Jacques Derrida on Fears in Writing

An eminent French philosopher Jacques Derrida reflects on the dualistic process of intellectual creation in the course of writing — (un)consciously anxious yet urgently imperative. 

derrida-writing

Each time I write something, and it feels like I am advancing into new territory, somewhere I haven’t been before, and this type of advance often demands certain gestures that can be taken as aggressive with regard to other thinkers or colleagues […] or even hurt others. So every time I make this type of gesture, there are moments of fear. This doesn’t happen at the moments when I’m writing. Actually, when I write there is a feeling of necessity, of something that is stronger than myself that demands that I must write as I write. I have never renounced anything I have written because I have been afraid of certain consequences. Nothing intimidates me when I write. I say what I think must be said. That is to say, when I don’t write, there is a very strange moment when I go to sleep. At that moment when I am in a sort of half sleep, all of a sudden I’m terrified by what I’m doing. And I tell myself ”You’re crazy to write this!”, […] ”You’re crazy to criticize such and such person”, ”You’re crazy to contest such an authority, be it textual, personal or institutional”. And there is a kind of panic in my subconscious — what can I compare it to? — Imagine a child who does something terrible  […] In any case, in this half sleep I have the impression that I have done something criminal, disgraceful, unavowable, that I shouldn’t have done. And somebody is telling me: ”You’re mad to have done that!” And this is something I truly believe in my half sleep. And the implied command is this: ”Stop everything! Take it back! Burn your papers! What you’re doing is inadmissible!” But once I wake up, it’s over.
What this means, or how I interpret this, is that when I’m awake, conscious, working, in a certain way I’m more unconscious than in my half sleep. When I’m in that half sleep there’s a kind of vigilance that tells me the truth. First of all it tells me what I’m doing is very serious. But when I’m awake and working, this vigilance is asleep, it’s not the stronger of the two. And so I do what must be done.” (From a documentary “Derrida”, 2002)

A fear always accompanies those who make inroads into wonderful, yet intimidating, spaces of creative ventures of any kind. But this fear will eventually vanish, consciously or unconsciously, exactly as it appeared. The main challenge is not to retreat.

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