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  • Hors d'œuvre
  • Jody Greene (bio)

To love friendship it is not enough to know how to bear the other in mourning; one must love the future.

—Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship

Even if it is essentially preservative, love (but also deconstruction) is nevertheless no stranger to destruction, to loss, and to ruin.

—Peggy Kamuf, "Deconstruction and Love"

The archive should call into question the coming of the future.

—Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever

How we mourn, how we recognize and remember the dead, according to Jacques Derrida, dictates not only our relationship to the past, but also any possibility of a future. This is also the commonest form of common sense, albeit pushed to its limits: while we cannot control the future in its unanticipatable unfolding, cannot predetermine or securely prepare for it, as death and "untimely death" above all surely shows, how we orient ourselves to the future in the wake of loss will have [End Page 367] consequences for the memory or legacy of whatever or whomever has been lost, as well as for ourselves and those who come after us. Mourning, remembrance, and the preservation of the past are all intimately linked, as Derrida argues in Archive Fever, to "a responsibility for tomorrow."1

In assembling a volume that engages the question of Derrida's relationship to the eighteenth century, I am unquestionably participating in an act of public mourning, even as I ask others—readers, writers—to join with me in "bear[ing]" Derrida's legacy as a scholar of eighteenth-century texts to an audience of eighteenth-century scholars. I am trying, that is, in what I know is a doomed act of preservation, to protect from the ruin of forgetting something specific about Derrida's oeuvre—his lifelong engagement with an eighteenth-century archive—even as I call attention to the fact that so many prominent readers of Derrida's work make a living or at least began their careers as dix-huitièmistes. This project remains doomed because it is as likely to fall on deaf ears among self-identified Derrideans, skeptical of historicisms and periodizations, as among those who desire no truck with poststructuralism. The proprietary challenge of "Derrida's eighteenth century," then, seems to solicit in return only two possible and equally proprietary responses: "Not my Derrida"; "Not my eighteenth century." Yet my interests here are not exclusively preservative and might even, truth be told, border on the destructive, or at least the disruptive. I am hoping that a volume such as this one might change the way scholars of the eighteenth century, in both senses of that modifying genitive, understand "their" eighteenth century, as well as the way readers of Derrida apprehend the Derridean corpus, the archive or oeuvre that consigns itself under that proper name. At once a project of derangement and a scheme of conservation, this volume offers itself, too, however sheepishly, as an act of love—for eighteenth-century studies, for the work of Jacques Derrida—a hybrid venture of mourning, love, and reading that both affirms the future of the Derridean archive and calls that future into question.

Throughout Derrida's work, mourning's link to futurity is conceived in both ethical and practical terms. While the two inevitably contaminate each other, for the purposes of an introduction (a foolhardy enterprise in itself, as any reader of Derrida well knows), it seems excusable to hold them apart, however provisionally. Derrida's ethical approach to mourning can be glimpsed in the passage from Politics of Friendship cited among the epigraphs above, the one in which he adjures us to "love the future." Lest we think we know what it is we are being asked, or told, to love in this undeniably affirmative moment, Derrida modulates instantaneously and characteristically from affirmation to something more tentative: "there is no more just category for the future than that of the 'perhaps.'"2 An injunction to commit ourselves to a perhaps, a command, in the name of justice, to love a mere possibility, an instruction, finally, later in the passage, to "open on to the coming of what comes," whatever that may be (PF 29): the terrain of friendship, love...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 367-379
Launched on MUSE
2007-04-16
Open Access
No
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