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Tag Archives: Jacques Derrida

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.

The Loon

I woke up Friday morning at about 2:30 AM and could not get back to sleep. Finally, I turned the light on and read from a book by Jacques Derrida. It was not as exotic as hearing a loon out on the lake Mary Oliver writes about, but I found refuge reading about the Derridean concept différance.

The word is a deliberate misspelling of the word difference in French and the verb differer which means both to defer and differ. It is the space and time we defer to what and who is different as we encounter it and them. A person would not hear the difference (différance) in speech, but would see it in print. Still, if I did not know the word, I could easily not see the difference in writing.

Needless to say, I found my way back to sleep in the magical reading I found in the hour or so that lapsed. Today, I recalled the times camping, hiking, fishing, etc. where the loon called and I stopped wondering whether it spoke to me or someone else in that moment? Was it deferring to some difference I could not sense and imagine.

Not quite four a.m., when the rapture of being alive
strikes me from sleep, and I rise
from the comfortable bed and go
to another room, where my books are lined up
in their neat and colorful rows. How

magical they are! I choose one
and open it. Soon
I have wandered in over the waves of the words
to the temple of thought.

And then I hear
outside, over the actual waves, the small,
perfect voice of the loon. He is also awake,
and with his heavy head uplifted he calls out
to the fading moon, to the pink flush
swelling in the east that, soon,
will become the long, reasonable day.

Inside the house
it is still dark, except for the pool of lamplight
in which I am sitting.

I do not close the book.

Neither, for a long while, do I read on.

Love After Love

Derek Walcott wrote this wonderful poem about celebrating life. He suggested we greet ourselves offering hospitality as we realize that we let other things take the place of getting to know the person who was us.

The poem describes a wonderful (wonder filled) companionship in the second stanza. Companionship is sharing meals as we sojourn. Journey is the daily, perhaps moment-to-moment work we do while sojourning. Jacques Derrida drew on an Algerian-French-Jewish background in writing about greeting the stranger, but I don’t know if he meant ourselves.

I considered this today as I prepared a presentation. The world speaks to us and we speak to it, but are we listening as the conversation unfolds? It is in listening to our self that we make sense of the world and it in turn makes sense of us.

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

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