Re: the death of Jacques Derrida

From: antonio callari (antonio.callari@FANDM.EDU)
Date: Wed Oct 13 2004 - 14:26:39 EDT

Anders (et al, of course.)

I believe Derrida made the point, on a number of occasions (with
time, I could track down the references) that deconstruction was not
a rejection of meanings per-se, but a philosophical position--so
necessary in an age of fetishized consciousness--to the effect that
meaning should never be taken as a given and reducible, because it is
always being re-constructed, in the hassle and bustle of live
thinking: a profound Marxist-like thought, I think. He never rejected
knowledge: on the contrary, he had a deep respect for wide and deep
knowledge, of data, of ideas, of thinkers, etc. etc. He made the
point that, indeed, deconstruction was only possible on the basis of
(more) knowledge about something--the kind of knowledge that would
lead one to recognize where the contradictions might lie, where
alternatives have been suppressed, etc. etc.: (deconstruction is
definitely NOT that anybody can say anything about anything: or that
anything that anybody says about somethiung is as valid as anything
else anybody else might say). I do think that he would have seen in
Marx's careful taking apart of the meanings of political economy a
mode of deconstruction.  (Lyotard too, a proponent of postmodernism,
made it clear that he was rejectiong not knowledge (disciplinary
knowledges, technical knowledges, results of experiments, etc.) but
Knowledge (the grand conclusions that people illegitimately derive
from their knowledges).

And i do think that Derrida can help us change society (by removing
the authority of fetishized ideas that would make us prisoners of the
world as it is--meanings as they have been constructed, realities as
they are represented, feelings as they have been authorized).  It
might even be that Derrida's mode of philosophical engagement is not
the same thing as political engagement on the front line (and i don't
think Derrida would have had a problem saying so himself), but that
is a far cry from saying that it might not be an important condition
of another mode of thinking, a prelude to a new culture of the
relationship between thinking and doing, a material condition of
social change (Marx spent most of his time managing ideas, and
developing a method for the deconstruction and critical
rearticulation of ideas).

Well ... I'm sure this could go on for ever; but .... I just think
that, for a variety of reasons, Derrida has been given a bad rap
(e.g.; that he was trying to be unclear for the sake of unclarity),
and I think we have much to lose from not seeing the kernel of his


>Dear Antonio,
>There is certainly a vulgar critisism of both Hegel, Marx and
>Derrida, that they are difficult. Kendall critisism seem clearly to
>be of that kind - judging from the letter to the editors.
>My small comment - and Eageltons discussion of post-modernism - has
>nothing to do with that. There are difficult passages in both Marx
>and Hegel, when they struggle to formulate new insights, to discuss
>all the consequences of those insights. One cannot ask for such
>creative thinking to be clear in a narrow-minded fashion. But both
>of them wanted to be understood, wanted to create meaning.
>Very often we find ourselves regretting that Marx was not clearer -
>on homogenous labour, on transformation, on the falling rate of
>profit etc. etc.
>My judgement of Derrida is based on the premiss that he did not
>"want to create meaning". That there are no eternal thruths does not
>mean that it is uninteresting to establish "stylized facts". Is it a
>fact that some races are less intelligent than others. In such cases
>to deconstruct mystical concepts like intelligence is important, but
>this is done by normal scientific procedures - advancing the
>frontier of knowledge - not by being concienciously unclear.
>That advancing our knowledge is not a linear process of progress is
>obvious, well-know examples are the geo-centric reaction to the
>originaly correct helio-centric concept of the universe. 1400 year
>of "wrong" science. The general equilibrium reaction to the dynamic
>economic thinking of Smith and Marx (much less so Ricardo) is
>another. But to advance science - a will to communication - a will
>to seek intersubjective agreed meaning is important, is an important
>part of the grand project of liberating all humans.
>It is here Derrida fails in my opinion. Derrida does not help very
>much in understanding society - and even less in trying to change
>it. We can discuss what Marx and Luxemburg meant, that's helping us
>to advance our own thinkning, Derrida is quite another cup of tea.
>Anders Ekeland

Antonio Callari
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