Written by Jacques Derrida
Read by Tim Taylor, WID Director’s Special Projects and Program Manager; Program Coordinator, Center for Complexity and Collective Computation (C4)
“Cinders is one of Derrida’s rare texts, in that it’s both personal and accessible, at least more so than The Post Card or Glas (his more famous philosophical works that it superficially resembles). It’s been a crucial book for me to read and reread as I try to better understand my own fascination with multiple perspectives brought to bear upon any quandary. I suppose it would be too much of a stretch to call Cinders interdisciplinary — coming as it does from one mind — but its linguistic cubism intently escapes the standard gravity of either linear or compartmentalized thought.
Rather like a rogue circus performer who juggles swords — but swords that aren’t merely sharpened to split hairs, they must also be aflame and tipped with many lethal poisons — Derrida relentlessly keeps every possible nuance of the complex French phrase il y a la cendre in the air in front of him (“Cinders there are” is how translator Ned Lukacher attempts to translate the untranslatable.). Cinders (embers, ash) are scrutinized with an iterative compulsion that is both tragicomic and maniacal, as if Derrida had been chained to a perpetually smoldering campfire with nothing to think about but the remnants of the fire itself (and what it all personally and historically means to him).
Themes of the feminine and the Holocaust flicker throughout (as well as a haunting sense of private loss), and although anti-deconstructionists attack Derrida for insisting upon opposites that cancel each other out, this is a work of tender complements: the past (that which has burnt away) coexisting with the present (that which still burns).
“She, this cinder, was given or lent to him by so many others, through so much forgetting”… “because each time it gives a different reading, another gift.”