Working on the work of mourning

‘Failure succeeds’ when we fail to completely interiorize the other


Last time I was on the library I was in a hurry – in an effort not to make a friend wait too long. I was looking for books in philosophy of science, when I bumped on a book called ‘The work of mourning’ by Derrida. I didn’t have time to check it out, but I decided to take it. ‘Death and Derrida…how bad can this combination be?’ The book was orderly placed on my table, along with a dozen more, all uncomplainingly waiting for me to find time. A month later, on a rather hot Saturday noon, I was getting ready to hit the beach. I was hastily going through the book pile for something that would fit well with sand, and there it showed up. Hmm…I had forgotten about it. I sat on the couch to leaf through it. Four hours later, I got up. Ah, the unspeakable joy of discovering a treasure when not expected..

The book is a collection of texts written by Derrida for friends of him when each passed away. The great introduction by Brault and Naas analyzes how Derrida struggles to be responsible towards his dead friend (or more accurately, towards his dead friend still existing in him) and towards the living (the receivers of his words), while at the same time copying with his loss, copying with the effects of this death on himself. Even with the best of intentions, even when one has no agenda of political calculations, of serving his own purposes when speaking of the dead, still, there is always the risk of being narcissist, the risk

“of saying ‘we’, or worse, ‘me’” (Derrida, Lyotard and Us).

But how can we ever avoid that? Especially since it is only in us that the dead may speak? As Brault and Nass point out:

“Fidelity thus consists in mourning, and mourning –at least in a first moment- consists in interiorizing the other and recognizing that if we were to give the dead anything it can be only in us, the living. [..] According to Derrida, interiorization cannot – must not – be denied; the other is indeed reduced to images ‘in us’. And yet, the very notion of interiorization is limited in its assumption of a topology with limits between inside and out, what is ours and what is the other”.

Therefore the key to avoid egotism perhaps is this:

“It is within us, but is not ours” (Derrida, The Deaths of Rolland Barthes)

As goosebumbs-ly put by Derrida:

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για constantine manos
Constantine Manos, Mother At Funeral Of Her Son Killed In Vietnam

“Upon the death of the other we are given to memory, and thus, to interiorization, since the other, outside of us, is now nothing. And with the dark light of this nothing, we learn that the other resists the closure of our interiorizing memory…death constitutes and makes manifest the limits of a me or an us who are obliged to harbor something that is greater and other than them; something outside of them within them

So ‘failure succeeds’ when we fail to completely interiorize the other, thus we acknowledge that the other will always remain ‘other’, in his unique alterity, in a space above and beyond us.

(— is it just me, or this seems to make perfect sense in relationships between any two living persons as well? But this is another story…—)

And it is in these challenges that struggling only begins. For to cope with a single death do we need to cope with all deaths, with death as a phenomenon intrinsic in life, in our relationships? Is there only one death, the ‘first death’, after which all the deaths are repetitions of this first experience, in which we have to focus? Isn’t it infidelity to the friend when we transform coping with his unique loss into coping general concept of loss? The friend, the lover, the relative, whose single death, as a unique event of a unique person, whose “true photograph” is “destined to be lost and never be repeated again” (Elytis, Things Public and Private).

And here come the questions… However, I am going to pause the questions at this point, in an effort not to make yet another friend wait too long.

So the blog starts at the end, starts with death. Sheer coincidence or not, I, we, cannot afford to lose sight of the end.




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