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Tag Archives: Jacques Derrida

The Uses of Not

Jacques Derrida wrote, when we speak of one thing, we invoke its opposite and what it is not. For example, to speak of a man or woman I speak of its opposite a woman or a man. Instead of understood as opposites, things, including words and ideas, complement each other, making them whole.

Albert Camus suggested “there is no love of life without despair of life.” Without one, we cannot have the other. Compassion means to share one’s love and suffering with each other. When we look deeper and are mindful of what we see, we recognize the how what is not readily evident is needed to make the whole of something.

This is not a new idea. Lao Tzu wrote this poem about what makes something useful is what complements it: the hub and spokes of a wheel; the hollow of a pot and the clay; and doors and windows and the room. Each profits from what it is not.

Often, there is paradox in understanding how things and people complement one another, making them whole.

Thirty spokes

meet in the hub.

Where the wheel isn’t

is where it’s useful

Hollowed out,

clay makes a pot.

Where the pot’s not

is where it’s useful.

Cut doors and windows

to make a room.

Where the room isn’t,

there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is

is in the use of what isn’t.

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Imperfection/Perfection

Jacques Derrida wrote about deconstruction, which is about thinking in paradoxes. Instead of thinking about binaries i.e. perfection or imperfection, we consider the opposites as being part of each other. We are unable to think of one without the other and continuously deconstruct the meaning.

This continuous making of meaning is a hermeneutic task of  interpreting. Paul Ricoeur wrote about deep or radical hermeneutics, which considered context as part of the meaning-making process. Radical means to go the roots of something, so it requires the person look below the surface and turn things over.

I took a stab at writing a poem. after reading Mary Oliver today. I am reading a book of her essays called Upstream. She writes prose in a poetic way. I love walking in the mountains. Beauty and perfection of mountains reveal themselves in their lack of symmetry and imperfection. As well, there is always something hidden from sight, on the back side of a mountain and in the crevasses we cannot get close enough to.

Inspired by other’s words

I seek my own.

To discover meaning

I sit quietly and receive.

Meanings hold no meaning,

There can be no certainty.

Always something hidden,

On the backside, underneath.

Imperfection exists,

Making perfection complete.

It awaits my mindfulness,

The extraordinary in the ordinary.

I took this picture unsure of why at the time. Later, I used it in a presentation about environmentalism. Today, it adds depth and meaning to what I am trying to say.

2 By Lao Tzu

Through the concept of deconstruction, the philosopher Jacques Derrida argued we do not live in a world of binaries. Derrida contended between words that appeared to be opposites there was no space and they appeared as long/short. One cannot think of long without understanding short.

Lao Tzu made a similar argument in the first part of this poem: “is and is not produce one another.” Ted Aoki, who was an Alberta-based educator, described the essence of things as being embedded in their “isness.” In the second part, Lao Tzu spoke about a teacher being a person who teaches without a need to possess the words he/she speaks and receiving merit for their teaching.

While I was journaling this morning, I thought of teaching’s essential nature, which is less about the words we speak as teachers and the way we comport ourselves.

As a Frenchman, Derrida used the proper to describe how one comports themself. A person can have rhetoric to fool people, but they do not possess good character if their actions are improper and incongruent with their “good speech.” A person of good character is mindful of the words they use and how they sometimes betray their character.

Beauty and ugliness have one origin.

Name beauty, and ugliness is.

Recognizing virtue recognizes evil.

Is and is not produce one another.

The difficult is born in the easy,

long is defined by short, the high by the low.

Instrument and voice achieve one harmony.

Before and after have places.

That is why the sage can act without effort

and teach without words,

nurture things without possessing them,

and accomplish things without expecting merit:

only one who makes no attempt to possess it

cannot lose it.

Absence

I’ve come to understand that absence lies at the heart of our seeing more clearly. It’s often in something’s absence that we suddenly begin to see, whatever it is, in a new light.…

Source: Absence

Jacques Derrida said one cannot speak of something without acknowledging its opposite. When we hear black, it is natural for us to think of white. He went so far as to say that to claim one is atheist acknowledges the very possibility God exists.

Absence make the heart grow fonder, particularly when we love something or someone deeply. The Khalil Gibran quote at the end is essential to how we come to appreciate what and who we have in life. It is in the moments absence we grow to understand how much we love. It is in those moments we grow to be mindful and attentive when absence turns to presence.

Step Six and Step Seven

Allowing the ordinary and overlooked things to be celebrated requires mindfulness to the world, our words, and actions.. Nura Yingling proposes that poems serve as cups of praying where we can hold the silence.

In the margins and spaces I do not visit often, I explore the silence that helps me overcome moments of fear. When I am attentive and mindful, living offers poetic spaces between the lines and stanzas of each moment.

My breath becomes those spaces where I forgive myself and overcome emotions that are as fleeting as each moment. Jacques Derrida proposed how we experience the world is not binary. In one emotion, such as sadness, I discover enfolded inside  joy and happiness.

Let me be where I am.
Let this bread, this morning, be their own ceremony.
Let me pass the gilt mirrors without looking.

When the lead mouth of fear clamps onto mine
and blasts her wind of rope and iron filings into me,
let my breath be forgiveness returned for her black sadness.

Let poems be cups of praying
made for holding silence.

“I” [“No, no, there is no going back”]

I purchased Wendell Berry’s latest book, Our Only World, on Sunday at Auntie’s, a small, independent book store since 1978. If you live in or near or visit Spokane, it is a nice location with restaurants near by.

After my purchases, I realized I had not used one of his poems in some time. I chose this one. I think it might be easy to say this is a bleak poem, talking about death. In a literal way, that makes sense. I take it figuratively.

Jacques Derrida contended that in becoming who we are the previous “who” repeatedly dies, but leaves memories and traces to be recalled. I read this poem, similarly. Who I am is metaphorically a grave of memories and traces that belong to me, but I share in various ways with others and the world. The tree is me standing guard over those memories. Guard might be too protective. Instead, similar to a tree’s rings signifying its age and even various years’ conditions, the tree represents the memories and stories about my living.

The tree allows me to recount my story, but not as it happened. My stories contain gaps, uncertainties, and ambiguity. I repeatedly edit them, filling in blanks, recalling events, and forgetting other things. As I recount my stories, they form a fictional account of who I am, where I’ve been, when I thrived, and when I struggled, similar to the rings on that poetic tree.

No, no, there is no going back.

Less and less you are

that possibility you were.

More and more you have become

those lives and deaths

that have belonged to you.

You have become a sort of grave

containing much that was

and is no more in time, beloved

then, now, and always.

And so you have become a sort of tree

standing over the grave.

Now more than ever you can be

generous toward each day

that comes, young, to disappear

forever, and yet remain

unaging in the mind.

Every day you have less reason

not to give yourself away.

 

Looking for the Differences

Tom Hennen wrote about the differences that can fill our senses each day. Sometimes, humans do not notice what is different as differences can hide in nooks and crannies of our daily lives. When we do sense the differences, they can excite our senses and call us to take care around them. In their daily existences, these things are “royalty in their own country.”

The words thing and objects used in the poem can be replaced by persons and subjects. How many people do we miss and avoid, because they look, speak, and act differently? There is a strangeness in the royalty of the other that calls upon us to question not them, but our self.

Hans-Georg Gadamer suggested that when some one or something different shows itself humans pull up short. Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas wrote that when the stranger appears at the door the host is faced with a paradox of unconditional responsiblity and risk. When we greet the stranger and what is different, we do so with uncertainty. The words host, hospitality, and hostile share etymological roots. We cannot know in advance who and what strangers represent when we greet them, but in Abrahamic tradition (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the host is responsible for the care and well-being of that stranger.

Perhaps in being attentive and mindful to the world we exist in, we can better serve the stranger and what is strange when they appear.

I am struck by the otherness of things rather than their sameness.

The way a tiny pile of snow perches in the crook of a branch in the

tall pine, away by itself, high enough not to be noticed by people,

out of reach of stray dogs. It leans against the scaly pine bark, busy

at some existence that does not need me.

It is the differences of objects that I love, that lift me toward the rest

of the universe, that amaze me. That each thing on earth has its own

soul, its own life, that each tree, each clod is filled with the mud of

its own star. I watch where I step and see that the fallen leaf, old

broken grass, an icy stone are placed in exactly the right spot on the

earth, carefully, royalty in their own country.

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