Relationship to Heidegger's thought
The return to Heidegger here is far from coincidental but helps us understand the manner in which Derrida's critics as well as a number of would-be friendly explicators miss the mark. Derrida's engagement with Heidegger has resulted in a great deal of guilt by association yet bears fruit for its strivings. The same can be said of the relationship between Heidegger's thought (particularly 'Being and Time' and Heidegger's attempt to fashion of it what he tried to sell as a refined spiritual renewal of the German people (refined from "base" Nazism).
The publication of Victor Farías's 1987 book on Heidegger caused many to declare the new controversy of a "Heidegger affair" and demand political explanations from Heideggerian thinkers. In response Derrida produced 'Of Spirit' (the French title Heidegger et la Question: De l'esprit et autres essais makes very pointed reference to the burned book 'De l'esprit' by Helvétius and mockery of Heidegger's reference to "French rationalism" in his famous Spiegel interview "Only God can save us now").
Of Spirit demonstrates, in response to the controversy over Heidegger's Nazism, the transformation of Derrida's active philosophical inheritance. Geoffrey Bennington asks, without an answer,"Where does commentary on Heidegger stop and assertion by Derrida begin?" ("Spirit's Spirit Spirits Spirit", in Legislations). The work is headlined by Derrida's tracing of the shifting role of Geist (spirit) through Heidegger's work. Reconnecting in a number of respects with previous work on Heidegger (such as "The Ends of Man" in Margins of Philosophy) Derrida reconsiders three other fundamental and recurring elements of Heideggerian philosophy which span the corpus: the distinction between man and animal, technology, and the privilege of questioning as the essential mode of philosophy. Heidegger's meditations on these subject draws heavily on Greek, Latin, and German resources, which in the much later Spiegel interview Heidegger insisted resist translation, perhaps absolutely, indicating explicitly that neither American English nor French can receive the lexical networks which his thought must transit. Heidegger here stumbles, in many readers' view, failing to account for influences on his thought. Even as Derrida is willing to exploit such lexical networks himself, he is careful to account for their operation not only in translation between stunningly obvious cases, such as that from German to French, but even within "a" language, the unity of which Derrida frequently calls into question, defining "deconstruction" in the Memoires for Paul de Man as plus d'un langue, which translates as both more than and less than one language.
Of Spirit was not without controversy, even among Derrida's philosophical friends, the accounts of which are not entirely settled. Derrida said of Gilles Deleuze that he "never felt the slightest objection well up in me, not even virtually" (p. 193 "I'm Going to Have to Wander All Alone", in The Work of Mourning, ed. Pascale-Anne Brault). In the film documentary Derrida, Derrida commented that he had never had a disagreement with his sister, only to be reminded that he had tried to set her on fire when they were children, so even a sympathetic viewer may ask whether this fond memory given in eulogy virtualizes the "never". The differences have been more open, even intractable. Derrida's much earlier criticism of Foucault in the essay "Cogito and the History of Madness" (from Writing and Difference), first given as a lecture which Foucault attended, caused a rift between the two men that was never fully mended. Harsh words imputed to Foucault were brandished against Derrida after his death by critics who said little of his work. Lyotard's essay Heidegger and "the jews" and Philippe Lacoute-Labarthe's Heidegger, Art, and Politics are key primary texts on this question, as is Avital Ronell's "The Differends of Man" in her Finitude's Score. Ronell takes these two books together with two Cerisy colloquia, ("The Ends of Man", dedicated to Derrida's work, and "The Faculty of Judgement", dedicated to Lyotard's) to triangulate sharp debates about Heideggerian "piety" and the connection between a mode of forgetting reiterated by Heidegger and a nexus of remembering and non-representation foundational to Judaic monotheism in Lyotard's reckoning. As Ronell remarks at one point, "while the stakes are very high indeed, the complaint is so curious that it is difficult not to wonder whether Lyotard is proposing that we adopt some sort of disrespectful nihilism to overcome the respect that still inundates deconstruction. The choice of idiom seems very odd for a Kantian." (p. 264)
Whatever the outcome of these discussion may be, Derrida has been left in the unappealing position of having an opportunity for the last word in too many. Death and mourning are foundational to the analysis which lead Derrida to his understanding of inheritance, interpretation, and responsibility. Much of the groundwork for this is laid in works such as "Fors: the Anglish words of Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok", as well as "Signature Event Context" and "Limited Inc a b c..." (from Limited Inc). Beginning with the "The Deaths of Roland Barthes" in 1981, Derrida has produced a series of texts on mourning and memory occasioned by the loss of his friends and colleagues, many of them new engagements with their work. 'Memoires for Paul de Man', a book-length lecture series presented first at Yale and then at Irvine as Derrida's Wellek Lecture, followed in 1986, with a revision in 1989 that included "Like the Sound of the Sea Deep Within a Shell: Paul de Man's War", a reading of the full archive of de Man's writings for the papers Le Soir and Het Vlaamsche Land, controlled by the German Occupation government of Belgium. Ultimately fourteen essays were collected into The Work of Mourning.
Derrida and his circle
Geoffrey Bennington and Avital Ronell belong to a group of translators, many of whom are esteemed thinkers in their own right, with whom Derrida has work
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