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Customer Review

15 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Responsibility?, November 1, 2004
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This review is from: The Gift of Death (Religion and Postmodernism Series) (Paperback)
Deconstruction is a deceptively useful philosophical device. However, this usefulness is severely limited. Deconstruction can present no positive conclusions. All it can do is show the fallibility of any attempt at such certain knowledge, primarily by exposing the inadequacy of language, a faculty so intimately connected with understanding. As a skeptic, I personally find deconstuction to be very pleasing. However, I am constantly annoyed by Derrida's insistance on frequently ignoring this aspect of his process. As a philosopher, I suppose the inclination to make some sort of positive assertion could be irresitible. I love the "play" and the analysis, but the attempt at ethical conclusions leaves me cold.

In "The Gift of Death," Derrida uses the story of Abraham and Isaac to distinguish between an absolute responsibility to "the other" from the typical ethical, "known" responsibility. I have never understood why it is that philosophers use this parable and others to decipher ethical realities. How much truth can one expect to extract from a fictional story? However, the idea that originary responsibility is always irresponsible is intriguing. Derrida proposes that Abraham's responsibility to God, the other, takes precedence over his lesser responsibilty to his son. And yet, later he makes the assertion that every other is an absolute other, making all responsibility absolute.

All of this emphasis on otherness ultimately leads to a kind of ethical paralysis, but Derrida does not acknowledge this. Throughout history, small differences have been blown up into impenetrable divisions. Racism, homophobia, sexism, ethnicity, nationality, religion, all the institutions that Deconstruction usually attacks are fully supported by these "irresponsible" ethical conclusions.

As I said before, the analysis reads like poetry and there are some very interesting ideas here. Derrida is frustrating, but worthwhile. I recommend this as well as "Writing and Difference."
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