Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-portrait and Other Ruins

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University of Chicago Press, 1993 - Art - 141 pages
In this brilliant essay, Jacques Derrida explores issues of
vision, blindness, self-representation, and their relation to
drawing, while offering detailed readings of an extraordinary
collection of images. Selected by Derrida from the prints
and drawings department of the Louvre, the works depict
blindness--fictional, historical, and biblical. From Old
and New Testament scenes to the myth of Perseus and the
Gorgon and the blinding of Polyphemus, Derrida uncovers in
these images rich, provocative layers of interpretation.

For Derrida drawing is itself blind; as an act rooted in
memory and anticipation, drawing necessarily replaces one
kind of seeing (direct) with another (mediated). Ultimately,
he explains, the very lines which compose any drawing are
themselves never fully visible to the viewer since they exist
only in a tenuous state of multiple identities: as marks on
a page, as indicators of a contour. Lacking a "pure"
identity, the lines of a drawing summon the supplement of the
word, of verbal discourse, and, in doing so, obscure the
visual experience. Consequently, Derrida demonstrates, the
very act of depicting a blind person undertakes multiple
enactments and statements of blindness and sight.

Memoirs of the Blind is both a sophisticated
philosophical argument and a series of detailed readings.
Derrida provides compelling insights into famous and lesser
known works, interweaving analyses of texts--including
Diderot's Lettres sur les aveugles, the notion of
mnemonic art in Baudelaire's The Painter of Modern
Life, and Merleau-Ponty's The Visible and the
Invisible. Along with engaging meditations on the history
and philosophy of art, Derrida reveals the ways viewers
approach philosophical ideas through art, and the ways art
enriches philosophical reflection.

An exploration of sight, representation, and art,
Memoirs of the Blind extends and deepens the
meditation on vision and painting presented in Truth and
Painting. Readers of Derrida, both new and familiar, will
profit from this powerful contribution to the study of the
visual arts.

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About the author (1993)

Jacques Derrida was born in El-Biar, Algeria on July 15, 1930. He graduated from the École Normal Supérieure in 1956. He taught philosophy and logic at both the University of Paris and the École Normal Supérieure for around 30 years. His works of philosophy and linguistics form the basis of the school of criticism known as deconstruction. This theory states that language is an inadequate method to give an unambiguous definition of a work, as the meaning of text can differ depending on reader, time, and context. During his lifetime, he wrote more than 40 books on various aspects of deconstruction including Of Grammatology, Glas, The Postcard: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, and Ulysses Gramophone: Hear Say Yes in Joyce. He died of pancreatic cancer on October 9, 2004 at the age of 74.

Pascale-Anne Braultnbsp;is an associate professor of French at DePaul University.

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