Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Jacques Derrida- Intellectual Courage: An Interview by Thomas Assheuer

JD: Had the intellectuals lost their courage? There is nothing to confirm this. In the course of the last decades and at an unprecedented tempo, they were forced to take profound transformations in the public space into account. The conditions of taking a stand in the media, of intervening in the tele-technological field, have been exposed to many transformations and re-appropriations, politically and economically. On the other hand, all responsible citizens needed courage to analyse these evolutions, acting instead so as to avoid these traps. All the more since some intellectuals have sought to exploit these new media powers to the end of personal promotion; when they did so in the fight for a good cause, solidarity was at times as difficult to give as to withhold. Intellectuals have been more present and active than your question suggests, in all fields of public life, in Europe and elsewhere, where the political or governmental agencies have often been paralysed by the habits of the past. Moreover, if courage is a virtue, and also an intellectual virtue, it is not the most specific quality which one rightfully demands from an intellectual as such. An incompetent and irresponsible intellectual can have courage for the worse. I do not believe that all 'intellectuals' have been, as you suggest, 'paralysed by an attitude of posthistoire or cynicism'. It is difficult for me to answer this question in a few words. One needs to understand what you mean by 'posthistoire' or 'cynicism', but also put into question, as I would do if I had the time and the place, the hateful assimilations that often circulate on this topic. For reasons of economy I prefer to confess my discomfort at the beginning of this interview, once and for all, without returning to it. It has to do with the conditions created by the media and by the public space for intellectuals to take a stand. If I said, for instance, that I refuse to engage in a debate about this point ('cynicism', 'posthistoire', the 'status of the intellectual', etc.) in four or five phrases, as they are suggested to me, will one accuse me of escaping into silence or into elitism? Would it be indulgent, condescending or a bit journalistic to refer to the published texts where I treat all these questions? I believe on the contrary that this would be the most 'responsible' response. It could illustrate the historical difficulty to which I allude. It is these conditions for speaking out publicly that change and that one has to change. And with them the figure of the public intellectual. more..


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