Jacques Derrida in his interview with Giovanna Borradori called “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides” tries to analyze 9/11 and its effects in today’s world order. Derrida explains 9/11 as a major event that ended the period of Cold War completely and opened a new era. He explains why this event is so crucial and different from other incidents in the past in which more people died than 9/11. In this paper, I will try to explain in what ways September 11 is a major event for Jacques Derrida.
Derrida begins explaining his views by revealing that the concept of 9/11 as an unprecedented major event in human history is to a large extent conditioned, constituted and constructed behavior which was circulated and encouraged through the media. In his idea, with the help of media people -affected by presuppositions and suppositions- act and think in a certain way and strengthens the image of 9/11. He asserts “Namely, the fact that we perhaps have no concept and no meaning available to us to name in any other way this thing that has just happened, this supposed event” (pg 86). Thus, Derrida believes the concept of 9/11 is created as a metonymy to remind and substantiate the inexplicable event that took place in 11 September 2001. This metonymy is very much used by the media and people contributed a lot to the dissemination of it by talking, writing, joking about this event. Although people did not know exactly what had happened and what was the significance of this event in the history, they used this term “9/11” because they were aware of facing a new, inexplicable and very important phenomenon. Thus, September 11 whether it is a real major event or not, by its inexplicable situation and the shocking image exaggerated by the media, “gives us the impression of being a major event” (pg 88).
Derrida then turns on to explain why and how 9/11 gave this impression of being a major event. In his idea, primarily this is because the injunction comes from a place where English, the most widespread language of the world (even can be considered as the official language of the world), predominates (pg 88). In addition, USA was hit first time since 1812 in its own territory and the world order shaped highly by the Anglo-American politics and tradition, was shocked and shaken. In Derrida’s view, Anglo-American idiom shapes not only global politics but also the media, technoscience and jurisdictional system. He claims that impression is affected by the hegemonic perception understanding -which is Anglo-Americanism in today’s world- and thus, impression “resembles the very thing that produced it” (pg 89). He adds that the thing or event may not be reduced to impression but people see, interpret and understand the thing by impression. He describes impression as informed both because a predominant system gives it a form and this form gets through an organized and subjective information process.
Derrida thinks that although there had been many events similar to 9/11 before (ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, genocide in Rwanda), 9/11 considered as a major event as a result of the interpreted, interpretative and conditional evaluation of the hegemonic world structure. He asserts that a major event should be unforeseeable and beyond the horizon of concept or essence (pg 90). He states that he uses event in the Heideggerian sense as a phenomenon that one cannot comprehend. “It consists in that, that I do not comprehend: that which I do not comprehend and first of all I do not comprehend, the fact that I do not comprehend: my incomprehension” (pg 90). Derrida further claims that an attack towards Twin Towers was not unforeseeable and CIA and FBI had even issued warnings before about the possibility of this kind of an attack. Then, what makes 9/11 so unforeseeable, significant and symbolic for Derrida?
Derrida continues by saying that 9/11 is not a major event because of quantitative reasons (size of the towers, number of victims etc) but rather for qualitative reasons. Derrida then passes on to explain how 9/11 is related with the idea of the end of the Cold War. Considering the relations between USA and Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda in the past, Derrida explains 9/11 as the real end of the Cold War. Our anxiety for not being able to understand and explain this event refers to pains of a new era approaching towards us in Derrida’s view. Thus, 9/11 with all its “dogmatic slumber” (pg 100), is the point where a new political and philosophical reflection is awakened throughout the world. 9/11 is a major event because it precedes the boundaries of former era’s conceptions like war or terrorism. 9/11 is not an act of war or terrorism in the traditional sense. President Bush also underlined this aspect of 9/11 by mentioning about the “new war” and declaring war against a group not against a state.
To sum up, in many ways Jacques Derrida conceptualizes September 11 as a major event in human history. In his idea, although the media played a major role, 9/11 caused a shock and was perceived as an unprecedented event by the people. 9/11 changed all existing categorizations and ways of thinking and led to the dogmatic slumber of people as well as philosophers and political scientists. Concepts such as terrorism and war began to gain new meanings after 9/11. 9/11 was the price of the mistakes made by USA during the Cold War and put a violent end of this era by ruining the current global system. For all these reasons, in Derrida’s point of view September 11 is a major event.
- “9/11 and Global Terrorism: A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida”, http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/derrida/derrida911.html