Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Unlike many strident traditionalists, I have a love for Jacques Derrida. In particular, I have a great love for his work Sauf le nom, which he wrote in 1993 as a solicited response to a conference on apophatic theology. Many think that Derrida was an atheist. His thinking and his writing had a tendency toward opacity, and its difficult to say. But it seems clear that he was scrupulously honest, and it seems to me that he had an open heart which, biblically, is itself an acceptable sacrifice.

This passage comes from the end of Sauf le nom, after Derrida's long and ambiguous commentary on the epigrams of Angelus Silesius. Derrida is sort of asking himself why he is drawn so much to the idiom of apophatic theology.

Here you have to believe in the accident or in the contingency of a (hi)story: an autobiographical chance [alea], if you like, that is happening to me this summer. I chose to bring here with me this given book, the Cherubinic Wanderer (and only extracts at that), to bring it to this family place, in order to watch over a mother who is slowly leaving us and no longer knows how to name. As unknown as he remains to me, Silesius begins to be more familiar and more friendly to me. I have been coming back to him recently, almost secretly, because of sentences that I have not cited today. And furthermore, it takes up little room when one is traveling (seventy pages). Isn't negative theology -- we have said this enough -- also the most economical formalization? The greatest power of the possible? A reserve of language, almost inexhaustible in so few words? This literature forever elliptical, taciturn, cryptic, obstinately withdrawing, however, from all literature, inaccessible there even where it seems to go [se rendre], the exasperation of a jealousy that passion carries beyond itself; this would seem to be a literature for the desert or for exile. It holds desire in suspense, and always saying too much or too little, each time it leaves you without ever going away from you.

And here is an excerpt from Silesius, which I have quoted here before:

"The most impossible is possible
With your arrow you cannot reach the sun,
With mine I can sweep under my fire the eternal sun.

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