a note on derrida

by anzya


When we met, we were each in our own way busy trying to approach the shimmering heart of the French language, to speak to it intimately [à la tutoyer]. For me, also coming from my other languages. We are each foreign otherwise. And this foreignness also presided over our first encounter: he perceived me as foreign, even to his world, for this part of me which he calls Ashkenazi and which for me is German. What brings together our dissimilarities is a thematized experience of the inside of the outside. My imagination was marked by the first experience of my childhood, the event he would say. I was two-and-a-half years old and suddenly my father was a lieutenant-doctor, in 1939: I had the right to enter this place of admission and exclusion that in Oran was called the Cercle Militaire. I enter into this garden: and I was not inside. I had the Experience: one can be inside without being inside, there is an inside in the inside, an outside in the inside and this goes on infinitely. In this place which had appeared to me like paradise, hell gaped: I was not able to enter into that into which I had been admitted; I was excluded because of my Jewish origins. And everything is inextricable. I did not understand it until the other children spit the message of rejection on me. I have never stopped living the exclusion, without it bothering me or becoming a home. The passage between the inside and the outside is found in everything I write, as in all of Jacques Derrida’s thought.

-Helene Cixous


If Jacques Derrida had not passed away 5 years ago, it would be his birthday today. I haven’t read nearly as much of Derrida’s work as I would like to. He doesn’t exactly make light reading.  But those times I persisted with him were always a deep and satisfying experience. He’s the kind of writer you can read over and over and each time pick up something new. Given the density of his expression, I decided not to post a quote of his here, but rather a quote from Helene Cixous (who I’ve mentioned before on this blog). This is taken from an interview with both Cixous and Derrida, and is in response to a question about their shared origins and outlooks: they are both writers, and Jews from Algeria. Cixous’ discussion of foreignness, and of the “the passage between the inside and the outside” here that she claims is central to both her and Derrida’s writing is, I think, relevant to questions of otherness, diaspora and Jewish identity that we’ve raised on this blog. As Jews who have experienced a long history of being strangers, we know what it means to be “other”, yet at the same time we can create those exclusions too. This is what I take from Cixous’ phrase, “there is an inside in the inside, an outside in the inside and this goes on infinitely”. But what do you think?


[The interview is – “From the Word to Life:  A Dialogue between Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous”, New Literary History 2006: 37 (1)]