Teaching without Mastery

par Samir Haddad  Du même auteur

Elena Modorati, Stanza, détail, photo Massimo Grossi

I belong to a group of Derrida scholars who, for reasons of age and geography, had little to no contact with Derrida himself. Our relation to him was formed primarily through reading his texts, filtered by secondary works (and sometimes translations) written by those who worked closely with him over a number of years. These same people were often, but not always, our teachers and mentors. But of course this does not mean that Derrida was not our teacher too. In studying his work, year after year, we have come to be taught by him in a profound way. In what follows, I reflect briefly on this relation, considering both what Derrida teaches and how this teaching takes place.

Since I have been taught by Derrida by reading his texts, I am tempted first to evoke the logic of writing. To follow this temptation would be to speak of that peculiar combination of repetition and difference that structures all writing – its iterability, to use Derrida’s word – which explains how the written mark can be detached from its original context and redeployed elsewhere. Iterability allows me to return to Derrida’s texts, texts which each time repeat the same, and which at the same time I encounter each time anew.

And yet, such an appeal to the logic of writing would miss the relation I have in mind. As Derrida argues above all else, this logic is not restricted to the written mark. Iterability characterizes the work of every mark, in writing, in speech, and beyond. Thus iterability alone cannot account for my relation to Derrida as a teacher. If it did, then every author, of every text in the most general sense, would be a teacher. This claim appears to be both untrue and unhelpful, and I would maintain this judgment even if restricted to the sphere of the literally written text. Certainly I learn from every text I read, and learning’s need of repetition with difference matches well iterability’s constitution of the mark. But learning also occurs in the absence of teachers. Indeed, I would suggest that learning occurs much more often than does teaching, with teaching being a rather rare event.

What then is specific to Derrida’s texts such that I not only learn from them, but am taught by them as well ? The answer lies, I propose, in Derrida’s choice to write always engaging the work of others. As his readers well know, Derrida never writes alone. Every one of his texts is written in the company of others, namely the authors he reads. In this way Derrida’s texts create a kind of collective. Not so much a «community» of others – in this instance it is right to invoke Derrida’s suspicion of this word, since to emphasize the common might lead us to overlook the divisions and aporias preventing a harmonious coexistence – but at the very least a type of ensemble, a provisional setting into relation of Derrida and those he reads.

In addition, and at the same time, in making this choice there are other others to whom Derrida offers his company. These are us, his readers. Derrida invites his readers to enter into the relations found in his texts. His texts thus involve an act of sharing, and it is this act of sharing, I would suggest, that makes Derrida a teacher. A teacher assembles for students a configuration of thought, and offers it to them. A teacher prepares for and presents to students an object of study, inviting them to learn by engaging it in turn. That Derrida’s texts offer themselves to readers in this way is no doubt linked to their process of production. Thanks to the publication of Derrida’s seminars, as well as secondary literature based on archival research, we can all now appreciate what was previously known perhaps only to those present in his classes – that Derrida’s many books and essays, almost without exception, had their origins in lectures and seminars first taught at the École Normale and the École des Hautes Études. Thus, beyond his many texts focusing explicitly on education, those written directly out of his experience with Greph and the Collège international de philosophie, one can say that virtually all of Derrida’s writings remain strongly marked by pedagogical practice.

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