Re: the death of Jacques Derrida

From: antonio callari (antonio.callari@FANDM.EDU)
Date: Wed Oct 13 2004 - 10:53:58 EDT

Dear OPE-Lers:
  Here is a letter to the Times about Derrida (and views of him)
written by a number of scholars in response to the vapid obituary the
times published.  About Derrida's use of abstract and difficult
language: I'm reminded of Marx's reaction to the his contemporaries'
taking to treating Hegel as a dead dog (he was also difficult and
philosophical): Marx actually structured Capital in a manner that
highlighted the critical powers of philosophical contradiction:
deconstruction is a version of that (in its own context, the context
of our times--whatever Eagleton might think).

To the Editor:

Jonathan Kandell’s obituary article on Jacques Derrida, published in
the NYT of October 10th, is as mean-spirited as it is uninformed. To
characterize Derrida, one of the most important philosophers of the
twentieth century, as an “Abstruse Theorist” who is “notoriously
difficult,” is to employ criteria, such as simplicity or transparency,
which would disqualify virtually all the significant thinkers of the
past century, including Einstein, Wittgenstein, and Heisenberg.

Worse, with scarcely concealed xenophobia, Derrida’s work, and
deconstruction generally, is described as yet another of those
“fashionable, slippery philosophies that … emerged from France after
World War II,” which “many Americans, in particular,” felt were
“undermining many of the traditional standards of classical
as well as encouraging “divisive political causes.” In fact,
writing has been focused on the major works of the Western Tradition,
from Plato, Aristotle, and the Bible to Shakespeare, Kant, and the
Declaration of Independence - none of which he ever suggested we
should discard as the products of “dead white men,” as Mr. Kandell
implies. As for political causes, Derrida was a tireless critic of
apartheid and racism in all its forms.

While he asserts without further evidence that “literary critics”
under the baneful influence of deconstruction allegedly “broke texts
into isolated passages and phrases to find hidden meanings,” Mr.
Kandell himself does precisely this when he quotes several isolated
statements without ever trying to indicate their possible context.
They then are designated as “typical of Mr. Derrida’s murky
explanations of his philosophy.” (One of the quotes he attributes to
Derrida, “O my friend, there is no friend,” is in fact from

In short, this text confirms one of the few sensible quotes it
contains: “Many otherwise unmalicious people have in fact been guilty
of wishing for deconstruction’s demise-if only to relieve themselves
of the burden of trying to understand it.” Whether Mr. Kandall’s
article is “unmalicious” we will leave to others to decide. There
be no question, however, that his article does everything it can to
“relieve” readers “of the burden of trying to understand”
Derrida and deconstruction, by announcing the demise of both.

Although a newspaper article may not be the best place for sustained
  discussion of difficult topics, The New York Times has done itself
and its readers a disservice in publishing such an unbalanced and
unqualified article as its official obituary. It can only be hoped
that in the future it will make its pages available to other, more
informed points of view.

Samuel Weber, Avalon Foundation Professor of Humanities, Northwestern

Kenneth Reinhard, Associate Professor of English and Comparative
Literature, UCLA

   Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Avalon Foundation Professor in the
Humanities, Columbia University

   Eric L. Santner, Philip and Ida Romberg Professor of Modern German
Studies, The University of Chicago.

   J. Hillis Miller, Distinguished Research Professor of English and
Comparative Literature, U. of Cal. at Irvine

   Patricia Dailey, Assistant Professor of English and Comparative
Literature, Columbia University

   Julia Reinhard Lupton, Professor of English and Comparative
Literature, UC Irvine

   Thomas Keenan, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Bard

   Mark Strand, Poet Laureate; Andrew Mc Leish Distinguished Service
Professor, University of Chicago

   Carol Jacobs, Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Yale

   Emily Apter, Professor of French, NYU

   Karen Lawerence, Dean of Humanities, UC Irvine

   Amy Hollywood, Professor of Theology and the History of
Christianity, University of Chicago

   Henry Sussman, Dept. of Germanic Languages & Literatures, Yale

   Michael Hardt, Associate Professor of Literature, Duke University

   Jonathan Arac, Harriman Professor of English and Comparative
Literature, Columbia University

   Eleanor Kaufman, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, UCLA

   Drew Daniel and Martin Schmitt, Matmos

   Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Distinguished Professor of English, Brown
University; Braxton Craven Professor of Comparative Literature and
English, Duke University.

   Marie-Rose Logan, Adjunct Professor, Columbia University

   Rainer Nagele, Professor of German, The Johns Hopkins University

   Srinivas Aravamudan, Director, Franklin Humanities Institute
Associate Professor, Department of English, Duke University

   Ranjana Khanna, Associate Professor of English, the Program in
Literature, and Women's Studies Duke University

   Anthony Vidler, Dean and Professor, Irwin S. Chanin School of
Architecture Cooper Union, New York.

   Bruce Robbins, Professor of English and Comparative Literature,
Columbia University

   Jody Greene, Associate Professor of Literature, University of
California, Santa Cruz

   Dalia Judovitz, NEH Professor of French, Emory University

   Peter Fenves, Professor of German, Northwestern University

   Geoffrey Bennington, Asa G. Candler Professor of Modern French
Thought, Emory University

   Elissa Marder, Associate Professor of French, Director,
Psychoanalytic Studies Program, Emory University

Antonio Callari
POST MAIL:      Department of Economics
                 Franklin and Marshall College
                 Lancaster PA 17604-3003
PHONE:          717/291-3947
FAX:            717/291-4369

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Oct 15 2004 - 00:00:01 EDT