Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint

Hélène Cixous. Translated by Beverley Bie Brahic

Columbia University Press

Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint

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Pub Date: July 2005

ISBN: 9780231128254

168 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $28.00£22.00

Pub Date: February 2004

ISBN: 9780231128247

168 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $80.00£62.00

Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint

Hélène Cixous. Translated by Beverley Bie Brahic

Columbia University Press

Who can say "I am Jewish?" What does "Jew" mean? What especially does it mean for Jacques Derrida, founder of deconstruction, scoffer at boundaries and fixed identities, explorer of the indeterminate and undecidable? In Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint, French feminist philosopher Hélène Cixous follows the intertwined threads of Jewishness and non-Jewishness that play through the life and works of one of the greatest living philosophers.

Cixous is a lifelong friend of Derrida. They both grew up as French Jews in Algeria and share a "belonging constituted of exclusion and nonbelonging"—not Algerian, rejected by France, their Jewishness concealed or acculturated. In Derrida's family "one never said 'circumcision'but 'baptism,'not 'Bar Mitzvah'but 'communion.'" Judaism cloaked in Catholicism is one example of the undecidability of identity that influenced the thinker whom Cixous calls a "Jewish Saint."

An intellectual contemporary of Derrida, Cixous's ideas on writing have an affinity with his philosophy of deconstruction, which sought to overturn binary oppositions—such as man/woman, or Jew/non-Jew—and blur boundaries of exclusion inherent in Western thought. In portraying Derrida, Cixous uses metonymy, alliteration, rhyme, neologisms, and puns to keep the text in constant motion, freeing language from any rigidity of meaning. In this way she writes a portrait of "Derrida in flight," slipping from one appearance to the next, unable to be fixed in one spot, yet encompassing each point he passes. From the circumcision act to family relationships, through Derrida's works to those of Celan, Rousseau, and Beaumarchais, Cixous effortlessly merges biography and textual commentary in this playful portrait of the man, his works, and being (or not being) Jewish.
The book will have a special status within Derrida studies.... The most striking thing in Cixous's writing is the sense that something very confidential is being disclosed. Devorah Baum, Jewish Quarterly
Her commentary, helps to illuminate some of the gnarled, complex recesses of Derrida's thought and as such will go far in clarifying his often punishing difficult writing. Saul Austerlitz, Forward
Catches precisely the destabilizing effect of Derrida's practice. Josh Cohen, Times Literary Supplement
Portrait of Jacques Derrida is a rarity, a singular and powerful addition to Cixous' own important oeuvre. Peggy Kamuf, Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory
For anyone who is looking for a way of understanding Derrida but is intimidated by his writings, this is a good place to start. Oliver Leaman, Journal of Jewish Studies
The Mark of the Prince
Namesakes—No! No's by the Bucketful
Of the Kleins and the Grosses
The Dream of Naivete
Remain/The Child That I Am
Point of Honor/Point Donor
Circumfictions of a Circumcision Objector
The Orchard and the Fishery
Second Skin

About the Author

Hélène Cixous is one of today's best-known feminist theorists and author of Coming to Writing and Other Essays, The Newly Born Woman, and Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing (Columbia), as well as fiction and plays.

Beverley Bie Brahic is a translator and poet living in Paris.