Inside the Whale

August 29, 2006

On Forgiveness

Filed under: Uncategorized — noahsimblist @ 9:54 pm

This installation was done at the SMU Pollock Gallery in January 2006. It included drawings, wall text, wall painting and a video. The text is excerpted from an essay by Jacques Derrida also titled “On Forgiveness”


The three drawings on the left were integrated into the text, they used iconography including the six-pointed star (often associated with Judaism), the Jerusalem cross (which marked the crusaders), a Kabbalistic symbol for the 10 sephirot, and the swastika (originally a symbol for good luck, commonly found in India)




The text by Derrida was designed by my friend Alex Yang-Muller. Here’s the text:

Pure and unconditional forgiveness, in order to have its own meaning, must have no ‘meaning’, no finality, even no intelligibility. It is a madness of the impossible…

Forgiveness is thus mad. It must plunge, but lucidly, into the night of the unintelligible…

As soon as the victim ‘understands’ the criminal, as soon as she exchanges, speaks, agrees with him, the scene of reconciliation has commenced, and with it this ordinary forgiveness which is anything but forgiveness.

In the radical evil of which we are speaking, and consequently in the enigma of the forgiveness of the unforgivable, there is a sort of ‘madness’, which the juridico-political cannot approach, much less appropriate.

Imagine a victim of terrorism, a person whose children have been deported or had their throats cut, or another whose family was killed in a death oven. Whether she says ‘I forgive’ or ‘I do not forgive’, in either case I am not sure of understanding. I am even sure of not understanding, and in any case I have nothing to say. This zone of experience remains inaccessible, and I must respect its secret…

What I dream of, what I try to think as the ‘purity’ of a forgiveness worthy of its name, would be a forgiveness without power…

Will that be done one day? It is not around the corner, as is said. But since the hypothesis of this unrepresentable task announces itself, be it as a dream for thought, this madness is perhaps not so mad…

J. Derrida

The other wall had the following drawings mounted on a painted wall.

Yellow stars and grey stripes evoke the holocaust; blue stars the symbol of Zionism and the growth of the state of Israel. The use of green, black, white and red is meant to evoke the colors of the Palestinian flag, and the 4 historical caliphates. The six-pointed star is meant not only as a symbol of Judaism but of otherness. I was told by my colleague at SMU, an expert of Jews in medieval Spain, that the hexagram was used interchangeably for both Muslims and Jews, both being “other” than the Christian norm. These signs function within an architecture of intersecting crosses, each built of 7 cubes, a symbol that is both linked to secular enlightenment and mystical sites like the Kaaba in Mecca.




Below is a collage of video stills from a 4 min. video that accompanied the show. It included animated drawings and archival footage from the holocaust, the evolution of the state of Israel and moments from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.



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