Can a Language Go Mad? Arendt, Derrida, and the Political Significance of the Mother Tongue

Philosophy Today 59 (3):523-539 (2015)
  Copy   BIBTEX


This article examines Jacques Derrida’s criticism of the significance Hannah Arendt attributes to her mother tongue in, “What Remains? The Language Remains.” I begin by developing Derrida’s claim in The Monolingualism of the Other that despite Arendt’s suggestion otherwise, the German language can and did go mad. I argue that his criticism, while powerful, overlooks the political concerns at work in Arendt’s commitment to her mother tongue. I turn to Arendt’s analysis of language in Eichmann in Jerusalem to show that by distinguishing Eichmann’s “empty talk” from the mother tongue, she suggests that our primary language is integral to political life insofar as it reminds us of our radical singularity and our responsibility to the world. With this, I maintain that Derrida’s decisive intervention in this discourse does not settle the question of the mother tongue; instead it raises new questions concerning the political significance of our relation to language.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 94,517

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

My Language Which Is Not My Own.Carolyn Culbertson - 2016 - Southwest Philosophy Review 32 (2):115-136.
Fantasies of Forgetting Our Mother Tongue.Rachel Aumiller - 2019 - Journal of Speculative Philosophy 33 (3):368-380.


Added to PP

56 (#282,285)

6 months
17 (#205,018)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Jennifer Gaffney
Loyola University, Chicago

References found in this work

No references found.

Add more references