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Jacques Derrida “Aporias”

Derrida, Jacques 1993. Aporias. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


  1. Finis

What, then, is it to cross the ultimate border? What is it to pass the term of one’s life (terma tou biou)? Is it possible? Who has ever done it and who can testify it? The “I enter”, crossing the threshold, this “I pass” (perao) puts us on the path, if I may say, of the aporos or of the aporia: the difficult or the impracticable, here the impossible, passage, the refused, denied, or prohibited passage, indeed the nonpassage, which can in fact be something else, the event of a coming or of a future advent [événement de venue ou d’avenir], which no longer has the form of the movement that consists in passing, traversing, or transiting. It would be the “coming to pass” of an event that would no longer have the form or the appearance of a pas: in sum, a coming without pas. (8)


Babelization does not therefore wait for the multiplicity of languages. The identity of a language can only affirm itself as identity to itself by opening itself to the hospitality of a difference from itself or of a difference with itself. Condition of the self, such a difference from and with itself would then be its very thing, the pragma of its pragmatics: the stranger at home, the invited or the one who is called. (10)


Is my death possible? […] “My death” in quotation marks is not necessarily mine; it is an expression that anybody can appropriate; it can circulate from one example to another. […] If death […] names the very irreplaceability of absolute singularity (no one can die in my place or in the place of another), then all the examples in the world can illustrate this singularity. Everyone’s death, the death of all those who can say “my death”, is irreplaceable. So is “my life”. Every other is completely other. Whence comes a first exemplary complication of exemplarity: nothing is more substitutable and yet nothing is less so than the syntagm “my death”. (22)


Heidegger: “the possibility of the pure and simple impossibility of Dasein”. (23)


Dasein does not need to mature when death occurs. That is why life will always have been so short. Whether one understands it as achievement or as accomplishment, the final maturity of a fruit or of a biological organism is a limit, an end (Ende; one could also say a telos or terma), hence a border. Dasein is the very transgression of this borderline. (26)


Heidegger: “Within the ontology of Dasein, which is superordinate to an ontology of life, the existential analysis of death is, in turn, superordinate to a characterization of Dasein’s basic state.” (29)


Heidegger says that he has called the end of the living, the ending of the living (das Enden von Lebendem), “perishing”, Verenden (Das Enden von Lebendem nannten wir Verenden, p. 247). This Verenden is the ending, the way of ending or of coming to the end that all living things share. They all eventually kck the butcket [ils crèvent]. In everyday German, verenden also means to die, to succumb, to kick the bucket, but since that is clearly not what Heidegger means by properly dying (eigentlich sterben), by the dying proper to Dasein, verenden must therefore not be translated by “dying” in order to respect what Heidegger intends to convey. (30-31)


Now the border that is ultimately most difficult to delineate, because it is always already crossed, lies in the fact that the absolute arrivant makes possible everything to which I have just said it cannot be reduced, starting with the humanity of man, which some would be inclined to recognize in all that erases, in the arrivant, the characteristic of (cultural, social, or national) belonging and even metaphysical determination (ego, person, subject, consciousness, etc.). (35)


Dasein or the mortal is not man, the human subject, but it is that in terms of which the humanity of man must be rethought. And man remains the only example of Dasein, as man was for Kant the only example of finite reasonable being or of intuitus derivativus. Heidegger never stopped modulating this affirmation according to which the mortal is whoever experiences death as such, as death. Since he links this possibility of the “as such” (as well as the possibility of death as such) to the possibility of speech, he thereby concludes that the animal, the living thing as such, is not properly a mortal: the animal does not relate to death as such. The animal can only come to an end, that is, perish (verenden), it always ends up kicking the bucket [crever]. But it can never properly die. (35)


Once one has distinguished between these two ways of ending, dying and perishing one must take into consideration what Heidegger calls an intermediate phenomenon: the demise, the Ableben, which all the French translators agree to translate as décès. […] What does Ableben (to demise) mean? It is neither dying (Sterben) nor perishing (Verenden). How does one discriminate among these three figures of ending (enden)? Dasein can also demise (in the medico-legal sense), when it is declared dead after its so-called biological or physiological death has been certified according to conventionally accredited criteria. One does not speak of the demise of a hedgehog, of a squirrel, or of an elephant (even if, and especially if, one likes them). Demise (Ableben) is thus proper to Dasein, in any case, to what can properly die, but it is not dying (Sterben). Dasein presupposes dying, but it is not death, properly speaking: “Dasein never perishes, Dasein however, can demise only as long as it is dying.” (p. 247) (38)


[…] there is no scandal whatsoever in saying that Dasein remains immortal in its originary being-to-death, if by “immortal” one understands “without end” in the sense of verenden. Even if it dies (stribt) and even if it ends (endet), it never “kicks the bucket” (verendet nie). Dasein, Dasein as such, does not know any end in the sense of verenden. At least from this angle and as Dasein, I am, if not immortal, then at least imperishable: I do not end, I never end, I know that I will not come to an end. And with a certain knowledge I know, Dasein says, that I can never perish. One should not be able to say to the other: “Kick the bucket!” (in the sense of “End!”, “Perish!”). If one says it, then it takes the form of a curse and it assimilates the other into the category of animals, thereby testifying that one does not consider him an animal at the precise moment when one claims to say it to hi, (39-40)


  1. Awaiting (at) the Arrival

One must go further: culture itself, culture in general, is essentially, before anything, even a priori, the culture of death. Consequently, then, it is a history of death. (43)


“Life will have been so short”: this means that on always dies in an untimely way [à contretemps]. The moment of death no longer belongs to its time, at least by a certain aspect that, nonetheless, does not fail to historicize itself and perhaps provide the occasion of the history with which historians deal. (49)


The existential analysis of death is also anterior, neutral, and independent with regard to all the questions and all the answers pertaining to a metaphysics of death: the questions and answers that concern survival, immortality, the beyond, or the other side of this side, that is, what one should do or think down here before death (ethical, juridical, and political norms). Since this figure of the border and of the line between the here and the beyond is of particular interest to us here, we should note that, after having excluded from the existential analysis all considerations about the beyond and the here (the “on this side”, das Diesseits, which must not be translated by the Platonic or Christian “down here”), arguing that they are founded, dependent, and derivative with regard to the existential analysis, Heidegger nevertheless stresses that the existential analysis stands, not in “immanence”, as Martineau, losing the thread, writes in his translation, but purely on this side: it is rein “dieseitig”. It is on this side, on the side of Dasein and of its here, which is our here, that the opposition between here and over there, this side and beyond, can be distinguished. In the same direction, one could say that it is by always starting from the idiomatic hereness of my language, my culture, and my belongings that I relate myself to the difference of the over there. (52)


A mortal can only start from here first, from his mortality. His possible belief in immortality, his irresistible interest in the beyond, in gods and spirits, what makes survival structure every instant in a kind of irreducible torsion, the torsion of a retrospective anticipation that introduces the untimely moment and the posthumous in the most alive of the present living thing, the rearview mirror of a waiting-for-death at every moment, and the future anterior that precedes even the present, which it only seems to modify, all this stems first from his mortality, Heidegger would say. (55)


The existential analysis maintains itself well this side of all this foolish comparatist predication, even if, at its root, and we will surely return to this, a judgment on the loss of authenticity in the relation to death also reveals, in its way – in Heidegger’s way – a certain incapacity to look death in the face, to assume in a resolute fashion being-toward-death, a certain everyday leveling that is not always foreign to what is being exacerbated by a certain modernity of the modern industrial city. In short, across all these differences, the dominant feeling for everyone is that death, you se, is no longer what it used to be. (58)


If being-possible is the being proper to Dasein, then the existential analysis of the death of Dasein will have to make of this possibility its theme. Like an example, the analysis of death is submitted to the ontological law that rules the being of Dasein, whose name is “possibility”. But death is possibility par excellence. Death exemplarily guides the existential analysis. And this is precisely what happens in the pages that immediately follow the delimitation. (63)


With death, Dasein is indeed in front of itself, before itself (bevor), both as before a mirror and as before the future: it awaits itself [s’attend], it precedes itself [se precede], it has a rendezvous with itself. Dasein stretches [se tend], bends toward [se tend vers] its most proper being-able, offers to itself [se tend] its most proper being-able; it offers it to itself [se le tend] as much as it bends toward it [tend vers lui], as soon as the latter is nothing other than itself. (66)


[…] the impossibility adds an impossible complement, a complement of impossibility to possibility. […] This is indeed the possibility of a being-able-not-to or of a no-longer-being-able-not-to, but by no means the impossibility of a being-able-to. […] Death, the most proper possibility of Dasein, is the possibility of a being-able-not-to-be-there or of a no-longer-being-able-not-to-be-there as Dasein. And of that Dasein is absolutely certain; it can testify to it as to a unique truth that is not comparable to any other. Dasein can escape from this truth inauthentically (improperly) or approach it authentically, properly awaiting it […] (68)


Death – to be expected – is the unique occurrence of this possibility of impossibility. For it concerns the impossibility of existence itself, and not merely the impossibility of this or that. Any other determined possibility or impossibility would take on meaning and would be defined within its limits in terms of this particular possibility of impossibility, this particular impossibility. (72)


According to Heidegger, there is no nontruth for the animal, just as there is no death and no language. (73)


The impossibility that is possible for Dasein is, indeed, that there not be or that there no longer be Dasein: that precisely what is possible become impossible, from then on no longer appearing as such. It is nothing less than the end of the world, with each death, each time that we expect no longer to be able to await ourselves and each other, hence no longer to be able to understand each other. According to Heidegger, it is therefore the impossibility of the “as such” that, as such, would be possible to Dasein and not to any form of entity and living thing. But if the impossibility of the “as such” is indeed the impossibility of the “as such”, it is also what cannot appear as such. Indeed, this relation to the disappearing as such of the “as such” – the “as such that Heidegger makes the distinctive mark and the specific ability of Dasein – is also the characteristic common both to the inauthentic and to the authentic forms of the existence of Dasein, common to all experiences of death (properly dying, perishing, demising), and also, outside of Dasein, common to all living things in general. Common characteristic does not mean homogeneity, but rather the impossibility of an absolutely pure and rigorously uncrossable limit (in terms of existence or of concepts) between an existential analysis of death and a fundamental anthropo-theology, and moreover between anthropological cultures of death and animal cultures of death. (74)


If death, the most proper possibility of Dasein, is the possibility of its impossibility, death becomes the most improper possibility and the most ex-propriating, the most inauthenticating one. From the most originary inside of its possibility, the proper of Dasein becomes from then on contaminated, parasited, and divided by the most improper. Heidegger indeed says that inauthenticity is not an exterior accident, a sin or an evil that comes by surprise to existence in its authentic mode. This is where Heidegger at least claims to dissociate Verfallen from the original sin and from any morality as well as from any theology. But he crucially needs the distinction between the authentic and the inauthentic, as well as that among the different forms of ending: dying properly speaking, perishing, and demising. These distinctions are threatened in their very principle, and, in truth, they remain impracticable as soon as one admits that an ultimate possibility is nothing other than the possibility of an impossibility and that the Ereignis always inhabited Eigentlichkeit before even being named there – indeed, this will happen later. (77)

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