October 9, 2004 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Jacques Derrida is not.
posted by semmi (38 comments total)
Curiously resembling Nader in the photo, no?
posted by semmi at 10:16 AM on October 9, 2004

First one to use the word "deconstructing" regarding Derrida as in Mozart "decomposing" has to quit Metafilter.
posted by kozad at 10:22 AM on October 9, 2004

posted by Busithoth at 10:37 AM on October 9, 2004


"To pretend, I actually do the thing: I have therefore only pretended to pretend"
posted by amberglow at 10:54 AM on October 9, 2004

posted by oog at 11:06 AM on October 9, 2004

his entourage said.

Philosophers have entourages? Is this Puff Derrida?

Shame anyway, he seemed like an interesting man.
posted by jonmc at 11:14 AM on October 9, 2004

Some background and links from John Rawlings.
posted by liam at 11:18 AM on October 9, 2004

Derrida discarded the body he had used in this lifetime for seventy-four years, ten months and eleven days. The body he had used to facilitate his existence in this universe had ceased to be useful and in fact had become an impediment to the work he now must do outside its confines. The being we knew as Derrrida still exists. Although you may feel grief, understand that he did not, and does not now. He has simply moved on to his next step. Derrida in fact used this lifetime and body we knew to accomplish what no man has ever accomplished - he unlocked the mysteries of life and gave us the tools so we could free ourselves and our fellow men.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Jacques Derrida has now discarded his flesh and achieved operating thetan level 6.
posted by mokujin at 11:20 AM on October 9, 2004

...and a bunch more here.
posted by sciurus at 11:21 AM on October 9, 2004

posted by adamgreenfield at 11:52 AM on October 9, 2004

what i was listening to as i clicked the blue

"this is the end of the line
i've seen this storyline played out so many times before....
what a hell of a show, but what i really want to know
is what the hell do you do for an encore, yeah?"

j. cocker
posted by grimley at 11:56 AM on October 9, 2004

All the greats are dying! Derrida, Dangerfield, Bush in his debating...I think our nation ought to kiss and make up with the French and declare a Derrida Day...sales at shopping malls, picnics, beer and more beer, closed schools, car on sale...Jaques made a valuable contribution to our universities and got many grad students to further their self-abuse. So, long, Jacues...we *heart* you.
posted by Postroad at 11:57 AM on October 9, 2004

Does it make a différance?
posted by zerofoks at 12:37 PM on October 9, 2004

Thanks for the great link sciurus.
posted by semmi at 12:39 PM on October 9, 2004

He was a wonderful speaker, but I've never been able to make head nor tail of his books. My fault, no doubt.

Good interview here:
While I was growing up, I was regularly taken to a synagogue in Algiers, and there were aspects of Judaism I loved -- the music, for instance. Nonetheless, I started resisting religion as a young adolescent, not in the name of atheism, but because I found religion as it was practiced within my family to be fraught with misunderstanding. It struck me as thoughtless, just blind repetitions, and there was one thing in particular I found unacceptable: that was the way honors were dispersed. The honor of carrying and reading the Torah was auctioned off in the synagogue, and I found that terrible. Then when I was 13, I read Nietzsche for the first time, and though I didn't understand him completely, he made a big impression on me. The diary I kept then was filled with quotations from Nietzsche and Rousseau, who was my other god at the time. Nietzsche objected violently to Rousseau, but I loved them both and wondered, how can I reconcile them both in me?
The interview makes me wish I could connect with his books; he sounds like a fascinating guy. (There's also excellent discussion of his Sephardic background in Ammiel Alcalay's After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture, a book I've written about here and highly recommend.)

On preview: see discussion of the silly use of différance in English here:
Take, for example, the celebrated essay "La Différence", in which Derrida tried to open out the concept of difference by comparing the French différer with Greek diapherein, Latin differre, and differieren in German. As everyone must know by now, Derrida dramatized his point by coining the non-word différance, spelled with an "a", alongside the ordinary French word différence, spelled with an "e". And since the two forms are pronounced the same, they made a nice illustration of Derrida's point about writing not being a depiction of speech; manifestly, the difference between différance and différence could be seen but not heard.

As it happens, it is easy to reproduce this effect in English. Différance can be transliterated as "differance" with an "a", yielding an English non-word which sounds the same as the ordinary English word "difference", thus translating Derrida's device perfectly. This was the solution adopted in David Allison's translation, published in 1973. But a decade later, Alan Bass produced a new version, which opted to leave différance in French. This crazy translation took off, just at the time when Derrida was becoming a cult author in English, and as a result thousands of English-speaking Derrideans were left floundering for a French pronunciation of différance, apparently under the impression that they were being loyal to its quintessential Frenchness. Unluckily for them, though, différance was not a French concept at all, and - by making the difference between differance and "difference" audible, all too audible - the Derrideans were not only missing Derrida's point, but spoiling it too. It was as if the translator, rather than helping us engage with ideas and argue over them, preferred to fetishize their foreignness and turn us into dazzled spectators of an exotic scene.
posted by languagehat at 12:44 PM on October 9, 2004

Derrida in fact used this lifetime and body we knew to accomplish what no man has ever accomplished - he unlocked the mysteries of life and gave us the tools so we could free ourselves and our fellow men.

I hate to be the inevitable numbskull to piss on this particular obit thread, but I could not possibly disagree more with the above. Deconstruction, expanded notions of the "text", etc, are all ideas that have gained remarkably little traction outside of academia. In fact, whenever an example of the schism between intellectual culture and the rest of the world was needed, Derrida as an institution has always been Exhibit A.

I'm not arguing that Derrida or his ideas are irrelevant--far from it. Rather, aside from those for whom "criticism", "inquiry", and "discourse" are either occupational hazards or rites of passage, Derrida--along with postmodernism, deconstruction, etc--could not be more alien and immaterial. Derrida unlocked some intriguing new methods of examination, and gave the few in academia the tools they needed to build their careers exploring those passages. As for unlocking truths and mysteries in general though--well, I think Derrida himself would be the first to dispute that any text, especially his own, can ever hope to unlock some wholly original and previously unreachable avenue toward a "truth."

Derrida gave us some great and interesting ways of thinking about things, and I suspect that future generations will continue to find him as provocative and profound as we have. Beyond that though, well, he's just a man to me. Anyone want to make me look like I'm a dimwit who doesn't "get it" by sharing any life-changing (or just interesting) experiences or insights involving Derrida's work? Sure, I've written my papers, but maybe I need a sip of the Kool-aid too. :)
posted by DaShiv at 12:50 PM on October 9, 2004

John Searle: I once said this to Michel Foucault, who was more hostile to Derrida even than I am, and Foucault said that Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism of obscurantism). We were speaking French. And I said, "What the hell do you mean by that?" And he said, "He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he's saying, that's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, 'You didn't understand me; you're an idiot.' That's the terrorism part." And I like that. So I wrote an article about Derrida. I asked Michel if it was OK if I quoted that passage, and he said yes.
posted by homunculus at 2:18 PM on October 9, 2004

Well, I'm not so sure "relativity" (or moral relativity, etc) as a idea/insult/meme would be so widespread in the world if it weren't for all the postmodernists/deconstructionists, and I know they opened up whole realms of examining ideas/books/assumptions/stereotypes/accepted truths/etc, and how they've affected us in tons of ways, in real life and not--how incredibly pervasive and powerful they are.

Looking at queer theory and gender studies for instance, makes you realize just how thoroughly reinforced (or very carefully subverted) heterosexuality has been throughout recent history, and how that sort of thing is part of our indoctrination into societies. (i'm not explaining it at all well, so hopefully someone will chime in) It made me see our recent and ongoing "culture war" stuff very differently.
posted by amberglow at 2:22 PM on October 9, 2004

Derrida was an Algerian-born Jewish Frenchman. That's a whole bunch of deconstruction needed right there.
posted by meehawl at 2:32 PM on October 9, 2004

Here's the Wiki on Derrida, for anyone seeking more info.

Anyone want to make me look like I'm a dimwit who doesn't "get it" by sharing any life-changing (or just interesting) experiences or insights involving Derrida's work?

Not at far as the dimwit thing goes, but I would venture to say that the philosophy of the deconstructionists had a big impact on my direction in grad school, and exposure to it is probably what pointed me towards the study of semantic linguistics, rather than the bioethics path I had been following. (Because, ya know...there's always jobs for philosophy students doing obscure things with the verb "to be". *rolls eyes*)

I'm not sure I ever *believed* in the entire deconstructionist package of theories, so much as I considered it a brilliant path of thought, and one that forced potential thinkers to reevaluate information in a new method. My opinion is that he was a great thinker, and I believe history will equate him with Rousseau and Voltaire in the roll call of astounding French philosophers.

Besides, now that he's dead, we'll never get to ask..."What the holy hell does *x* mean?", where X is any number of proposed theories.
posted by dejah420 at 2:34 PM on October 9, 2004

posted by juv3nal at 3:04 PM on October 9, 2004

sigh ... i guess now we'll just have to consider derrida as a text ...

can't be kicked off of metafilter for that, kozad!
posted by pyramid termite at 3:43 PM on October 9, 2004


"you're very sweet /
thank you for the flowers/
and the book by Derrida"
posted by Quartermass at 4:22 PM on October 9, 2004

. (. (. . . (.), .)).
posted by fvw at 4:33 PM on October 9, 2004

Derrida has influenced me more than any author or group of authors. I don't even know what to say about it, other than that I mourn his passing. Given the mourning, the work of mourning for which he was known, my sadness seems an insufficient response.
posted by hank_14 at 7:07 PM on October 9, 2004

The NYT obit gives us a Derrida seen through a purely American lens (a literary critic) & seems to suggest that we won't classify him correctly without considering Nazism. (I'm no Derrida fanatic, but I'm not impressed. The man's philosophical project wasn't concerned with demoting Sophocles — though he did inspire a lot of third-rate pseudo-political litcrit wankery in people who were just never going to understand him — for the very reason that they weren't going to read through the long tradition of his very canonical philosophical touchstones.)
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:24 PM on October 9, 2004

Jacques Derrida changed his name from "Jack", if I recall correctly (for whatever reason, "Jack" wasn't an unusual first name for French men of his generation, cf. longtime Minister of Culture Jack Lang).

I met him a couple of times. He was very appealing in a tiny French way. However, we all erase ourselves eventually. At least he wasn't run over by a bus like Barthes.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:11 PM on October 9, 2004

"What the holy hell does *x* mean?", where X is any number of proposed theories.

x=any number of proposed theories.

At least he wasn't run over by a bus like Barthes.

"I try to move sideways: so there are no evolutions, only digressions." -Maurizio Cattelan
posted by semmi at 8:50 PM on October 9, 2004

I was a student at Cambridge in 1992, at the time of the Great Derrida Crisis when it was proposed to award him an honorary degree. This was fiercely opposed by a number of academics who argued that Derrida was an intellectual charlatan. Under the university constitution, the whole thing had to be decided by a ballot in which all the dons, and a good many of the postgraduates, were entitled to vote. The debate was conducted in the time-honoured Cambridge fashion, by means of printed pamphlets called 'flysheets', urging people to vote 'placet' (Latin for 'yes') or 'non-placet' (Latin for 'no').

At first it looked as though Derrida's supporters were going to win by a landslide. However, one of the pro-Derrida flysheets was so tactless that it drove a lot of people into the anti-Derrida camp -- thus proving the truth of the old maxim, that the best way to persuade academics to do something is to argue unconvincingly against it. Derrida got his degree in the end, but it was quite a close-run thing (and quite a lot of people seem to believe that the vote went the other way, e.g. this page incorrectly states that Derrida 'was famously turned down for an honorary degree at Cambridge').

The press treated the whole thing as a tremendous joke, which I suppose it was. Steve Bell's cartoons are still quite funny.
posted by verstegan at 3:34 AM on October 10, 2004

Life/death is an oppositional pair, each needing the other to define itself. When we say he is dead, what exactly are we saying? Are we speaking with a full knowledge of the history and origins of the concept, and limits of the concept, of death? Even as little as a hundred years ago, a leader of medical science might have said "he is dead" of a person who had just stopped breathing, but the same person might have been revived with more modern techniques. Did his heart stop? Did his brain cease functioning? How much do we know about this concept that is referenced by the word "life"? Can we pinpoint with certainty the moment at which life begins, or what the exactly it means for life to begin anyway, and if not, how can we with any authority say that it has ended?

All these questions, and yet, we are still human, whatever that is, and must "mourn" at "death." Like brick-layers in an impoverished place, we must use the materials we find around us to construct shelter, whether or not those materials can be proven truly suited to our purpose.
posted by bingo at 8:59 AM on October 10, 2004


posted by andrew cooke at 2:24 PM on October 10, 2004

I can't believe no one has mentioned "How to deconstruct almost anything" yet.

Professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies in their professional life find themselves communicating principally with other professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies. They also, of course, communicate with students, but students don't really count....

What you have is rather like birds on the Galapagos islands -- an isolated population with unique selective pressures resulting in evolutionary divergence from the mainland population. There's no reason you should be able to understand what these academics are saying because, for several generations, comprehensibility to outsiders has not been one of the selective criteria to which they've been subjected. What's more, it's not particularly important that they even be terribly comprehensible to each other, since the quality of academic work, particularly in the humanities, is judged primarily on the basis of politics and cleverness. In fact, one of the beliefs that seems to be characteristic of the postmodernist mind set is the idea that politics and cleverness are the basis for all judgments about quality or truth, regardless of the subject matter or who is making the judgment. A work need not be right, clear, original, or connected to anything outside the group. Indeed, it looks to me like the vast bulk of literary criticism that is published has other works of literary criticism as its principal subject, with the occasional reference to the odd work of actual literature tossed in for flavoring from time to time.

posted by bashos_frog at 3:43 PM on October 10, 2004

posted by andrew cooke at 4:46 PM on October 10, 2004

I thought the obit from The Guardian was acutally quite good.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:40 PM on October 10, 2004

His life followed a birth-school-work-death narrative whether he wanted it to or not.


posted by Joey Michaels at 2:31 AM on October 11, 2004

His life followed a birth-school-work-death narrative whether he wanted it to or not.

It's your description, not his life.
posted by semmi at 10:47 AM on October 11, 2004

It's your description, not his life.

Yes, the map is quite definitely not the territory.

But this exchange does illustrate the tension between the ideologies of pure social constructionism and embodied relationialism.
posted by meehawl at 1:37 PM on October 11, 2004

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