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Quoted Confessions: Augustine's Confessiones and Derrida's “Circonfession”

Johanna Schumm and Jan Schönherr
Comparative Literature Studies
Vol. 52, No. 4 (2015), pp. 729-756
DOI: 10.5325/complitstudies.52.4.0729
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/complitstudies.52.4.0729
Page Count: 28
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Quoted Confessions: Augustine's Confessiones and Derrida's “Circonfession”
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Abstract

In his autobiographical text “Circonfession,” written in 1990, Jacques Derrida makes various references to Augustine's Confessiones. This article reveals broad similarities between the works of the church father and the father of deconstruction in Derrida's reading of the former's text. Imitating Augustinian motifs and techniques of confession, Derrida builds a bridge to a premodern epistemic and esthetics of subjectivity. Through the literary techniques of addressing and citation, Augustine and Derrida each formulate a confessional subject that constitutes itself only in interrelation to an alterity. The similarities are based on related assumptions in both authors’ theories of language and interpretation. The Augustinian question “why we confess to the omniscient God” (“Cur confitemur Deo scienti”) and his answer “to do truth” (“veritatem facere”) lead Derrida to a notion of confession in line with Augustine's, and he then ostentatiously distinguishes that notion from Rousseau's. The difference lies in the intention of the two confessions: plea for forgiveness versus apology.

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