Journal Article

Assaulting the border: kabbalistic traces in the margins of Derrida

ER Wolfson

in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Published on behalf of American Academy of Religion

Volume 70, issue 3, pages 475-514
Published in print September 2002 | ISSN: 0002-7189
Published online September 2002 | e-ISSN: 1477-4585 | DOI:
Assaulting the border: kabbalistic traces in the margins of Derrida

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This study explores the thought of Jacques Derrida in relation to the esoteric wisdom of the traditional kabbalah, a comparison suggested by Derrida himself, who on occasion utilizes kabbalistic symbols to elucidate central tenets of deconstruction. This relationship should be construed as convergence rather than direct influence. In particular, two elements of the world-view of kabbalists bear close resemblance to Derrida: the belief that the materiality of being is textual and the special role assigned to the Tetragramaton, the ineffable name, in illumining the double bind of language, the unsaying that makes each saying (im)possible. It is especially in Derrida's analysis of the gift and secrecy that the resemblance to kabbalistic hermeneutics is most conspicuous: Just as the gifting of the gift is annulled in the giving of the gift, so the secret can be a secret only if it is disclosed as the secret that is hidden. In a manner consonant with kabbalists, moreover, the rite of circumcision is affirmed by Derrida as the figurative instantiation of the nexus that links language, secrecy, and the gift. For all of these similarities, however, there remains a fundamental difference between the ontological orientation of kabbalists and the heterological perspective of Derrida, a difference best illustrated in their respective understandings of the trace. For kabbalists the trace is a demarcation of the negative presence of absence, whereas for Derrida it is the sign of the wholly other that is neither a presence nor an absence.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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