Essays















Further remarks on Derrida

In the eyes of God we are always in the wrong. I think that Kierkegaard insisted on this. And this is clearly true, and something essential to the Christian religion. By extension, this is a core attitude held by everyone who established our country in the Dark Ages. I suppose that it doesn’t matter where you come from, though: before God, you are always at fault.

It is helpful to know this, speaking as a man. It is mostly necessary to do wrong to other people, in order to survive. But in the heart, you know that it is wrong to do so. And moreover, if you happened to help other people and to do good to them, in the heart, you should know that you nevertheless did everything wrong. Even if other people around you did wrong, then in the eyes of God, it was your fault.

The first commandment is that you should love God; and to do this, it is necessary to disown the world. In the world, everything you do and think is bad. Nothing you think or say is true. That is how God must see it, because we are never free of sin.

And so it is necessary and good to pray; and this means, in absolute stillness and quiet to approach God. Stillness must be an attribute of our approach to him, because everything else we do is wrong. Indeed, most of the early Fathers and those who learnt from them, whose ideas can be usefully summarised as being published in the first volume of the Philokalia, point out that true prayer can and should be accompanied with weeping. Tears are an expression of an absolute desolation about our wrongfulness; helpfully, in this state of complete remorse and emptiness, we can sometimes actually feel the personality of God approach, at the same time as our own falls to pieces and falls to the side.

Now, if this is so, that there is no human goodness, and everything we do or say is wrong, then how has philosophy been possible? How has it been possible to assert anything as true or good at all (and this was the function of philosophy)? I suppose that the approach to God is, for most people, something which is done at discrete times and moments, and that for those periods of reconciliation with God at Church or in prayer, we feel forgiven for our wrongs. And, sure that this is so, people have traditionally then gone about their lives insisting that they can build a world and a land of law and order for themselves with God as the capstone of all their wrong and mundane actions.

Just so, we set up a society where God is at the top, then the King beneath him, then the landowners, then the merchants, and then the rest of us. Even if, therefore, we were always wrong by acting and thinking in the world, then at least we paid our dues to God by basing the order, and the truth of things on him. And therefore, we used to go about doing our work and our dealings knowing that the order of society and philosophy and politics was as good as it could be. To summarise: it was possible to base the truth of things on God; so although when we pray we are always wrong, when we are not praying, we are always right.

I suppose Jacques Derrida presents us with the provocative truth about what society is today all about, now that God is not at the capstone or the centre of things. In a strange twist of fate, a society which does not pray is a society fated to be in state of wrongness at all times, praying or not. It is as if organised religion put up a safety barrier against God’s terrible eye. In God’s eyes, we are always wrong. Back then, we asked forgiveness, and were given it. Today, the safety cordon is gone: we are always wrong, and there is no forgiveness; we remain in constant error. And so in all of our acts and thoughts we are always wrong.

It is wrong to go out, it is wrong to impinge on anyone’s liberty, it is wrong to be a man, it is wrong to be white, it is wrong to scold your children, it is wrong to be rich, all of it is wrong. There is no justification for any of it.

In the realm of philosophy, Derrida handily summarised this position. In the most cod form, he said: ‘Everything can be destroyed’ (as in my previous essay, this is not actually his attitude). And, indeed, for the most intelligent people of our time, this seems unquestionable. Everything must be pulled down and, hopefully (but I’m not so sure), be rebuilt in a new way. The new way of doing this will of course, also be entirely and always wrong.

Derrida, in his important 1967 lecture on Levi-Strauss’s structuralism, ‘Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’, explained, quite rightly, that there cannot be an order or structure of things when there is no centre to the structure. And, in the absence of God in Levi-Strauss’s work, then that Levi-Strauss’s structure will be liable to fall apart. Derrida pulled it apart, and noted that, from now on, all philosophical discourses, in the absence of God, will be simply a play of empty signs and words, without a concrete reference to any classically construed truth:

‘Turned towards the lost or impossible presence of the absent origin, this structuralist thematic of broken immediacy is therefore the saddened, negative, nostalgic, guilty, Rousseauistic side of the thinking of play whose other side would the Nietzschean affirmation, that is the joyous affirmation of the play of the world and of the innocence of becoming, the affirmation of a world of signs without fault, without truth, and without origin which is offered to an active interpretation. This affirmation then determines the noncentre otherwise than as loss of center. And it plays without security.’ (Writing and Difference, Routledge, p. 369, trans. Alan Bass).

It is possible to think of this statement about language and order as a provocation. He says, so to speak: ‘You turn from God, then everything is now just a game’.

I recall a piece of wisdom from somewhere, which says that there is nothing so serious as a child at play. Our society is in such a state of affairs. There is no truth; it is simply a game. Jordan Peterson points out how seriously the game of society-building can become in a godless society, in the form of the mass-murdering internal genocidalism of Leninist and then Stalinist societies, not to speak of the Terror in France at the time of the atheist’s Revolution, or the society of the National Socialists. When life is a game, killing vast numbers of people may be necessary in order for serious players to win at it – and that is what they do.

To summarise our situation, now, or in time to come: there is no final truth, and what ever you want to be true will be true. The best of us will try to reason things out, but reason is just a player in the game, and no more serious than madness. God, retreating from us, has taken back forgiveness, and left us with the situation that nobody is right, but everyone is wrong. It is like the state of tearful desolation before the divine throne room, but with no possibility of ever escaping from being utterly wrong and in error.

There is a quotation from Isaiah in which the prophet finds himself in God’s throne room. He sees the seraphim with their six wings. He hears God’s voice. God instructs him to hide from the people the truth, so that they will be destroyed by their own error, because that is what they deserve. They did not want the truth, and so they will be given the falsehood instead. But the truth was simple. It is to love God above all things, and to approach him. Why didn’t they just do that?

Here, Isaiah, 6: 1-13:

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

And one cried unto another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:

And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.

Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.

Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate.

And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.

But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.



Design Jason Powell, 2020.

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