Derrida’s Adieu to Levinas: The Catastrophe of Onto-theology

Michael Weinman

Derrida ends “Adieu,” with the mere, “Adieu, Emmanuel.” In this way, he says goodbye to his friend, in public, in the simplest, least adorned way possible. At the same time, and for the very same reason—given that it will be necessary to think again what we mean when we say a-Dieu—he is citing his own responsibility to his friend, his friend who has now disclosed to him the catastrophe of (each and every, single) death. A responsibility to bear witness to that which Levinas’s given name itself bears witness, and which is so hard to say for those who have received testimony about that which Levinas and so many others experienced in the cataclysmic center of the twentieth century. That “God is with us.”

So. “Adieu, Emmanuel.” At once a statement of benediction addressed to the “without response” and a statement of benediction addressed to those who gathered—and still gather—to mourn, to commemorate, to celebrate the life and work of Emmanuel Levinas. And, I can say, this holds for those (like us here today?) who gather to commemorate the work of Jacques Derrida. To those, Derrida says (and he says he can say so only because of Levinas, because of the man whose name is a sign of this “emanatory” truth), “God is with us.”

And to these, I say, he’s right. If there is something that could answer to the name “Dieu” it is not to be sought—as onto-theology would have it—in the question of Being. Rather it is that which remains a haunting presence for us who practice the “politics of mourning,” in publicly acknowledging our responsibility to those we [have] love[d], and who understand ourselves as constituted from the radical otherness of the other who precedes me and in whose wake alone my existence is possible.