Tricky evasive rhetoric chapter 7863. A complaint about the New York Times’ obituary of Derrida. The obit was rather unfriendly, I noticed it at the time, but this article – well let’s have a look.
Derrida had advanced deconstruction as a challenge to unquestioned assumptions of the Western philosophical tradition.
Unquestioned assumptions? Really? Derrida single-handedly woke philosophy from its dogmatic slumbers? The ‘Western philosophical tradition’ was full of assumptions that no one had ever questioned until Derrida came along? Maybe that’s not what he means to say – but if it’s not, he’s a very bad writer, because that’s certainly what the article seems to be saying. And Derrida’s fans so often do seem to say things like that – the ones in literature departments at any rate, which would explain it. It’s highly unfair, in a way, because Derrida tends to be blamed for the absurd things his fans say.
Kandell’s obit provoked an uproar among Derrida’s American admirers. Professors at the University of California, Irvine, where Derrida had lectured for years, were indignant about what they viewed as an irresponsible assault on complex thought at a time when the manichean worldview emanating from the White House encouraged “black and white thinking.”
Um – what? An assault on complex thought? So complex thought=Derrida and Derrida=complex thought? Nobody else is doing any complex thought, so therefore Derrida has to be treated with, ahem, unquestioning reverence, for the sake of complex thought? He’s the only philosopher or intellectual who does complex thought therefore he is beyond criticism? Well, the thinking behind that idea seems pretty simple at least.
I read a good memorial essay about Derrida the other day, so I know they do exist. They’re not all silly. But this one is.