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Messianic-City: Ruins, Refuge and Hospitality in Derrida
English Faculty Research
  • Puspa Damai, Marshall University
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‘‘Listen first to those who, like myself, did not have to watch TV to know that SOME of L.A. was burning,’’ Derrida wrote to a newsletter in response to the riots triggered by the Rodney King events in 1992, adding, ‘‘L.A. is not anywhere, but it is a singular organization of the experience of ‘anywhere’’’ (‘‘Faxitexture’’ 28). At a time when one hardly needs to watch TV to know that many cities around the world are burning, or are targeted and wounded, bombed and invaded—as if the Biblical injunction, ‘‘Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you’’ had turned against itself, or had suspended itself, thereby converting cities of refuge into sites of intense hostility—it would be pertinent to recall the many illuminating texts Derrida has composed on cities and how deconstruction is inextricably related to burning, cinders, ashes, ruins, haunting, dissemination and destruction, and at the same time to rebuilding, inheriting, maintaining (maintenant), opening, reconstructing and welcoming. At the same time, it is precisely his evocation of the city as a place of refuge modeled after a certain messianicity, if not messianism, that exposes his own texts to a rigorous rethinking and critique. A number of fascinating readings have been done on Derrida’s concept of hospitality, yet hardly anything has been written on the theme of the city in Derrida, even though it is not difficult to see that for Derrida cities represent what his seminar on hospitality calls the very ‘‘structures of welcoming [les structures de l’accueil]’’ (Acts of Religion 361). After looking closely at the direct as well as oblique references to cities which traverse Derrida’s work like traces that radically erase themselves while presenting themselves, it would not be an exaggeration to claim that one has not quite approached deconstruction if one has not yet visited Derrida’s concept of the city. It should be recalled that Derrida in Dissemination refers to a radical anteriority explicitly in terms of the city when he talks about a tower that ‘‘occupies a place before ‘me,’’’ and like a sentence that awaits me, keeps watch over me and ‘‘surveys my heart’s core—which is precisely a city, a labyrinthine one’’ (341, italics added).

Published in Discourse, 27.2 & 27.3 (Spring and Fall 2005). Copyright © 2005 Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan 48201-1309. Printed with permission. All rights reserved.

Citation Information
Damai, Puspa. "Messianic-City: Ruins, Refuge and Hospitality in Derrida." Discourse 27.2 & 27.3 (2005): 68-94.