The Obstinate Gaze: Derrida Looking at Pictures

Rajeev S. Patke


This paper surveys all of Derrida’s numerous and occasional discourses on the visual arts with a view to describing both the history of his interest in the visual arts and its relations to visuality. The argument begins with recognition that his responses to art are self-consciously affective. Derrida’s early treatment of Kant and his qualified defense of Heidegger on Van Gogh are analyzed in detail, followed by an account of his fascination with Artaud and the significance of the exhibition Derrida curated at the Louvre on drawings and paintings that represent blindness. The argument concludes with the inference that three motifs recur throughout Derrida’s writing on the visual arts: the displacement of the gaze by the sense of touch in the structure of experience; the appositional-oppositional relation of the pictural to the verbal; and the need, in looking (at pictures), to see nothing that is not there, and to keep seeing the nothing that is.


Ekphrasis, Derrida, Painting, Heidegger, Van Gogh

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ISSN: 2012-0788