Dr David Coughlan, supported by funding from the AHSS Faculty Research Committee, attended the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) 2017 Annual Meeting at Utrecht University in July.
He co-organised a successful three-day seminar entitled “Derrida’s Interviews: As If in Person,” with Prof. David Huddart of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, the independent scholar Dr Christoforos Diakoulakis, and Elizabeth Wijaya of Cornell University.
Starting from Nicholas Royle’s observation that Jacques Derrida was “a great talker as well as a great writer,” the seminar’s speakers, including participants from France, Japan, and Singapore, discussed the ways in which Derrida responded to the challenge and unpredictability of the interview and the ways in which the form of the interview can reflect the various unsettling forms that Derrida’s writing takes. For example, Prof. John Phillips of the National University of Singapore detailed “The Abduction of the Voice” in the medium of the interview, Prof. Diane Rubenstein of Cornell University spoke about “Derrida’s Radio and Televisual Archive” and her own experience of interviewing Derrida, and Prof. Apostolos Lampropoulos of Université Bordeaux Montaigne addressed the question of critical intimacy in the work of Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy.
Other papers considered Derrida and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, cinema and the filmed interview, interviewers and interrogators, or deconstruction and improvisation. Dr Coughlan’s contribution read Derrida together with Ben Lerner’s novel Leaving the Atocha Station, in which the narrator’s declaration that it is “better to mimic spontaneous if oblique pronouncements than to rely on real-time fluency” describes a form of rehearsed spontaneity that recalls the practiced improvisation that Derrida identifies as the “need to improvise well” in a performance such as an interview or, as it happens, a conference seminar.