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Nicola Tams

On ,Friendship‘ in Derrida's Correspondence

Personal Information


  • June 2012-May 1015: PhD scholarship of the DFG research group (Graduiertenkolleg 1288) „Friends, Patrons, Clients“, University of Freiburg
  • 2004-2011: I studied Cultural Theorie and Intercultural Studies, Language & Communication, Cultural Informatics and Philosophie at the University of Lüneburg and the University ARCIS, Santiago de Chile
  • I wrote my master thesis on "gift/donation and performativity"


Derrida's concept and praxis of friendship – an analysis of letters, conversations and obituaries by and about Jacques Derrida.

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Hans-Helmuth Gander

Tutor: Prof. Dr. Sylvia Paletschek

In my PhD-Project, which combines literary history and the history of philosophy, I examine Derrida's concept of friendship. On the one hand, I analyse the specific ethics he proposes in his texts on friendship and on the other hand, I focus on a constellation of philosophers and authors being friends and writing about friendship.


Firstly, I will examine Derrida’s concept of friendship through a text-internal approach, taking into consideration his work The Politics of Friendship (2002) and his works on the gift and giving.

In his approach, Derrida sets himself apart from Aristotle and turns the Greek philia into a one-sided gift. To be able to think reciprocity in friendship, he proposes to accept friendship as something which is given to us in the first place, by the other.

Friendship is the overcoming of the distance between two different persons. At the same time, for the friend, friendship can be the experience of an insurmountable distance to the other. For Derrida, it is this loss of control of another person that is fundamental in friendship.

Leading questions will deepen the understanding of this perspective on friendship and will be connected to the themes of our research group on patrons, friends and clients: what concept of friendship does Derrida adumbrate apart from asymmetrical and hierarchical perspectives on friendship of, e.g., patrons or supporters and the symmetrical of, e.g., clients? Is friendship necessarily reciprocal?

Secondly I propose to analyse Derrida’s circle of friends, considering that he considered his personal relationships essential for his writing. Therefore I will use Dieter Henrich’s 'constellation approach' (1991). Henrich developed this method in the context of his study of German Idealism in order to be able to explore the relationship of the life context of a group of thinkers and their theoretical approaches. When applying this theory onto the social network of Derrida, Levinas, Bataille and Blanchot, I will focus on the following questions: what everyday problems are addressed in their letters and what conclusions about the relationship between Derrida, Levinas, Blanchot and Bataille can be drawn? What are the cultural, religious, historical and political backgrounds to these correspondences? How can Derrida’s work about friendship be re-positioned in this context?

This PhD-project applies the 'constellation approach' to a new subject. Here I would like to follow Henrichs critique of philosophy and the history of ideas as a project limited to the history of separate identities. I use the analysis of letters, conversations and obituaries to study the relation between the practices of friendship and the concepts of friendship developed within Derrida's contexts.

  • Postadresse:

    Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
    DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 1288
    c/o Historisches Seminar
    Rempartstr. 15 - KG IV
    79085 Freiburg 
  • Besuchsadresse:

    Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
    DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 1288
    Erbprinzenstraße 13
    79098 Freiburg
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