In October, 2001, Giovanna Borradori conducted an interview with Jacques Derrida about the 9/11 attacks. The result was paired with a similar conversation with Jurgen Habermas, and published as Philosophy in a Time of Terror. You can read exerpts of both interviews online.
I happened to read the interview only recently, right around the same time that the supposed “Derrida Wars”, to use Peter Gratton’s phrase burst forth on the internet.
At the risk of reopening that debate, I was struck by just how much of the interview surrounds language. Here’s how it begins:
Giovanna Borradori: September 11 [le 11 septembre] gave us the impression of being a major event, one of the most important historical events we will witness in our lifetime, especially for those of us who never lived through a world war. Do you agree?
Jacques Derrida: 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.
To be sure, politics, geography, war, religion, the future and other matters come up in the discussion. But so do phrases, words, metonymies, synechdoches. Bin Laden becomes both of the latter (“Bin Laden,” that is).
It’s not that Derrida’s position is objectionable (even if some of his prose is). But it is striking more that the “event” (see, I can use scare quotes too) seems to me to invite reflection on so much more than just “this question of language,” as Derrida calls it. And more than just “this question of politics,” too.
We often hear talk about “politics after X” or “philosophy after X” (or just a “whatever after X”). Perhaps the rise of objects is, in part, a “philosophy after September 11.” Not because of the Arab world—although, indeed, one cannot ignore that Harman has spent that entire time in this world, and more recently Brassier too (relevant even if the latter is not an object-oriented thinker). Nor because of some political or philosophical (read: ethical) exigency that that day entreated. Rather, and once more I mean this just in part, 9/11 issued a whole slew of new attentions to objects. Broken-tool-like, suddenly it became impossible to ignore Boeing 767s, steel, fire, human flesh, bricks, smoke, subway trains, anthrax powder, unmarked letters, liquids/gels/aerosols, shoes, zip-top baggies, grey plastic security bins, and so forth. One need not ignore the tragic loss of human life nine years ago today to also see how it forcibly thrust things before us.