An exploration of the man and his ideas, DERRIDA'S ELSEWHERE investigates the parallels between the personal life and the life work of arguably the most important philosopher of the 20th Century, Jacques Derrida.
We follow Derrida around his home, office, in the classroom and on his travels as he speaks of the suffering, the challenges and the questions that have conditioned his thought since his childhood in Algeria.
The film is woven around readings from Derrida's book Circumfession, evoking a number of seemingly disparate themes including hospitality, religion, sexuality and the place of the subject in philosophy. Derrida shows us the common thread he perceives running though them: responsibility. Incorporating related imagery, DERRIDA'S ELSEWHERE uses footage of the places Derrida knew in his childhood and adolescence in Algeria, photos of his life there, super-8 footage from the 1960's and 70's, and images from Spain.
The transitory nature of Place is a concept that has occupied Derrida from youth. He evokes the experience of de-colonization to illustrate his ideas. At the synagogue where his father would bring him as a child, it is clear from the design that it was first an Islamic mosque. It is a mosque again, reconfigured in the wake of de-colonialism.
Colonialism and Post-Colonialism figure heavily in Derrida's work. His concept of displacement, of feeling like an immigrant without papers, has its roots in his childhood in Algeria. Influential too are Derrida's Spanish Jewish roots. Through his obsession with the story of Marrand, a 14th Century Jew who practiced his religion in secret, we learn of Derrida's sympathy for secrecy, for the unrevealed. After all, according to Derrida, the absence of Secrecy is a totalitarian society.
Filmmaker Safaa Fathy's stated goal is to show the links between Derrida's life and his work. In discussions, he describes his mother and childhood in the same manner as he does ideas, somewhere between affect and concept, at a boundary where a work becomes biography and biography gives birth to a work. DERRIDA'S ELSEWHERE takes us into his worlds - that of his work in Paris and that of his familial and spiritual roots in Algeria and the Spain of Lorca and El Greco. We begin to see how places allow words to appear, producing images that let us catch a glimpse of what's beyond.
"Profoundly autobiographical... a film that preserves on one level the coherence and cogency of Derrida's work, highlighting it against a vivid series of autobiographical backdrops... Fathy's film succeeds thanks to certain thematic threads that, although they are of course woven by the coherence of Derrida's discourse, are used to structure the film, and to tie "central" preoccupations such as writing to the seemingly diverse questions of circumcision and forgiveness. While following Derrida, both his body and the logic of his words, fills the screen with images, of desert, of ruins, and of the ocean, that appear as something like the aporetic hauntings of those words, something perhaps of their excised unconscious, something that functions within the perspective of a pardon and a healing." - Theory & Event
2001 Vancouver Film Festival
2001 Arab Film Festival (San Francisco)
"Highly Recommended! A unique and intensely personal examination." - Educational Media Reviews Online
"Gathers shards of ideas and orchestrates them in a coherent monologue... Many of the leading scholars and translators of Derrida's work were collaborators on the film, and it shows. With translations that are excellent and complete, this film would be well used in a classroom to introduce the French philosopher to students." - French Review
"[A] retrospective glimpse into the complex relation between the man and his thought, or what amounts to Derrida's reflections on the question of autobiography. A filmed confession about his life in which the meaning of its full disclosure remains as elusive as the expression of any motif Derrida has sought to explore in his writings.
The most striking feature of the film... is the movement between levels of thought and place: we are made to follow Derrida from one place to another, and when he stops to reflect, his thought moves from one theme to another, in order to share the significance of a certain place for him, leaving any sense we might have of him lost in the tapestry of his discourse. If DERRIDA'S ELSEWHERE confesses anything, it is that Derrida can be found neither here nor there but always somewhere, in the wanderings between place and thought." - Janus Head
"Enthralling!" - Leonardo: Journal of the International Society of Arts, Sciences and Technology