Arguably the most prominent living French philosopher spoke to an initially full Campbell Hall on Thursday night. Audience members came from all over the country to hear Jacques Derrida’s two-hour lecture on the idea of “living together.”
Derrida is best known as the father of deconstruction, a philosophy that challenges people to look at literature in a contextual light and to understand the plurality of meanings a certain text may have. In his lecture, which was titled “Vivre Ensemble – Living ‘together,” Derrida deconstructed the concept of people coexisting. In an attempt to discover what it means to “live together,” Derrida began by arguing that in the very essence of living lies the intrinsic fact that any person who lives is interconnected with those around him, hence the concept of “living together.”
Religious studies Professor Thomas Carlson emphasized the value of deconstruction as a method of interpretation.
“Our language is multi-vocal, and that is a general theoretical concern,” Carlson said. Carlson, along with religious studies Professor Elizabeth Weber, convened Derrida’s lecture, which was free to the public.
“He is one of the most energetic and engaging thinkers I have ever seen. At some level it is downright exciting to see him think on the spot,” Carlson said.
Derrida next confronted the audience with the question of how people are supposed to live together. In addressing this question, Derrida related the topic to contemporary issues, including the current hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. He said that although Israelis and Palestinians are not living together peacefully, they are still living together.
Drawing upon the idea that two groups at war are still, theoretically, living together, Derrida decided to address the new question of how one lives together well. Derrida proposed numerous answers; however, he said that these solutions may be impossible and unsuccessful.
Derrida’s first solution to the question of how to live together well was the paradox that “forgiveness must forgive the unforgivable.” Derrida then said that to live together well, people must also comprehend one another and be in accord with one another.
Some of the audience found Derrida’s lecture confusing and complicated.
“I found it very difficult to follow. My sense of it was that it was like a meditation, where there was no sequence of thought that I could discern. I sort of went into a quiet state and let it all go by,” said attendee Steven Glauz-Podrask, the father of a UCSB student.
By the close of Derrida’s lecture, Campbell Hall, completely filled at the beginning, was reduced to half capacity. There were very few young people present.
“I think it was good. It was certainly too long. I think it stretched the audience’s patience,” Assistant Italian Professor Jobst Welge said. “It was interesting but could have been shorter.”
Many of the audience members were at UCSB for a conference titled “Irreconcilable Differences?” of which Derrida’s lecture was the keynote address. The conference, which is primarily hosted by the Religious Studies and Germanic, Slavic and Semitic Studies Depts., will continue through Saturday. Information about the remaining lectures can be found online at www.religion.ucsb.edu/projects/irreconcilabledifferences.
Derrida last visited UCSB in the spring of 1993.