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Biblical beginnings of journalism

Derrida's juxtaposition of Christianity and modern journalism is thought-provoking, but it is difficult to take the philosopher's ideological criticism of the media as a Christian phenomenon seriously.


Jacques Derrida:
Surtout, watch the journalists!
Edition Galilee, 2016

Surtout pas-de-journalistAlthough it is over ten years since the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930 – 2004) died, publications still come from his hand. This year's book contains a post Derrida held at a conference on religion and media at the Dutch Institute in Paris in December 1997, as well as his various answers in the debate afterwards. Surtout, watch the journalists! ("Especially not journalists!") Is more audience friendly than much else Derrida has written, and the theme is also hyperactive.

Presence-absence. Derrida bases his problem on religion and media on a paradoxical juxtaposition of the modern media and the Old Testament narrative of God requiring Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on Moriah mountain. The communication between Abraham and God is an absolute secret, except for the journalists. Hence the title of the book.

Many have made different versions of what may have been going on inside Abraham's head on the long road to Moria berg (including Søren Kierkegaard in Fear and trembling). This religious space between Abraham and God should be completely out of reach of journalists. It is the private that can never be made public, the non-medial space of religion.

Derrida mentions religious television programs in the United States where the blind can suddenly see and paralyze begin to go, as examples of the presence metaphysics in public. Christianity is attached to true presence: the hostess in the communion is a sign of this. Judaism and Islam, on the other hand, are unified about transcendence and absence, they are scriptural religions that interpret the mysterious. That is why Derrida is based on the story of Abraham and Isaac: One can and should expose the secret of God and Abraham forever, but stay away from journalists and news!

Television and Christianity. Derrida focuses on it structural the similarity between television and Christianity because no television critique can in principle manage to eradicate what he, with a term from the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, calls the media's transcendental illusion '. This illusion leads us to believe that what is displayed on the screen is real. Even though we know that it is an artifact, that the news has been fabricated, cut together a cetera, media criticism cannot completely eradicate this presence effect. The structural illusion trumps any criticism, according to Derrida. He compares this to cinema and theater: We know that what is happening is fictional and imaginary, but still we identify with the people and "believe" in what is happening.

It may seem involuntarily ironic that a poststructuralist like Derrida focuses on one structuresimilar to Christianity in its media criticism. However, he says nothing about the difference between the evangelists' spread of the good news and the modern, technologically mediated public. Media criticism will ultimately always be overcome by a religious belief that this has happened.

Hit the page. The private space is preserved by Judaism and Islam, while Christianity, so to speak, founds the modern journalistic public through the spread of the good news in the Gospels (from Greek: ev-angelion = good news). When God became man and revealed himself, the evangelists became journalists who conveyed the story of the incarnation and resurrection. This juxtaposition of the story of Abraham and Isaac with modern journalism is thought-provoking. But is it apt to criticize the modern public? Here Derrida hits on the side of the case, because the debates about the relationship between private and public in the modern media world are not based on an understanding of the private that does not could been published.

The reason for not publishing certain things, such as a person's suicide or sexual orientation, is that it is against laws or ethical principles, not that it is in principle impossible to publish them. What is historically interesting is how the boundaries between the private and the public are drawn at any given time. We constantly see that these boundaries are being challenged and shifted in our time, not least through the development of new media. When one, like Derrida, believes that it is Christianity, the Gospels and the incarnation of God as human beings that form the basis of the modern public, then this dimension is lost sight of. The critique of ideology disappears in favor of a critique of presence theology.

The communication between Abraham and God is an absolute secret, deprived of the journalists. Hence the title of the book.

Koselleck, Habermas, Sennett.
There are many representations of the relationship between the public and the private sector that better thematize ideological delusions in this area than Derrida's. If the private space is not respected, the state or the clergy can torture themselves to the core. Reinhart Koselleck (1923–2006) interprets the work of the English philosopher Hobbes Leviathan in this way in Criticism and crisis (1959). To stop the totalitarian religion and the Inquisition in the 1600th century, the private, the thought, had to be separated from speech and action, the public. The thinking about the public and its alleged decay by theorists such as Jürgen Habermas and Richard Sennett is well known. In Habermas' case, public decay is linked to privatization, while Sennett spoke of the tyranny of intimacy. This development is unlikely to be solved by allowing Abraham's relationship with God to become a paradigm in a private space to which the press cannot have access.

Guss. An interesting ideology-critical approach can also be found in the philosopher Raymond Geuss (b. 1946) in the book Public Goods, Private Goods (2001). He believes that the debate about the relationship between private and public is characterized by mixing three different forms of the private, namely 1) decency, which does not challenge the sensitivity of others in public places (paradigm: The cynical philosopher Diogenes who masturbated in public, or the modern mobile phone terrorism that forces you to overhear private conversations), 2) public offices where the holder is to serve society as opposed to, for example, private economic interests, and finally 3) the religious fervor, for example with Church Father Augustine. According to Geuss, the ideological critique of the distinction between private and public consists in demonstrating mixtures of these three concepts of the private. The religious fervor resembles Abraham's silent walk toward Mount Moriah. But what does it have to do with private property or the culture's rules of public conduct? If one tries to justify capitalist private property with the existence of religious fervor, one is faced with a form of ideological confusion. The German sociologist Max Webers (1864–1920) discussed the thesis of Protestantism as the basis for the development of capitalism presupposes such a connection.

Enlightenment. Derrida's book highlights the old problem of the boundaries of the enlightenment project. We can not criticize everything, much must be taken for granted. We are at the mercy of prejudice, tacit assumptions, and naive beliefs. But this in no way means that the information has thus in principle gone bankrupt, even though it cannot have total pretensions. Just Fordi we allow ourselves to be ruled by emotions and irrational motives, requiring evidence, source criticism, arguments et cetera, and not just "faith". That faith and trust do not arise only through rational arguments does not change this. Therefore, it is difficult to take Derrida's critique of the media as a Christian phenomenon seriously as an ideological critique.


Eivind Tjønneland
Eivind Tjønneland
Historian of ideas and author. Regular critic in MODERN TIMES. (Former professor of literature at the University of Bergen.)

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