Dialogue disrupted: Derrida, Gadamer and the ethics of discussion

Swartz C. ; Cilliers P. (2003)


This essay gives an account of the exchanges between Jacques Derrida and Hans-Georg Gadamer at the Goethe Institute in Paris in April 1981. Many commentators perceive of this encounter as an "improbable debate," citing Derrida's marginalization, or, in deconstructive terms, deconcentration of Gadamer's opening text as the main reason for its "improbability." An analysis of the questions that Derrida poses concerning "communication" as an axiom from which we derive decidable truth brings us to the central feature of this discussion: How does one engage the "other" in conversation in the light of the problems pertaining to meaningful communication? The essay suggests that the first round of exchanges between Derrida and Gadamer is a good example of the violence that is prevalent (and perhaps inevitable) in all academic discussions. Finally a more "ethical" approach to discussion, based on Derrida's postulation of a "friendship," is suggested. It challenges the hermeneutic search for consensus, whereby the "other" is contracted into fraternity, but cannot eliminate elements of violence completely.

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