ReadySteadyBlog

Good stuff: Claire Colebrook on Happiness, Death and the Meaning of Life (pdf).

In this essay I will argue that Nussbaum’s affirmation of literature and narrative as crucial to the function of a sympathetic, flourishing and ethical life is typical of western philosophy’s normative definition of happiness, where happiness has always been aligned with a specific image of autopoietic life and meaning. That is, human life makes sense of itself, gives form to itself and engages in a style of praxis whereby its ends are internal to itself. From this image of life one thereby passes to an ethics. There ought to be no techne that is disengaged from life, and life’s proper techne – the art of life – is nothing other than making meaning of, or narrating of, one’s life. Literature would, therefore, not be one praxis among others that is added on to life. Rather, life in all its forms is self-creation, while human life renders this self-creation explicit to itself through narrative; human life is that one praxis that discloses the logic of praxis in general.

Derrida, by contrast, offers a genuine alternative to the image of selfforming life, and he does this through his textualism. There are, however, two crucial features of Derrida’s concept of text. First, considered rigorously, textuality is not a feature of language or writing; it characterises life as such. Second, textuality installs death in life. Life is not a trajectory of striving towards presentation, fulfilment and realisation. On the contrary, in order for life to be – for one to think that life is – there must already have been a non-living, counter-actualising potentiality. If this is so, then we will need to read literature not as a form of life-realisation but as a process of mourning...

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