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The Gift of Death (Religion and…
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The Gift of Death (Religion and Postmodernism Series) (edição: 1996)

de Jacques Derrida

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In The Gift of Death, Jacques Derrida's most sustained consideration of religion to date, he continues to explore questions introduced in Given Time about the limits of the rational and responsible that one reaches in granting or accepting death, whether by sacrifice, murder, execution, or suicide. Derrida analyzes Patocka's Heretical Essays on the History of Philosophy and develops and compares his ideas to the works of Heidegger, Levinas, and Kierkegaard. A major work, The Gift of Death resonates with much of Derrida's earlier writing and will be of interest to scholars in anthropology, philosophy, and literary criticism, along with scholars of ethics and religion. "The Gift of Death is Derrida's long-awaited deconstruction of the foundations of the project of a philosophical ethics, and it will long be regarded as one of the most significant of his many writings."—Choice "An important contribution to the critical study of ethics that commends itself to philosophers, social scientists, scholars of relgion . . . [and those] made curious by the controversy that so often attends Derrida."—Booklist "Derrida stares death in the face in this dense but rewarding inquiry. . . . Provocative."—Publishers Weekly… (mais)
Membro:tedpennings
Título:The Gift of Death (Religion and Postmodernism Series)
Autores:Jacques Derrida
Informação:University Of Chicago Press (1996), Edition: New Ed, Paperback
Coleções:Sua biblioteca
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The Gift of Death de Jacques Derrida

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    Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity de Jonathan Z. Smith (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: Both books take their point of departure from genealogical studies of the Christian mystery, and each has profound applications of the results.
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"If decision-making is relegated to a knowledge that it is content to follow or to develop, then it is no more a responsible decision, [comma sic] it is the technical deployment of a cognitive apparatus, the simple mechanistic deployment of a theorum" (24).

"[Abraham] keeps quiet in order to avoid the moral temptation which, under the pretext of calling him to responsibility, to self-justification, would make him lose his ultimate responsibility along with his singularity, make him lose his unjustifiable, secret, and absolute responsibility before God" (61).

For the last few years I've relied on Derrida's maxim "responsibility is excessive or it is not responsible" and on his contempt for the so-called "good conscience" (e.g., 85) without knowing the larger context of his critique of traditional responsibility. I've found it here. Derrida begins with commentary on Jan Patočka's account of the rise of subjectivity and responsiblity in the Platonic turn from chthonic thaumaturgy and the subsequent turn, which moves from Platonic self-fashioning practices towards the Good into the Christian orientation towards the God absolutely beyond any subjective efforts. Christianity thus takes us beyond all calculation (50). Such turns, from the pre-Platonic, to the (neo)Platonic, to the Christian, are of course repressions, redeployments, rather than abandonments (e.g., 20). The subterranean is, of course, the gap, the uncognizable, the impossible, the place of the "authentic secret" (37), towards which any good deconstructive analysis always slides. Derrida follows with a gloss on Kierkegaard's well-known treatment of Abraham as a 'knight of faith' to argue that the absolutes of duty and responsibility call "for a betrayal of everything that manifests itself within the order of universal generality" (66), call for acts that cannot be comprehended in "what the community can already hear or understand only too well" (74). In his conclusion, using Matthew 6:19-21, he turns to further analysis of the gift (e.g., "a gift destined for recognition would immediately annul itself" (29; also 112), of the sacrifice of economy (95), and the self-secret aporia at the heart of ethics. The 'gift of death' refers, inasmuch as I understand it currently, to death as the unsubstitutable experience of the self, that which no one but the self can undergo, that which cannot be shared; in this, death and responsibility are analogous.

I wonder, however, if the analogy holds up, given the place of time in marking the thoughtwork of death in Heidegger (to whom Patočka seems deeply indebted), or, if it holds up, given the relation in making responsibility and the self possible in Lévinas. In other words, I wonder if responsibility as privacy, even through the paradox of responsibility, works as well as it seems to do on first glance. Undoubtedly I'll need to reread this, but one answer might be in Derrida's slogan tout autre est tout autre, of the sacrifices made--of animals, for example (69, 71; analogously, 86)--any time we are called into relation with one other (68-71).

For a sillier treatment of this book, see here ( )
  karl.steel | Apr 2, 2013 |
The principal text of reference for Derrida's Gift of Death is the piece "Is Technological Civilization a Civilization in Decline, and If So Why?" from Jan Patočka's Heretical Essays on the Philosophy of History, a text concerned to establish a European sense of "responsibility" dependent on Christianity and imperiled in the alleged contemporary Western return to an orgiastic operation of mystery. Derrida highlights the role of the "concern for death" (or "practice of death": Plato's melete thanatou) as a linchpin of the individual awareness of responsibility.

Not overtly siding with Patočka's diagnosis of modern malaise, Derrida is very attentive to the sort of dialectic genealogy in Patočka's essay. He particularly focuses on the ways in which the development of this sense of responsibility is also a maintenance and iterative encryption of a secret, through its orgiastic/daemonic, Platonic, and Christian stages. "Because of this incorporation that envelops demonic or orgiastic mystery, philosophy remains a sort of thaumaturgy even as it accedes to responsibility" (15).

The second chapter has Derrida turning more often directly to Heidegger as a direct influence on Patočka, as well as to Levinas as a critic in the same tradition. In its third chapter, The Gift of Death spends a great deal of attention on Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling and sacrificial responsibilty in the context of Patočka's essay. Derrida comes closer, I think, than Kierkegaard does to the real mystery of "the sacrifice of Abraham," as a failed transmission of the initiation of Isaac. But he uses Kierkegaard's language to bootstrap into the fourth and final chapter.

Derrida drives toward his conclusion with a set of reflections on the nature and significance of invisibility--the same invisibility of the Greek lord of the dead (aides-Haides), the unspeakable issuer of commands to Abraham, and the "Father" of Jesus "who sees in secret." Attentive Thelemites may glean some important perspective here on the doctrine of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel in the place of "the heart." And there is also, here and earlier, worthwhile integration of the concepts of sacrifice, secrecy, and the sacred.

At various points in the book, Derrida seems temporarily to accept some sort of theological claims, but he is careful not to demand such acceptance from the reader (e.g., 69). And at the very end he invokes Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals (which was always behind Patočka's genealogy of responsibility) as a background for observations about "the reversal and infinitization" that exalts the other ("God," if you must) into mystery (115). There is, after all, no law beyond Do what thou wilt. The Christian God sacrifices himself "from love (can you believe it?)" taunts Nietzsche. And Derrida drops the mocking tone to ask whether one truly can, leaving me to wonder what such a possibility of dis/belief can portend if love is the law.

"What does it mean to share a secret?" Derrida asks more than once. Only those who know how to die could tell, and they won't say.
4 vote paradoxosalpha | Sep 14, 2011 |
Students and employers and the wide world always ask, or express their skepticism at least: "Literature? 'Theory'? What good is this stuff, anyway?" And like, nothing you say will convince the people for whom "good" means "knows how to program a VCR", but this game, good, and giving little book is a pretty good argument to win over the people who just want to know "how is this relevant to my life?" I always say theory books are moral philosophy when I read them, but this time I really mean it.


This is late Derrida, and exemplary of his project to respond to the big vein of criticism of deconstruction as apolitical, undermining the progressive project, or even reactionary. He does it with his argument--applying his philosophy as method to the materials under study--but also formally, by deemphasizing the deconstructive method--lowballing it, so to speak, and hybridizing it with his sources rather than applying it mechanistically, which is my big quibble with his early work.


What that means is that in the first chapter we get a consideration of the Charta 77 Czech philosopher/revolutionary Jan Patočka's ideas on responsibility as fulfilllment of the forward motion of the individual conscience, represented in an explicitly Christian fashion as the totalized responsibility that the believer offers up to God, as opposed to the relative and negotiable responsibility we have to our fellow being--an antifascist argument for Patočka, I can only assume, and a pretext for Derrida to remind us of the irrreducible Other at the core of every belief system--the orgiastic "secret" at the centre of Platonist synchronic rationalism in the form of melete thanatou, the coming to terms with one's own death; the Platonist secret at the core of Christianity, which is rational, limited, and oriented toward the "polis," as opposed to a Europe that realizes the implications of its own Christianity, which has not yet arrived.


Book 2 gives us a figuring of that Europe in receipt of its own Christian heritage by examining the story of Abraham in terms of totalized responsibility toward God--a move away from the relative sharing of responsibility, the responsibility as accountability or answerability in the sense of a little-other, fellow-man-oriented "ethics", to the totalized situation that recognizes that there is one of you only and that a total act of responsibility is a total act of irresponsibility--it's killing your kid for God, even though nobody else can see him and he's just in your head. The secret of this gift of death is that taking a "pure" responsibility for yourself means abdicating your social or political ethical self.


Book 3 looks at the implications of this, somewhat--the Hegelian becoming of the historical concept that it implies, as opposed to a Kierkegaardian accrual of events with no thematic unity necessary. It comes down, interestingly and somewhat starkly, on the "Christian", total side--referring to the "cruelty" of "old Kant" and his Categorical Imperative and implicitly aligning an "ethics"-structure with an evaluative process that means we are forever absconding from some responsibility, deciding our friend who was in a car crash is more important than our sick grandma, or feeding our kid more important than Haiti, (or playing online poker more important than feeding our kid), unless our responsibility is totalized, transcendent. Unless we create a big Other, an idol, out of a small.


And so as far as I am concerned, this is of the most powerful implication for our own personal lives--and loves. Maybe you can't have a totalized responsibility outside of a religious-belief context. But what you can have is relative levels of responsibility that are supersaturable--eventually, everyone has to give more than what they can give. Car-crash friend or sick grandma? Your career, or your wife's career? And it's only real, not a power negotiation or commmodity trade,if you do it with total commitment: Abraham doesn't kill his kid because he thinks God will stop him; he does it. And God interrupts. So do you do it and trust that you'll be let off the hook when it gets too much? Doesn't that destroy the meaning of the gesture?


Like, wouldn't a Jesus that didn't die on the cross be totalitarian, an oppressive, totally equalized portion-for-each of public love--as opposed to a sacrificial divinity that did it for me? Is the secret of love that it requires dying, giving the gift of death, to the one you love--and not to others? Is it impossible, then, to live a responsible life that is also an ethical one? And what's more important? This book leaves you with a big, big, weighty, urgent question. ( )
1 vote MeditationesMartini | Jan 27, 2010 |
The French text of this essay appeared in a collection of papers from a 1990 conference on "The Ethics of the Gift." As the translator notes, this was not the paper Derrida delivered at the conference, but it is an extended treatment of the theme, with particular reference to "the gift of death" specified by the title. The title is one of several points at which the playfulness of Derrida's language is obscured in translation; but Wills does an excellent job of bringing these points to consciousness. The playfulness is important because so much of the book consists of an exposure and violation of limits characteristic of play. It begins with a discussion of an essay by Jan Pato?ka, one of the leaders (along with Vaclav Havel) of the Charta 77 movement in Czechoslovakia before his death in 1977, and builds through an extended engagement with S¯ren Kierkegaard via the sacrifice of Isaac. The book is particularly helpful as a reflection on the denial of history as history of responsibility. The gift of death is an occasion for extended consideration of that denial, its entanglement with the birth of Christianity out of Platonism, and the interconnectedness of religion with secrecy. It ends with a provocative reflection titled "Tout autre est tout autre" that plays with the ambiguity of the French phrase to connect God as wholly other with all others as those in whom one encounters God. This is an important contribution to the critical study of ethics that commends itself to philosophers, social scientists, scholars of religion-and perhaps to a larger audience made curious by the controversy that so often attends Derrida.
1 vote stevenschroeder | Jul 30, 2006 |
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In The Gift of Death, Jacques Derrida's most sustained consideration of religion to date, he continues to explore questions introduced in Given Time about the limits of the rational and responsible that one reaches in granting or accepting death, whether by sacrifice, murder, execution, or suicide. Derrida analyzes Patocka's Heretical Essays on the History of Philosophy and develops and compares his ideas to the works of Heidegger, Levinas, and Kierkegaard. A major work, The Gift of Death resonates with much of Derrida's earlier writing and will be of interest to scholars in anthropology, philosophy, and literary criticism, along with scholars of ethics and religion. "The Gift of Death is Derrida's long-awaited deconstruction of the foundations of the project of a philosophical ethics, and it will long be regarded as one of the most significant of his many writings."—Choice "An important contribution to the critical study of ethics that commends itself to philosophers, social scientists, scholars of relgion . . . [and those] made curious by the controversy that so often attends Derrida."—Booklist "Derrida stares death in the face in this dense but rewarding inquiry. . . . Provocative."—Publishers Weekly

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