Is my death possible?

Can we understand this question? Can I, myself, pose it? Am I allowed to talk about my death? What does the syntagm “my death” mean? And why this expression “the syntagm ‘my death’”? You will agree that it is better, in this case, to name words or names, that is, to stick with quotation marks. On the one hand, that neutralizes an improper pathos. “My death” in quotation marks is not necessarily mine; it is an expression that anybody can appropriate; it can circulate from one example to another.

Aporias by Jacques Derrida, tr. Thomas Dutoit, Stanford: Stanford University Press, [1993] 1993, pp. 21-22. In the French edition of Apories, which is a slightly modified version of the text Derrida first presented at a conference in Cerisy-la-Salle in the afternoon of July 15, 1992, the quote appears on pages 48-49 (Paris: Galilée, 1996). The acts of the colloquium were first published in 1994 as Le Passage des frontières. Autour du travail de Jacques Derrida (Paris: Galilée).

Jacques Derrida died 10 years ago today, on October 9th, 2004 (see below for additional details about the date). Aporias is a highly interesting essay, not only for its methodological considerations on the ways (and absence of ways) by which it treats various concepts (including those of “method” and “problem”), but also for the very moving meditation on (the impossibility of) death it has to offer. If one agrees that existence is always already coexistence –community, a word Derrida himself was not fond of–, then death and love are likely the two most important experiences anyone has to live.

Toward the end of his analysis, Derrida comes back to the problem presented by “my death” –how can it be my “own” once “I” am no more–, especially in regard to what it means for Heidegger’s controversial modalities of Eigentlichkeit and Uneigentlichkeit, as they were deployed in his existential analytic of Dasein:

For, conversely, if death is indeed the possibility of the impossible and therefore the possibility of appearing as such of the impossibility of appearing as such either, then man, or man as Dasein, never has a relation to death as such, but only to perishing, to demising, and to the death of the other, who is not the other. The death of the other thus becomes again “first,” always first. It is like the experience of mourning that institutes my relation to myself and constitutes the egoity of the ego as well as every Jemeinigkeit in the différance –neither internal nor external– that structures this experience. The death of the other, this death of the other in “me,” is fundamentally the only death that is named in the syntagm “my death,” with all the consequences that one can draw from this. This is another dimension of awaiting [s’attendre] as awaiting one another [s’attendre l’un l’autre], awaiting oneself at death and expecting death [s’attendre soi-même à la mort] by awaiting one another [s’attendant l’un l’autre], up to the most advanced longevity in a life that will have been so short, no matter what.

This nonaccess to death as such –but this access only to the aspect of the border that can only be the threshold, the step, as one says of the approach to the border– is also what Heidegger calls the impossible, the access to death as nonaccess to a nonborder, as the possibility of the impossible. But one can turn what is thus at the very heart of the possibility of the existential analysis against the whole apparatus of Being and Time, against the very possibility of the existential analysis. When Blanchot constantly repeats –and it is a long complaint and not a triumph of life– the impossible dying, the impossibility, alas, of dying, he says at once the same thing and something completely different from Heidegger. It is just a question of knowing in which sense (in the sense of direction and trajectory) one reads the expression the possibility of impossibility.

If death, the most proper possibility of Dasein, is the possibility of its impossibility, death becomes the most improper possibility and the most ex-propriating, the most inauthenticating one. From the most originary inside of its possibility, the proper Dasein becomes from then on contaminated, parasited, and divided by the most improper. (76-77)

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There are some discrepancies about the date of Derrida’s death, as if to echoes his thoughts about the impossibility for anyone to experience his ”own” death. Some suggests that he died on October 8th, 2004 (Telerama, l’Humanité, The Economist,, The Guardian), while others suggests that he died on October 9th (Les Inrockuptibles, Le Devoir, Édition Galilée, Philosophie Magazine, Libération, Los Angeles Review of Books, The European Graduate School). This is likely due to the fact that he died during the night of Friday 8th and Saturday 9th of October 2004 (see Le Nouvel Observateur). That being said, both the biographer Benoît Peeters –author of Derrida: A Biography– and the Site Jacques Derrida mention October 9th for the date of his death.

Portrait of Jacques Derrida by French photographer Raymond Depardon, June 18, 2004. Magnum Photos Image Reference DER2004006W00003/18A (PAR279899). © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos.
Portrait of Jacques Derrida by French photographer Raymond Depardon, June 18, 2004. Magnum Photos Image Reference DER2004006W00003/18A (PAR279899). © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos.

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