Reading List

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Compliments of the season

One phrase, two very different Christmas postcards.

The first was sent in 1915 from Netley hospital, a military hospital near Southampton used extensively during World War One.

The second is from a parlour somewhere near Willesden two years earlier.

Derrida's 'The Post Card'

Of late, I've been reading Jacques Derrida's 'The Post Card'. The work documents the philosopher's thoughts on the essence of a postcard, and is perhaps relevant to the two cards above: how they both use the same phrase but in such different circumstances.

It's a slippery text, written as a satire of literary works involving letters. In it, Derrida comes across some postcards in the gift shop of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. He explains how he's captivated by them, and then uses the sending of the cards to mock the limitations of language. He pokes fun at the idea of ever being able to understand what someone means through words, obsessing with double meanings and how what words refer to can shift over time and between contexts.

If you're in the mood, it's a mesmerizing piece of writing. If you're not, it's like pulling teeth: a friend once told me you only ever grasp one sentence a page with Derrida, and that's if you actually are Jacques Derrida.

But regardless of how much you feel you're grasping, there's something brilliant about where you end up by reading his work. Its deliberate obscurity and deferral of meaning present a welcome challenge to blind certainty, to unqualified rhetoric, to unchecked power.

And why did Derrida choose the postcard as his vehicle? Well...

“What I prefer, about post cards," he writes, "is that one does not know what is in front or what is in back, here or there, near or far... Nor what is the most important, the picture or the text, the message or the caption, or the address. Here, in my post card apocalypse... reversibility unleashes itself, goes mad”

Four years of my blogging, Derrida sums up in a few lines. Anyway...

Thanks for everyone's comments, postcards and emails over 2013. They're really appreciated. And wherever you are, I hope you have a peaceful and happy time over the holiday period.

All the best,


PS I've noted the possibility of Vine videos sending you mad before so be careful not to look at the two above for too long.