The Gift of Death

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University of Chicago Press, 1996 - Philosophy - 115 pages
"The Gift of Death" is Jacques Derrida's most sustained consideration of religion to date. While continuing to explore questions introduced in "Given Time" such as the possibility, or impossibility, of giving and the economic and anthropological nature of gifts, Derrida turns to the notion of "responsibility" and the ultimate gifts of life and death.

Derrida divides the book into four parts, which deal respectively with the development of the notion of responsibility in the Platonic and Christian traditions; the relation between sacrifice and mortality; the contemporary meaning of the story of Abraham and Isaac; and the relation between religious ideology and economic rationality, explicitly linking this book with "Given Time." The texts under discussion include the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, as well as writings from Patocka, Heidegger, Levinas, and Kierkegaard (whom he addresses here for the first time in print.)

Derrida's main concern is with the meaning of moral and ethical responsibility in Western religion and philosophy. He questions the limits of the rational and the responsible that one reaches in granting or accepting death, whether by sacrifice, murder, execution, or suicide. Beginning with a discussion of Patocka's "Heretical Essays on the History of Philosophy," Derrida develops Patocka's ideas concerning the sacred and responsibility through comparisons with the works of Heidegger, Levinas, and, finally, Kierkegaard. Derrida's treatment of Kierkegaard makes clear that the two philosophers share some of the same concerns. He then undertakes a careful reading of Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling," comparing and contrasting his own conception ofresponsibility with that of Kierkegaard, and extending and deepening his recent accounts of the gift and sacrifice. For Derrida, the very possibility of sacrifice, especially the ultimate sacrifice of one's own life for the sake of another, comes into question.

This work resonates with much of Derrida's earlier writing and will be of interest to scholars in anthropology, philosophy, and, of course, literary criticism. In addition, given the emphasis on the work of Kierkegaard and on the role of religion in our thinking, it will be of particular interest to a new readership among scholars of ethics and religion.


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Giving for the Taking
Whom to Give

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About the author (1996)

Jacques Derrida was born in El-Biar, Algeria on July 15, 1930. He graduated from the École Normal Supérieure in 1956. He taught philosophy and logic at both the University of Paris and the École Normal Supérieure for around 30 years. His works of philosophy and linguistics form the basis of the school of criticism known as deconstruction. This theory states that language is an inadequate method to give an unambiguous definition of a work, as the meaning of text can differ depending on reader, time, and context. During his lifetime, he wrote more than 40 books on various aspects of deconstruction including Of Grammatology, Glas, The Postcard: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, and Ulysses Gramophone: Hear Say Yes in Joyce. He died of pancreatic cancer on October 9, 2004 at the age of 74.

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