SubStance 34.1 (2005) 38-43
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"Deconstruction is Justice"
This provocative assertion, from Derrida's Force of Law (945), sharply contrasting with the decades-old criticism of deconstruction as an aesthetisizing apolitical and ahistorical exercise, recapitulated in 1989the stakes of an infinite task and responsibility that, in spite of and because of its infinity, cannot be relegated to tomorrow: "[...] justice, however unpresentable it may be, doesn't wait. It is that which must not wait" (ibid., 969). It is in the spirit of such urgency, of a responsibility that cannot be postponed, that Jacques Derrida was an active and outspoken critic and commentator on issues such as South Africa's Apartheid, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the bloody civil war in his native Algeria, human rights abuses, French immigration laws, the death penalty, and on what Richard Falk has termed "the great terror war."1
In our era—the era French historian Annette Wieviorka has called the "era of the witness"2 —questions of answering to the other's call, questions of respons-ibility have gained, within the humanities, a significance that they never had had in non-Jewish Western thought before. This development would be unthinkable without the immense contribution of Jacques Derrida's writings. Throughout his oeuvre and his life, he witnessed to the unheard, over-shouted or silenced voices of those who have largely been excluded by the dominant currents of Western thought—who have been, as Toni Morrison's novel Beloved puts it, "disremembered and unaccounted for." What is more, Jacques Derrida formulated the necessity of being fully aware of the risk and aporias of this task of memory: that speaking for and remembering the other carries in itself the seed of a second betrayal. The difficulties surrounding the questions of memory and justice are "not infinite simply because they are infinitely numerous, nor because they are rooted in the infinity of memories and cultures (religious, philosophical, juridical, and so forth) that we shall never master" (Force of Law, 947). Rather, they are infinite in themselves, because they are inhabited by a series of "aporias" that make justice "an experience of the impossible" (ibid.), that is, of the incalculable and the unpredictable. Far from encouraging resignation, or a turning away from politics and history, these aporias actually render more urgent the demand of justice. One of these aporias can be found in the tension [End Page 38] between the uniqueness of the address and the name and the necessity of the generality of the law:
An address is always singular, idiomatic, and justice, as law (droit), seems always to suppose the generality of a rule, a norm or a universal imperative. How are we to reconcile the act of justice that must always concern singularity, individuals, irreplaceable groups and lives, the other or myself as other, in a unique situation, with rule, norm, value or the imperative of justice which necessarily have a general form, even if this generality prescribes a singular application in each case?
As Christoph Menke succinctly formulates it: The "deconstructive unfolding of the tension between justice and law" occurs "in the name of an experience that no political stance can capture, but that nevertheless affects any politics as its border, and therefore as its interruption" (286).
Such an "experience" is given in the name, which is why the question of the name is at the very heart of Jacques Derrida's thought. The demand for justice is not separable from the uniqueness of the gift of the name and the implications of this gift. In a reflection on the "final solution," Derrida describes how the experience of the name affects politics as its "border", and as its "interruption":
[...] one cannot think the uniqueness of an event like the final solution, as extreme point of mythic and representational violence, within its own system. One must try to think it beginning with its other, that is to say, starting from what it tried to exclude and to destroy, to exterminate radically, from that which haunted it at once from without and within. One...