Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Jaques Derrida on Love and Being

The above video will help express the ideas I have been writing about in a more accessible way for the reader. It is subtly poignant and well worth watching.

There are four points that I would like to comment on:

- Derrida's hesistation.
- The distinction between 'the who and the what'.
- The death of love. (This will be discussed in a subsequent post)
- The philosophical note on ontology.

Derrida cannot speak of love in generalities. Our knowledge does not stretch this far. In my last post I remarked that "The process of love itself is unthinkable"; likewise, Derrida has "an empty head on love in general". He even evades framing love in terms of the history of philosophy - is he meant to parrot or list what others have said, or tie them together with a remark on what they all have in common, what is identical to each? The former Derrida calls cliche; the latter presupposes a position on love in general, concerning which he has "nothing to say".

Nonetheless, Derrida succeeds in talking about love, not in a generality, but in a specific problematic that love negotiates: The difference between the who and the what. Derrida locates these in terms of an essential singularity - who someone is, and non-essential qualities - what comprises that person. Though Derrida is speaking in the third person (hence 'qualities'), we can nonetheless relate this distinction to the problem of forces and coherent selves. Do we love someone because they are 'the person that they are', or because joy is brought us by those things that constitute them, their behaviour, and their relation to us?

How do we think about the things that make us love someone? Do we see them as prior to and separable from the subject, or do we see them as following from the subject (either 'at all', or 'significantly enough to account for what we love to the extent that we love it')? This is the place in which philosophical theorising comes into play - are we going to maintain that existence precedes essence (the subjectival), or will we side with Nietzsche's lightning flash? As Derrida rightly points out, the question of what it is for something to be (the ontological question) is primary.

Derrida's words: "The difference between the who and the what at the heart of love, separates the heart".

How do we understand 'the death of love'? It is this, more than anything, that determines whether we can give expression to love as a real force. Derrida remarks that whoever is in love, was in love, or begins to be in love gets caught up between the two ontological attitudes. To the extent that we love, therefore, reality is cleaved in two for us. It seems that on this view unrequited love necessarily leads to ressentiment. The heart becomes separated and torn, our feelings get discarded and our hopes get dashed to the pavement. Must we cast down those that we love and call them unworthy of it? Can we not save our love this cruel fate?


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