Deriding Derrida?

derrida-1997.jpeg

Since his death on the 8th of October, I’ve been planning to write something about Jacques Derrida. In particular, I want to write on his thought on politics, which has been key to my own work for some years now. But the time has not yet arrived. For the moment, The Nation has a very good obituary.

But, inspired by some comments from Gaby in another thread, I wanted to contest the claim that Derrida is either an impenetrable writer or an advocate of unrestrained relativism. I don’t want to argue this at length here. I’ll content myself, with a quote, and a piece of writing from Derrida.

Derrida wrote (in Limited Inc.):

I have never ‘put such concepts as truth, reference and the stability of interpretive contexts radically into question’ if ‘putting radically into question’ means contesting that there are and that there should be truth, reference and stable contexts of interpretation.

The writing I’d like to draw attention to is a talk JD gave on the occasion of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Le Monde Diplomatique in May this year. I’m happy to countersign every word.

This Europe, as a proud descendant of the Enlightenment past and a harbinger of the new Enlightenment to come, would show the world what it means to base politics on something more sophisticated than simplistic binary oppositions.

ELSEWHERE: Courtesy of Stephen Hill, a defence of Derrida by British literary theorist Terry Eagleton, a good obit from the Chronicle of Higher Education, and a tribute from colleagues at Cornell.

In this Europe it would be possible to criticise Israeli policy, especially that pursued by Ariel Sharon and backed by George Bush, without being accused of anti-semitism. In this Europe, supporting the Palestinians in their legitimate struggle for rights, land and a state would not mean supporting suicide bombing or agreeing with the anti-semitic propaganda that is rehabilitating (with sad success) the outrageous lie that is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In this Europe it would be usual to worry both about rising anti-semitism and rising Islamophobia. Sharon and his policies are not directly responsible for the rise of anti-semitism in Europe. But we must defend our right to believe that he does have something to do with it, and that he has used it as an excuse to call European Jews to Israel.

In this Europe it would be possible to criticise the policies of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz without being accused of sympathy for Saddam Hussein and his regime. In this Europe no one would be called anti-American, anti-Israeli, anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic for allying himself with those Americans, Israelis or Palestinians who bravely speak out against their own leaders,often far more vehemently than we do in Europe.

That is my dream. I am grateful to all those who help me to dream it; not only to dream, as Ramonet says, that another world is possible, but to muster the strength to do all that is needed to make it possible. This dream is shared by billions of men and women all over the world. Some day, though the work may be long and painful, a new world will be born.

I think that’s a fitting tribute to Derrida’s ethical and political aspirations. Democracy for Derrida was never a system of political institutions, but rather an ideal whose coming is always deferred. Yet its coming can be hastened by all of us. That challenge is always with us, and always lies ahead of us.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Politics - international, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
14 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

I don’t want to argue this at length either, but can’t resist quoting from an alternative view

“letter from philosopher Bryan Frances (Philosophy, Leeds), who reports he sent his own letter to The New York Times; there is no doubt he speaks for most philosophers here:

To the Editor:

Re ‘Jacques Derrida, Abstruse Theorist, Dies at 74’ (obituary, Oct. 9):

What if philosophy was baseball and Jacques Derrida a baseball player? Judging by your obituary of Derrida, the reader would get the impression that Derrida was a superstar, with a lifetime .330 batting average and over 500 home runs. In reality, he was a substitute second baseman, hitting about .255 over his career with no more than 100 homers or any other baseball accomplishments. He was a particularly flamboyant and outspoken baseball player, for certain, but one who failed to earn respect for his baseball skills.

Contrary to your obituary, Derrida’s influence in philosophy is very slim indeed in the US, UK, and Australia. In literature and other areas he might have held some respect, but in virtually all the world’s English-speaking philosophy departments, in which you’ll find attempts to formulate relatively precise views accompanied by rigorous supporting arguments, he is viewed as more a charlatan than a philosopher.”

quoted from this article

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=95

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Well, Alex, that may partly be an illustration of the long running failure to understand Continental philosophy on the part of analytical philosophers.

For an excellent analysis of how Derrida’s work is closer to analytical philosophy (particularly the work of Davidson, Quine and Wittgenstein) than many might think, and how there could be a valuable debate between the two perspectives, I’d recommend Samuel C. Wheeler’s ‘Deconstruction as Analytical Philosophy’.

http://www.sup.org/cgi-bin/search/book_desc.cgi?book_id=3752%203753

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

This will be my ignorance, but I’ve never heard of any particular philosophical contribution by Bryan Frances. A lot of people who start Doctoral studies often think that they can make a brilliant theoretical contribution. But most of us academics (and I happily include myself in this number) will always be plodders. For every Frances or Bahnisch, there are very few Derridas or Foucaults. 8 years in academia have taught me (amongst other things) that it’s a very bitchy profession, and intellectual jealousy is rampant.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Yeah, but the most important thing is to be an inspiration to your students. One of them might be a great philosopher.

Pretentious – moi? But it is true. From my university, I remember integrity much better than ideas.

Tex
Tex
2022 years ago

As far as I can tell, Jacques Derrida’s entire contribution to western thought was “things don’t always mean what they say”. Great. I figured that out in primary school.

Derrida is to Western Thought was Bo Derek is to the acting profession.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

wow, Tex, I bet you could paint like Picasso in grade 3 too…

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Mark, as it happens I heard on Radio National today a program entitled ‘Deconstructing Derrida’. Leaving aside Roger Scruton, there were useful interviews with Dr Jack Reynolds Lecturer, School of Philosophy, University of Tasmania and Paul Comrie-Thomson, recently awarded Master of Arts from the University of Sydney for his thesis on the reconciliation of the continental and Anglo-American traditions in philosophy.

There is a transcript at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/mind/stories/s1254556.htm

Reynolds has co-authored (or co-compiled) with Jon Roffe “Understanding Derrida” Continuum Press, 2004 and is author of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Derrida at http://www.iep.utm.edu/d/derrida.htm

Could be worth a look.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks, Brian!

scot mcphee
scot mcphee
2022 years ago

An additional problem to the quote about Derrida and baseball is that it assumes all (worthwhile) knowledge flows from the philosophy department. Notice the way that the possibility of Derrida’s usefulness to literature (and other) departments is merely parenthetical.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Derridda didn’t die as there is no actaul death now it is only the way you interpret it.

Gaby
Gaby
2022 years ago

I can only endorse Derrida’s political sentiments.

As for the first quote, I would reiterate that it all depends on what he means by truth, reference and stable interpretation.

There is a chapter on structuralism in Devitt and Sterelny’s excellent “Language & Reality”. They don’t consider post structuralism explicitly, but state that they consider the same objections applicable to it as they raise against structuralism and semiotics.

By the way, this book is exemplary expository philosophy by two Aussie philosophers. It is intended to be a second or third year undergrad or introductory post grad text book. But it is so clearly structured and written that it is easily accessible by an interested layperson with a smattering of undergrad philosophy. More philosophy, beyond the grist-like “intro” books, should be written in this pellucid way.

As for Derrida’s place in the philosopher’s pantheon, who honestly gives a stuff! Sic transit gloria mundi. If he is wrong, then at least his questions and approach are interesting and he is wrong in interesting ways. And could this be easily determined ex ante?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks for the heads up, Gaby.

On death, Homer, Derrida was very interested in Heidegger’s idea that the only way of living an authentic life was to adopt a posture of “being-towards-Death”. He also wrote extensively on mourning, friendship and inheritance in books such as “The Gift of Death” and “Memoires for Paul de Man”. He variously saw the death of onesself or the other as constitutive of relationships of friendship, any mode of communication (a text can be read in the absence of its author).

A book of obituaries he wrote for philosophical friends, “The Work of Mourning” is particularly moving.

And I always liked this, which he wrote about his friend, Paul de Man:

“If we have, as one says in French, ‘la morte dans l’ame’, death in the soul, it is because from now on we are destined to speak of Paul de Man, instead of speaking to and with him, destined to speak of the teacher and of the friend whom he remains for so many of us, whereas the most vivid desire and the one which, within us, has been most cruelly battered, the most forbidden desire from now on, would still be to speak, still, to Paul, to hear him and to respond to him. Not just within ourselves, (we will continue, and I will continue to do that endlessly), but to speak to him and to hear him, himself, speaking to us. That’s the impossible and we can no longer even take the measure of this wound.”

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Scot, Derrida himself was very interested in the way philosophy had positioned itself as a master discourse – and of the politics of how disciplines are reproduced. “Mochlos, or the Conflict of the Faculties”, an essay published in a book called ‘Logomachia’, reflects on Kant’s hierarchisation of the disciplines and the privilege he accorded to philosophy.

So, yeah.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

I wrote my MFA thesis on deconstruction and Kant’s aesthetics of the sublime – so I’d agree that all wisdom doesn’t reside in philosophy depts…