- An Impossible Waiting—Reading Derrida's Reading of Heidegger in Aporias
Though it has been overlooked for some time now, Jacques Derrida's Aporias is crucial to many contexts. At a general level, it has acted as a catalyst in the formation of the emerging discipline of 'critical animal studies.'1 Together with a series of later Derrida texts, Aporias presents a deconstruction of the human-animal distinction as thought within metaphysical humanism. Within deconstruction, its significance lies in the elaborations of the notion of the im-possible, a trope to which Derrida made incessant recourse and which has become crucial to re-articulations of deconstructionist ethics.2 What is more, Aporias contains a protracted engagement with Heidegger's Sein und Zeit, particularly with respect to the im-possible. Why the relation to Heidegger is a crucial one for deconstruction should by now be clear. Derrida himself explicitly and repeatedly stated that distinguishing deconstruction as he practiced it from the Heideggerian variant, perhaps its closest progenitor, was crucial to him.3 Indeed, the Derridian im-possible, as we see below, is a variation on a theme, if not a direct quote, from Sein und Zeit. This [End Page 1170] latter state of affairs then makes Aporias into a paradigmatic case of Derrida reading an author to whom he has professed the greatest debt.
The notion of the im-possible was intertwined with all of Derrida's teaching and writing of the last 20 years; the gift, the secret, hospitality, testimony, pardon, auto-affection, all these notions are termed aporetic and imbued with the predicate im-possible. Indeed, deconstruction not only thematizes the impossible in many guises, it not only takes the im-possible as its object, but deconstruction is even defined by Derrida as an "experience of the im-possible" ("The Force" 15).4 When we recall that Derrida's writing the term with a hyphen, as im-possible, is shorthand for the phrase 'possibility of the impossible,' then the importance of a reading of Heidegger to deconstruction becomes clear, for the phrase 'possibility of the impossible' is an oft-repeated one in Sein und Zeit. As far as Derrida-studies is concerned, then, Aporias represents, on the one hand, a return to all the familiar tropes of classical deconstruction: critique of humanism, temporality and presence, undecidability. But on the other hand, it is also the site of crucial elaborations not to be found elsewhere.
The importance of the im-possible to Derridean deconstruction has clearly not been lost on his readers. Nonetheless, substantial confusion reigns over discussions of this trope and a large part of our goal here is to attempt a clarification thereof. It is not difficult to recognize that, while he may not be known as a particularly astute reader of Derrida, Jürgen Habermas' unfamiliarity with just this notion (the im-possible) led him to interpret Derrida's references to the im-possibility of an event by saying: "...la manière dont Derrida s'est lui-même approprié la dernière philosophie de Heidegger repose sur un arrière plan plus théologique que présocratique, plus juif que grec" (Habermas 196).5 Indeed, even among readers otherwise professing sympathy with, if not allegiance to Derrida, misunderstandings of the im-possible have ignited massive disputes. The best example of this is likely the polemic [End Page 1171] between Caputo and Hägglund, which in at least one of its points turns on the sense of the im-possible in Derrida.6
We will not, here, be able to parse all these contexts (though we shall return to the one mentioned last in closing). Instead, we will focus on reading closely Derrida's reading of Heidegger. We shall find that the latter contains a certain hidden dynamic, threatening to destabilize Derrida's argument, and sending repercussions through all the above mentioned surrounding issues. At a more technical level, we shall emphasize two anomalous and unexpected aspects of Derridian im-possibility, overlooked by readers, but crucially thematized in Aporias by way of a reading of Heidegger. One aspect that we will underscore is that the im-possibility at issue in deconstruction is never...