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An Interview with Jacques Derrida on the Limits of Digestion

Working in the early 1990s on the book As a Weasel Sucks Eggs: An Essay on Melancholy and Cannibalism(published in English in 2008 by Sternberg Press), we exchanged a few letters with the late Jacques Derrida, who was then working on what he referred to as the “cannibalistic tropes” in hermeneutics and German Idealism. He was grateful for a little fragment by Novalis that we had sent him:

All enjoyment, all taking in and assimilation, is eating, or rather: eating is nothing other than assimilation. All spiritual pleasure can be expressed through eating. In friendship, one really eats of the friend, or feeds on him. It is a genuine trope to substitute the body for the spirit—and, at a commemorative dinner for a friend, to enjoy, with bold, supersensual imagination, his flesh in every bite, and his blood in every gulp. This certainly seems barbaric to the taste of our time—but who forces us to think of precisely the raw, rotting flesh and blood? The physical assimilation is mysterious enough to be a beautiful image of the spiritual meaning—and are blood and flesh really so loathsome and ignoble? In truth, there is more here than gold and diamonds, and the time is soon at hand when we will have a higher conception of the organic body.

Who knows how sublime a symbol blood is? It is precisely that which is disgusting in the organic components that points to something very lofty in them. We recoil from them, as if from ghosts, and sense with childish terror a mysterious world in this mix, perhaps an old acquaintance. But to return to the commemorative dinner—can’t it be imagined that our friend has turned into a being whose body has now become bread, and whose blood has become wine?1

The Novalis text was of relevance to him, he claimed, and he had taken it as a point of departure for several seminars. Derrida invited us to see him in his home in the suburbs of Paris, and the following interview, published here for the first time in English, is the result of our lively meeting.

—Daniel Birnbaum, Anders Olsson

Read the full article here.