Famous for Being Famous for Being Famous
And now back to the cult. Because the cult is interesting, cultishness is interesting, and above all, this kind of hyperbolic giddy gushing cultishness in people who (to all appearances) pride themselves above all on critical thinking, on looking closely at rhetoric, on peering behind the screen, on criticising ‘philosophical presumptions,’ on knowing ‘how to read’ – is so interesting as to be almost hypnotic.
So, here we are at the London Review of Books and here is Judith Butler Superstar again, writing about Derrida again.
First there are two paragraphs of resounding banalities. Then we start the third:
It is surely uncontroversial to say that Jacques Derrida was one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century; his international reputation far exceeds that of any other French intellectual of his generation. More than that, his work fundamentally changed the way in which we think about language, philosophy, aesthetics, painting, literature, communication, ethics and politics.
Noooo, it’s not uncontroversial at all. As ‘surely’ Butler must know. Unless she just really never does read anything or talk to anyone at all outside the world of ‘theory’? But even then you would think whispers would have got through. So why does she say that? To try to convince, presumably. It is surely uncontroversial to say that up is down. Right. And then no sooner are we past the uncontroversial bit and the ‘one of the greatest’ bit, than we get to the real clincher – the obsession of the theory crowd – his reputation. Okay, so this is what I don’t get. Reputation. Fame, renown, notoriety, superstardom, being heard of. Wouldn’t you think that this whole business of ‘fame,’ of who decides it, where it comes from, how it is conferred, what we’re doing when we talk about it, why we think it matters, how we measure it, how we use it to impress or convince or flatter or self-flatter; what a contemporary obsession it is, how new the resources are for creating it, how that influences the way we think about various things; wouldn’t you think that sort of thing would be exactly the kind of thing that self-described ‘theorists’ would be keen to interrogate and examine and re-think? To be, in short, a little distanced and detached and critical and skeptical of? Wouldn’t you? Above all, wouldn’t you think they would be interested in how very socially constructed it is? How the opposite of self-evident or ‘natural’ it is? And above all above all, wouldn’t you think it would occur to her that that international reputation is in fact the creation of people like her endlessly talking about Derrida’s international reputation? They create his fame in the very act of talking about it so obsessively. He’s ‘famous’ in the sense that he gets mentioned a lot, by the people who mention him a lot, because he’s so famous. It could hardly be any more tightly circular and self-enforcing.
So there you have it – one of the great ironies of our time. People who think they’re experts on challenging ‘philosophical presumptions’ who yet go in for such gormless fame-worship and deification. Very odd indeed.