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Derridean Europe from Pakistan

Ruminations of Jacques Derrida (on Europe) understood by a Pakistani


Decentering: Rupture at the heart of Europe

Center – Security

Derrida emphasized that the main ‘structurality of structure’ is shadowed by giving it a perfect center, and it has been deemed mandatory that everything work along that center. The center enables a closed totality, and it will be unimaginable if anyone brings out a notion of a structure without a center.

A center is essentially always defined in system to authoritatively forbid any play of meaning, Derrida exclaimed. The concept of structure with a center has been enunciated to keep everything flowing in one certain way. The purpose of implying certainty by giving a center is to nullify the probability of problems or different ideas and practices other than those certified. Similarly a presence of a center eradicates anxiety and the main goal of West has always been to find a ‘center’, which is dubbed the most secure and imperceptible place.

Terry Eagleton elaborated this notion arguing that western metaphysics have always clung to a word, a supposed truth etc. for security and basis for their learning. Notions like the “God, the idea, the world spirit, the self,” accomplish the very task of attaining a center. Derrida highlighted that there have been an innate desire to stick to some ideals or center and this is the reason western metaphysics have created a system of standards.

Nietzsche, Freud and Heidegger – attempts of decentering

Derrida proclaimed that “the center is not the center,” in the Structure, Sign and Play he announced that a rupture has occurred in the conceptual framework of western metaphysics. The assumed center is not there.  He then furthered it by mentioning the antecedents to such rupture, which are Nietzsche, Freud and Heidegger.

Nietzsche questioned the long standing precedence of truth and being and substituted it with notions of play and interpretation. Freud critiqued the ascendancy of mind which had been hailed all autonomous in pre-Freudian times. And lastly but importantly Heidegger demanded dismantling of metaphysics and to quit ‘determination of Being as presence.’ Derrida emphasized that these attempts to subvert the center nevertheless contend to the same jargon of metaphysics. Although, confirming to the jargon of metaphysics, Derrida asserted that there has been a displacement of center. The center does not fulfill its duty that is to magnetize everything towards it; instead it denotes to other signs and those signs lead to other signs, the attainment of meaning becomes a vicious circle.

The Rupture in Western Metaphysics

Peter Barry explicated such rupture or decentering more clearly. He reminded us that before Nietzsche and Freud etc. there had been an order of things. Man was epicenter of everything, there were codes of how to dress, class of architecture, a pattern of intellectual paradigmatic growth. But certain events changed it. Derrida call them rupture while Peter Barry more specifically mentioned those ruptures. World War I obliterated any development that was going on, holocaust dismantled Europe as the center of human cooperation and respect. Even the empirical findings on relativity changed our thinking about time and space, as they are no longer considered fixed centers. The end result is a world with no center and authority.

Decentering Europe

Husserl and Heidegger evaluated Europe philosophically on the notions of identity of Europe, “spiritual unity of Europe,” and European Spirit. Derrida has also worked on those two philosophers’ footsteps and similar to them did not consider Europe as merely a geographical division on world. Ultimately, he took some of Husserl and Heidegger’s ideas, postulated some and created grounds to make news for decentered Europe.

For Husserl, Europe is a transcendental philosophical idea born in seventh century Greece. Derrida questioned such notions, in such a manner that he tried to subvert Husserl’s own argument, asking if Europe is a pure idea then place of this idea could easily be replaced with Asia or Africa.  And Husserl should not have a problem but still it is not possible. The phenomenological idealism does not specify a date and place to the distinctive character of cognition of European race. But despite that, Husserl saw idea of Europe as an ephemeral idea actually conceived in the mind of philosophers of Greece.

Derrida debated this single source of Europe and emphasized that knowledge coming down to us about truth and being is not fundamentally Greek. Because Europe is fundamentally influenced by the interconnecting varied integration of other traditions, notions and languages like Arabic, Jewish, Christian, Roman and Germanic which have their own integral position and are not some tertiary additions. Derrida insisted that this is all because Europe has not unfurled only Greek deal but is equally affected by all factors passing through Europe, and these factors should be taken stock of.

In ascertaining the identity of Europe, Derrida established a prerequisite to look at what was moved through and interpreted and translated by Europeans from Arabic of before Quran times and after Quran and also from Rome. As well as when Husserl debarred Indians, Gypsies and Eskimos from his European humanity; Derrida saw this concept as hampering any prospect of openness to other, to openness to anything other than European.

Not only Derrida drew a European identity bisected by different origins, he created doubt about the assumption that philosophy has Greek basis. He also tallied with the idea that Greek thought might be substituted with Chinese or even African thought. He added that although not new, the importance of such question remains intact, that is philosophy being only European and exactly Greek.

By supplicating the idea of Chinese or African philosophy instead of European, Derrida was trying to show the ambiguity inherent in it and henceforth in idea of Europe. If we take western philosophy founding basis of Europe we should take in stock that the Greek philosopher considering themselves European is highly debatable.

Derrida, in The Other Heading, queried about defining boundaries of Europe and ultimately giving it a center. He said that this is not possible because there are no fixed borders of Europe either spiritually, politically or geographically. Its geographic borders get blurred everywhere be it to the east or west, north or south. Spiritually if we take it as the hybrid of European Christianity, then is it catholic, protestant or orthodox? This is as confusing as the concept that Europe’s unity is due to its philosophy or reason, its Jewish linkages or Greek heritage. Moreover, if we take Jerusalem as epicenter, how can we rip apart Islamic memories associated with Jerusalem or forget the fact that Jerusalem is itself dispersed in Athens, Rome, Moscow and even Paris.



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