- Derrida, Africa, and the Middle East
Christopher Wise, in his new book, Derrida, Africa, and the Middle East, responds with graceful and insightful clarity to a vast array of Derridian concepts, images, and etymological usages. He maintains that Derrida’s intention for deconstruction is the affirmation of responsibility, and nowhere is this intention more applicable than inside modern universities.
Questioning the logocentric ideology and advocating an inclusion of oral and aural manners of perception within academia are at the core of this text. In “The Double Gesture,” the chapter on deconstruction’s critique of the idea of competence in modern universities, he discusses how a logocentric view of truth, and the pedagogy that follows, have prohibited the questioning of the academics’ right to represent truth.
Wise shows how dependence upon visual or iconic conceptions of truth has created a rigid and stagnant definition of competence, one that stifles creative thought and thorough critical analysis in classrooms. A concentration upon the information and knowledge represented by dominant pedagogy leaves no space for questioning the origin or relevance of such representations. For Wise, this space is the most crucial location for progressive thought, for it acknowledges the dangerous position of claiming to obtain truth—a claim that may never be offered responsibly. The opening of one’s ears may guide academic study and teaching techniques out of a place stifled by a fear of the unknown—a fear of Heideggerian nothingness.
This nothingness has largely been forgotten since Plato’s account of a khoral receptacle from which truth must come—an abyssal nothingness, which can hardly be comprehended. It has been forgotten because of the confusion that surrounds a confrontation with such a nebulous nonform. [End Page 104] But this is not merely a game for Heidegger, Derrida, or Wise. The attempt to question the very space that defies question, or at least will never offer an answer, is a learning to question oneself, one’s knowledge, and one’s claim to possess truth—an enterprise as dangerous for Wise as for Derrida, perhaps more so.
A primary problematic seems to be that within Western universities, a competence founded in a spectral or visual idea of truth advocates a use of one’s eye (or mind’s eye) when confronted with phenomenological and ontological themes. The university has been consumed by “hauntology,” wherein specters circulate, created by the dead letters supported by a latently logocentric ideology. This is not a problem in and of itself, and Wise responsibly addresses its omission in Derridian philosophy, but it has limited the ability for students to learn dialectics. The Socratic method and the educating of students through conversation and dialogue are supposedly supported within universities; however, this preference of the eyes, as opposed to the ears, no longer champions this verbal tradition. The ability to hear the spirit—in the Latin sense of the term, meaning ‘breath’—is being lost. Wise is by no means advocating a denial of the importance of competence—only a rethinking of this manner of representation as a double gesture, whereby one assumes a role to delegate and re-present images to a group whose members are assumed to lack the capacity to think for themselves, without questioning such a representation.
Wise offers a key to unlock much of the veiled concepts within such texts as Specters of Marx, Circumfessions, Memoirs of the Blind, and Acts of Religion, through a critical account of how the Sephardic Jewish identity of Derrida infiltrates these texts. It is not until this identity is accounted for and understood that the reader may rise above confusion and fully grasp ideas such as “the trace,” “ruah,” “morality,” and “messianicity.” Derrida’s identity as a Jewish scholar is unquestioned by the philosopher himself, and this poses crucial problems with interpreting his texts, especially when political issues, such as the Palestinian–Israeli conflict, are at stake. It is troublesome that Derrida does not address the Middle East specifically. Also, the incorporation of Islamic and Christian traditions, and their historic interactions in the region and abroad, under...