you quite rightly passed for an atheist but that the constancy of God in your life was called by other names. Now I've always been interested in the way in which figures like Heidegger... my earliest work was on the relationship between Heidegger and the religious tradition... and one of the things that has fascinated me about your work and which comes back to me again as I listened to your answer to the previous question about justice is how much what you say about justice reminds me of the Biblical tradition of justice about singularity rather than the philosophical one where justice is defined in terms of universality, the blind... the blindness of justice. Now, the question that interests me, and you come back to this again in the Marx book where you make a distinction - you talk about the messianic, all this thematic of 'a venir' , 'viens', all of that is... you describe it as the impossible future, it is the messianic in which you distinguish a kind of quasi-atheistic messianic from a more garden variety messianic... if a messianic can have a garden variety... or the organic messianic. So here is the question: What does Judaism and the Biblical tradition, the prophetic tradition of justice, what does that mean for you, for your work, and how do, how can religion and deconstruction commune with each other? Could they do each other any good? Are they on talking terms?

Derrida: First of all, I'm really intimidated here not only by this question but by this reference to St. Augustine. The way that I refer to St. Augustine is really not very orthodox, not very... it's rather... let's say... it's a sin. I have to confess that my relation to St. Augustine is something strange. If I had to summarize what I did with St. Augustine in this text you refer to, Circumfession, I would say this: on one hand, I played with some analogies, that is, the fact that he was coming from Algeria, that his mother died in Europe, and my mother was dying when I was writing this, my mother was dying and so on and so forth... so I was constantly playing figures of mine off this and quoting sentences from the Confessions in Latin, but trying through my love and admiration for St. Augustine, because, say, I know I never met St. Augustine, but to ask a question to Augustine... it's a number of accidents, not only in these confessions but in their context. So there is, let's say, a love story and a deconstruction between us. But I won't insist on St. Augustine here, it's too difficult, and the way that this text is written cannot begin to account for such and such. See... so, to address more hurriedly the question of religion - again, in a very oversimplifying way - I would say this: first, I have no stable position as to the texts you mentioned - the prophets, the Bible and so on. For me it's an open field and I can at the same time receive the most necessary provocation from these texts as from Plato and others.

In Specters of Marx I try to reconstitute the link between Marx and some prophets and Shakespeare, through Shakespeare. This doesn't mean that I'm simply a, let's say, a religious person or that I simply, unscrupulously believe. For me, the concept we think of, the 'religion' within what one calls religions - Judaism, Christianity or other religions - there are again tensions, heterogeneities, disruptive 'volcanoes', so to speak, in the text - even, especially in the prophets - which cannot be, let's say, reduced to an institution, to a corpus, to a system. So I want to keep the right to read these texts in a way which has to be culturally reinvented. It is something which can be totally new at every moment. Then I would distinguish between - with what I told you before about this tension - I would distinguish between religion and faith. If by religion you mean a set of beliefs or dogmas or institutions, church and so on and so forth, I would say that religion as such can be... not only can be deconstructed but should be deconstructed, sometimes in the name of faith. For me Kierkegaard is here as a minimum a great example that is some paradoxical way of contesting the religious discourse in the name of a faith which has no...no... that can't be simply mastered or domesticated or taught or logically understood... paradoxical, paradoxical faith.

Now what I call faith in this case, this has something to do with justice and the gift, it is something which is presupposed by the most radical deconstructive gesture. You cannot address the other, speak to the other without an act of faith, without testimony. What are you doing when you testify, when you attest to something? You address the other and ask belief. Even if you lie, even if you are in a perjury you are addressing the other and asking the other to trust you. This 'trust me, I'm speaking to you' is of the order of faith. It cannot be reduced to a theoretical statement, to a determining judgement; it is the opening of the address to the other. So this faith is not religious, strictly speaking. At least, it is not, it cannot be totally determined by a given religion. You find it - that's why this faith is absolutely universal. And this attention to the singularity is not opposed to universality - I wouldn't oppose as you did universality to singularity, I would try to keep the two together - and the structure of this act of faith I was just referring to is not as such conditioned by any given religion. That's why it is universal. Which doesn't mean that in every given religion, determined religion you do not find a reference to this pure faith which is not either Christian nor Jewish nor Islamic nor Buddhist nor anything. Now I would say the same with the messianic. When I insisted in the book on Marx on messianicity - which I distinguished from messianism - I wanted to show that the messianic structure is a universal structure, that as soon as you address the other, as you are open to the future, as you are, have temporal experience, you are waiting for the future, you are waiting for someone to come...that the opening of the experience, someone is to come... is now to come, and justice, peace will have to do with this coming of the other - with a promise.

Each time I open my mouth I am promising something; when I speak to you I am telling you I promise to tell you something, to tell you the truth - even if I lie. Even if I lie, the condition of my lie is that I promise to tell you the truth. So the promise is not a speech act among others; every speech act is permanently a promise. So this universal structure of the promise, of the expectation for the future, for the one, the coming, the coming, and the fact that this expectation of the coming has to do with justice - that is what I call messianic structure. And this messianic structure is not limited to what one calls messianisms, that is, Jewish, Christian, or Islamic messianisms with a determined figure, a determined form of the messiah. As soon as you reduce the messianic structure to messianism then you are reducing the universality and this has big political consequences; then you are, let's say, accrediting a tradition among others, the notion of elect people, of a given ritual language...and so on and so forth. So that's why I think that the difference however subtle it may appear between the messianic or messianicity and messianism is very important. So...on the side of messianicity there is faith. There is no society without a faith, without a trust in the other. Even if I abuse this, if I lie or if I commit perjuries, even if I am violent because of this faith, there is no...even on the economic level, no society without this level of faith, this minimum act of faith. The credit, what one calls credit in capitalism, in 'capital', in the economy, has to do with faith; one knows this. The economists know that faith. This faith is not and should not be reduced or defined by religion as such.

Now... and I will end with this point here... now the problem remains, and this is really a problem for me, an enigma, whether what one calls 'religions', let's say for instance the western religion of the book, whether the religions where specific examples of this structural, general structure of messianicity there is a general messianicity as a structure of experience...and on this modest ground there have been revelations of a history which one calls Judaism and Christianity and so on and so forth, so that's a possibility; and then you would have, in a Heideggerian gesture or style you would have to go back from these religions to the ontological or phenomenological condition of possibility of religions to describe a general structure of messianicity on the modest ground of which religions have been made possible. That's one hypothesis. The other hypothesis - and I confess I hesitate or oscillate constantly between the two possibilities - the other possibility is that the event of revelations in Biblical or Jewish traditions, Christian traditions, Islamic traditions, have been absolute events, irreducible events which have unveiled this messianicity. We wouldn't know what messianicity is without messianisms, without these events which were of Moses, Abram, Jesus Christ and so on and so forth. So in that case singular events would have unveiled or revealed this universal possibility and it's only on that condition that you can describe this, the messianicity. Between these two I must confess I oscillate and I think some other schema has to be constructed to at the same time do justice to the two possibilities. That's why - and perhaps it's not a good reason, perhaps one day I will give up this - that's why for the moment, the time being I keep the word 'messianic' because the word 'messianic', even if it's different from messianism, it's a reference to the word 'messiah'; it doesn't simply belong to a certain culture, a Jewish/Christian culture. I think that for the moment being I need this word to...I wouldn't say to teach but to convince and to make people understand what I am trying to say when I speak of messianicity, but in doing so I still keep the singularity of a single revelation, that is, the Jewish/Christian revelation with its reference to the messiah. It's a reinterpretation so to speak of this tradition of the messiah. Let me tell you just... a story, something I read, I reread recently and which I quote in the book on friendship which will be published in a few days. It's Blanchot, Maurice Blanchot tells this story.

When the messiah in a sort of soiled robe was not recognized, was walking in... ah, quelle chose?... he was poorly, poorly dressed and so on and so on... and a young man recognized him, recognized that he was the messiah and came to him and addressed him and asked the question, 'When will you come?' I think it's a very profound reading which means that something, some inadequation between 'the now' and now that he is coming now... the messianic doesn't wait for... It's a way of waiting for the future, but right now; and the responsibilities which are assigned to us by this messianic structure are responsibilities for here and now. So the messiah is not some future present, it's imminent. It's this imminence that I am describing when I talk in the name of this messianic structure. Now there is another possibility I imagine also in this book... that the messiah is not simply the one, the other that I am waiting for constantly - there would be no experience without the waiting of the coming of the other, the coming of the event and justice - the messiah might also be the one I expect while I don't want it, him, to come. There is this possibility that my relation to the messiah is that I won't like it to come. I hope that he will come, that the other will come as other; that will be justice, peace, and revolution because in the concept of of messianicity there is revolution - not revelation, but revolution - but at the same time I'm scared. I don't want what I want and I would like the coming of the messiah to be infinitely postponed. And the reason, this desire... that's why the man who addresses the messiah said 'When will you come?' It's a way to say that, well, as long as I speak to you, as I ask you the question 'When will you come?' at least you're not coming, and that's the condition for me to go on asking questions and living and so on and so forth. So that is this ambiguity in the messianic structure. We wait for something we wouldn't like to wait for. That is another name for that.

[The panel conversation is closed and questions are invited from the floor.]
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