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  • Being with the SpectersViolence, Memory, and the Promise of Justice (a Montage with Two Archives)
  • Carlos Manrique (bio)

Jacques Derrida, justice, spectrality, memory, violence, Latin America, social movements, Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó


In the generous expanse of Derrida’s philosophical production it is very rare to find an engagement with material that is not part of the archive of Western philosophical, academic, literary, or artistic cultures and their history. There are a few exceptions, like his close reading of two quite dissimilar legal documents: Nelson Mandela’s statement of defense at the 1964 Rivonia Trial, or the reflections around the incipit of the United States’ Declaration of Independence (Derrida 2003; 1986). And yet in these two instances, these other archive materials are very quickly folded back, without major disturbances, into the work of a philosophical conceptual analysis; that is, back into a reflection of philosophy on philosophy (in both of the senses of the term “reflection” that Derrida constantly unbalances and substitutes with each other; as rigorous analysis, and as a mirror like [End Page 127] return to itself, no matter how fractured and diffracted this return happens to be).

It is difficult not to be intrigued here by a perplexity. Derrida’s philosophical work has meditated, in a radical manner, on how the being-there of language in the world and in history is characterized by a movement, a play of forces in virtue of which the identity of a discourse with itself, or of a discursive discipline or institution with itself, is always fractured, always in the process of undoing itself, always becoming other than itself in the exposure to an alterity that its self-sameness cannot contain or reappropriate (“writing is this oblivion of itself, this exteriorization, the contrary of an interiorizing memory, of the Erinnerung that opens the history of the spirit,” he writes against Hegel’s conception of philosophy and its history [Derrida 1967, 39]). In this movement of what Derrida thinks in terms of “writing,” every regime of meaning or of truth that authorizes and validates certain discourses or forms of thinking over others, by attempting to mark unequivocally the frontier between the inside and the outside of a discourse, between its proper milieu and the foreignness of an impropriety that would have to be kept aside, would nonetheless be exposed, despite itself if necessary, to that historicity of language (writing) that somewhat violently destabilizes and undoes this frontier. And thus, it would be exposed to the infinite instability of the hierarchical orderings of the discursive field that attempt to defend the authority of the cultured language over the uncultured one, of the scientific one over the unscientific, of the philosophical one over the nonphilosophical, and so forth. In this way the identity with itself (the narcissistic mirror reflection upon itself) of philosophy as an institution of Western history, and the authority of this institution postulated upon the premise of this identity, have been violently put into question and destabilized by Derrida’s philosophical project. I have used the word “violence” to characterize this movement of critique, because what is at stake here in this anti-philosophical gesture, as Derrida himself clearly expresses it, is the political antagonism between two forms of violence: the “necessary violence” of writing, which responds to the “no less necessary violence” of a logocentrism that has always denigrated it, abased it, and attempted to neutralize it (Derrida 1967, 31). Hence, this “violence of writing” implies the opening and the exposure of philosophical discourse to other [End Page 128] discourses, to other archives that exceed the boundaries of its disciplinary, methodological, and institutional frameworks, an exposure that is always risky and uncertain. Derrida has given us very valuable resources to think this exposure and its effects in his philosophical reflections on literature and art; and, of course, in his way of showing how a disciplined deconstructive reading of the history of philosophy can bring to the forefront how philosophical discourse is always haunted and disturbed by this “outside.” Nonetheless, a perplexity remains: Why does Derrida almost never take the risk to assume this interdiscursive exposure in relation to the acts of language of...


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pp. 127-144
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