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Jacques Derrida’s Ethics and Politics of Mourning

Lecturer: Aleksander Kopka

Originally Taught: Summer School 2023

The course offers a systematic study of the notion of mourning in the philosophy of Jacques Derrida that provides a unique and crucial access to the politico-ethical dimension of his work. The course is designed to show how the question of mourning inspires a more insightful way of thinking about politics and ethics based on the call for radical and unrestrained responsibility for the mortal other(s). As such, it brings forth the connection between the thought of mourning and four political notions that consist in the hyperbolic demand that Derrida often refers to as “the law of the other”: justice, hospitality, and democracy to come. During the course, students will be introduced to numerous texts of Jacques Derrida, from his early writings on phenomenology and Emmanuel Levinas, throughout his writings on mourning from 1980s and 1990s, to his last seminars The Beast and the Sovereign. They will gain understanding of the psychoanalytic theory of mourning, the most crucial aspects of deconstruction (and hauntology), the impact of psychoanalysis on the thought of deconstruction, and how all of it translates into Derrida’s ethical and political proposals with regard to such issues as nationalism, citizenship, refugeeism, sovereignty, and global capitalism.

Course Schedule:

Week 1: The Discourse of Mourning / Mourning and Friendship

We will introduce the theme of mourning in the philosophy of Jacques Derrida and to his writings of mourning gathered mainly in the collections of essays The Work of Mourning. Furthermore, we will explore the relation between mourning, friendship and “the end of the world.”


  • Derrida, Jacques. Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. Trans. P.-A. Brault, M. Naas. Stanford–California: Stanford University Press, 1997.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Learning to Live Finally: the Last Interview. Trans. P.-A. Brault, M. Naas. London: Palgrave McMillan, 2007.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Rams. In: Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan. Eds. T. Dutoit, O. Pasanen. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005 (required reading).
  • Derrida, Jacques. Memoires for Paul de Man. Trans. C. Lindsay, J. Culler, E. Cadava, P. Kamuf. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
  • Derrida, Jacques. The Work of Mourning. Eds. P.-A. Brault, M. Naas. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Week 2: Mourning – from Psychoanalysis to Deconstruction

This week, we will look into Freudian concept of “the work of mourning”. We will also examine the relation between psychoanalysis and deconstruction.


  • Freud, Sigmund. Mourning and Melancholia, any edition (required reading).
  • Derrida, Jacques. «Eating Well,» or the Calculation of the Subject. In: Points... Interviews, 1974-1994. Ed. E. Weber. Trans. P. Kamuf et al. Stanford–California: Stanford University Press, 1995.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Fors: The Anglish Words of Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok. Trans. B. Johnson. In: Abraham Nicolas, Torok Maria: The Wolf Man’s Magic Word: A Cryptonymy. Trans. N. Rand. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Glas. Trans. J.P. Leavey, R. Rand. Lincoln–London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Living On: Border Lines. In: Parages. Ed. J.P. Leavey. Trans. T. Conley, J. Hulbert, J.P. Leavey, A. Ronell. Stanford–California: Stanford University Press, 1986.
  • Derrida, Jacques.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Resistances of Psychoanalysis. Trans. P. Kamuf et al. Stanford–California: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Week 3: Trace, Writing and Life-Death

In this part, we will study Derrida’s argument about the originary contamination of life and death, which goes back to his early phenomenological writings and is exemplified by the notions of trace, survival [survie] and life-death [la vie la mort]. We will look into Derrida’s remarks on the heterogeneous character of auto-affection and how it relates to death and mourning.


  • Derrida, Jacques. Aporias. Trans. T. Dutoit. Stanford–California: Stanford University Press, 1993.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Dissemination. Trans. B. Johnson. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1981 (required reading – fragments).
  • Derrida, Jacques. Life Death. Trans. P.-A. Brault, M. Naas. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2020.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Margins of Philosophy. Trans. A. Bass. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. G. C. Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2016.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Voice and Phenomenon: Introduction to the Problem of Sign in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Trans. L. Lawlor. Evanston–Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2011.

Week 4: The Politics of Mourning: Hauntology

This week we will focus on the notions of spectrality and hauntology. We will also examine the political potential of Specters of Marx in relation to the notion of mourning. Furthermore, we will discuss Derrida’s critique of global capitalism.


  • Derrida, Jacques. Abraham’s Melancholy: Interview with Michal Ben-Naftali. Trans. E. Anderson, P. Lynes. “The Oxford Literary Review” 2017, no. 2, vol. 39, pp. 153-188.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Spectres of Marx. Trans. P. Kamuf. London – New York: Routledge, 2006 (required reading – fragments).
  • Derrida, Jacques, Maurizio Ferraris. A Taste for the Secret. Ed. G. Donis, D. Webb. Trans. G. Donis. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001.
  • Derrida, Jacques, Bernard Stiegler. Echographies of Television: Filmed Interviews. Trans. J. Bajorek. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007.
  • Fraser, Nancy. Cannibal Capitalism. London–New York: Verso, 2022.
  • Gibson-Graham, J-K .The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It). Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 2006, pp. 238-250.

Week 5: The Politics of Mourning: Democracy, Justice and Hospitality

In this part, we will examine Derrida’s notions of democracy, justice and hospitality with regard to our responsibility for the mortal other.


  • Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? London–New York: Verso, 2016.
  • Butler, Judith. The Force of Non-Violence. London–New York: Verso, 2020.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Rouges: Two Essays on Reason. Trans. P.-A. Brault, M. Naas. Stanford–California: Stanford University Press, 2005.
  • Derrida, Jacques, Anne Dufourmantelle. Of Hospitality. Trans. R. Bowlby. Stanford–California: Stanford University Press, 2000.
  • Derrida, Jacques. The Beast & the Sovereign, vol. 2. Trans. G. Bennington. Chicago–London: The University of Chicago Press, 2011.
  • Derrida, Jacques. Violence and Metaphysics. In: Writing and Difference. Trans. A. Bass. London–New York: Routledge, 2009.