November 09, 2004

'and not to yield'

Judith Butler rare writes clearly or precisely, though I must admit she sometimes writes beautifully—for some value of that word. But her elegy for Jacques Derrida, in this week's London Review of Books, is clear, precise, and beautiful for quite a few values of that word. I'm not particularly fond of Derrida, nor do I find him all that valuable, but he had quite a few things to say, and I'm glad to see Butler represent those few things well:
If some readers thought that Derrida was a linguistic constructivist, they missed the fact that the name we have for something, for ourselves, for an other, is precisely what fails to capture the referent (as opposed to making or constructing it).
And here, perhaps better and more relevant for today, is her appraisal of Derrida's idea of justice (I don't know if it is accurate or not; it may as well be):
Derrida made clear in his short book on Walter Benjamin, The Force of Law (1994), that justice was a concept that was yet to come. This does not mean that we cannot expect instances of justice in this life, and it does not mean that justice will arrive for us only in another life. He was clear that there was no other life. It means only that, as an ideal, it is that towards which we strive, without end. Not to strive for justice because it cannot be fully realized would be as mistaken as believing that one has already arrived at justice and that the only task is to arm oneself adequately to fortify its regime. The first is a form of nihilism (which he opposed) and the second is dogmatism (which he opposed).
In that vein, there is that Tennyson quote (from "Ulysses," no?) that says something similar: "made weak by time and fate, but strong in will / to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." A good thing to remember these days, I think.
-- Brad Plumer 1:09 AM || ||