Derrida and the Aporia of Death
[Welcome back after almost three weeks: the winter storms and break—we’ll have to make up for some lost time.]
We will come to a certain end today, even as Aporias takes up first and foremost the essential question of where to begin, of what the proper starting point for a thinking of death would be. We will indeed all come to an end, even if we don’t believe it, even if the unconscious of Freud could never believe it, though what “belief” would mean when discussing the unconscious is a vertiginous problem or question that could take up all our time until we die (or perish—the words will have to be chosen carefully). If not today then some other, when we least expect it, even in a hospital ward, for Levinas is right to say, for reasons different than perhaps his intention, that “death” comes always by surprise. (You should note well: these are the two interlocutors that Derrida references without discussing them explicitly, referencing them without referencing them.) But we would have to credit this word “death” with a meaning beforehand, hic et nunc; we would have to have a for-knowledge or pre-comprehension of it, in the Heideggerian sense, in order to give any credence to this belief that indeed each of us, each existent Dasein, will always already be running ahead or thrown towards its “own” “death.” And with each word here, I increase the protocols and the questions: what is one’s own? Can one name a certain death without presuming already what this will have been for each of us in turn? I have said more than once that Derrida’s modus operandi is less to reverse binary oppositions—though that he might do—than to show the presuppositions at the heart of a work, all in order to show that that supposition, supposedly so grounded in “what we all know,” whatever is common sense, is put into question by that very discourse even as it looks to disavow or deny that it is repeating the values and attitudes of its historical milieu and its common sense (one that could be as long as the history of the West itself).
But let’s get to it, to the thing itself: what can be more real than death? What is least avoidable, more certain? It is, for Heidegger the certitude par excellence that we are to die, that from the moment of our birth we are always dying, not from this or that disease, but from living itself. Living is nothing other than dying, surviving while mourning that death that awaits without awaiting us, since we don’t know precisely what “it” is. Our beings-towards-death does not come down to an acknowledgement or knowledge of death; it always “not yet,” not here and now. Let’s follow Heidegger as he moves through the main claims of Division II, chapter 1, and we will pause to circle around each of these sentences that are both sententious and profound at once. They are of absolute import to the readings in Derrida tonight:
Death is a possibility-of-Being [Der Tod ist eine Seinsmöglichkeit] which Dasein itself has to take over in every case [die je das Dasein selbst zu übernehmen hat]. With death, Dasein stands before [steht…bevor (Derrida will make much of this phrasing)] itself in its ownmost potentiality-for-Being [in seinem eigensten Seinkönnen; we’ll come back to this latter term soon]. This is a possibility in which the issue is nothing less than Dasein’s Being-in-the-world [In-der-Welt-sein]. Its death is the possibility of no-longer being-able-to-be-there [des Nicht-mehr-dasein-könnens]. …This ownmost [eigenste] non-relational possibility [unbezügliche Möglichkeit] is at the same time the uttermost one [ist zugleich die äußerste]. [Pause and discuss] As potentiality-for-Being, Dasein cannot outstrip the possibility of death. Death is the possibility of the absolute impossibility of Dasein [Der Tod ist die Möglichkeit der … Daseinsunmöglichkeit].
Derrida will make much of this last sentence, and for good reason: If death is the possibility of the impossibility (“die Möglichkeit der Unmöglichkeit”) of existing (262), it is nevertheless a possibility that is one’s “own most,” that is, what is most proper to Dasein, one that is non-relational, it is, then, the most owned and proper of possibilities:
Thus death reveals itself as that possibility [Möglichkeit] which is one’s ownmost [als die eigenste], which is non-relational [unbezügliche], and which is not to be outstripped [unüherholhare]. …Its existential possibility [existenziale Möglichkeit] is based on the fact that Dasein is essentially disclosed to itself [das Dasein ihm selbst wesenhaft erschlossen ist], and disclosed, indeed, as ahead-of-itself [Sich-vorweg]. (BT, 294/250-1)
Reading for the most part Heidegger’s remarkable thinking here of death in Division II of Being and Time as well as in his 1929-30 lecture course (he makes clear his admiration), Derrida follows Heidegger through what he dubs a “decision” that guides and thus provides a certain starting point for Heidegger concerning his existential analysis, a starting point that is well known. Derrida’s argument is that the above and similar passages combine both a thinking of the proper and the same and a thinking of death that is inseparable from its historical, cultural, and even biological meanings: that is to say, despite his thinking of time, Heidegger wishes to bracket out both any considerations of Dasein and death in terms of any previous metaphysics, theology, anthropology, and so on, which is to say, he wishes to provide a phenomenological account that brackets everydayness and its everyday conceptions of death even as one’s resoluteness towards death only arrives from within that everydayness—and hence one’s historical milieu.
The decision that Heidegger makes comes to the fore in the work’s introduction, where Heidegger notes that if we are asking after the meaning of the Being of beings, we must first look at the structure of any questioning (fragen) or seeking (suchen). Heidegger writes in one of the most famous passages of Being and Time:
Every seeking [suchen] gets guided beforehand [vorgängige Direktion] by what is sought. Inquiry [Fragen] is a cognizant seeking [Das erkennende Suchen] for an entity both with regard to the fact that it is and with regard to its Being as it is. …Any inquiry, as an inquiry about something, has that which is asked about [sein Gefragtes]. But all inquiry about something is somehow a questioning of something [Anfragen bei … ]. So in addition to what is asked about, an inquiry has that which is interrogated [ein Befragtes]. In investigative questions-that is, in questions which are specifically theoretical-what
is asked about is determined and conceptualized. Furthermore, in what is asked about there lies also that which is to be found out by the asking [das Erfragte]; this is what is really intended: with this the inquiry reaches its goal [wobei das Fragen ins Ziel kommt]. Inquiry itself is the behaviour of a questioner, and therefore of an entity, and as such has its own character of Being [Das Fragen selbst hat als Verhalten eines Seienden, des Fragers, einen eigenen Charakter des Seins]. (M&R, 1962: 22/5)
The last of these sentences leads to the entirety of Being and Time: what falls out of the three-sided structure of each question [Jedes Fragen] is a questioner [der Frager] who is asking the question itself: the who that is Dasein, and therefore not a what, and it is only the former that can be dying, that can be dying all the time that it has time. Being and Time will not ask after, then, the meaning of Being overall [überhaubt], but the meaning of that being for whom the meaning of the Being of beings is an “issue” [um…geht] for it. Thus the starting point for Being and Time, which was to get to a Division III on Being and time as such, is the “who” of Dasein, and thus Division I and II will take up the meaning of this “who” in terms of its care-structure, all in order to get purchase on the meaning of its being in terms of its temporalization [Zeitlichkeit] so as to broach the temporality [Temporalität] of the Being [Sein] of beings [Seiendes] in a Division III never to appear (at least in explicit form; Heidegger scholars posit this or that lecture course or texts as one place to find the work that was to be Division III). I will discuss this, but perhaps it’s the case that there never is time as such, any more than death as such. Time is not ever simply in the present and thus presentable. Any conception of it as such—as a series of nows representable to thought—is always thought from a view of time as the negative of eternity, a forever standing now that is hence nothing other than death, since it has no future anymore than a past.
The important part is that this “who” of Dasein will be found always already to have a relation to its “being-towards-death,” and the aporia is that this being will have a relation to that which lies always ahead of it; the Da of Dasein, its there (da), is always “on this side [das Diesseits]” of death, even as that death is the possibility of its impossibility. How could it be otherwise? Thus our starting point is always in medias res, for Heidegger, by witnessing Dasein in its everydayness in order to then describe its modes of fleeing in the face of its ownmost potentiality for being. Therefore we can make the cut between authenticity and inauthenticity (Eigentlichkeit and Uneigentlichkeit) and thus between a proper relating to one’s ownmost possibility, the possibility of impossibility that is death, and a fleeing in the face of that impossible possibility. The problem begins when we want to give some salience and understanding (pre-cognitive or otherwise) to Heidegger’s various uses of this non-modal modality: the possibility of impossibility. Derrida writes:
Is this an aporia [the phrase]? Where do we situate it? In the impossibility or in the impossibility of an impossibility (which is not necessarily the same thing)? What can the possibility of an impossibility be? How can we think that? How can we say it while respecting logic and meaning? How can we approach that, live, or exist it? How does one testify to it? (A, 68)
Derrida’s point is not only to reference his 1990s work on “testimony” and “witnessing”—the witness always testifies to what it can’t bring forward, especially as a survivor—but the avowed “method” of Being and Time, namely its use of testimony (Bezeugung) as a means of providing a phenomenology of Dasein in its Being-in-the-world. As any reader of the above or of Being and Time knows, the section on being-towards-death (Sein-zum-Tode) is central to Heidegger’s claims about Dasein being always-already out-ahead-of-itself, and that this being-towards-death is the horizon that gives meaning to its concernful absorption (Besorge) with equipmental beings ready-to-hand (zuhanden) and its solicitude (Fürsorge) in its originary being-with other Daseins. This care (Sorge) finds itself, as if for the first time, when Dasein comes back to itself in its being-towards-death, awoken, as it were, from its fallenness (verfallen) into the conformity of the They (das Man). Dasein’s possibility of impossibility is hence the condition of possibility of Dasein’s ownmost possibilities, those not taken over by das Man, the “They” in which one engages in anything but one’s ownmost possibilities, but merely the banalities of the day.
Awaiting without awaiting, as Derrida puts it, this death, Dasein can properly, through Angst, free itself for itself while awaiting a simple “no-longer-being-there” that is impossible and therefore not the correlate of any understanding, whether in the Heideggerian sense or not. Yet when one brings being-towards death to the “closest closeness [die nächste Nähe]” as a possibility, it nevertheless it “as far as possible [so fern als möglich] from something actual [einem Wirklichen]” (262). Dasein only returns to itself as possibility, but as a possibility that Heidegger makes clear is not a logical possibility. As Iain Thomson puts it in one of today’s readings,
Here Heidegger has not simply inverted the millennium-old Aristotelian distinction according to which actuality is granted metaphysical primacy of place over possibility; according to Heidegger’s thinking of “existential possibility,” Dasein exists through the constant charting of “live-options,” choices that matter. Existential possibilities are what Dasein forges ahead into: the roles, identities, and commitments which shape and circumscribe the reflexive comportment of Dasein as a “thrown project.” Heidegger’s distinctive sense of existential possibility is, he later says, best understood as enabling possibility, as “what enables” us to be what we are. (32-3)
Thomson’s critique of Derrida’s reading is that he is not attentive enough to the ways in which Heidegger takes up Dasein’s existential possibility not just in term of Möglichkeit but Seinkönnen. Again, Thomson:
This difference becomes crucial when we remember Heidegger’s claim that, “As being-possible [Möglichsein] . . . Dasein is existentially that which, in its ability-to-be [Seinkönnen], it is not yet.” Since it is “ability-to-be” [Seinkönnen] rather than “being-possible” [Möglichsein] that receives elaboration “in conjunction with the outermost possibility of death,” Dasein embodies the possibility of an impossibility only as something which it is not yet. “Being towards one’s ownmost ability-to-be [i.e., death] means that in each case Dasein is already ahead of itself.”
His point is that Dasein’s ability to be privileges a certain futurity of Dasein and is not merely what we have seen Derrida critiques under the notion of the “I can” of previous forms of subjectivity, one that is self-present and hence temporally always in the present, that is, present-to-hand (vorhanden). This reading has much to offer us, not least since Thomson makes clear the privileging of the future that is marked by our being-towards-death and Heidegger’s account of it. I also find it unassailable that one can read the Heidegger otherwise, perhaps cutting against the grain of Heidegger’s own later worries that Being and Time circuited too closely around Dasein and a certain “nearness” that didn’t get far enough from a certain transcendental subjectivity, one that would bracket all historical questions concerning Dasein (recall all that we are to bracket above) in order to give a “universal,” that is, transcendental, account of Dasein, one that would even count for so-called “primitives.” In such a way Heidegger repeats a Cartesian/Kantian move of bracketing out the historical paths out of which its discourse arose (those that Heidegger later would make central to his inquiries and certainly centers his account of Destruktion in Being and Time’s introduction) and is thus a work on time that is strangely ahistorical at key moments. But if one cannot bracket the ontic in thinking the ontological—Heidegger’s avowed claim about the ekstasis of time and Dasein’s always already being out ahead of itself—then does not a presuppositionless task as Heidegger wants fall to its claim to be fundamental, that is, to be a fundamental ontology? Does not the text need to argue that it is grounded in a tradition it is putting under deconstruction (Destruktion) while repeating its methods and modes, even or especially when it comes to a thinking of death? That is, is there not always, as Foucault would put it, but very close to Derrida here, an historical a priori? A pre-given sense that Being and Time would bracket and yet also tell us that Dasein, unlike the animal, has “access” to death as such?
What Derrida is elaborating, through the question of testimony, is one similar to Levinas on the question of death: if death precisely that which does not appear, is that which is an impossible possibility, then it can never be on the level of what is one’s ownmost possibility, since we could never distinguish, as Derrida goes to pains to show, the distinction holding death from perishing from merely ceasing to exist. We never have a relation to death as such, since Heidegger is clear that this remains just beyond our ability-to-be (Seinkönnen). It can never be actual (Wirklich) and thus it always awaits (us) and this awaiting without awaiting (since we have no relation to “it” as such) is not on the order of any ability (whether Seinkönnen or Möglichsein) or possibility. Derrida writes:
[D]eath is always the name of a secret, since it signs the irreplaceable singularity. It puts forth the public name, the common name of a secret, the common name [nom: noun or name] of the proper name without name. It is always a shibboleth [discuss], for the manifest name of a secret is from the beginning a private name, so that language about death is nothing but the long history of a secret society [my italics]. (A, 74).
Can one write a history of death? Of this secret society? The question concerns precisely how one writes a history, since the singular and unique, the irreplaceable does not give itself over to a history to be written. Precisely when it comes to death. We can date a death, we can give it a gloss both biologically and anthropologically, but one would always put into the past a common way of speaking of this secret today into the past; history risks always being an anachronism, as the historians Derrida reads in these pages suggest. There is no pure empirical history: one begins with a “classificatory hypothesis,” as Ariàs notes, and thus history is never purely historical, especially when one attempts, as he does, to write a history of death, of the practices of death. “Dying,” Derrida writes, “is neither natural (biological) nor cultural” (A, 42). Let’s move to the beginning of our reading for tonight. We see here a number of declarative sentences and thus Derrida’s own suppositions that would appear here and there undeniable, unassailable, which is not to say so generic as to say nothing at all:
All people do not die in the same way. Throughout time they have not died in the same way. Moreover, it is not enough to recall that there are cultures of death and that from one culture to another [and we should add: within what we too quickly call a culture], at the crossing of borders, death changes face, meaning, language, or even body. … [C]ulture itself, culture in general, is essentially, before anything, even a priori, the culture of death. Consequently it [that is, culture] is a history of death [but can one write that history given the above?]. There is not culture without a cult of ancestors, a ritualization of mourning and sacrifice [can we not think culture otherwise than as sacrificial?], institutional places and modes of burial. …[E]very culture entails a treatise or treatment of death, each of them treats the end according to a different partition. (A, 43)
Ever culture is a culture of death. In Heidegger’s terms, it is because everydayness is structured—universally it seems—by staving or calling off death, by fleeing from it, and thus is formed by sublimating death. This is, I think, what Derrida means above: every culture is founded on how it gives meaning to death; a sacrifice for the sake of the community, or simply a passage to a beyond, an au-déla, and death is nothing other than this climbing or going (scandere) above or beyond (trans) “it,” via transcendence. Thus cultures give meaning to death by denying it, and thus any meaning given to it renders it, oddly, meaningless.
We can see coming, then, the critique of Heidegger for attempting to think a universal relation to death, to give a meaning to it beneath or below its very happening, if one can speak this way of an event that ends a world, just this once, each time: chaque fois unique, la fin du monde, as he titled a late introduction to a book on mourning. These, I know, may be seemingly hopelessly arcane questions, but when we ask qui suis-je? (Who am I? Whom am I following) as we have for several weeks (or for several weeks before we were off for several weeks), who I am and whom I follow is wrapped up from the very beginning in Heidegger’s Being and Time—and the account of death, which says the human but no other being, has access to death as such, making it not a “what”—circles then back to the “who” that is never a what and thus can and is able to die, an ability not given to the animal or the stone. To be fair to Thomson, whose article appeared years before the publication of Derrida’s last seminar (maybe perhaps he had read him, a not impossible possibility), The Beast and the Sovereign lectures of 2002-3, Derrida does take up precisely Dasein’s ability to be (Seinskönnen) that Thomson centers his article on as different than the possibility that is involved in the German “Möglichkeit.” (Perhaps at this point Emma’s voice will rise up in defense of Heidegger and Thomson.) In the seminar’s fifth session, Derrida’s quotes from Heidegger’s (infamous) lecture on the “fourfold” (das Geviert) collected in English in Building, Dwelling, Thinking. This is twenty years after the ‘29-30 course, and shows a remarkable consistency across and around the supposed Kehre or turn in Heidegger’s work. Here is what Heidegger writes concerning the mortals (the other three being earth, sky, and divinities):
The mortals are human beings (Die Sterblichen sine die Menschen). They are called mortals because they can (weil die sterben können, thus the very kind of possibility that Derrida, Thomson rightly notes, did not take up). To die means to be capable of death [Sterben heisst; den Tod als Tod vermögen]. Only man dies [Nur der Mench stirbt]. The animal perishes [Das Tier verdendet, that is, merely comes to an end; this repeats verbatim the claims made in BT and the ‘29-30 course]. [The animal] has dead ahead of itself nor behind it [Es hat den Tod als Tod weder vor sich noch hinter sich]. (BDT, 171/176)
Then we have this claim from Heidegger from the same essay:
Death is the shrine of Nothing [Der Tod ist der Schrein des Nichts)…harbor[ing] within itself the presencing of Being [das Wesende des Seins; the swaying, the way or how, the essencing of Being]. As the shrine of Nothing, death is the shelter of Being [das Gebirg des Seins; almost the same year, in the “Letter on Humanism,” we learn that language is the house of being, and so everything hinges in Heidegger on what sheltering, on what dwelling within and providing shelter to Being would mean in the face of language and death, of that which precedes and proceeds us (explain)] We now call mortals mortals—not because their earthly life comes to an end [endet; that word is reserved above for animals] but because they are capable of death as death [weil sie den Tod als Tod vermögen]. [Mortals] are the presencing [again, wesende] relation [Verhältnis] to Being as Being [zum Sein als Sein]. (Ibid., 171/176)
But once we make of death that which falls outside circumspective concern, outside an epistemology or ontology or phenomenology, we find ourselves in an aporia. Again, these are not arcane questions: what is my relationship to death, one not to be outstripped to a death that undoes all relation? Can I die? Is it an ability or a power, whether können or as a Möglichkeit? Derrida writes:
What here [that is, in Heidegger’s essay on the fourfold] bears the main accent is that death as such, access or relation to death as such is a being-able, a power (Können, Vermögen). Such a power or potency defines the mortal, man as mortal, and this power of as such, of the as such [ce pouvoir du comme tel, de l’“en tant que tel”], this power of access to the as such of death (i.e., the Nothing as such) is not other than the relation to the ontological difference, and thereby to Being as Being. (123/184)
Hence having access to Being as Being, to the ontological difference between beings and Being, to the nothing that is, is an ability or power, and perhaps then what we get in Heidegger is another power ontology. No doubt, at times here and there, Derrida’s reading of Heidegger moves too quickly, saying in a page that Sorge (care) is akin to the Christian cura, and so on, thus denying Heidegger’s text of its own care it took with its own staging of those terms. Moreover, to call the text “onto-theological” is to presume one could simply describe Dasein as a subjectum or hyperkeimenon—things, as ever, are not so simple—though it’s also no doubt that Heidegger relies on a certain notion of the self (selbst) throughout Being and Time and especially in these crucial sections on death and time that at least borrows from but does not credit a whole tradition that would put under the flux and flow of everydayness to a self to which one would be thrown back from within that flux, to a Präsent that presences, that may happen in the blink of an eye (Augenblick), in the sovereign instance of the most instantaneous of instants, and thus would be another rendering of a heroic self coming back to itself in proximity and nearness. In the nearnest nearnness. One that would tell us that we die, we must die, it is our ownmost being-able and possibility, alone: no one, Heidegger says, can take over our dying for us, there where we should question—and no doubt our late-life medical care shows this as unstable as ever—the boundaries among dying, perishing, and croaking. Heidegger writes:
When we characterized the transition from Dasein to no-longer Dasein as Being-no-longer-in-the-world, we showed further that Dasein’ s going-out-of-the-world in the sense of dying must be distinguished from the going-out-of-the-world of that which merely has life [des Nur-lebenden; Heidegger thus will have a thinking of bare life, of a life and nothing more, even as he has bracketed from the beginning any thinking of Dasein as “life” and all that that word would bring with it]. In our terminology the ending of anything that is alive, is denoted as “perishing” [Verenden]. We can see the difference only if the kind of ending which Dasein can have is distinguished from the end of a life. (285/240-1)
We know already from The Animal that therefore I am how this will cash out two years later in terms of thinking animals as being “poor in world,” as opposed to rocks and stones that are “without a world.” I would say, if it weren’t so grave, that any thinking of death is consequential for our place in this world, in this time, and beyond that how we think “who I am” and “whom do I follow.” Heidegger writes:
The “deceased” [Der “Verstorbene”] as distinct from the dead person [dem Gestorbenen], has been torn away from those who have “remained behind”’ [den “Hinterbliebenen”], and is an object of “concern” [Besorge] in the ways of funeral rites, interment, and the cult of graves. [Here it is: our being-with those who have died is not a matter for “concern” and thus any given historical culture around and of death must be bracketed, and thus with it any “funeral rites” and such]. And that is so because the deceased, in his kind of Being, is “still more” than just an item of equipment, environmentally ready-to-hand, about which one can be concerned. [Hence the “dead person” is not a piece of equipment and is not ready-to-hand; “it” is “still more,” even as Heidegger avows a disavowal of a measure of how much more by putting in quotations this “still more” that cannot be measured.] In tarrying alongside him in their mourning and commemoration, those who have remained behind are with him in a mode of respectful solicitude [Fürsorge]…. [W]hen we speak of “Being-with”, we always have in view Being with one another in the same world. The deceased has abandoned our ‘world’ and left it behind. But in terms of that world [Aus ihr her] those who remain can still be with him. …In suffering this loss, however, we have no way of access to the loss-of-Being as such which the dying man “suffers.” The dying of Others is not something which we experience in a genuine sense ; at most we are always just “there alongside” [sind…dabei]. (282/239)
Derrida does not quote these lines, but they need to be put alongside and with [dabei] the claim that “death is in every case mine, in so far as it “is” at all. And indeed death signifies a peculiar possibility-of-Being in which the very Being of one’s own Dasein is an issue. In dying, it is shown that mineness and existence are ontologically constitutive for death” (284/240; my emphases) Hence we can be with the dead in mourning, but not concern, though we should watch above all the avowals and disavowals that are marked through quotation marks: the suffering without suffering, the non-genuine sense of experience, the “there alongside” that is not there alongside, and the being-with that is not being-with since that whom were were with and following are not “with” us in this world, and so on. When an author trades on common sense meanings, or even his or her own usages, but then also wants to discredit its very usage—the scare quotes that are meant to scare away any literal, metaphorical, or metonymic meaning—one sees how they are driven to an indecision there where they appear to be quite decisive. It is not just death, but dying that is in each case mine: I am not even dying (sterben) with others, and thus one is lead to wonder, since dying is precisely that which Dasein always is as out-ahead-of-itself, what happened to the primordial structure of Dasein as Being-with (Mitsein)? As he puts it, “Let the term ‘dying’ stand for that way of Being [Seinweise] in which Dasein is towards [zu] its death” (291/247).
Derrida in Aporias thus makes much, as he does later in the Beast and the Sovereign lectures, of what the “as such” means. The animal, as such, has no access to Being as such, nor to death as such, and no doubt to other beings as such. This is why it is poor in world (Weltarm). Though Derrida doesn’t quite put it this way—I don’t have Aporias in front of me as I finish this lecture, and it’s been some weeks since I have read it, so I don’t recall—how except by a decision, a fiat, a sovereign claim of what the human (and that human named Heidegger) gives to the human is the ultimate power of providing shelter to death, and to know that death is not perishing. This has perhaps always been the case, but nevertheless, new medical technologies and that which comes along with it (the living death that is being comatose, and so on) deconstructs our ability to distinguish between dying and perishing, and having a relation to the former but not the latter, which is not relational at all. These are not morbid questions, since to bring death within circuit of our care (Sorge) for Heidegger is to affirm life, to affirm one’s possibilities, even as death is questionable as an ability of who that says “I can.” We are coming to an end, we are coming to an end here. But let us not leave these considerations of the aporias of death as anything but an affirmation of survival, of living-on, of being the survivors who are dying (or perhaps simply perishing) and will come to an end. In The Beast and the Sovereign, Derrida writes:
This suffices [all the problems of identifying death, of it “as such,” in this language and this place and time] all the less to distinguish clearly between death as such and life as such because all our thoughts of death, our death—even before all the help that religious imagery can bring us—our thoughts of our death are always, structurally, thoughts of survival. To see oneself or to think oneself dead is to see oneself surviving, present at one’s death, present or represented in absentia at one’s death even in all the signs, traces, images, memories, even the body, the corpse or the ashes, literal or metaphorical, that we leave behind,in more or less organized and deliberate fashion, to the survivors, the other survivors, the others as survivors delegated to our survival [those on whom we will live after and before death]…The logic of this banality [his description of the above] of survival that begins even before our death is that of a survival of the remainder, the remains, that does not even wait for death to make life and death indissociable, and thus the unheimlich [uncanniness] and fantasmatic experience of the spectrality of the living dead. (117/176)
We saw this thinking of survival in Derrida’s last interview with Le Monde that its thinking of finitude and death, on living as survival, does not put deconstruction of the side (and we see above how so much above relates to this or that side, on what side we take with death, and whether we can even say can have an understanding of it enough to take its side) of death and the past. “No,” he writes, “deconstruction is always on the side of the yes, on the side of the affirmation of life” (51). This affirmation, though, affirms the “necessity of dying” even in moments of joy, perhaps most in those moments. The moments of joy only take place within limits, not transgressing them, as Sade, Bataille, and others believe. To be banal—and banality and everydayness is not simply a fleeing, as Heidegger says we do in everydayness relating to thinking the possibility of our impossibility of death—we can think of taking our reading week and counting down to its last moment, from the very beginning. The joy of the festival or the vacation cannot happen without that limit; a limitless joy is unthinkable since it would be endless tedium. And thus there is no joy and affirmation of life without thinking the surprise of death, of the surprise that takes us on from every moment of our life. Death, perishing, ending, is not to be outstripped—but that is the not the thinking of the melancholic, though philosophy, as Heidegger writes, is always such, but is a thinking of joy, of love, of that which happens just this once before or on this side of the end of the world.