By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
What's the difference between knowledge and wisdom?
They aren't heterogeneous, and you can know lots of things and have no wisdom at all. Between knowledge and action there is an abyss, but that abyss shouldn't prevent us from trying to know as much as possible before making a decision. Philosophy is the love of wisdom. Philia is love and sophia is wisdom, so the duty to be wise is what philosophy is. Nonetheless, decisions don't depend exclusively on knowledge. I try to know as much as possible before making a decision, but I know that at the moment of the decision I'll make a leap beyond knowledge.
Did arriving at the set of understandings you presented in your books of 1967 bring you greater happiness?
I wouldn't say it made me happier, but it gave me the strength to continue. I lead a very active, exhausting life, and if someone had told me when I was 20 that I'd be doing what I do now at the age of 72, I wouldn't have believed it. I was more physically fragile then, and I would've collapsed from doing a fraction of what I do now. The reception of the work gives me this energy. People are generous with me and my work, and I'm sure I would collapse without that generosity.
Why aren't there any female philosophers?
Because the philosophical discourse is organized in a manner that marginalizes, suppresses and silences women, children, animals and slaves. This is the structure -- it would be stupid to deny it, and consequently there have been no great women philosophers. There have been great women thinkers, but philosophy is one very particular mode of thinking among other modes of thinking. But we're in a historical phase when things like this are changing.
Would you describe yourself as a feminist?
This is a huge problem, but in a way, yes. Much of my work has dealt with the deconstruction of phallocentrism, and if I may say this myself, I was one of the first to put this question at the center of the philosophical discourse. Of course I'm in favor of ending the repression of women, particularly as it's perpetuated in the philosophical groundings of phallocentrism, so in that regard I'm an ally of feminine culture. But that doesn't prevent me from having reservations about some manifestations of feminism. To simply invert the hierarchy, or for women to appropriate the most negative aspects of what's conventionally viewed as masculine behavior, benefits no one.
What's the most widely held misconception about you and your work?
That I'm a skeptical nihilist who doesn't believe in anything, who thinks nothing has meaning, and text has no meaning. That's stupid and utterly wrong, and only people who haven't read me say this. It's a misreading of my work that began 35 years ago, and it's difficult to destroy. I never said everything is linguistic and we're enclosed in language. In fact, I say the opposite, and the deconstruction of logocentrism was conceived to dismantle precisely this philosophy for which everything is language. Anyone who reads my work with attention understands that I insist on affirmation and faith, and that I'm full of respect for the texts I read.
With sufficient understanding of the Other, could the impulse to kill be erased?
The drive to kill will never be erased, because it's part of the human animal. The human animal has a capacity for cruelty, and to make the Other suffer can be a source of pleasure. That isn't eradicable, but it doesn't mean we have the right to kill -- and this is one of the crucial functions of philosophy and thinking, to handle this irreducible drive. Cruelty and aggression are always there, but they can be transformed into things that are beautiful and sublime. When I write, there's an element of aggression in that activity, but I attempt to transform that aggression into something useful. Aggression can be transformed into something more interesting than killing -- and of course, you can kill without killing. I can kill the Other without putting an end to his or her life, and can be aggressive in a way that's not despicable.
Concepts of territory and ownership seem to be at the root of much human conflict; where did these ideas originate, and why do we cling to them?
For many centuries, the city was a crucially important center of commerce, but with new technology that's no longer the case, and the politics of owning a place are different. Nevertheless, the place remains important. A friend of mine recently said there are two things today that can't be deterritorialized or virtualized: They are Jerusalem -- nobody wants virtual Jerusalem, they want to own the actual soil -- and the other thing is oil. The capitalistic nation states live on oil, and although that could be changed, the whole society would collapse if it did. That's why oil is a problem. It's more of a problem in America than it is in Europe, but we share the same concerns. Everything is always more in America, for obvious reasons.