Reflections on the ruins of Athens and Rome: Derrida and Simmel on temporality, life and death

History of the Human Sciences 27 (4):77-97 (2014)
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Abstract

The recent publication of the translation of Jacques Derrida’s Athens, Still Remains, a small volume of photographs and commentary, affords an opportunity to probe Derrida’s reflections on death and therefore on life as well. Looking at photographs and objects of everyday life, Derrida emphasizes the deferred yet certain nature of death and the way in which this deferral opens the opportunity to devote ourselves to life. His grounding of his philosophical and deconstructionist argument in contemplation of material fragments invites a comparison with the writing of sociologist Georg Simmel on ruins, time and death. Both writers attempt to discover practices of survival, the techne of affirming life in the face of death. For both of them these practices are sociological as well as philosophical, individual as well as collective, and aesthetic as well as intellectual. While their reflections thematically converge, their strategies for the affirmation of life are not identical, and we contrast Derrida’s approach, rooted in a concept of being in the world and a connection to others, to Simmel’s analysis which is focused on the role of culture and the force of the human spirit. Reconstructing a conversation between Derrida and Simmel and examining their intellectual rapprochement deepen our thinking about temporality and death as we confront the question ‘How are we to live?’

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References found in this work

Derrida From Now On.Michael Naas - 2008 - Fordham University Press.
The young Derrida and French philosophy, 1945-1968.Edward Baring - 2011 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Athens, still remains: the photographs of Jean-François Bonhomme.Jacques Derrida - 2010 - New York: Fordham University Press. Edited by Jean-François Bonhomme, Pascale-Anne Brault & Michael Naas.
Learning to Live Finally: An Interview with Jean Birnbaum.Jacques Derrida - 2007 - Melville House. Edited by Jean Birnbaum.
The Aesthetics of Modern Life: Simmel's Interpretation.David Frisby - 1991 - Theory, Culture and Society 8 (3):73-93.

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