- Series: Thinking in Action
- Paperback: 80 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (June 28, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415227127
- ISBN-13: 978-0415227124
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.2 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness (Thinking in Action) 1st Edition
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Reading Jacques Derrida requires an unusual blend of wit and patience. Ever the magician, Derrida dazzles again in his slim treatise On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. Part of the Thinking in Action series, providing clear and accessible pieces from major thinkers, the book contains two surprisingly lucid essays from a writer notorious for producing difficult prose. Derrida is the consummate French philosopher, and his work has mainly been the province of grad students and the coffeehouse set, which is unfortunate because he has much more to offer. In this volume, he turns his attention to international human rights, asking penetrating questions about our capacity to forgive, heal, and reconcile in a world fraught with incalculable evil.
Derrida's most important contribution to modern philosophy is his infamous technique of textual interpretation, deconstruction. The technique doesn't come easily, but its critical perspective allows one to draw connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. And that's what Derrida does here, tracing lines between cities, asylum, and reconciliation. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness is grounded in the immediacy of present-day happenings, taking up questions about human rights, amnesty, the Gulf War, and East Timor. Of course, readers will do well to have some background in philosophy, but the heart of the book is for all of us. --Eric de Place
"powerful and provocative...important, urgent, and demanding in... the best sense....These essays masterfully articulate the impossibilities of forgiveness and hospitality, but their real achievement lies in understanding this impossibility as inseparable from political and pragmatic exigencies."
-Modern Language Notes
""On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness clearly illustrates Derrida's remarkable and influential mode of approaching concepts at their limits.."
-MLN 116 #5, 12/01
"This is clearly an important series. I look forward to reading future volumes."
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Granting hospitality or giving forgiveness are what linguists call speech acts, when enunciation creates its own performance and engages the speaker through the strength of the given word. One would need to establish fine-grained distinctions between the related notions of hospitality, asylum, refuge, sanctuary, safe haven, tolerance, openness, or within the even richer field of words connected to forgiveness: pardon, clemency, grace, acquittal, amnesty, reconciliation, excuse, exemption, prescription, repentance, apology, self-accusation, confession, etc. These are not only linguistic distinctions: differences in legal status and socio-economic conditions between asylum-seekers, refugees, immigrants, foreigners, deported, heimatlosen, stateless or displaced persons have very real consequences.
Derrida identifies a contradiction or a double imperative contained in these two notions, a tension that leads to unanswerable questions. Forgiveness presupposes a call for pardon, but usually the worst offenders don't ask for forgiveness and manifest no repentance: can one forgive the guilty as guilty? And if true forgiveness consists in forgiving the unforgivable, what does forgiveness forgive if the unforgivable is forgiven? Likewise, the concept of hospitality points toward a right of refuge that should be granted unconditionally to all foreigners; but all political organizations, be they the modern nation-states or the cities of refuge of the ancient Jews, impose limitations on the rights of residence.
Hospitality and forgiveness therefore exhibit a tension between the conditional and the unconditional, the calculus of politics and the imperative of ethics. One should not try to solve this contradiction or reconcile those two poles: inflections in politics and international law, such as the notion of crime against humanity or the French law that makes such crimes imprescriptible, usually stem from this tension between the two orders of injunctions.
Another point common to these two notions is that they belong to a 'politics of friendship', they create a personal bind between individuals or communities that can sometimes contradict the rules of citizenship and sovereignty imposed by the nation-state. Derrida's first lecture before the International Parliament of Writers occurred at a time when the tightening of laws against foreigners without rights of residence, the so-called 'sans papiers', generated mass protests in Paris. In a bold move, Derrida reconnects with the philosophical tradition that treats the city as the matrix of all political organizations and mulls over the ancient cities of refuge mentioned in the Laws of Moses. As he acknowledges, "if we look to the city, it is because we have given up hope that the state might create a new image to the city." Hospitality granted by individuals or communities such as churches sometimes go against the laws of the states, and can even be treated as 'acts of terrorism' or 'participation in a criminal conspiracy' in a post 9/11 world.
The second lecture, On Forgiveness, also underscores the tension between the individual and the state. Despite the political performance of the "theater of forgiveness" on which "the grand scene of repentance" is played over and again, Derrida insists that a public institution has neither the right nor the power to forgive. Pure forgiveness must engage two singularities, the victim and the perpetrator, without the intervention of a third party. It is therefore distinct from the "therapy of reconciliation" that nevertheless needs to be played so that wounds may be healed by the work of mourning.
To conclude, let me quote from the excellent preface that puts the two lectures in their intellectual context: "On Forgiveness and On Cosmopolitanism are proof, if proof were needed, that deconstruction is not some obscure textual operation initiated in a mandarin prose style, but is a concrete intervention in contexts that is governed by the undeconstructable concern for justice."
Both hospitality and forgiveness are gifts, says Derrida, and in doing so he follows Judaic-Christian-Muslim normative traditions. But giving in the pure sense of the word means that the giving is anonymous--so anonymous that the recipient neither knows the benefactor nor even realizes that a gift has been given. Unconditional hospitality and forgiving, then, are possibilities whose very possibility seems to make them impossible: how, after all, can hospitality or forgiveness be said to be given if the recipient isn't aware of receiving? And yet this ideal, the impossible possible, ought to be kept as a standard.
Added to the paradoxical nature of giving is Derrida's claim that the only forgiving worthy of giving is for the unforgiveable. Otherwise, forgiving is always conditional--that is, we forgive on condition that the offense is forgiveable. Derrida's responding most directly to what he thinks is the philosopher Jankelevitch's claim that Nazi war criminals are unforgiveable. Actually, though, I think he misreads Jankelevitch. Jankelevitch argues that war crimes are unforgiveable if viewed from an historical/legal perspective. But when viewed from a pure perspective, they are forgiveable--precisely because they're unforgiveable. So Derrida, whether knowingly or not, is really knocking off Jankielevitch's thesis.
Still, an excellent and accessible read which serves as a nice complement to the typical way in which analytic philosophers examine forgiveness.
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Jacques Derrida, who died in 2004, was one of the most influential...Read more