What Is Love? This French Philosopher Might Make You Think Twice

You might never have heard of French-Algerian philosopher Jacques Derrida, but as soon as he opens his mouth, you’ll want to hear more. In intellectual circles, he was famous for founding deconstruction (but don’t worry, you don’t need to understand what that means to enjoy his ideas). The above video is an excerpt from documentary film Derrida (2002), directed by Amy Ziering Kofman, a film which is packed full of wisdom and insight if this clip floats your boat.

Here, Amy (a former student of Derrida’s) asks him to talk about love, the one thing that has driven human beings crazy throughout history. “I can’t do that,” Derrida replies stubbornly. “You can’t ask this of me, Amy. I have an empty head on love in general.” She pushes him, and he stands his ground, insisting he has nothing to contribute. But ironically, while refusing to play ball, Derrida accidentally gives the most thought-provoking, spontaneous and unscripted dialogues ever on the matter of love.

He makes the distinction between the ‘who’ one loves – their essence, their being – and the ‘what’ – specific qualities of that person that are valued and attractive. Do you love someone for who they are or what they are? Do you love the things they can give you, or do you love them to their core, with or without receiving anything? And what happens if you discover that the qualities you fell in love with are just illusions- what then? Derrida suggests fidelity is threatened by this gray area between the who and the what.

Sadly, Derrida died two years after the film was released.

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