Re: the death of Jacques Derrida

From: Anders Ekeland (anders.ekeland@ONLINE.NO)
Date: Wed Oct 13 2004 - 13:27:44 EDT

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 

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

At 16:53 13.10.2004, antonio callari wrote:
>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

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