Deconstruction and a Poem

  • J. Hillis Miller


A poem comes by fate or by chance. lt ‘befalls’ the one who receives it, like a benediction, that is, like words that confer a blessing or that invoke a blessing. Benediction means, literally, speaking well, usually of some person, not of some thing. A benediction invokes what comes from the other or is the coming of the other, subjective and objective genitive at once. The ‘other’ in question here is that wholly other about which Derrida writes, tautologically, in The Gift of Death: ‘tout autre est tout autre’. This means, among other possibilities, ‘every other is wholly other’ (see Derrida, 1992a, pp. 79–108; Derrida, 1995a, pp. 82–115). We usually think of the ‘other’ as just somewhat different, for example someone from a different culture. For Derrida the other in question in a poem’s benediction is entirely different, ‘wholly other’. The consequences of accepting such a notion are not trivial. Something wholly other is frighteningly alien, unassimilable. Nevertheless, Derrida argues that a poem comes from such a wholly other and speaks for it. Just what that might mean this essay will try to show.


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© J. Hillis Miller 2000

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  • J. Hillis Miller

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