El's Reviews > The Gift of Death, and Literature in Secret

The Gift of Death, and Literature in Secret by Jacques Derrida
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May 22, 11

bookshelves: pretentious-book-club, late20th-centurylit
Read from April 14 to May 22, 2011

I actually finished reading this about a week ago, but have just been sitting on it since. It was our latest choice for The Totally Pretentious Bookclub in my real world, so I a) wanted some of my thoughts to percolate for a week or so and b) wanted to wait at least until the bookclub meeting to finalize my thoughts here. Now that we have had Complete Percolation and the fellow bookies left a few hours ago, I've come to one unavoidable fact:

Postmodern philosophy pisses me off.

I had an inkling when reading A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, but it's decidedly confirmed after reading Derrida. (Let me just interrupt myself to say that this is the first Derrida I've read. It probably won't be the last, but it is the first, so for now I'm going to call him another postmodern douche-hole like Deleuze and Guattari.)

A few things that might have made this read more enjoyable:
*Had I read Derrida's book (Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money) that first introduced some of the thoughts discussed in this book. I have a feeling I would have picked up on a few other things.
*Had I read Jan Patocka first considering Derrida analyzes the crap out of him here.
*Had I read Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling which came up numerous times, particularly in regards to discussion of the mysterium tremendum.

Obviously we were completely unprepared for this one.

Really, though, let's be honest (and this is something all of Bookclub could agree on) - Derrida thought he was pretty darn special. You could practically hear him guffawing smugly through the pages, one of those really obnoxious stereotypical French guffaws. This isn't to say that Derrida doesn't present some interesting thoughts here, but there doesn't seem to be an exact thesis that he follows.

The discussion on religion (using Abraham and Isaac as his examples) was annoying, and not just because I'm an atheonostic (yeah, I just made that up) but because I'm certain Derrida could have made his point without bringing religion into the mix. He didn't discuss the Crucifixion which I was surprised by, considering that seems to be historically, biblically, whatever, the ultimate sacrifice. He mentioned original sin a few times (but then never quite defined it himself which was, again, annoying), and then he spent all that freaking time talking about Abraham and Isaac. Is religion all so pervasive that it automatically becomes the go-to for philosophers trying to make their point?

And now I'm just rambling.

I'd rather read Derrida over Deleuze and Guattari, but I have a feeling I'd rather have D&G over for cocktails instead of Derrida.
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04/14/2011 page 3
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Heather (new)

Heather I read Fear and Trembling , and I remember it being entirely about Abraham and Isaac. I also don't remember enjoying Kierkegaard that much. I think I will stay away from Derrida!


message 2: by El (new) - rated it 2 stars

El Ah, good to know. One of our members said something about Kierkegaard being a bit more dense, but that was just a general statement. Apparently no one in our group has read Fear and Trembling, which actually surprises me. I think I checked it out from the library once but then never read it.


message 3: by Heather (new)

Heather Dense would definitely be a good descriptor for Kierkegaard! Not that I want to discourage you from reading him, but surgery without anesthesia might be preferable (in my opinion, of course :-) to reading Kierkegaard.


message 4: by Hesper (new)

Hesper I just finished another one in the same series and it wasn't much better, though chances are good it didn't have Derrida levels of obnoxiousness.


message 5: by El (new) - rated it 2 stars

El Which one did you read, Hesper? Just in case it gets nominated at an upcoming book club meeting, I'll know whether or not I should shoot it down immediately. :)


message 6: by Hesper (new)

Hesper In Search of Dreamtime: The Quest for the Origin of Religion. I still need enough distance between me and it before I can write a fair review.


message 7: by Velvetink (new)

Velvetink Someone mentioned cocktails!


message 8: by Don (new) - rated it 5 stars

Don "I'm certain Derrida could have made his point without bringing religion into the mix."

I'm not sure how it's possible to come to this conclusion after reading this book. The discussion of Abraham and Isaac was at the heart of his argument about responsibility and ethics... a discussion framed by the discussion about Patocka at the beginning re: religion as responsibly vs. the orgiastic.

The concept of G-d is an essential part of Derrida's conception of responsibility and ethics. Really, this entire book is about religion.

So please tell: what point could Derrida have made "without bringing religion into the mix"?


message 9: by El (new) - rated it 2 stars

El Hi Don. You're right in that what I wrote wasn't fully clear. I tend to write my reviews as if everyone reading them knows me inside and out, which is unfair to everyone reading them, but it serves my purpose. Plus, this isn't my Senior Thesis so I don't mind getting a little rambly even if it doesn't make sense to everyone else.

The discussion of Abraham and Isaac was at the heart of his argument, but that's my point - I don't feel it's necessary. I'm of the belief that religion is used as an argument all too often, and it doesn't hold a lot of water with me; it feels like an easy out. That's just a personal thing. That doesn't answer your question but I'm okay with that. I'm not out to prove some point to anyone. I review based on how a text makes me feel. Beyond feeling bored, this text made me frustrated. It would have been nice if Derrida didn't rely on religion as the crux of his discussion. That's it.

In any case, I'm glad you're enjoying reading it more than I did. I don't like mixing religion with philosophy, but if it works for you then that's great.


message 10: by Don (new) - rated it 5 stars

Don Thanks for your reply. Yes, if you aren't interested in philosophical discussions of religion, this book would be awful!


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

"That doesn't answer your question but I'm okay with that. I'm not out to prove some point to anyone. I review based on how a text makes me feel."

You write reviews the way that Derrida writes philosophy.


message 12: by El (new) - rated it 2 stars

El Is that statement based on other reviews I've written, or just this one? I'm assuming it's meant to cause some offense since you also gave this particular Derrida 2 stars.


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Just this review. I was making fun of the way Derrida writes philosophy. He was frustrating for me as well and it seemed like he didn't care if he answered the reader's questions much the way that you stated in your comment.

Postmodernity all around.


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