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  • 2023StewartPhD

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I, Daniel: An Illegitimate Reading of Jacques Derrida's "Envois"

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Jeremy Stewart
Publication date2023
Number of pages281
Awarding Institution
Award date25/01/2023
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Much creative-critical writing is characterized by a desire to find space within academia for otherwise marginalized experiences. This is often a case of drawing on personal, emotional, or spiritual registers typically excluded from academic writing, and thus rendered illegitimate. This thesis is a case in point, as it draws, inter alia, on my dreams, my Christian faith, my middle name, and, indeed that I was born, as they say, outside of wedlock – illegitimate, if you will, outside the law.

My primary text is Jacques Derrida’s “Envois,” the opening section of his book The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond (University of Chicago Press, 1987). It has often been read in purely philosophical terms but Derrida, alluding to Freud’s talk of “theoretical fiction,” describes it as a “project for a ‘fiction.’” “Envois” is, then, a text that could itself be said to be a work of creative-critical writing – not least because of its very personal character. “Envois” takes the form of hundreds of postcards to an unnamed lover.

Central to my exploration is a figure called ‘Daniel.’ In some respects, he is myself, since my middle name is Daniel, and in some respects, he is Daniel Agacinski, Derrida’s unrecognized son. This Daniel was born in 1984 to Sylviane Agacinski, the woman who is believed to be the unnamed lover addressed throughout “Envois.” As Derrida’s biographer, Benoit Peeters, writes, “everything suggests that the original version [of “Envois”] was written for Sylviane Agacinski.”

One of “Envois’” key conceits is that it is “the preface to a book […] not [yet] written.” Taking, as my cues, fleeting references to the biblical book of Daniel and George Eliot’s novel Daniel Deronda, I proceed as though “Envois” is a preface not so much to an unwritten book but to the text that is the name ‘Daniel.’ My own theoretical fiction, then, is the story of my succumbing to the temptation to see myself mirrored in Daniel Agacinski – a Daniel who, like myself, and indeed my thesis, is what one might call a bastard.