Derrida on Fear and Writing

French philosopher Jacques Derrida on the fear of writing (from the 2002 documentary Derrida):

…when I don’t write, there is a very strange moment before I go to sleep… all of a sudden I’m terrified by what I’m doing. I tell myself: ‘You’re crazy to write this!’ …what can I compare it to? Imagine a child who does something horrible. Freud talks of childhood dreams where one dreams of being naked and terrified because everyone sees that they’re naked. In any case, in this half sleep I have the impression that I’ve done something criminal, disgraceful, unavowable, that I shouldn’t have done. And somebody is telling me: ‘But you’re mad to have done that’. And this is something I truly believe in my half sleep. And the implied command in this is: ‘Stop everything! Take it back! Burn your papers! What you are doing is inadmissible!’ But once I wake up, it’s over. What this means or how I interpret this is that when I’m awake, conscious, working, in a certain way I am more unconscious than in my half sleep. When I’m in that half sleep there’s a kind of vigilance that tells me the truth. First of all, it tells me that what I’m doing is very serious. But when I’m awake and working this vigilance is actually asleep. It’s not the stronger of the two. And so I do what must be done.

In this clip, Derrida speaks with no-nonsense clarity, self-reflexive insight and honesty. He shows amazing courage to admit to his insecurities as a public intellectual. The doubt that Derrida voices applies to anyone who is honest about the difficulties of writing something original for a public audience: ’I do what must be done’.

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