Comment ne pas trembler?: Derrida’s Earthquake


Jacques Derrida began a lecture entitled “Comment ne pas trembler,” that he delivered on 17 July 2004 at the Fondazione Europea del Disegno in Meina on the shores of Lago Maggiore, Italy, almost three months before his death on 8 October, by recalling a lecture he had delivered twenty years earlier. He noted that he had begun a lecture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a city, like my own, situated on an earthquake belt), with the phrase, of which the syntax was more or less the same, “Comment ne pas parler.” This lecture, which has now been translated and published as “How to Avoid Speaking: Denials,” is on the ne-pas (the how not to, ought not, should not, must not,…), how not (ne pas) to take the step (le pas) to say something. The full ambiguity of Derrida’s French title cannot be caught in the English “How to Avoid Speaking.” The French also encompasses literally “How not to say” or even “How to speak of the negative.” In French pas has four senses that are relevant to Derrida’s discussion: pas understood as step; pas as in ne pas“‘not’” or ne pas encore“‘not yet’”; the pas of passive (passif) (and we might note of passion [passion]); the pas of the past (passé). Derrida’s lecture traces the history of a double bind that also involves me here: “how to avoid speaking since I have always already begun to promise to speak” (Pysche II 154-55).

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