Book Review: Kamuf – To Follow: The Wake of Jacques Derrida
Peggy Kamuf long ago established herself as one of Jacques Derrida’s most discerning readers and finest translators, but in To Follow: The Wake of Jacques Derrida, she offers her readers a rare opportunity to follow her as she works through critical questions in Derrida’s thinking in the wake of his death. The book comprises seventeen beautifully written and delicately interwoven chapters, composed before and after Derrida’s death in October 2004. In each chapter, Kamuf picks up on a word or phrase (what she calls a “watchword”) in Derrida’s writings in order to attend to the critical inventions and political interventions called forth by and in his thought.
This illuminating and moving book is also explicitly a work of mourning. Following Derrida’s life-long work on mourning, Kamuf begins her book by pointing out that mourning does not begin with the other’s death but is at work from the beginning in the names by which we come to know ourselves and through which we are called by others: “From the very first, every name, anyone’s name, names a site of mourning to come.” And if, as Kamuf suggests, the name is itself another name for mourning, this is because every name bears the trace of a division within: to be what we call a name, a name must be repeatable in the absence of the one to whom it ostensibly “belongs” and therefore must always be able to live on after the death of its bearer.