Within the pages of its 50th anniversary edition (published in April 2001), the French film journal Cahiers du cinéma featured a rare interview with the philosopher Jacques Derrida. As the Cahiers editors clarify in their preface to the interview, the journal had previously, if passively, avoided approaching Derrida for one simple reason: despite the interdisciplinary range characterizing his oeuvre, he never categorically wrote about cinema. Derrida’s inclusion now, according to the editors, was tied to the accumulation of his recent gestures toward their journal’s topoi, including his publications on the visual arts, photography, and television, not to mention his participation in a number of films. In other words, Derrida had finally made the steps warranting Cahiers’ approach, setting the stage for not only revelations about the role of the movies in his life and his thinking of the medium, but also an encounter of the popular and the philosophical, the escape of entertainment and the work of academic refinement.
Emerging from a close reading of these encounters, my talk examines the absence of cinema in Derrida’s corpus in three interconnected steps. First, through his confession in the Cahiers interview that if he “were to write about film” he would explore its “mode and system of belief.” I demonstrate how the unfinished nature of this hypothetical, unwritten project on cinematic belief engages Derrida’s account of spectatorship, in which film viewers oscillate between the grounding of rational skepticism and the unruly lure of ghostly apparitions. Second, the presentation revisits Derrida’s place within the history of film theory—particularly during the institutionalization of academic film studies—that challenges the approach narrative glossed in the Cahiers preface. I conclude by addressing what Derrida’s reflections on cinema might offer current debates about the future of both the medium and its theorization as they weather, or wither under, the accelerating virtualization of the “globalized” university.
Timothy Holland is an assistant professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies at Emory and a co-editor of Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture. His work has been published in Screen, New Review of Film and Television Studies, Postmodern Culture, and Discourse. He is currently revising a manuscript on the role of cinema in Jacques Derrida’s philosophical project and the timeliness of deconstruction for contemporary film studies.