CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1Eighty-three years have passed since Sein und Zeit was published in 1927 by Martin Heidegger (Being and Time in English translation). Maurice Blanchot speaks of how shocking this book was to him, as it has been for many other thinkers and philosophers since that time: “It was a veritable intellectual shock the book produced in me. An event of the first magnitude had just taken place; it was impossible to diminish it, even today, even in my memory.” [1]

2In 1964, thirty-seven years after this thought-event, when Jacques Derrida was beginning to publish his first articles in journals [2] as another thinker of the first rank, he gave his first course as a lecturer at the École normale supérieure (ENS) in Paris’s rue d’Ulm, a nine-session course devoted to Heidegger’s book, entitled “Heidegger, the Question of Being, and History.” [3] At that time, he planned to write a book on Heidegger to be published by Éditions de Minuit, of which he later remarked to Dominique Janicaud: “I never wrote it. The title that was announced: The Question of History.” [4] Could the students attending these lectures diminish the intellectual shock of what they heard then, even today, in their memory? Nothing could be less certain.

3This course, which was held from the fall of 1964 to the spring of 1965, was preceded by a few months by the first French translation of Sein und Zeit by Walter Biemel and Alphonse de Waelhens, published by Gallimard. If we look at the place Jacques Derrida gives to this book, we see that he also sets about reading the untranslated portion of Sein und Zeit (sections 45–83) and thus to engage in a total reading of the work that articulates and manifests the coherence of the initial question (the question of Being) and of the final perspective of the published part (history).

4In 1938, non-Germanist French readers received a first volume of Heidegger texts translated by Henry Corbin under the title Qu’est-ce que la métaphysique [What Is Metaphysics?]. [5] It is in this collection that we see, notably, Dasein translated as “réalité-humaine” and historicity (in the sense of Geschichte, as distinguished from Historie, historical narrative or science) translated as “historial.” After this 1954 translation, perceived by some as a “historical event,” [6] the Nouvelle Revue Française published “The Pathway [Le sentier]” and “The Thinker as Poet [Sur l’expérience de la pensée]” in February, “Language in the Poem: A Discussion on Georg Trakl’s Poetic Work [Georg Trakl]” in January and February 1958, and in 1960, “Hegel and the Greeks [Hegel et les Grecs]” and “Hebel—Friend of the House [Hebel, l’ami de la maison]” appeared in the Cahiers du Sud. Biemel and de Waelhens also translated The Essence of Truth [De l’essence de la vérité] after Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics [Kant et le problème de la métaphysique], published by Gallimard in 1953. The “Letter on Humanism” was translated in 1957 by Roger Munier, the Essais et conférences by André Préau in 1958, and the Introduction to Metaphysics [Introduction à la métaphysique] by Gilbert Kahn for Presses universitaires de France in 1958.

5This was nearly all that was available, in French, to the students who took Jacques Derrida’s course in 1964. To take the measure of the philosophical novelty of this course and the kind of radicalism that it implements, it must also be remembered that Lévi-Strauss gave his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France on structuralism in 1960, that Maurice Merleau-Ponty died in 1961, and that the same year, Emmanuel Levinas’s Totality and Infinity was published, as well as Michel Foucault’s History of Madness.

6One might say, in a very elliptical way, that, in relation to Merleau-Ponty, Lévi-Strauss, Levinas, and Foucault, what is immediately striking, when we read Derrida’s lectures, is his manner of seeking and discovering his own thought in the texts and traces of others: Derrida undermines the texts he reads, tries to open them to something completely different in submitting his writing and his thought to the inexorable law of the axiomatic of thought that he analyzes, pushing the radicality of what he questions to the limit of the transgression it has to offer. From this point of view, Heidegger represents an advance and an opening that perhaps only Freud’s texts also constitute for Derrida, but in an entirely different sense. Derrida would expose this advance and this opening to the aporetic limits of their own radicalism. It is possible to set the entire linguistic chain trembling by exposing it to its own limit, rethinking the limit as a transversal closure, that of the text, and liberating another philosophical movement (“deconstruction”) and another opening (“writing”).

Being, Logos, History

7Jacques Derrida’s lectures recall that Heidegger’s philosophical project in 1927 was to uncover the fundamental ontology buried under special and general metaphysics (what Heidegger will come to call “ontotheology”). Metaphysics is fascinated, obsessed with beings, it is not possible for it to get past its interest in beings, and it can never pose the question of the Being of beings. The question of Being discovered by Heidegger brings out the fundamental ontology hidden in the metaphysical history of ontology; the question then attempts to go beyond the on and the logos of ontology. Ontology is the discourse or logos of the on. Subversion and transgression therefore begin, in Heidegger, with the “question of Being,” which is no longer exactly of fundamental ontology. Yet, insofar as it is still a question, it cannot really go beyond the order of the logos, that is to say metaphysical ontology.

8Historical metaphysics, both special and general; fundamental ontology underneath historical metaphysics; the question of Being underneath fundamental ontology or through it: the exclusive interest in beings, on the one hand, and the question of the Being of beings which is primarily concerned with the ontological difference between Being and beings on the other hand. What the two have in common is the logos. Heidegger indeed ties the question and the very possibility of the question to the possibility of language. Being cannot be articulated or manifested outside of language, and if it is historical, it is because it is mediated through a speaking being “who poses or to whom or through whom the question of Being precisely is posed” (session VIII), writes Derrida, describing what is unique about this being, Dasein. This being, which encounters its Being as a question, understands its being insofar as it understands Being in general. Dasein is the being which differentiates itself precisely by the difference between Being in general and the being of Dasein. “We are questioners, we are in the question, it is a question of us,” writes Derrida (session IV), unfolding the formal structure of the question of Being [7] in section 2 of Sein und Zeit.

9If Being does not appear in language, it is first in the sense that Being is not a being. The need for ontology then appears with the ontological difference between Being and beings. But this need is immediately concealed as soon as it is structured as ontology. This is why ontology remains inadequate to that which seeks to approach Heidegger through his question: it inevitably misses the question of Being. The question of Being implies the language of ontology: Derrida speaks, in this sense, of the extraordinary way in which “metaphysics adheres to the skin of language” (Session VIII).

10The question of Being must, through the task of Destruktion announced by Heidegger, discover Being through its history (the movement of its recovery and of the forgetting of this recovery). This is why Derrida, who understands Heidegger’s thought at its own level of radicality, asks, at the outset of his course: “What does history have to do with the question of Being?” (Session I). In other words, what is the history of Being in relation to historicity in general, and in particular with the historicity of Dasein? One then can ask in what language the question of Being will be placed in its relation to history if (1) the entire language of ontology is metaphysics (metaphysics is stuck to language), and if (2) all ontology is constituted by being torn away from historicity. Is not the question of Being as such doubly separated from history understood as historicity? Separated as the movement and opening of ontology, as the forgetting and recovery of Being?

11The intrinsic and radical relation of the question of Being to history is even more difficult to grasp insofar as it presupposes a double regression from the thought of being and from that of time: first the thought of Being poses the question of the Being of beings by showing that the truth of Being is not that of beingness in general. Next, Derrida shows that the theme of historicity is “grafted” (session IX) onto temporality in Sein und Zeit, inasmuch, according to Heidegger, as Dasein is not temporal (zeitlich) because it is in history (in a this-worldly sense), but that it exists in a hist orical way because its being is fundamentally temporal (section 72). In other words, this is where the question of Being and history relate to one another: the truth of Being only presents itself as the meaning of Being insofar as Dasein ek-sists temporally, that is to say historically. The notion of the historicity of Dasein in Sein und Zeit will then demand a Destruktion of subjectivity, insofar as the radical historicity that must be overcome is that of the transcendental subjectivity of the subjectum.

The Metaphysics of the Subjectum and the Living Present

12Derrida’s course not only lets us understand what is, for Heidegger, the meaning of the Cartesian-Hegelian-Husserlian gesture of transforming substantiality into the metaphysics of the subjectum; it also relates the history of this gesture to the metaphysical conception of history. Indeed, the Subject is not itself historical; it is after the fact that its subjectivity takes place in history. As Derrida writes: “It is to a nonhistory that history takes place” (Session VII). With the concept of the subjectum, Dasein is thought as Vorhandenheit (remaining-present) and then begins to exist in history as a “reality,” the Being of which is not historical. In this way, history is absent from empirical historicism or transcendental ahistoricism, which both share a metaphysical structure: the this-worldliness of the subjectum thought on the model of Vorhandenheit, understood as the presence for which history takes place from the outside, as a foreign supplement. As we see, the concept of the supplement emerges here, in Derrida, beginning with the problem of the historicity that is absent from transcendental subjectivity.

13In his lectures, Derrida analyses the way in which Heidegger explains the metaphysics of the subjectum while attempting to bring it back to the analytic of Dasein, as he also attempts to reduce almost all metaphysics, that is to say the irreducible itself. Indeed, Heidegger no longer seeks the unity of existence of Dasein, its stretching between birth and death, in the form of the experience of the ego cogito and consciousness. Then is Dasein’s unity of existence, which is the unity that gives it life, still the unity of experience? Is it even a form of life or of experience? The reduction of the experience of the ego cogito to Dasein’s unity of existence is supposed to be a reduction of the metaphysics of the subjectum, more radical and of another order than the phenomenological reduction to transcendental consciousness as a source of the givenness of phenomena. Husserl proceeds from the phenomenological reduction to a reduction to the sphere of ownness (the body) in the fifth of the Cartesian Meditations in order to describe, through a rigorous phenomenology, the phenomenon of the other. The Heideggerean reduction, however, cannot be called “phenomenological” in the sense of Husserl’s phenomenology. Derrida understands it as a reduction to life, understood no longer as a form of experience but as totalizing transcendence.

14It is through this reduction that Sein und Zeit passes to the analysis of historicity, and it is in this passage to historicity by the stretching between birth and death that Heidegger seeks to remove the thought of the existence of Dasein from the metaphysical correlate of presence-absence. Has the metaphysics of the subjectum, which determines subjectivity as the presence of the present, actually been reduced, for all that? Has Heidegger’s reduction succeeded in passing beyond the heritage and necessity of this metaphysics of the present? Derrida contests this and seeks in his turn to understand how and to what extent presence and the present are irreducible when one attempts to remove them, as Heidegger does in 1927, from an ontology of life which is left unexamined and not elaborated as such: “Life only lives in the present, and the living present is a tautological expression in which, in any case, one cannot distinguish the subject from the predicate” (Session VI).

15In 1972, almost eight years after his course, Derrida sharpens his diagnosis in order to express the paradoxical positioning of Heidegger’s thought in relation to the metaphysics of presence: “I sometimes have the impression that the Heideggerean problematic is the most “profound” and “powerful” defense of what I attempt to put into question under the rubric of the thought of presence.” [8] As early as 1964, therefore, it is the relation to the opening, to the advance, and to the critical resource of the Heideggerian questions that is in question.

16Derrida could write in 1972 that “[w]hat I have attempted to do would not have been possible without the opening provided by Heidegger’s questions,” [9] while at the same time thinking, in the same philosophical gesture, that what he seeks to undermine is defended in the most powerful and profound way, unconsciously, almost somnambulistically, by Heidegger. In 1964, the gap between the two thinkers is inscribed as a small and at the same time perhaps infinite difference between the questions posed by Heidegger’s text and the opening up of those questions, as if, in spite of itself, the text closed off what, at the same time, it opens up and permits on other levels. This text closes off what it opens up and renders impossible the possibility that it liberates; it is a text heterogeneous to itself, in contradiction with itself. Indeed, Heidegger’s thought displaces the thought of the ego cogito and its experience onto the ek-sistence of Dasein; it dramatically opens up the possibility of questioning the form of presence at the same time that it confirms and strengthens this form like never before; it reconstitutes, at a more radical and therefore more irreducible and unshakeable level, what it has destroyed.

Undiscoverable Historicity

17Dasein’s existence, stretched between birth and death, is a movement of ek-static temporalization (Zeitlichkeit including the horizontal Temporalität of Being), a Being that is originarily outside of itself, which removes the Dasein from the self-presence of the Subject in Vorhandenheit. Thus, temporalized in this way, Dasein is historical. Dasein’s historicity is thus implicated in the idea that Dasein does not ek-sist in the form of presence. Where, in sections 73 and 74 of Sein und Zeit, Heidegger thinks the form of transmission, which enables him to concretely determine historicity as ecstasy, the standing-apart-from-itself and the nonpresence-to-itself of a Subject (infrahistorical and not historical), it seems that he first begins to pull history away from the Hegelian-Husserlian gesture that takes knowledge for telos and science for the guiding thread of historicity—and thus, Derrida writes, reason as the “ideal possibility of the infinite transmissibility of meaning” (Session V).

18But Derrida asks whether, when he thinks history beginning from a horizontal, ecstatic temporality, “Heidegger, too, does not imply a teleology, even as he shuns it” (Session V). Not a teleology of reason, of course, but still a teleology, that is to say a transcendental idealism of ecstasy and transmission which constitutes, contrary to historicist relativism, the presence of a universal meaning deeper and more radical than any other, that of existence for death.

19Not only is Derrida aware of the inescapable idealism that burdens Heidegger’s analysis of the historicity of Dasein, limiting the possibility of subverting metaphysics, but he is also perplexed by and suspicious toward the originality and positivity of Heidegger’s description of historicity. He shows that this description is structurally limited, due to the ontological radicality with which Heidegger undertakes his analysis and Destruktion. The question of Being indeed finds its possibility and its opening in the destruction of the history of Being, which is the history of its concealment. Being, which is not a being, only manifests itself in language, and its history is then the history of its manifestation, the site of which is Dasein’s historicity. The manifestation of the history of Being is then displaced into the historicity of Dasein.

20But this historicity, which is supposed to manifest the history of Being, cannot be discovered, since it is never presented by Heidegger as anything other than a more concrete development of temporality, as a modification or modalization of temporality. Thus, there never seems to be any historicity properly speaking in Sein und Zeit, and Derrida understands the inability to speak properly of historicity as such, without deriving it from temporality, this inability of Heidegger to describe a positive and primitive historicity, to be the “exhaustion” and inhibition on which Sein und Zeit founders. It is the inability of this “properly speaking” that locks Heidegger into an endless analysis of the ontological site of historicity. Derrida perceptively notes that, in a neighboring chapter, Sein und Zeit interrupts itself in the first part of the chapter dealing with historicity and temporality.

21The impossibility of making a primitive and positive description of history, to which Sein und Zeit ultimately returns, is not only because of the level of radicality of the question of Being beyond ontology, nor only because temporality is fundamentally the sole transcendental horizon of the question of Being. This inability to speak properly of history precisely defines the point from which Derrida thinks the problem of history in Heidegger, but in an entirely different manner than Heidegger, and with a small but decisive difference.

Geschichte Beyond Mythos? The Way Beyond Philosophy

22Derrida connects the aporetic dimension of history to its irreducible character and the impossibility of having a pure and simple access to Geschichte. In a sense, there is no Geschichte outside of Historie (outside of words, outside of the text). There is no more history outside of language than there is, as Derrida notes, language outside of history. It is here that the Platonic prescription that separates philosophy from mythos submits Heidegger’s questioning and radicality to its law: when historicity must be thought from the question of Being, and that this should be articulated and manifested in historicity, the philosopher must stop telling stories (mythos). How, then, to describe history positively and concretely, without narrating and without stories?

23This is the question that Derrida illuminates at the heart of the gap between Hegel and Heidegger, where, as he explains, the question of Being and history finds “its place.” Hegel, indeed, still tells stories, gives himself over to mythological discourse, from the moment he thinks history as such, takes it absolutely seriously as the infinite movement of self-dissolution of all the determinations of the world, from the knowledge of the end of history that is enunciated in his final philosophy. Hegel accomplishes the ontotheological closure of the philosophy of history in the finished language of metaphysics; in this sense it is impossible for him to stop telling stories, to sever absolute philosophy from its own myth.

24The final philosophy of the end of history is the absolute unity of philosophy and mythology, absolute mythology, absolutely final. Mythology, from which Heidegger’s thought seeks to free itself, is philosophy itself, philosophy as ontotheology that tells (itself) stories in the language of metaphysics. Unlike Hegel, Heidegger soberly attempts not to narrate, which, Derrida writes, is why he “did not produce an ethics or a politics,” no more than he “provided a morality” (Session VIII). Heidegger’s thought, which should open the question of Being and the problem of history, therefore takes a step beyond the final philosophy of Hegel. This step beyond philosophy, beyond the language of metaphysics and ontology, necessarily takes the form of the self-destruction of the logos of ontology, the destruction of philosophy by philosophy. But this step beyond is merely announced, says Derrida; it consists only in an indefinite announcement that is at the same time infinitely different from any other announcement.

25From this point, Derrida illuminates the aporetic and paradoxical aspects of this conception of history in connection with the question of Being beyond ontology: “This step, which might look like a departure from history in general into the ahistorical, is really the condition for entering into the radicalization of the idea of history as the history of Being itself” (Session II). The reality of the movement of thought that Heidegger attempts in Sein und Zeit, the step beyond that cannot and must not tell stories, must be distinguished from what it might resemble and yet cannot—in a sense, does not—resemble: an escape from history into the ahistorical. Derrida’s course lets us understand the necessity and the structure of this resemblance between the radicalization of the thought of history and the departure from history. It shows the small but decisive difference between the pitch beyond the language of metaphysics and the output to the ahistorical. We can see the philosophical power and originality of what Derrida is attempting here: he ties the problem of history, beyond historicist empiricisms and ahistorical transcendentalism, to the aporetic structure of the step itself.

Historicity as Metaphoricity

26In 1964, Derrida’s thought would find its place in the articulation of the problem of history and language, [10] that is to say of metaphysics. The aporetic structure of history, which is only taken seriously and thought in its infinite opening at the moment when it is conceived as that of which we cannot properly speak, is not only understood by Derrida as a structure of impropriety and, following Rousseau, nonoriginarity; it is thought as the gap, the movement of difference or displacement, of the substitution that takes place in the language of history and the history of language.

27This structure of historicity, which to begin with challenges the concept of structure itself, Derrida calls metaphoricity. The work of the course is therefore to reveal historicity as metaphoricity. The metaphor is the forgetting or the recovery of the origin, the movement of the dispossession and concealment of Being in metaphorical difference. The step beyond metaphysics is in this sense preceded by the step of the metaphorical difference, which is the step of history, the step of the origin.

28For Derrida, therefore, metaphor is primary in history: “We do not begin with the originary: this is the first word of history,” he says (Session III), thereby coming closer to Rousseau’s thought (in the Essay on the Origin of Languages), despite the difference of position in history and metaphysics. The same year, in 1964, in “Violence and Metaphysics,” Derrida gives a quotation from Borges, which, in a certain sense, captures something of his distance from Levinas: “Borges is correct: ‘Perhaps universal history is but the history of several metaphors.’” [11] Historicity itself is metaphoricity; there is no historicity as such; metaphoricity is history. Thus Derrida thinks the unity of metaphoricity and historicity as the very movement of language and history.

29The originality and radicality of the thought of history, after Hegel’s absolutely final philosophy and the step beyond Heidegger, clarify what the philosophy of the end of history and the thought of the history of Being missed: the irreducibly grammatical dimension of the meaning and writing of history, the metaphorical process of historicity as text. No more than Hegel or Husserl can Heidegger recognize the necessity and irreducibility of what Derrida calls, in the course of his exposition, “grammatico-metaphysical metaphor” (Session VIII).

30Philosophical discourse, whether or not it tells stories, never loses contact with the metaphysical skin of language, nor does it tear this skin: it seeks its language in the destruction of grammatico-philosophical metaphor. As Nietzsche had already shown in his “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense,” Derrida notes that this movement of demetaphorization or destruction of the metaphorical essence of language, which characterizes philosophical writing, does not escape from metaphors; it cannot be done without metaphors. The demetaphorization of philosophical discourse is also, however unwillingly, an overmetaphorization, a multiplication of metaphors.

31Philosophical discourse, which substitutes one metaphor for another, and the question of Being, which indefinitely and metaphorically announces a history of Being, both belong to the metaphysical movement of language and history. Philosophical discourse and the thinking of the question of Being therefore never fail to think the movement of historicity, metaphoricity, as such. They do not think the metaphor in metaphorizing it, as do Derrida and Nietzsche (and, in another sense, Rousseau), but in seeking to demetaphorize and destroy it. To think metaphor “as such,” that is, to think that there is no metaphor as such, to think it while metaphorizing it, is to think the unity of metaphoricity and nonmetaphoricity as the essence of language, to think the effacement of the present in language, that is, to think the trace or writing.

Destruktion, Deconstruction

32This difference, in the history of metaphysics, of Derrida’s conception of writing, is also proposed as the difference between deconstruction and Heideggerian Destruktion of the history of ontology. This difference is to be found in the course of 1964–1965, although the word “deconstruction” is only used there to describe the work of Destruktion that Derrida defines as “a destruction of ontology itself, of the entire ontological project” (Session I) in its history. But this Destruktion seeks to destroy metaphors by other metaphors which are not questioned, not even perceived as metaphors, while deconstruction, which is already, avant la lettre, at work in these lectures, is first introduced by Derrida as the movement of writing of the thought that metaphorizes metaphors. Deconstruction is a movement of subversion, approaching all of language starting from the metaphorical movement that animates it.

33Derrida assigns the possibility of the Destruktion of ontology that must liberate the question of Being to the interruption of ontology’s foundation. Destruktion, which coincides with the annunciation of the history of Being, begins where fundamental ontology ends, beyond any ontology. Deconstruction, meanwhile, begins by thinking all of language as a process of metaphorical dis-ference. [12] Deconstruction, unlike Destruktion, thus tries to think the dis-ference of the present in language’s process of metaphorization. In this sense, it must pass through writing, that is, by that the trace of which escapes from phenomenality and presence.

34Deconstruction departs from the radicality of Heidegger’s Destruktion by passing to a metaphorical thinking of language, to the articulation of language and history within metaphoricity, and to a thinking of writing as a trace, the emergence of which is no longer a matter of phenomenality or presence. This is why Derrida notes that Heidegger “progressively” abandons “the word ‘phenomenology’” (session VI). Yet at the same time, as if in a trance, Heidegger finds himself confirming and strengthening the very metaphysics of phenomenality and presence from which he still tries to disentangle the question of Being. Indeed, Heidegger must say no to phenomenality, must call attention to it in so saying. But as he attempts to overcome phenomenality by means of discourse, the question of Being remains fundamentally a discourse, that is to say a logos. Heidegger remains caught up in the phenomenality he denounces, in the metaphysics of presence which is inseparable from phenomenality. In other words, he does not escape from phenomenology.

35Destruktion in this sense never manages to undermine language; on the contrary, it is its deepest confirmation, never a shaking of metaphysics but an unexpected reinforcement, because it is still a discourse, even if it is an annunciatory discourse, and because its gesture never manages to think itself or to transform itself into a gesture or movement of writing. The difference is certainly small, but probably infinite. Derrida shows us, in any case, that in this thought, what is infinitely decisive can never take any form other than that of a tiny difference.

36The Destruktion of ontology, remaining the discourse or praise of Being, never manages to overcome the metaphysics of presence, because it did not think to challenge or to undermine the discursive and linguistic order of philosophy (which is not escaped from). That is why, in his lectures, Derrida can write that “the transgression of philosophy that takes place with the question of Being must find and maintain its support in philosophy” (Session II). The question of Being opened or reopened by Heidegger is, thus, the Destruktion of philosophy. It is this destruction that draws near and that announces the question of Being as well as of history. But it cannot go beyond a mere announcement, because it is impossible, at this level of radicality that is no longer that of Being but that of the metaphoricity of language as history, to positively describe the historicity of Being, just as it is impossible for it to go beyond Destruktion, beyond logos, and beyond metaphysics.

37Deconstruction is therefore not merely a destructive analysis, because it goes beyond Destruktion: it no longer tries to speak phenomenologically of the nonphenomenality of Being, but is written as the metaphorical dis-ference of what can no longer even be called Being. Is it a coincidence that the difference between deconstruction and Destruktion, between Derrida and Heidegger, between the thought of writing and that of Being (which remains philosophical because it is still a discourse), should appear in the recognition of the limitation of metaphysics and of what the overcoming of this limitation must mean?

38It is in Gérard Granel’s translation of Heidegger’s text, where the question of the limit and its overcoming is engaged, [13] that we see the word “déconstruction” used for the first time to translate the Abbau (and Destruktion) of metaphysics in order to distinguish it from Zerstörung, destruction in the sense of annihilation. We should certainly not ignore the role played by Gérard Granel in the appearance of the word and the thought of “deconstruction,” but in 1964–1965, Derrida complicates the situation when he speaks of “deconstructing” metaphysics (Session VII) in order to describe what he calls Heidegger’s “merely destructive” analysis. What Derrida calls into question with this “merely” is Heidegger’s transgressive intention. It is this transgressive intent that obliges Heidegger’s Destruktion to confirm metaphysics at the very moment when it destroys it; this is what compels it to find support in the linguistic and discursive order of the philosophy it is meant to transgress.

39It is therefore the intention of overcoming metaphysics that makes it impossible to get past its limits. The limits are merely denounced, and the intent to overcome them is merely announced by the transgressive intention, which is basically the philosophical intention par excellence. The discourse of Destruktion never managed to escape the metaphysics of presence, because it never thought the metaphoricity of language, but instead unwittingly proliferated metaphors. This is also why the question of Being remains trapped within the circle of phenomenology and the announcement of a history of Being lacks an analysis of the historicity of language and the language of history.

40In Derrida’s lectures, the problem of the question of Being and of history, which appears as the difference between Hegel and Heidegger, that is, in the difference between the final philosophy of the end of history and of the originary thought of history, on the one hand, and the question of Being on the other, is rethought and reconfigured as the difference between Heidegger and Derrida, between Destruktion and deconstruction. This is the difference between the question of Being, which remains a philosophical discourse, and the metaphorizing thought of metaphor, which becomes a writing without a support. The discourse of Destruktion remains a traditional gesture that never thinks itself as a gesture or as a force: it shows itself to be incapable of thinking itself otherwise than as a sign or a meaning, and to enter into a thought of writing as the trace that escapes from phenomenality and presence.

41The displacement that Derrida seeks is not to be understood as a playful evasion, but as the discovery of a new kind of radicality, a subversion of all language, history and metaphysics, thought completely otherwise, through the thought of writing. This Derridean movement begins by analyzing Being and history as metaphorical expressions, inevitably caught up in the metaphorical processes of language. From this standpoint, deconstruction can no longer be a transgressive intention that must destroy the metaphors behind which Being is effaced in order to revive the question of Being; rather, the metaphorical process of Being and history must instead be subjected to a destruction of its metaphysical language. Destruction must then also be analyzed as another metaphor, the metaphor not of the movement of history or of Being, but “an end of history and a death of Being” (Session IX), that is to say the metaphor of the future. Deconstruction is the future understood as displacement, the dis-ferent transportation of the end of history and Being, from the verdict of Hegel’s final philosophy and Heidegger’s question of the thinking of Being.

42But this future is once again hidden behind another metaphor, since metaphoricity is also the movement of displacement from one metaphor to another, where concealment comes to conceal another concealment, in the unity of concealment and nonconcealment. The other metaphor, behind which the future opens up, that is, presents itself in the act of withdrawing itself, makes possible the question itself, that of Being as well as that of history. The opening of the possibility of the question, which begins with the word, as soon as it is articulated in sentences in a text: this is what Derrida thinks and writes. He reveals nonphenomenality through another metaphor which he has not yet written but which he has already sought to mark by the a in its name and signature: différance.


  • [1]
    Maurice Blanchot, “Thinking the Apocalypse: A Letter from Maurice Blanchot to Catherine David,” trans. Paula Wissing, Critical Inquiry (1989): 479.
  • [2]
    “Violence et métaphysique. Essai sur la pensée d’Emmanuel Levinas” [“Violence and Metaphysics,” trans. Alan Bass, in Writing and Difference, 79–153] appeared in issues 3 and 4 of the Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale.
  • [3]
    Transcription of the manuscript by Thomas Dutoit and Marguerite Derrida, with the help of Marc Goldschmit, to be published by Éditions Galilée. The manuscript can be found at the IMEC (Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine, Normandy) or in the Derrida archives at the University of California, Irvine (USA).
  • [4]
    Jacques Derrida in Dominique Janicaud, Heidegger en France (Paris: Albin Michel, 2001), 96.
  • [5]
    Followed by excerpts from Being and Time, especially sections 46–53 and 72–77, as well as a lecture on Hölderlin, published in the Gallimard collection Les essais VII.
  • [6]
    Jean-Paul Sartre, War Diaries: Notebooks from a Phoney War, November 1939–March 1940, trans. Quinton Hoare (London: Verso, 1999), 185.
  • [7]
    That which is asked about (Gefragte): Being, that to which the question is directed (Befragte): the meaning of Being, that which is to be found out by asking (Erfragte): beings are those who do the questioning.
  • [8]
    Jacques Derrida, Positions, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 55.
  • [9]
    Derrida, Positions, 9.
  • [10]
    For an analysis of the problem of history in Writing and Difference, especially through the readings of Foucault and Levinas, see the chapter “Le glissement du langage et le jeu de l’écriture” in my book Une langue à venir. Derrida, l’écriture hyperbolique (Paris: Lignes et Manifeste, 2006), 33–74.
  • [11]
    Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 92.
  • [12]
    The English differ and the French différer both come from the Latin differre, from the components dis- (“away from”) and ferre (“to carry”)—similar to the Greek derivation of “metaphor” (from meta-, “beyond,” and pherein, “carry”). [Translator’s note.]
  • [13]
    Martin Heidegger, “On the Question of Being,” in Pathmarks, trans. William McNeill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 291–322; translated by Granel as “Contribution à la question de l’être. Hommage à Ernst Jünger,” in Questions I (Paris: Gallimard, 1968).
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