- Oedipus in the Accusative:Derrida and Levinas
Pensée qui veut [...] se libérer de la domination grecque du Même et de l'Un (autres noms pour la lumière de l'être et du phénomène) comme d'une oppression, certes à nulle autre au monde semblable, oppression ontologique ou transcendantale, mais aussi origine et alibi de toute oppression dans le monde.
[A thought which [...] seeks to liberate itself from the Greek domination of the Same and the One (other names for the light of Being and phenomenon) as if from oppression itself—an oppression certainly comparable to none other in the world, an ontological and transcendental oppression, but also the origin and alibi of all oppression in the world.]—Jacques Derrida1
Derrida and "the Jews"2
Why is it that philosophy returns so obsessively to its Greek source? Why, perhaps more critically, at the moments it has subjected itself to rigorous self-criticism has philosophy persisted in parading its relationship to its classical legacy? Why, as it reflects on its own death, has philosophy resurrected a search for its Greek "origin"? These are questions which famously preoccupied Derrida in his 1967 essay "Violence et Métaphysique": [End Page 224]
Que la philosophie soit morte hier, depuis Hegel ou Marx, Nietzsche ou Heidegger—et la philosophie devrait encore errer vers le sens de sa mort—ou qu'elle ait toujours vécu de se savoir moribonde [...] que par delà cette mort ou cette mortalité de la philosophie, peut-être même grâce à elles, la pensée ait un avenir ou même, on le dit aujourd'hui, soit tout entière à venir depuis ce qui ce réservait encore dans la philosophie; [...] Ce sont [...] des problèmes qui sont posés à la philosophie comme problèmes qu'elle ne peut résoudre.
[That philosophy died yesterday, since Hegel or Marx, Nietzsche, or Heidegger—and philosophy should still linger towards the meaning of its death—or that it has always lived knowing itself to be dying [...]that beyond the death, or dying nature, of philosophy, perhaps even because of it, thought still has a future, or even, as is said today, is still entirely to come because of what philosophy has held in store; [...] These are [...] problems put to philosophy as problems philosophy cannot solve.]3
For Derrida, whatever its chosen chronology, whatever its preferred figure-head, the death of philosophy is always a revelation to some extent of what was already there—in its death throes its future is anticipated by what "it has held in store." If philosophy, since at least Hegel, has been contemplating its own demise, this demise is seen by Derrida as a working out of its own potential. But what is it that philosophy has "held in store"? And how is this relationship to the past constitutive of philosophy's modernity? As Derrida phrases it elsewhere, "the new is not so much that which occurs for the first time but that 'very ancient' dimension which recurs in the 'very modern.'"4 In other words, for Derrida, it is no paradox to find the most self-consciously innovative of philosophical discourses confronting the "very ancient." And it is the "very ancient"philosophy of the Greeks, in particular, which will occupy a privileged position in the projects of modernity. Modernity, in a sense, defines itself through its engagement with antiquity. So Derrida writes: "Quand Heidegger dit, par exemple, que 'depuis longtemps, trop longtemps déjà, la pensée est à sec,' comme poisson sur terre, l'élément auquel il veut la rendre est encore—déjà—l' élément grec" ["When Heidegger says that 'for a long time, too long, thought has been desiccated,' like a fish out of water, the element to which he wishes to return is still—already—the Greek element"].5 If Derrida identifies Heidegger as one of the prophets of philosophy's doom, he is also crucially the philosopher who will foretell philosophy's salvation in a return to the Greeks. In answer to the question raised in the title of a recent [End Page 225] scholarly collection: "L'avenir de la philosophie est-il Grec...