Being just with Freud ... after Derrida

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Author: Jeffrey Powell
Date: Sept. 2011
Publisher: University of Manitoba, Mosaic
Document Type: Essay
Length: 6,276 words
Lexile Measure: 1370L

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Beyond his first essay treating Freud, "Freud and the Scene of Writing," Jacques Derrida's preoccupation with Freud is remarkably focused. His attention is almost exclusively directed towards the text signalling a shift in the Freudian trajectory, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. In the final instalment of Derrida's encounter with the work of Michel Foucault, that focus is brought to bear on the very same text of Foucault that had earlier occasioned one of Derrida's earliest public entrances onto the French philosophical scene. The title of Derrida's essay, translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas as "To Do Justice to Freud: The History of Madness in the Age of Psychoanalysis," is formed by means of a citation from Foucault's book History of Madness in the Classical Age. My contribution is itself formed by Derrida's essay and its concerns. For it is through an appeal to Beyond the Pleasure Principle--which speaks to both power and the subject, a coupling under which Foucault saw all his later work--and its concern for power and mastery, all the while exhibiting an example of the loss of both, that Derrida will express a concern for life that has everything to do with justice. In a text from roughly the same period of time, Derrida makes another call for the doing of justice, a call to which he responded in being-just with Marx, a being-just that began with the same concern that closed the final chapter of his public relation to Foucault. He begins Specters of Marx with the following sentences:

Someone, you or me, comes forward and says: I would like to learn to live finally. Finally but why? To learn to live: a strange watchword. Who would learn? From whom? To teach to live, but to whom? Will we ever know? Will we ever know how to live and first of all what "learn to live" means? And why "finally"? (xvii)

As Derrida draws the consequences of these words throughout the remainder of this, his proem, to what will follow in the next five parts, we discover a kind of aporetic quality to them all. What is it to learn when learning can only draw from what is to be learned? How might we learn to live when it is life itself that is the one and only teacher? Furthermore, who is it that would learn, who is it that would learn from life what living is? Is not this who determined only through such a teaching? Is not this who determined only inasmuch as the teaching has been taught? If life is to teach what it is to be alive, would this not require that the one taught be alive throughout the teaching so as to receive this gift? But how can the one taught already be alive while being taught what it is to be alive? Indeed, as Derrida writes, "Will we ever know?" whoever this "we" might be, and whatever to know might mean, or even if to know means anything at all....

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A268962454