The Later Derrida

This course will provide an introduction to the so-called later period of Derrida’s thought, i.e., from 1990’s to 2004. As many commentators have noted, this ‘later’ period corresponds to a growing interest in texts and concepts that have an undeniably political character. And yet at the same time literature and the practices of reading and translation also remain central concerns. Indeed such concerns are often inseparable from the development of the more explicitly philosophical, ethical and political aspects of Derrida’s thought.

During the course, we will navigate some of the signature concepts of the later period, such as the democracy to come, messianicity without messiah, the im-possible, justice as undeconstructible, hostipitality, testimony, auto-immunity, forgiveness and so on. We will also give consideration to some of his engagements with key interlocutors such as Marx, Levinas, Blanchot and Heidegger. In addition, attention will be given to his interventions and research on the teaching of philosophy.

Finally, we will also look at the resistances to Derrida’s thought and some of the controversies to which it has given rise, both from within philosophy and beyond it. How to read such resistances? Are they a measure of the very force and inventiveness of his work? Or are they symptoms of its limitations, its difficulties or danger? To what extent do such resistances put into question what we think we already know and understand about him?

Modern Philosophical Perspectives on Death

With good reason death has been considered to be one philosophy’s most important and enduring questions. What is the meaning or meaninglessness of existence in relation to mortality and death? Can one learn to die? How are philosophical approaches in this regard different from religious ones? What is the role of faith in relation to death? What role do others play? Is death an 'experience' that takes place simply at the end of existence? Or is it rather something that traverses life and is an integral part of it, pre-determining our relations with others and communication? What is death’s relationship to love? And to what extent is death knowable? 

Course Outline

  1. The intensification of life in the proximity of death, death as not the simple opposite of life. George Bataille’s “The Practice of Joy before Death” and Michel de Certeau “The Unnamable” in The Practice of Everyday Life.
  2. The priority of the death of the other and the philosophical significance of mourning and loss. Death in the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, the concepts of mourning and the death drive in psychoanalysis (Sigmund Freud, Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok).
  3. Inheritance, legacy and responsibility. Søren Kierkegaard’s analysis of the sacrifice of Abraham in Fear and Trembling.
  4. Sovereignty and the questions of murder, suicide and the death penalty. (Readings from Maurice Blanchot, Derrida and Hegel, who interprets philosophy as the sustained practice of suicide).
  5. The question of to what extent death may be considered to be solitary and, as Heidegger puts it “in each case mine”. “Being towards death” in the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and anticipatory mourning as elementary condition of the relation to self in Jacques Derrida.
  6. Death in its relation to love, art and eroticism. Jean Genet’s Atelier of Alberto Giacometti, Marguerite Duras’ The Malady of Death; George Bataille’s theory of eroticism.


Thinking With Sex

Sex has never constituted one of the great philosophical questions or themes. And yet, it is undoubtedly one of the strongest forces in many of our lives. In this course, we will look at what some of the great philosophers have said about sexuality and love and how they have sought to distinguish the two. We will also consider why sex has so often been linked to animality, immorality and evil and whether these evaluations are justified. As practices that affirm the right to question social norms and the apparent givens of experience, philosophy and sex may have more in common than one might think.

Course Outline

  1. Classical philosophical approaches that may be termed “sex negative” (Plato, Augustine, Kant): Such approaches argue that sex should be restricted to procreation and not pursued for its own sake or for that of pleasure. Through these approaches, we will consider the relation of sexuality to questions of self-mastery, moderation, freedom and happiness. How do these classical approaches inform thinking about the human in its relation to animality, as well as contemporary debates about prostitution and pornography.
  2. Philosophical approaches that are not “sex negative” (Nietzsche, Freud, Bataille, Schlegel, de Sade): Beginning with Nietzsche’s transvaluation of values, we will look at the work of modern philosophers, including Freud, who have given more space to sexuality in their thought and what the consequences of this are both for their philosophical practice and their understanding of ethics. We will also evaluate some negative responses on the part of the tradition to these different approaches.
  3. Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Part 1: This is a landmark work, which denounces the so-called “repressive hypothesis”: the idea that western society suppressed sexuality from the 17th to the mid-20th century. During this period, Foucault argues, discourse on sexuality proliferated enormously and people's identities became increasingly tied to their sexuality. In this session, we will read and evaluate the central theses of Foucault’s text.
  4. Debates about Sexuality and Gender in Feminist Theory: Since the 70’s feminist scholars have debated (sometimes acrimoniously) issues related to sexuality, gender, pornography, erotic representation, prostitution, sadomasochism, trans-women, and so on. In this session, we will explore these debates and how they relate to the history of philosophical responses to sexuality.
  5. Philosophy’s (non-)sexual rapports: In this session we will read Lacan’s famous statement “Il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel”. Lacan explicitly plays on the double meaning in French of the word rapport, so the sentence can and in fact must translated as both “there is no sexual relation” and “there is no sexual rapport.” Lacan does not wish to suggest that sex does not happen, but that it does not happen in the way that we normally think. By referring to the interpretations of Jean-Luc Nancy and Avital Ronell, the session will attempt to show how a careful reading of Lacan’s thesis can be used to critique much of the literature in the growing fields of adult sex education and porn studies. The paper will also examine the consequences of Lacan’s thesis for any inquiry into the “relation” between philosophy and sex.