Fichu’s Fritz

Part of the Edition Voldemeer book series (VOLDEMEER)


On September 22, 2001, Jacques Derrida remembers’ september Eleven,’ the birthday of Adorno, by quoting, before a German audience, a sentence from Walter Benjamin, who is dreaming in French. Derrida has just arrived from China. He had written his “Frankfurt Address” in August; “the references to September 11 were added on the day of the ceremony,”01 which had to be postponed due to his trip. “By an odd coincidence, it happens that Adorno was born on a September 11 [1903]. Everyone who was in the audience knew that.”02 By further coincidence it also happens that a sentence, dreamt of in French by a German, becomes a European response to an Arab-American encounter by detour through China.


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  1. 1.
    Jacques Derrida, “Fichus,” in: Paper Machine, translated by Rachel Bowlby, Stanford CA: Stanford California Press, 2005, 164.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., 203, footnote 29 (my addition).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ibid., 165.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    “If Gretel Adorno were still alive, I would write her a confidential letter about the relationship between Teddie and Detlef. I would ask her why Benjamin doesn’t have a prize, and I would share my hypotheses on this subject with her” (ibid., 177–178).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    “If, then, Derrida seeks not merely to prize open certain covert metaphysical assumptions but also to point to something beyond the text, in this case the abolition of a regime, then the strategic value of his method has to be considered seriously. This entails, in particular, pondering the political implications of both his extended reflection on the word apartheid and his diffuse historical comments.” (Anne McClintock/ Rob Nixon, “No Names Apart: The Separation of Word and History in Derrida’s ‘Le Dernier Mot du Racisme,’” in: Critical Inquiry 13 [Autumn 1986], 140.)-“[I]n order to act (!) in the area of real politics, in history (!), these poor ‘deconstructionists’ should go ‘beyond the text,’ into the field, to the front! As you do, I suppose. [...] So, you share the impatience of those who would like texts to remain in the libraries, who would like text to signify ‘book.’ And you want this order maintained: let all those who concern themselves with texts understood in this latter sense (the ‘deconstructionists’!) remain in their compartments, better yet in their departments! [...] In short, you are for the division of labor and the disciplined respect of disciplines. Each must stick to his role and stay within the field of his competence, none may transgress the limits of his territory. Oh, you wouldn’t go so far as to wish that some sort of apartheid remain or become the law of the land in the academy. Besides, you obviously don’t like this word. You are among those who don’t like this word and do not want it to remain the ‘unique appellation.’ No, in the homelands of academic culture or of ‘political action,’ you would favor instead reserved domains, the separate development of each community in the zone assigned to it. Not me.” (Jacques Derrida, “But, beyond... (Open Letter to Anne McClintock and Rob Nixon),” in: Critical Inquiry 13 [Autumn 1986], 169–170.)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    “One of the now familiar set pieces of Theodor W. Adorno’s life was his refusal to cancel a planned lecture on the seemingly arcane subject of “The Classicism of Goethe’s Iphigenie” in Berlin in 1967, at the height of the student revolution. His apparent fiddling with irrelevant literary criticism while the world was burning around him seemed to many of his critics emblematic of Adorno’s “political deficit,” his inability to find a link between an intransigently radical theory and anything remotely close to praxis” Martin Jay, “Review of Espen Hammer ‘Adorno and the Political,’ [London:] Routledge, 2005,” in: Notre Dame, Philosophical Reviews, cfm?id=66o4 [September 2, 2009].Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Hans-Jürgen Krahl, “Autoritäten und Revolution” [Remarks in a panel discussion with Adorno, Benseler, von Friedeburg, Habermas, Hofmann, Holz, Krahl, Lenk, and Wolff on September 23, 1968], in: Konstitution und Klassenkampf: Zur historischen Dialektik von bürgerlicher Emanzipation und proletarischer Revolution — Schriften, Reden und Entwürfe aus den Jahren 1966–1970, Frankfurt am Main: Neue Kritik, 1971, 257, my translation.Google Scholar
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    Hans Sahl, “Walter Benjamin in the Internment Camp,” in: Gary Smith (ed.), On Walter Benjamin, Cambridge MA/London: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1988, 347.Google Scholar
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    “For me, nothing in the world could replace the Bibliothèque Nationale” (Benjamin to Max Horkheimer, Paris, December 15, 1939, in: The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin 1910–1940, edited and annotated by Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Adorno, translated by Manfred R. Jacobson and Evelyn M. Jacobson, Chicago / London: The University of Chicago Press, 1994, 621).Google Scholar
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    Michael Taussig, “Walter Benjamin’s Grave: A Profane Illumination,” in: Walter Benjamin’s Grave, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2006, 10–12.Google Scholar
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    “Benjamin, for whom walking was difficult, had met a young man who carried his suitcase, and who later, in the camp, was to serve him as a disciple ministers to a venerated master. In this relationship of the younger to the older man—in the young man’s care for this physically frail individual, helpless in all things practical—there was an almost biblical respect for the spiritual in a time of plagues and dangers. This was how I imagined a prophet, protectively led through the crowds by his disciple. [...] A holy man in his cave, watched over by an angel” Sahl, “Walter Benjamin in the Internment Camp,” 348 and 351.Google Scholar
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    Kambas, “Bulletin de Vernuches,” 7.Google Scholar
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    Sahl, “Walter Benjamin in the Internment Camp,” 350.Google Scholar
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    “One evening [...] he said, “Just to sit once more on the terrace of a cafe and twiddle my thumbs—that’s all I wish for.’ Several months later, when I [...] went to see him in his appartment in Paris, he was [...] sitting at his desk, writing” (Sahl, “Walter Benjamin in the Internment Camp,” 350).Google Scholar
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    “The decision to intern the immigrants who had sought asylum in France had been made at the last minute, and no one had been prepared for it. [...] Since the communists were attempting to defend the Hitler-Stalin Pact [...], they were transformed overnight from Hitler’s enemies to his allies. [...] But of course there were also other reasons, i.e. the [...] French refusal to recognize any German opposition [to Hitler]. For the readers of the Action Francaise, there was no difference between those Germans who supported and those who opposed Hitler. All were equally worthy of attack” Sahl, “Walter Benjamin in the Internment Camp,” 348–349.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 350–351.Google Scholar
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    Kambas, “Bulletin de Vernuches,” 12.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 351.Google Scholar
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    Sahl, “Walter Benjamin in the Internment Camp,” 351.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hans Sahl, “Review of Richard Friedenthal ‘The World in a Nut Shell,’” in: Der Monat 9 (1957), quoted in Kambas, “Bulletin de Vernuches,” 9, my translation.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Kambas, “Bulletin de Vernuches,” 9.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    “Reading Aron’s first letter to Benjamin after Benjamin’s release, one realizes what special meaning the two had given to this place [...]. ‘I am alone in our corner right now. I have asked Wolf Hamburger to draw it but he has not done it yet. Perhaps you could write to him about it once more’” (Max Aron to Walter Benjamin, November 23, 1939, quoted in Kambas, “Bulletin de Vernuches,” 9, my translation).Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    “Qu’est-ce que vous faites là? Our answer was: Nous sommes installée ici. The commandant said: Rien du tout. Enlevez tout cela et allez dans les chambres comme tout le monde! — and went along. He never came back. [...] Of course, we stayed in our corner” (quoted in Kambas, “Bulletin de Vernuches,” 9, my translation).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    “The word in question is pharmakos (wizard, magician poisoner), a synonym of pharmakeus (which Plato uses), but with the unique feature of having been overdetermined, overlaid by Greek culture with another function. Another role, and a formidable one. The character of the pharmakos has been compared to a scapegoat. The evil and the outside, the expulsion of the evil, its exclusion out of the body (and out) of the city—these are the two major senses of the character and of the ritual” (Jacques Derrida, Plato’s Pharmacy: In Disseminations, translated, with an introduction and additional notes by Barbara Johnson, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981, 130).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    “Need I add that I am eager to make myself more useful to my friends and the enemies of Hitler than I can be in my present state” (Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, Camp des travailleurs volontaires, October 12, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 616).Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    “[In French,] [s]ometimes irony creeps in. Il s’est fichu de quelqu’un means he laughed at someone, he didn’t take them seriously” (Derrida, “Fichus,” 174).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    “So we are not experts in strategy, in diplomacy or in the techno-science known as nuclear science, we are oriented rather toward what is called not humanity, but the humanities, history, literature, languages, philology, the social sciences in short all that which in the Kantian university was situated in the interior class of the philosophy school, foreign to any exercise of power. We are specialists in discourse and in texts, all sorts of texts. Now I shall venture to say that in spite of all appearances this specialty is what entitles us, and doubly so, to concern ourselves seriously with the nuclear issue. [...] For we are more than just suspicious; we are certain that, in this area in particular, there is a multiplicity of dissociated, heterogeneous competencies. Such knowledge is neither coherent nor totalizable. Moreover, between those whose competence is techno-scientific [...] and those whose competence is politico-military, those who are empowered to make the decisions, the deputies of performance or of the performative, the frontier is more undecidable than ever [...]. In our techno-scientifico-militaro-diplomatic incompetence we may consider ourselves however as competent as others to deal with a phenomenon whose essential feature is that of being fabulously textual, through and through. Nuclear weaponry depends, more than any weaponry in the past, it seems, upon structures of information and communication, structures of language, including non-vocalizable language, structures of codes and graphic decoding. But the phenomenon is fabulously textual also to the extent that, for the moment, a nuclear war has not taken place: one can only talk and write about it” (Jacques Derrida, “No Apocalypse, Not Now (full speed ahead seven missiles, seven missives),” in: diacritics [summer 1984], 23).Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Momme Brodersen, Walter Benjamin: A Biography, translated by Malcolm R. Green and Ingrida Ligers, edited by Martina Dervis, London / New York: Verso, 1996, 246. — “There were no lights, no beds, not a single table or chair in the castle—not even a nail on which we could hang our things. We lay down on the floor exhausted and slept immediately” (Sahl, “Walter Benjamin in the Internment Camp,” 348).Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    “I had such a beautiful dream while lying on my cot last night that I am unable to resist my desire to tell you all about it” (Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, October 12, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 614).Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    “I did not delay and have already sent you the only thing I wrote. It was the story of the dream that filled me with happiness. It would be unfortunate, if my letter had not reached you. I am almost inclined to think it did not, however, because you make no mention of the dream. It often happens that, in my thoughts, I am still in the camp” (Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, Paris, December 14, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 619–620).Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Benjamin was luckily exempt from having to clean up the emptied tenements of Nevers or to pave an airfield (cf. Kambas, “Bulletin de Vernuches,” 17).Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    “We were [...] not allowed to send more than two letters a week, and they had to deal with the most basic necessities” (Walter Benjamin to Max Horkheimer, Paris, November 30, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 617).Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Given the importance of the dream, it is not surprising that Benjamin seems not entirely confident at the end of the letter: “Please forgive any mistakes you may find in this letter” (Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, Nevers, October 12, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 614).Google Scholar
  36. 36.
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    Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe, Band VI: 1938–1940, edited by Christoph Gödde and Henri Lonitz, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2000, 343.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    “Today I want to return to my ‘beloved German.’ If, however, my letter from Pontigny left you with a true desire for French, you would do me a favor by opening up in good time a copy of the Flowers of Evil and looking at it through my eyes” (Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, Paris, June 26, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 609).Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    “It often happens that, in my thoughts, I am still in the camp. We do not know how things will turn out for those who are still there; even those who were released from the camp cannot be sure of anything” (Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, December 14, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 620). For many inmates the French internment camp was a first step towards Auschwitz.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Sigmund Freud, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, translated by G. Stanley Hall, New York: Horace Liveright, 1920, 136–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, Paris, December 14, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 619.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    “[H]ow to cultivate the poeticity of idiom in general, your home, your oikos; how to save linguistic difference, whether regional or national; how to resist both the international hegemony of a language of communication (and for Adorno this was already Anglo-American); how to oppose the instrumental utilitarianism of a purely functional language of communication but without however yielding to nationalism [...]; without giving those rusty old weapons to the revival of identities and to all the old ideology—pro-sovereignty, separatist, and differentialist?” (Derrida, “Fichus,” 170).Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    “It’s too bad that you can’t speak English, I am absolutely thrilled by the famous children’s book Alice’s adventures in Wonderland” (Gretel Karplus to Walter Benjamin, Berlin, January 9, 1936, in: Gretel Adorno / Walter Benjamin, Briefwechsel 1930–1940, edited by Christoph Gödde and Henri Lonitz, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2005, 257, my translation).Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    “My dear Detlef: to-day I shall try to write you some lines in English, and I hope you will understand me although I do not yet know to explain things very well in this language. In any case I have to learn it during the next year” (Gretel Adorno to Walter Benjamin, New York, September 9, 1939, in: Gretel Adorno/ Walter Benjamin, Briefwechsel 1930–1940, 386).Google Scholar
  45. 48.
    Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, Camp des travailleurs volontaires, October 12, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 615.Google Scholar
  46. 49.
    “Hessel does not describe, he narrates. Even more, he repeats what he has heard. Spazieren in Berlin is an echo of the stories the city has told him ever since he was a child [...], a book for which memory has acted not as the source but as the Muse” (Walter Benjamin, “The Return of the Flaneur,” in: Selected Writings, Volume 2:1927–1934, translated by Rodney Livingstone et al., edited by Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith, Cambridge MA / London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999, 262).Google Scholar
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    “But the d may also be, among other hypotheses, among other initials, like the first letter of Detlef. Benjamin sometimes familiarly signed his letters ‘Detlev.’ This was also the first name he used in some of his pseudonyms [...]. Less than a year before his suicide a few months before thanking Adorno for having sent him greetings from New York for his last birthday, which was also on July 15, as is mine, Benjamin dreamed, knowing it without knowing it, a sort of poetic and premonitory hieroglyphic: ‘Me d, from now on I’m what is called fichu’. Now the signatory knows it, he says so to Gretel, none of it can be said, written, and read, it can’t be signed like that, in a dream, and decoded, other than in French” (Derrida, “Fichus,” 175).Google Scholar
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    Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, Camp des travailleurs volontaires, October 12, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 615.Google Scholar
  49. 52.
    “‘Yes, I only have one language, yet it is not mine.’ [...] 1. We only ever speak one language. 2. We never speak only one language” (Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, or, The Prothesis of Origin, translated by Patrick Mensah, Stanford CA: Stanford University Press 1998, 2 and 7).Google Scholar
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    “I am sending you the little blue sheets of writing paper together with the envelopes with manifold wishes, which you can use as manifoldly” (Walter Benjamin to Gretel Karplus, Paris, ca. July 1, 1935, in: Gretel Adorno/ Walter Benjamin, Briefwechsel 1930–1940, 217, my translation). — “My very dear Detlef (I can hardly imagine ever calling you Walter in public, but who knows), this just in passing. I was very pleased by your letter because I can tell from its content that the contact between you and Teddie is finally as perfect as I have wished it to be for quite some time. [...] I would like it very much, if you would tell me a little bit more about your conversations, as [...] these are very much about me in the first place. [...] Might I just ask that you do me a favor and to get 50 little blue envelopes for this stationary paper” (Gretel Karplus to Walter Benjamin, Berlin, October 14, 1936, in: ibid., 273, my translation).Google Scholar
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    “My very dear Detlef, I know for sure that you are also not able to make use of letters that are addressed to two people, because you are enclosing your letters to me in an extra envelope too” (Gretel Karplus to Walter Benjamin, Berlin, April 2, 1935, in: Walter Benjamin, Briefwechsel 1930–1940 ibid., 209, my translation).Google Scholar
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    Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov,” in: Illuminations, edited and with an introduction by Hannah Arendt, translated by Harry Zohn, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968, 84.Google Scholar
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    “The sentence I spoke aloud at the end of the dream happened to be in French” (Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, Nevers, October 12, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 614, my emphasis).Google Scholar
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    Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, Camp des travailleurs volontaires, October 12, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 615.Google Scholar
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    Walter Benjamin, “Doctrine of the Similar,” in: Selected Writings, Volume 2, 696.Google Scholar
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    “Vaschide (1911) remarks that it has often been observed that in dreams people speak foreign languages more fluently and correctly than in waking life” (Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, translated and edited by James Strachey. New York: Avon Books, 1965, 45).Google Scholar
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    Walter Benjamin to Max Horkheimer, November 30, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 618.Google Scholar
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    Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, Camp des travailleurs volontaires, October 12, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 616. — “I truly would like to serve our cause to the best of my ability. My physical strength, however, is worthless” (Walter Benjamin to Adrienne Monnier, September 21, 1939, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 613).Google Scholar
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    The title of the talk is “On the Concept of Guilt” (Brodersen, Walter Benjamin, 247).Google Scholar
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    Walter Benjamin to Gretel Adorno, Paris, January 17, 1940, in: Correspondence 1910–1940, 625.Google Scholar
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    “I must tell you that there was a bit of a celebration in the library the first day I went back. Especially in photographic services, where the staff was given quite a few of my personal papers to copy during the last months, after having photocopied some of my notes years ago” (Ibid., 625–626).Google Scholar
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    “Especially this remark of Hans Sahl has led to completely odd assumptions about the character of the camp journal to this very day:‘[...] a literary journal—“naturally on the highest niveau”—a camp journal for intellectuals [...].’ This would have been an illusionary enterprise indeed. The blueprint of the journal that is handed down shows a more realistic assessment of its status by the editorial staff. The editorial staff did not fail to see that the majority of the internees were not intellectuals at all, it did not strive for ‘niveau’ or original authorship [...] The Bulletin is reminiscent of a simple school magazine” (Kambas, “Bulletin de Vernuches,” 14–15, my translation).Google Scholar
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    Taussig, “Walter Benjamin’s Grave,” 10.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 10–11. — “It is easy to forget or repress the actual labor that goes into producing philosophy. [...] When one enters the back room [of the Adorno Archiv] where all the manuscripts are kept, the [...] sheer magnitude of numbered and shelved manuscripts that line the walls from floor to ceiling is overwhelming. Adorno was a meticulous writer who began each project in a small spiral bound notebook that he carried with him at all times. He dictated his notes from here onto pages that were typed double-spaced with extra-wide margins. He revised these typed pages, often so completely that there was absolutely nothing of the typed material preserved and everything had been replaced by a new handwritten version. It is even more stunning when one remembers that these pages were virtually all typed by Adorno’s wife, Gretel. [...] Gretel Karplus [...] finished her studies in Berlin under the direction of Max Born and received a doctorate in chemistry with a dissertation entitled ‘Über die Einwirkung von Calciumhydrid auf Ketone’ [...]. She was the manager of her family’s successful leather factory, where she worked until it was no longer possible as a Jew in Germany. The money she earned helped to finance many of Adorno and Walter Benjamin’s undertakings. [...] When Adorno died, she stayed in their apartment in Frankfurt and dedicated her efforts to establishing the Adorno Archive” (Lisa Yun Lee, Dialectics of the Body: Corporeality in the Philosophy of T.W. Adorno, New York / London: Routledge, 2005, 78). — Cf. “Un séminaire de J.D. J’y assistai avec vieille Marguerite. [...] Rêve de Mai 1995. Notes: ‘vieille’ Marguerite: Marguerite Sandré, quatre-vingt-cinq ans, proche depuis trente ans, qualificatif employé familièrement chez moi pour la distinguer de Marguerite Derrida” (Helène Cixous, “Fichus et caleçons,” in: Marie-LouiseMallet / Ginette Michaud (eds.), L’Herne Derrida, Paris: Éditions de l’Hernes, 2004, 56).Google Scholar
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    “The year 2003 marked the centennial of Adorno’s birth, and many critics have bemusedly noted that even his birth date, which uncannily falls on September 11, will be forever marked by melancholy and gloom” (Lee, Dialectics of the Body, 153).Google Scholar
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    “For the index pointing toward this date, the bare act, the minimal deictic, the minimalist aim of this dating, also marks something else. Namely, the fact that we perhaps have no concept and no meaning available to us to name in any other way this ‘thing’ that has just happened, this supposed ‘event.’ [...] [T]his very thing, the place and meaning of this ‘event,’ remains ineffable, [...] out of range for a language that admits its powerlessness and so is reduced to pronouncing mechanically a date, repeating it endlessly, as a kind of ritual incantation [...]. The brevity of the appellation (September 11, 9/11) stems not only from an economical and rhetorical necessity. The telegram of this metonymy—a name, a number—points out the unqualifiable by recognizing that we do not recognize or even cognize, that we do not yet know how to qualify, that we do not know what we are talking about” (Derrida, in: Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jasques Derrida, Chicago IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2003, 86).Google Scholar
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  91. 94.
  92. 95.
    “I love this history [our (Habermas’s and Derrida’s) unusual shared history], I am learning to love it. [...] A year after my first visit to Frankfurt, Habermas published Der Philosophische Diskurs der Moderne. I read the book with the greatest interest; and was not alone in finding the two chapters that were largely intended for me, shall we say, unjust or overhasty. In 1989 (Memoires for Paul de Man) and in 1988 (Limited Inc.), I responded to these chapters in two lengthy comments on behalf of the ‘ethics of discussion’—as far as possible with arguments, but admittedly a little polemical. After this, although we both kept silent, ‘parties’ came into being in many countries. They conducted a kind of ‘war,’ in which we ourselves never took part, either personally or directly. This typically academic war probably made people think, as I hope. However, I can testify to the fact that it also harmed the students who had to form alliances and were then sometimes handicapped in making progress” (Jacques Derrida, “Honesty of Thought,” in: Lasse Thomassen [ed.], The Derrida-Habermas Reader, Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 2006, 301–302; originally published on the occasion of Jürgen Habermas’s 75th birthday, in: Frankfurter Rundschau [18 June 2004]).Google Scholar
  93. 96.
    Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, translated by Frederick G. Lawrence, Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1990, ix.Google Scholar
  94. 97.
    Ibid., 106.Google Scholar
  95. 98.
    Ibid., 193.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of African StudiesUniversity of CologneGermany

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