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Perjury and Pardon, Volume I

An inquiry into the problematic of perjury, or lying, and forgiveness from one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century.
“One only ever asks forgiveness for what is unforgivable.” From this contradiction begins Perjury and Pardon, a two-year series of seminars given by Jacques Derrida at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris in the late 1990s. In these sessions, Derrida focuses on the philosophical, ethical, juridical, and political stakes of the concept of responsibility. His primary goal is to develop what he calls a “problematic of lying” by studying diverse forms of betrayal: infidelity, denial, false testimony, perjury, unkept promises, desecration, sacrilege, and blasphemy.

Although forgiveness is a notion inherited from multiple traditions, the process of forgiveness eludes those traditions, disturbing the categories of knowledge, sense, history, and law that attempt to circumscribe it. Derrida insists on the unconditionality of forgiveness and shows how its complex temporality destabilizes all ideas of presence and even of subjecthood. For Derrida, forgiveness cannot be reduced to repentance, punishment, retribution, or salvation, and it is inseparable from, and haunted by, the notion of perjury. Through close readings of Kant, Kierkegaard, Shakespeare, Plato, Jankélévitch, Baudelaire, and Kafka, as well as biblical texts, Derrida explores diverse notions of the “evil” or malignancy of lying while developing a complex account of forgiveness across different traditions.



“For those readers who are familiar with Derrida’s most famous work and are curious about his deconstructive ethics and have not read any of the essays drawn from this book, this is a good place to approach the topic. . . . Even if one has read one or more of the published portions, if one is unsure how they fit together, these lectures will allow one to see how they cohere. . . . The translation is superb and the editorial work is excellent.”

The Review of Metaphysics

"In the two decades since Perjury and Pardon was written, the questions raised by Derrida’s prescient probing of the puzzling paradoxes of forgiveness have become even more urgent. During a time of unrepentant rage and specious pardons, what does it mean to forgive? Does anyone deserve forgiveness? Should the unforgivable be forgiven? Is it possible to live together without forgiveness? As we struggle to answer these critical questions, Derrida’s guiding insight is important today more than ever."

Mark C. Taylor, Columbia University

"These rich stimulating lectures are classic Derrida and in David Wills's superb translation wonderfully accessible. This is a great example of Derrida the educator introducing his audience to some of the most difficult issues of our time."

Robert Bernasconi, Penn State University

Perjury and Pardon presents an expansive vision of responsibility with the supreme clarity and profound rigor that mark Derrida’s style as a formidable teacher across geographical and academic boundaries. Wills's unique interpretative skills have resulted in yet another unsurpassed translation of Derrida's breathtaking thought and legacy.”

Hent de Vries, New York University

Table of Contents

Foreword to the English Edition
General Introduction to the French Edition
Editors’ Note
Translator’s Note
First Session
Second Session
Third Session
Fourth Session
Fifth Session
Appendix, Fifth Session—Discussion Session
Sixth Session
Appendix 1, Sixth Session
Appendix 2, Sixth Session
Seventh Session
Eighth Session
Ninth Session
Tenth Session
Appendix, Tenth Session—Restricted Session
Index of Proper Names


French-American Foundation: French-American Foundation Translation Prize

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