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Reviewed by:
  • Derrida and the Time of the Political
  • Ian James
Derrida and the Time of the Political. Edited by Pheng Cheah and Suzanne Guerlac. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009. viii + 343 pp. Pb $24.95.

This collection of essays devoted to the question of politics and the political in Derridean thought frames itself as a work of critical inheritance that specifically addresses the philosopher’s readers to come. In this context the question of time and temporality is, as the title suggests, the key organizational motif of the volume. The gesture of inheriting a series of philosophical problems from a philosopher in order then to open up those problems to a possible future repeats the logic of time and temporality that is at stake in Derrida’s thinking of the political: the logic of ‘democracy to come’, the relation of the deconstruction of presence to questions of sovereignty, historical time, and teleology, to issues of conditionality, justice, and hospitality towards the unconditional other. The Introduction provides a thorough, thoughtful overview of the question of the political in Derrida’s writings and of the successive ways it was treated or approached in the decades before his death. It also quite convincingly gives an account of the way in which those motifs in his thought that might most obviously be related to political concerns (democracy, sovereignty, justice, law, hospitality, and so on) are intimately connected to his more ‘philosophical concerns’ (for example, presence, the gift, the impossible). The volume’s division into distinct sections — on sovereignty and teleology, responsibility and Europe, and ethics and politics — which the Introduction successfully justifies, gives an admirable coherence to the book’s overall structure. The essays themselves are written by a range of distinguished philosophers and critics, some of them very well known (including Cixous, Balibar, Bennington, Gasché, and Rancière). Most importantly, perhaps, although many of the contributions are deeply sympathetic to Derrida’s thinking and seek to develop its terms, a number of essays are also critical or else diverge from the positions Derrida took. The volume is therefore far from being simply a deferential memorial collection. Amongst the more critical pieces, Wendy Brown’s essay on sovereignty and Rancière’s underlining of his own thinking in relation to Derrida’s thought stand out as being particularly forceful and thought-provoking. On the other hand, contributions such as Hénaff ’s article on Derrida and the gift are less persuasive and appear not to do justice to the careful and meticulous nature of Derrida’s thought. Other notable pieces, including Satoshi Ukai’s striking discussion of the Japanese constitution, support the claim that deconstruction, far from being ‘purely’ an abstract philosophical concern, is happening in the world already, concretely, and all the time. This is particularly true also of those essays that address the question of European identity, postcolonial reality, and questions of inclusion and exclusion in relation to contemporary political community. All in all, this is a provocative volume that deserves recognition as a major milestone in the longstanding debate about the political dimension of deconstructive thought. Published five years after Derrida’s death, it also demonstrates powerfully and convincingly that Derrida is a philosopher who still remains to be read and will continue to appeal to all those as yet unknown readers to come. [End Page 373]

Ian James
Downing College, Cambridge


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