Proust's insight

In his famous article "Personal Identity", Derek Parfit quotes Proust:

We are incapable, while we are in love, of acting as fit predecessors of the next persons who, when we are in love no longer, we shall presently have become . . . . (Parfit's translation)

Parfit is interested in the notion of successive selves, which he thinks Proust employs, at least implicitly ("the next persons"), in this sentence. I am more interested in the insight about love that Proust expresses in it. In fact, Proust's insight does not have to be put in terms of the notion of a person or the self. What he seems to mean is that when we are in love, we are incapable of acting in such a way that we are prepared not to be in love any more. It is not just that we do not act that way; we are simply incapable of doing so, for the incapability is part of what it is to be in love.


Derrida and bullshit

John Searle famously remarked that Derrida's work is the kind of stuff that gives bullshit a bad name. I have never read a single word by Derrida, and I would generally refrain from commenting on any philosopher whose work I have not read. Besides, there are philosophers I take seriously (such as Stanley Cavell) who take Derrida seriously, so I have never joined in when some of my friends trashed Derrida.

Today, however, I came across a book that may be evidence that Derrida was quite capable of bullshitting. The book includes an interview with Derrida a few weeks after the 9/11 attack, and here is the first five hundred words or so of Derrida's response to the question "Do you consider what we now tend to call 'September 11' an unprecedented event, one that radically alters the way we see ourselves?":

Le 11 septembre, as you say, or, since we have agreed to speak two languages, "September 11." We will have to return later to this question of language. As well as to this act of naming: a date and nothing more. When you say "September 11" you are already citing, are you not? You are inviting me to speak here by recalling, as if in quotation marks, a date or a dating that has taken over our public space and our private lives for five weeks now. Something fait date, I would say in a French idiom, something marks a date, a date in history; that is always what's most striking, the very impact of what is at least felt, in an apparently immediate way, to be an event that truly marks, that truly makes its mark, a singular and, as they say here, "unprecedented" event. I say "apparently immediate" because this "feeling" is actually less spontaneous than it appears: it is to a large extent conditioned, constituted, if not actually constructed, circulated at any rate through the media by means of a prodigious techno-socio-political machine. "To mark a date in history" presupposes, in any case, that "something" comes or happens for the first and last time, "something" that we do not yet really know how to identify, determine, recognize, or analyze but that should remain from here on in unforgettable: an ineffaceable event in the shared archive of a universal calendar, that is, a supposedly universal calendar, for these are—and I want to insist on this at the outset—only suppositions and presuppositions. Unrefined and dogmatic, or else carefully considered, organized, calculated, strategic—or all of these at once. For the index pointing toward this date, the bare act, the minimal deictic, the minimalist aim of this dating, also marks something else. Namely, the fact that we perhaps have no concept and no meaning available to us to name in any other way this "thing" that has just happened, this supposed "event." An act of "international terrorism," for example, and we will return to this, is anything but a rigorous concept that would help us grasp the singularity of what we will be trying to discuss. "Something" took place, we have the feeling of not having seen it coming, and certain consequences undeniably follow upon the "thing." But this very thing, the place and meaning of this "event," remains ineffable, like an intuition without concept, like a unicity with no generality on the horizon or with no horizon at all, out of range for a language that admits its powerlessness and so is reduced to pronouncing mechanically a date, repeating it endlessly, as a kind of ritual incantation, a conjuring poem, a journalistic litany or rhetorical refrain that admits to not knowing what it's talking about. We do not in fact know what we are saying or naming in this way: September 11, le 11 septembre, September 11. The brevity of the appellation (September 11, 9/11) stems not only from an economic or rhetorical necessity. The telegram of this metonymy—a name, a number—points out the unqualifiable by recognizing that we do not recognize or even cognize that we do not yet know how to qualify, that we do not know what we are talking about.

I would have no better response to this than: Was talking about the 9/11 attack that complicated? Give me a break!