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Jacques Derrida, requiescat in pace, and may his work trouble us all

A reader writes in to ask whether I might not be less glib on the occasion of Jacques Derrida’s death.  Well, actually, I might not, depending on whether I have an extended free moment for such things on a weekend-- never a given in my household.  Usually, I have to wait until everyone’s asleep but me.  Like now!

And then I find in my trackbacks that even Simon over at the Blogging of the President has been touched by this death but isn’t quite sure what this Derrida fellow was on about.  So maybe it might make sense for me to post here the first intro-to-Derrida I wrote for advanced undergraduates, in a postmodernism-and-literature seminar I taught way back in 1991.  It’s not a comprehensive introduction to everything Derridean; it’s just a guide to one difficult and important essay, “Signature Event Context.” But here goes.

(Warning:  If I have any readers out there who want to complain that this intro gives short shrift to John Searle’s reply to “Signature Event Context” and to Derrida’s reply to John Searle’s reply, I want to suggest in advance that such readers would do better to go register new Democratic voters in Ohio, New Mexico, Missouri, and Florida.)

So then, here’s the intro.  Remember, it dates from 1991, so add a decade or so to all the decade references:

Part of the reason nonacademic readers dismiss deconstruction is that they don’t understand it, and part of the reason they don’t understand it is that it is indeed quite difficult to understand.  I will never comprehend why it is, however, that so many critics of Anglo-American modernist literature condemn contemporary literary theory for being too abstruse, impenetrable, self-delighting and perverse.  These are, after all, precisely the charges that were brought against modern literature seventy years ago; when defenders of modernism (which is itself now “classic,” and can therefore be defended as such, just as “classic rock” is defended by the thirtysomething crowd against punk, hardcore, rap, and other kinds of contemporary noise) turn against the kinds of writing which are in some sense descended from modernism (ask me sometime about the stylistic link between Beckett and Derrida!), well, I’m just confused.  Anyway, reading “Signature Event Context” will be for you, perhaps, something like what reading excerpts of Finnegans Wake was for me in 1982, my senior year in college.  Not everything here is going to make sense, and even the stuff that’s fairly sensible is going to be phrased strangely enough to make its apprehension rather difficult.  Hence this handy user’s guide.

Derrida’s purpose here is to inquire into, and undo, common-sense theories of meaning, writing, and “communication.” He begins with some characteristically bewildering wordplay, by noting that the word “communication” can be used in a “non-semiotic” sense, to describe (for example) adjoining rooms connected by a doorway or other passage:  our classroom communicates with the English Building’s atrium.  Is it the case, asks Derrida, that the linguistic sense of “communication” is derived from this nonlinguistic sense?  --that physical communication (through passageways) is the “literal” meaning of communication, and semiotic communications (like the one I’m writing) are merely metaphors of physical communication?  No, says Derrida, partly because

the value of displacement, of transport, etc., is precisely constitutive of the concept of metaphor with which one claims to comprehend the semantic displacement that is brought about from communication as a non-semiotic phenomenon to communication as a semio-linguistic phenomenon.

Clear as mud, no?  In more ordinary language, Derrida’s point is that we can’t very well speak of linguistic communication as a “metaphor” for physical communication, because we would therefore be assuming that “metaphor” itself is a communication, a passageway, between “literal” and “figurative” meanings of things; and if we assume that, then we assume we know what the literal meaning of something is, what its figurative ("metaphorical") meaning is, and-- most of all-- how we get from one to other and back again.

Of course, we make these assumptions all the time:  we think that we all have “mouths” in a literal sense, that there are “mouths” of rivers or bottles in a figurative sense, and all we have to do to shuttle from one meaning to the other is to get on the metaphor bus that communicates between the two.  (But the problem here is:  did I just use “shuttle” and “bus” to communicate figuratively the meaning of metaphor as communication?  And if so, then how did I do that?) Derrida goes on to argue that this theory of meaning rests on some fundamental, and fundamentally shaky, assumptions about writing and intention.  Our first example here is Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, an eighteenth-century French philosopher whom Derrida takes (correctly) as a representative example of the Western philosophical tradition in these matters.  According to Condillac, people write because they have something to express and to communicate-- namely, thoughts-- to other people who aren’t around at the moment.  In the philosophical tradition inaugurated by Plato, “writing” is merely a derivative of speech, which is immediate, present, and direct, whereas writing is predicated on the absence of its receiver, and, worse, on the absence of its sender as well.  The idea of Western philosophy, then, is that we (including Western philosophers) have ideas, intentions, and thoughts; we want to represent these in language; and we would do so in speech but for the fact that all our addressees aren’t here right now, so we have to use writing instead.

OK, so far so good:  Condillac’s theory is that writing is a representation of speech, which is in turn a representation ("expression") of thought.  For Condillac, it doesn’t matter whether we use pictures, hieroglyphs, or language to communicate, because each kind of transcription is a communication.  Language, like all signs, refers to objects and to thoughts.

But, Derrida replies, Condillac’s theory itself, like Plato’s, requires that writing (and all signs) be iterable, that is, repeatable in any context whatsoever, just as this very introduction to Derrida I’m writing now must be able to signify as an introduction to Derrida after this semester is over [hey! like now!], after I’m dead, after you cease to read it, after the expiration of every element of the context in which I am composing it now.  That, writes Derrida, is the very condition of writing itself, without which we simply do not recognize writing as such:  if the writing is not “iterable,” it is not writing.

But does the writing “mean the same thing” each time it is iterated? Do my thoughts, represented in my writing for my current purpose, persist unmodified in other, as yet unimaginable contexts?  That’s what Derrida sets out to ask, and his answer, in brief, is that “every sign, linguistic or nonlinguistic, spoken or written . . . can be cited, put in quotation marks; in so doing it can break with every given context, engendering an infinity of new contexts in a manner which is absolutely illimitable.” I imagine that the applicability of this formulation to Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 is pretty obvious, but we can discuss it further in class, since it’s not a simple proposition by any means.

[Though I should add that anyone who’s stayed with this blog through the hyperreal Tristero/Killian Memo moment has already experienced this principle in action.]

And now let’s move on to example number two, who’s much more interesting.

Our next guest is J. L. Austin, whom Derrida discusses in the second half of the essay.  In 1960, Austin published a series of lectures entitled How to Do Things with Words, which has contributed significantly to the recent rethinking of most of Western philosophy’s theory of language.  Austin points out that when we think of language as reference or representation, we are thinking only of “descriptive” sentences like “the sky is blue” or “the cat is on the mat”; we are usually not thinking of sentences like “I now pronounce you husband and wife” or “we hereby declare this contract null and void,” which are different kinds of sentence altogether.  When, for example, the Federal Reserve Bank declares that “this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private,” you do not take your $20 bill to the Federal Reserve and ask, “but how do you know?”.  This is the kind of utterance Austin calls “performative,” because it does not describe; it just does, and it just so happens that John Searle has dined out on the example of the $20 bill many a time.  Descriptive utterances, on the other hand, are what Austin calls “constative”: think of a reporter in the courtroom who tells us, after a judge has sentenced a defendant, that the judge has sentenced the defendant.  The difference between a judge’s utterance and a reporter’s is the difference between performative and constantive utterances in Austin’s theory.

This is one of the few theories of language in Western thought that does not depend on reference and intentionality:  I don’t have to intend a performative to utter one; all I have to do is recite a formula, plug in the rules, make sure all the context is in order, and presto!  I’ve married someone.  But is it really that simple?  What if I was joking when I pronounced you husband and wife?  What if someone in a play says “I hereby condemn you to death”?  Are these properly executed performative utterances?  No, writes Austin; if I am to utter a performative and make it work, I must do so with a proper intention as well as in the proper context: “I must not be joking, for example, or writing a poem” (Austin 9).  Well, that makes sense.  But then Austin goes and does something odd-- he refers to the nonserious performative as being somehow “parasitic” on the serious performative.  Parasitic?  Derrida says-- oh, you mean it’s marginal and unimportant but also somehow dangerous and . . . supplemental?  Now Derrida’s going to have some fun.  Just as he danced around Jean-Jacques Rousseau for referring to writing (and masturbation!) as “that dangerous supplement,” showing that the “supplement” is at once (a) the unnecessary, extraneous thing and (b) the absolutely necessary thing that completes something, and just as he showed in “Plato’s Pharmacy” that the pharmakon is at once (a) a poison and (b) a cure, so now he’s going to do that deft slicing-and-dicing with the idea of the “parasitical,” arguing-- hold onto your armrests-- that the serious performative can be understood as a “special case” of the nonserious performative and that for all his admirable inattention to intention, Austin’s serious performatives finally depend on a single thinking subject who intends things to happen.  This, Derrida suggests, poses more problems for Austin’s “speech act” theory than he lets on. 

At the close of the essay Derrida discusses signatures; it turns out that Austin tends to prefer performative utterances in the first person, present tense, indicative mood, active voice ("I hereby declare"), because they seem to be so clearly and unambiguously intentional (there’s another problem here, which Austin does acknowledge-- namely, that affixing “I hereby declare that” to any sentence can transform your boring garden-variety constantive utterance into an exciting, dynamic performative:  I hereby declare that the sky is blue!).  And Austin writes that even writing can secure the intention of its author in this way-- if we take, for example, the kind of writing known as the signature.  Surely, the signature is concrete evidence of intention, the trace of someone’s intent to authorize and to sign?  Surely when we sign something, we have a thought that is present to our consciousness, a thought we deliberately represent in language, and which we “put in writing” for all time?  To get a handle on Derrida’s dramatic answer-- and his own counterfeited signature, signed by himself at the very end of the essay-- think of how curious it is (as Jonathan Culler points out) that you can cash paychecks signed by a machine, a machine reproducing the signature of a person who most likely never had a specific mental event that we could call an “intention” to “pay to the order of you” any sum at all.

Questions, anyone?  Once again, Charles Krauthammer has first dibs.

(Corrected for clarity and late-night fatigue.)

Posted by on 10/09 at 07:01 PM
  1. Thanks for that. I bet your students learned a lot. I’m envious of them in a Terminator-ish, wanna-go-back-in-time way.

    Posted by Charlie Bertsch  on  10/09  at  10:17 PM
  2. As a hapless college drop-in and former non-deconstruction worker, I’m grateful for the remedial perplexity.  Sleep is in order now, and a re-perusal for tomorrow.

    Posted by  on  10/09  at  11:35 PM
  3. Nicely done Michael. Derrida’s philosophy has been the subject of countless panels and articles in political theory. Having participated in a number of these, I learned to anticipate the criticism that Derrida was not a “serious” philosopher. But his descriptions of language and linguistic features—the play of signifiers, trace, hinges, ecriture, and what Jack Balkin has called the uncontrollability of rhetoric—sent us all back into deep reflection on what it means to read and write. What could be more serious for philosophers and theorists born into a culture that values speed and efficiency above all else? We learned to resist the belief that we used language, and to accept the Heideggerian idea that,if anything, language uses us even as it lacks essence. We learned to express thinking as slow play.

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  04:55 AM
  4. the value of displacement, of transport, etc., is precisely constitutive of the concept of metaphor with which one claims to comprehend the semantic displacement that is brought about from communication as a non-semiotic phenomenon to communication as a semio-linguistic phenomenon.

    Good thing I studied engineering.  Holy crap.

    But isn’t metaphor always a kind of communication?  Even if it fails, as in someone derives an unintended figurative meaning from a literal statement, it was still communication.  The key to writing, it seems, would be to ensure that future iterations of the text don’t create different literal meanings.  Or is that always impossible? 

    Or should I just stick to working with computers?

    Posted by thehim  on  10/10  at  06:19 AM
  5. I’m probably way off the mark here, but does this remind anyone else of old formal definitions of sacraments?  ("Which signify that which they confer” or something like that.) As well as their necessary conditions (proper form, matter, and substance), and maybe even the distinction between “valid” and “licit”?  Anyone?

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  06:55 AM
  6. Yes, thehim, it’s a kind of communication.  The question is, what kind?  And the answer is, hard to say-- because all definitions will implicate themselves in a weird kind of metalinguistic way.

    Derrida is at his best, I think, when he points out meta- problems like this.  Here’s another (more readable) example from “Plato’s Pharmacy,” which I taught last month in my Intro to Grad Studies course:

    “It is not enough to say that writing is conceived out of this or that series of oppositions.  Plato thinks of writing, and tries to comprehend it, to dominate it, on the basis of opposition as such.  In order for these contrary values (good/evil, true/false, essence/appearance, inside/outside, etc.) to be in opposition, each of the terms must be simply external to the other, which means that one of these oppositions (the opposition between inside and outside) must already be accredited as the matrix of all possible opposition.  And one of the elements of the system (or the series) must also stand as the very possibility of systematicity or seriality in general.”

    Derrida’s point here is that in Plato, the pharmakon, writing, is both a term in that series (speech/writing) and the thing that makes possible the series in the first place.  It does a kind of unacknowledged double duty, just as the idea of metaphor as a “carrying-across” from the literal to the figurative employs a possibly metaphorical (?) idea of metaphor.

    I think one reason Derrida was as influential as he was-- and more in literature departments than philosophy departments-- is that he convinced many of us who work with language that our material really is as slippery and as elusive as all that.  Not all the time, of course (which is what a sensible Wittgensteinian would say:  the sign-post is in order if under ordinary circumstances it fulfills its purpose), but in principle, which is kind of unsettling.

    And the craiger:  it’s safe to say that the relation between theories of language and theories of divinity goes way, way back-- and if there’s one thing that deconstruction is skeptical of, it’s precisely that kind of “ontotheological” notion of full presence marked by beings who say “I AM THAT AM,” signs that are their own fulfillments, and sacraments that signify that which they confer.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/10  at  07:04 AM
  7. Even after Michael’s explanation, I am left with Chomsky’s critique of the social “sciences” that produced Derrida.  Chomsky has written of the obtuse nomenclature that comes with people who want to tell us what Derrida wants to tell us, i.e. the inherent ambiguity of language.  This is how, for example, Alan Sokal was able to play the prank on the Derrida acolytes some years ago, for even the practioners of this obtuseness don’t understand what they’re saying.  On another level, it’s like when Oprah said to Toni Morrison, “I love you and your books, but often find your writing hard to read” and Morrison said, “It’s supposed to be hard.” No, it’s not Toni and no it’s not as complicated as Derrida wants to make it, either.

    Second, EP Thompson and Michael Harrington have written that the tradition from which Derrida springs is not much different than old time Sophists who allowed the inherent ambiguity of language to overwhelm common sense.  Yes, we know that what someone writes or says may contain aspects the writer or speaker doesn’t see him/herself.  Yes, we know that someone can read someone else’s writing and come away with a whole different understanding than the author intended. 

    Third, contrary to the assumption I sense in Foucault, Derrida, and Fish, among others, our human inability to provide a perfect general definition of truth does not negate truth and beauty or render it fully relativistic.  Worse, such a mindset often leads to giving up on truth as a worhty societal goal.  If Michael believed that, he wouldn’t care about Bush’s lies, for example.  It is at this point that one must push Derrida away and reach for EP Thompson’s “Poverty of Theory,” which beat the daylights out of the French philosophical tradition from which Derrida comes (Thompson’s attack on French Marxism is devastating, as it comes from Thompson, known in many circles as a British Marxist).  Truth is found in the particulars more often than not and that is how one recognizes that there are often two rights to choose from.  It is a struggle to seek truth, but one from which we should not blink.

    In closing, while I found Michael’s explanation helpful, I find the parts of Derrida’s writings he describes that make sense are rather commonplace to anyone who has read others, from various Talmudic scholars to EP Thompson and Michael Harrington.  Also, the insights Michael finds compelling in Derrida have been better explained by legal scholars who mine more effectively the inherent ambiguity of language and the “fiction” of law that has real effect and hold socieities together.  See: Ronald Dworkin or even Alan Dershowitz’s “The Genesis of Justice” (My disagreements with Alan Dersh on a number of issues can be passionate, but this particular book was brilliant!)

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  07:20 AM
  8. Michael, thanks for the response.  Very kind, considering my lack of understanding.  One more question, then I’ll bug off:  if metaphor can’t be trusted, what then of analogy?  Is it in any way useful to say things are “like” each other, if we do not consider which “comes first”?

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  07:34 AM
  9. Mitchell, one quick thing:  the Sokal hoax was not about Derrida (you will search in vain for a mention of Derrida in Fashionable Nonsense, too), and it got by Andrew Ross, Stanley Aronowitz et al. at Social Text (not a Derrida-acolyte journal, for the record) not because they couldn’t spot nonsense about language and Continental philosophy but because they couldn’t spot nonsense about theoretical mathematics and physics.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/10  at  07:36 AM
  10. And the craiger, why can’t we speak of likeness without saying which comes first?  The whole “which comes first” thing is where Derrida has a field day-- even going so far as to suggest that we might understand performative utterances by studying their nonserious rather than their serious uses (and why not?).

    Personally, I find analogy fascinating-- the ability to abstract certain features of X and liken them to certain features of Y is really quite an odd mental operation, as I learned when Jamie began to construct his own analogies at the age of seven (telling me that the llama had four legs like Lucy, his dog).  And hey, speaking of which, did you know that Dred Scott was just like Roe v. Wade?

    Posted by Michael  on  10/10  at  07:40 AM
  11. It may be true that the insights one can glean from Derrida may be found elsewhere.  In point of fact, however, many disciplines in the humanities gleaned those insights from Derrida and not from elsewhere, and even if Derrida wasn’t the best possible way for them to get their ideas, that’s what happened.  For many people, it seems as though the ideal scenario would be one in which we would have still learned everything we learned from Derrida, but in which Derrida himself would have played no role—as if finally, the disturbing thing is that this particular person played a decisive role, as if the very fact that he was so influential is prima facie evidence that he didn’t deserve to be so influential.

    Posted by Adam Kotsko  on  10/10  at  07:49 AM
  12. Does Derrida really mean “iterable?” Why not “immutable,” “unchangeable,” “permanent,” etc? Is “iterable” used to draw attention to the notion that whenever a sentence is encountered, it is in some sense repeated, performed again but at a different time?

    Also, perhaps I’m misunderstanding Derrida here, but is he implying that because the meaning of text is not precisely “iterable” therefore all meanings are ultimately flat, ie, equal to each other? I think not, but I’m curious what his criteria might be for organizing texts by relevance.

    EG, I would suspect that few would disagree that Moby Dick is, among other things, a story about a whale and a sea captain. Likewise, few would agree that Moby Dick is a story about the Weimar Republic.

    Now, one can with varying degrees of difficulty construct a bridge of metaphors between almost any two subjects, and then the economic world of the Pequod can be shown to eerily prefigure both the preconditions and the tragedies of Weimar, the white whale symbolizing the hyper-inflation experienced or something.

    Nevertheless, all of us have a sense of “proximal” meanings, that somehow the notion that a story of captain and a whale somehow describes MD “closer,” perhaps “better,” than many other descriptions.

    I don’t see Derrida addressing this.

    Or perhaps I don’t understand the point.

    Or perhaps both.


    Posted by tristero  on  10/10  at  08:34 AM
  13. Michael,

    Point taken on Sokal hoax. That’s what I get from going on memory about who is on the roster of Social Text.  Aronowitz should definitely have known better without having to know about math and physics beyond high school--or a reading of Gould’s or Feynman’s mainstream work.

    However, I will say what I wrote was about Chomsky’s point concerning the “social science” area inventing obtuse nomenclature that does little to explain things in a way that those outside the academy can understand remains valid in this discussion of Derrida.

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  08:35 AM
  14. RE: Mr. Kotsko’s point that somehow people like Thompson and Harrington “got” the point of Derrida’s insight about ambiguity of understanding from Derrida is simply not correct. One can go back to Hume, to take one example of the top of my head, for similar insights and not miss Derrida in the least.  Derrida is simply not worthy of inclusion in the top level “list” of learned people who needs to be read by college students or anyone else for that matter. There are other far more worthy people to read on such subjects, including EP Thompson, who for some reason lack the superstar status Derrida has had--perhaps for the same reason Harrington is not read:  They lacked the proper academic credentials.  Sorry to say it that way, but anyone reading Russell Jacoby’s “The Last Intellectuals” may understand.

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  08:42 AM
  15. Posted by Michael  on  10/10  at  08:55 AM
  16. Mitchell, you’re reminding me why Russell Jacoby shouldn’t be relied on sometimes.  Sorry to say it this way, but he’s got a stick about “academic credentials” lodged so deep in his craw that he just can’t digest certain foods properly.  I mean, come on-- Kenneth Burke didn’t have the proper cred either, and scholars of rhetoric have no trouble hailing him as one of the most interesting and influential figures of the past century.  And comparing Derrida and E. P. Thompson sounds to me like comparing Heidegger and Hobsbawm.  Or apples and pomegranates.

    As for Chomsky, the whole “why-don’t-people-just-talk-plain” thing on the left just annoys me to hell.  Now, I don’t write like Derrida-- my prose model, as a teenager, was Ellen Willis, and (to borrow a turn of phrase from Paul Berman) I’m more about Harrington than Heidegger, too.  But have you looked at Chomsky’s work in linguistics recently?  Jesus’ mother, those friggin’ linguists talk so weird!  The philosophers too-- sure, Hume is readable, but that Hegel!  There’s no hope for him.

    Look, your writing and mine is pretty lucid, as these things go.  But really, m’fren’, let’s not get into that whole supremely arrogant Chomsky/Jacoby business of telling Derrida-- or Toni Morrison, for that matter-- that writing shouldn’t be hard.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/10  at  09:07 AM
  17. Chomsky’s linguistic stuff is hard to read, but not at the level of Derrida’s sentences.  I often find what is hard to read in Chomsky’s lingustic stuff relates precisely to biology, which, I as the modern humanities guy, has a hard time getting. Even Stephen Gould’s “science-audience only” writing is hard, but again, not like Derrida’s, which is on a subject, philosophy, that should be understandable to any educated layperson who reads him.

    Your point about Kenneth Burke being cited by scholars of rhetoric is the exception that proves the rule on credentials. Jacoby’s position holds many more examples than counterexamples, which is why one may only “sometimes” disagree with his position.

    It is not “apples to pomegranates” to compare “Hobsbawm to Heidegger.” The worst I can say is that my pro-historians’ bias is showing because, by and large, historians and sociologists live in the particular not the abstract and therefore have to constantly test their theories if they maintain any intellectual rigor.  Can any philosopher meet that rigor? Of course.  Bertrand Russell did, Searle does, to take two quick examples.  One does not have to agree with either man on particulars to see that, either.

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  09:33 AM
  18. Mitchell,

    If you’re having trouble understanding Derrida, I recommend the following method (in two steps, no less):
    1. Plow through without stressing out too much about the fact that you can’t understand every individual sentence.  That way you get a general idea of the shape of his argument and what’s at stake.
    2. Read it a second time.  Wow!  All of a sudden, you start to understand things that seemed impenetrable on the first reading. 

    I am neither a super-genius nor schizophrenic, and this method has worked wonders in my reading of Derrida (and in my reading of Thomas Pynchon—anyone will tell you that you have to read Lot 49 twice through, and that doesn’t make it the shittiest book in the world).  And I’ll go even further: if this method is followed, then any educated layman who approaches a Derrida text (without the a priori assumption that it is completely stupid and worthless) will be able to understand what he’s saying. 

    I believe we should extend the same courtesy to any philosopher.  After all, I doubt that the average educated layman completely followed every argument in The Republic or the Principia or Critique of Pure Reason the first time through. 

    So try my method, then get back to me if it doesn’t work.  Thanks.

    Posted by Adam Kotsko  on  10/10  at  10:03 AM
  19. As a devotee of Paul Ricoeur, whose work was largely shoved into the background of philosophic and literary discourse by the chicness of Derrida and deconstruction, I have to say that I agree with what Mr. Freedman says above. But only to an extent. While I decry the lack of attention that Ricoeur’s work has received, I recognize as well that it owes a debt, and a very large one at that, to the work of Derrida if only because of Ricoeur’s effort to respond to the challenge posed by Derrida. While Ricoeur’s work certainly can stand on its own, one gains a much greater understanding of the relevance of it to the present era, and of the relevance of philosophy to life in general, reading it as engaging arguments that, however evident they may be in other places and/or in the past, Derrida really brought to a fine point (and come to think of it, could we even think of these other arguments as being present in the terms we do were it not for Derrida? It seems to me the refusal of his influence is an even more forceful acknowledgment of it than those who simply admit that influence). I would even go so far as to say that Ricoeur even invites such a comparison; he acknowledges a debt to Derrida’s “The White Mythology” in his “Rule of Metaphor” even as he disputes (quite effectively I might add) Derrida’s position. Indeed, I would go so far as to venture that one could even chart the trajectory of Ricoeur’s work from “The Rule of Metaphor,” through the volumes of the masterful “Time and Narrative,” their semi-conclusion in “Oneself as Another,” and finally the recent “Memory, History, Forgetting,” against Derrida. Which, once again, is not to say that Ricoeur’s work can not stand on his own or that Derrida is somehow the only condition of possibility of Ricoeur’s work. Rather, as I believe Ricoeur would say, philosophy’s meaning and value is only in as far as it engages the world outside of it. It has to be open to all and exclude none if it is to achieve such an end. Thus I find it problematic, to say the least, to speak of “worth” in this context. And I think it a disservice to Derrida, whose work probably did more than any other to make it possible to decry the notable omissions from current academic discourse Mr. Freedman mentions, and philosophers like Ricouer struggling to keep philosophy true to its roots as a guide to living. As the complexity of Derrida’s prose and the density of Ricoeur’s philosophy (and vice-versa) demonstrates, such an effort is fraught with peril, to say the least, precisely because it seeks to engage the world on its own terms. I agree with Michael: may Derrida rest in peace and may his work continue to trouble us.

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  10:20 AM
  20. Posted by  on  10/10  at  11:12 AM
  21. I searched Google for “Kotkso” and nothing turned up.  Who is this person?

    Posted by Adam Kotsko  on  10/10  at  11:32 AM
  22. Aw--Schoolmarm Adam!  Yes, although you are incapable of Modus Ponens, ya got me on the spelling bee. Kostko?

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  11:40 AM
  23. Posted by tristero  on  10/10  at  11:47 AM
  24. Adam,

    Your explanation combined with Michael’s gives me reason to try Derrida again because it is clear you and I share various touchstones of agreement (I saw your web site and we are both fans of Calvin & Hobbes).  I also greatly admire Michael’s work, as Michael knows.  In fact, I think he’s much better than Derrida, which obviously would make him wince!  It is what pains me as I argue what I argue above and I am thankful to be able to even have this argument at all. 

    Unlike you and Michael, “low rent empiricism” may agree more with me, but he wants to get personal with you and others who defend Derrida.  I also don’t dance on Derrida’s grave.  I just think there should be room for Thompson and Harrington in academia and know the amount of room is finite.

    I write to say, though, that I read Pynchon’s “Crying of Lot 49” which you also mentioned. I found Pynchon’s prose wonderful and the description of his characters’ lives moving.  But his ending left me hollow as if he didn’t want to tell us anything or reach even a point of reference.  To say it’s meaningless to seek a point of reference because it will be at best woefully incomplete is not to try hard enough.  I don’t mean to say Pynchon’s book should have an ending that says, “They all lived happily ever after...” but I thought he owed us an ending with significance in maybe a historical or sociological sense to what he created and described, especially if it is “...nothing really changed...” Plus, the scent of politics and sociology is pervasive throughout the book such that his ending could also be seen as a creative failure.

    Again, perhaps that is my “limitation” as a historian of sorts, though to put it bluntly, I don’t see that as a limitation at all.  I’m not even a professional historian. I’m just a history-major who became a lawyer--and who was lucky enough to have a novel published last year. 

    I’m won’t continue the Derrida discussion here, though, and appreciate again the opportunity to vent and argue.

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  12:18 PM
  25. Is Derrida’s discussion of Austin conducted in terms of the performative/constative distinction?  That seems kind of silly, since in both “Performative Utterances” and How to Do Things with Words Austin concedes that there’s actually no way to distinguish the one from the other, and not far from halfway through How to Do Things with Words he abandons it altogether in favor of a rather different theory.

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  12:26 PM
  26. Wow, why does it smell so old and musty in here all of the sudden?

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  12:28 PM
  27. Posted by Michael  on  10/10  at  12:35 PM
  28. Ben, I think that’s one of the things Derrida liked about Austin-- How to Do Things with Words is pretty cheeky in its way, and (as I mentioned above) quite aware of the “I hereby declare that” process by which all constantives can be made into performatives.  So that’s not Derrida’s point of entry.  Instead, Derrida focuses on the point at which Austin says-- and watch those curious scare quotes here-- “Surely the words must be spoken ‘seriously’ and so as to be taken ‘seriously’?  This is, though vague, true enough in general-- it is an important commonplace in discussing the purport of any utterance whatsoever.  I must not be joking, for example, nor writing a poem.” Now, just what is Austin doing here if not smuggling in a reliance on intentionality, but trying to keep it in the margins?  And (extra bonus question) do you think he meant those scare quotes around “seriously” seriously?  Or is he (to borrow one of his own distinctions, citation/mention) citing an idea of seriousness that he himself has only a partial investment in?  Or doing something else?

    Dan, you’re right.  It’s getting old and musty in herre, so take off all your clothes. . . .

    Posted by Michael  on  10/10  at  12:42 PM
  29. I still want to know whether or not Derrida conducted his discussion using the terms “performative” and “constative” (rather than “locutionary”, “illocutionary”, and “perlocutionary")…

    Austin may be smuggling a reliance on intentionality in on page 9, but he doesn’t make much of a secret about it by the time he’s got to “the total speech act in the total speech situation”.  Look at the examples he uses to support the claim that stating is as much an illocutionary act as warning, arguing, etc: “in saying that it was raining, I was not betting or arguing or warning: I was simply stating it as a fact”.  Or the discussion of the truth or falsity of the utterance “France is hexagonal”: “Again, in the case of stating truly or falsely, just as much as in the case of advising well or badly, the intents and purposes of the utterance and its context are important ...”

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  01:01 PM
  30. Short answer:  yes, and he especially likes the perfomative utterance because of its explicit reliance on a “citational” structure, but Derrida’s much more interested in Austin’s distinction between the serious and the parasitic.  “[A] performative utterance will, for example, be in a peculiar way hollow or void if said by an actor on the stage or introduced in a poem, or spoken in a soliloquy. . . .  Language in such circumstances is in special ways-- intelligibly-- used not seriously, but in ways parasitic on its normal use-- ways which fall under the doctrine of the etiolations of language.  All this we are excluding from consideration.”

    Again (and this is a general remark, not directed solely at Ben), my little intro-to-Derrida isn’t very comprehensive.  It’s just a way of explaining to students what some of the hubbub is about.

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  01:09 PM
  31. Gammon!

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  01:19 PM
  32. Umm, Michael, I’m sitting at home in front of my computer, so why would you think I’m wearing clothes (in herre)? This is my last smartass (and salacious) remark, I PROMISE. 


    Posted by  on  10/10  at  01:34 PM
  33. It is interesting to see this discussion bounce between literature and philosophy, or at least phil. of language.  As a belle-lettrist obviously Derrida’s importance and dominance cannot be questioned (could cost ya your tenure I imagine) . But whether he stands up as a philosopher of language is another matter.

    Isn’t there some preliminary work and justification to be done before deciding on Austin’s “How to do things with Words” as the guide to language issues?  Ordinary language phil. is important to some, but there is an entire difficult and un-hip analytical tradition (best represented by Quine), and the people associated with that tradition would probably claim that many of these problems with semantic ambiguity, naming, and reference could be ( and are) resolved by logical notation: your OS is not burdened by any semantic paradoxes. Java works pretty well and I haven’t had an “Aporia” notice come up.

    Specifyin a verificationist or falsifiability requirement on “meaningful” utterances is not prima facie mistaken--not great for the Literature departments I guess--but certainly belle-lettrists could do with some rational scrutiny. Some utterances--including I guess performatives--would not (and do not) meet a verificationist requirement, yet why should we bother ourselves with what “silly people say about silly things”? ( as Russell reportedly said of Ord. Lang. Phil. and his former student Wittgenstein’s PI).

    Modern technology, programming, and science are much more indebted to a Quinean and Carnapian view of language than to either late Witt. or Derrida--to really get at the logos beast, Derrida could have started his program eviscerating say the Tractatus, instead of the adherents of the PI (and Austin surely is not far from views of the PI). 

    I am sure this is obvious to most of you, and I admit to my po-mo naivete, but the point of positivism was to eliminate language problems. Austin sort of begins by assuming that there is much more to language than “truth statements,” but the question is whether those non-propositional utterances are really very interesting or important.

    One must assume they are though, I guess, if addressed by real Ivy League literature and philosophy professors.....

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  01:54 PM
  34. As it happens, you can’t actually have your tenure revoked if you go around saying that Derrida is unimportant.  Tenured professors in literature and philosophy do it all the time, in fact.

    Anyway, thanks for the spirited defense of the analytic tradition.  But yes, literature departments will surely continue to concern themselves with silly people and silly things (see Auden’s elegy for Yeats, for example), and I don’t imagine we’ll develop any real interest in eliminating language problems.

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  02:17 PM
  35. Following Michael’s reply to response #33 from low-rent logocentrist, I quote from it:

    I am sure this is obvious to most of you, and I admit to my po-mo naivete, but the point of positivism was to eliminate language problems. Austin sort of begins by assuming that there is much more to language than “truth statements,” but the question is whether those non-propositional utterances are really very interesting or important.

    John Searle is a Ferrari-driving Republican notorious for the role he and his wife played in getting Berkeley’s rent-control law repealed, not to mention for all the rental property they own in the city. Yet I’m glad to have him on my side here. When, “the question is whether those non-propositional utterances are really very interesting or important,” the answer can only be “No” if you aren’t interested in how social facts are made and maintained. In the beginning was the Word and it sure as hell wasn’t a proposition.

    Posted by Charlie Bertsch  on  10/10  at  02:24 PM
  36. Re technology and science and this language stuff, check out work being done in quantum computing and info theory. Hans Christian von Baeyer’s _Information_ (Harvard, 2004), for example, suggests that better understanding the dynamics of indeterminacy (a la Jacques)is *the* future of computing because the qubit (indeterminate quantum bit) is more fundamental than the binary logic underliying the bit.

    Baeyer, btw, is Chancellor professor of physics at William and Mary and not one of the oh-so-sophistic po-mo philosophers and professors of literature that scare me so much.

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  02:25 PM
  37. Some segmentation faults are arguably caused by semantic errors.
    Fastest & shortest segfaulting C program:
    This is shorter but much slower:

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  03:18 PM
  38. There should be discussions like this on blogs even when someone hasn’t died, in my opinion. 

    But anyway: what is a computer “lock-up” but an aporia?  From what I understand from Intro to Computer Science, many lock-ups occur when program 1 has resource A and won’t give it up until it has resource B, and program 2 has resource B and won’t give it up until it has resource A.  Derrida would have derived great joy out of using Windows 3.1 and 95, I’m sure—aporias galore.

    Posted by Adam Kotsko  on  10/10  at  03:43 PM
  39. Yeah, that happens a lot in multithreaded programs too.

    I thought the term you’re looking for was “race condition”, but apparently it’s actually “deadlock”.

    Question: to what philosophical concept do fork bombs most closely correspond?

    Posted by  on  10/10  at  03:59 PM
  40. Michael, thanks for the reply.  I’m certainly missing a lot of the pre-requisites for debating this and really, truly, understanding it, but it’s good to get some free lessons from a professor anyway.  smile

    Posted by thehim  on  10/10  at  05:11 PM
  41. Michael,

    Thanks, you cleared up a lot.

    As suggested, fashioning a riposte to Celibidache’s refusal to record is terribly easy. But in defense of Celibidache, his obsession/insistence on live performance draws considerable attention to the mutability of iteration. The score’s symbols remain as they were, but they are never performed the same way twice.

    One other thing, not exactly germane but I think important about this strange guy. Celibidache’s performances, based on the few films and recordings that got done, were mind-bogglingly great. Score-O-Centric he may be, but oh man, that schmuck could rock.

    Posted by tristero  on  10/11  at  06:24 AM
  42. Am I the only one on the planet that thinks that Derrida not that hard to read. I mean, the dude’s no Dun Scotus or anything. Maybe this is a sign I’ve read too much continental phil. or something. Thanks for the free lesson on deridda. It’s greatly appreciated.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  07:23 AM
  43. It is sort of pointless to argue with anyone who would hold to Derridean “concepts” (anti-concepts?), which deny the possibility of establishing truth by argument, logic, or use of data.  The far-more capable Camille Paglia provides her own nicely-phrased critique of postructuralists including Derrida: 

    from “What I hate about Foucault”

    Camille Paglia


    “I miss no opportunity to throw darts at Foucault’s scrawny haunches because he is the last standing member of the Terrible Triad of French poststructuralists, whose work swept into American universities in the 1970s and drove out the home-grown radicalism of our own 1960s cultural revolution. I militantly maintain that the intellectual gurus of my college years—Marshall McLuhan, Norman O. Brown, Leslie Fiedler, Allen Ginsberg—had far more vision and substance than did the pretentious, verbose trinity of Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault.”

    <Miss Paglia finally wrote something I agree with>.

    “Derrida’s reputation was already collapsing (thanks to the exposure of his ally Paul de Man as a Nazi apologist) when I arrived on the scene with my first book in 1990. Lacan, however, still dominated fast-track feminist theory, which was clotted with his ponderous prose and affected banalities. The speed with which I was able to kill Lacanian feminism amazes even me. (A 1991 headline in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera blared my Achillean boast, “I and Madonna will drive Lacan from America!") “


    “When I pointed out in Arion that Foucault, for all his blathering about “power,” never managed to address Adolph Hitler or the Nazi occupation of France, I received a congratulatory letter from David H. Hirsch (a literature professor at Brown), who sent me copies of riveting chapters from his then-forthcoming book, “The Deconstruction of Literature: Criticism After Auschwitz” (1991). As Hirsch wrote me about French behavior during the occupation, “Collaboration was not the exception but the rule.” I agree with Hirsch that the leading poststructuralists were cunning hypocrites whose tortured syntax and encrustations of jargon concealed the moral culpability of their and their parents’ generations in Nazi France.”


    Poststructuralism is a corpse. Let it stink in the Parisian trash pit where it belongs!

    SALON | Dec. 2, 1998


    Posted by  on  10/11  at  09:32 AM
  44. [...]
    “Poststructuralism is a corpse. Let it stink in the Parisian trash pit where it belongs! “

    Whew, I’m glad that’s settled!  Btw, I was wondering if you could tell me where Derrida “den[ies] the possibility of establishing truth by argument, logic, or use of data.”


    Posted by  on  10/11  at  11:22 AM
  45. Don’t waste your time, Dan.  Certain extremist anti-Derrideans typically deny the existence of truth and have no understanding of the concept of “textual evidence,” which is why they make stuff up and then attribute it to Derrida.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/11  at  12:30 PM
  46. Hmmm. So Derrida and his concept of “logocentrism” is not a complete and thorough attack on western science and rationality? You yourself admitted that more or less. Is there any paper or book written by Derrida which relies on any sort of empirical method or data, or even necessary deductive arguments? 

    And it is fairly common knowledge (read Rorty’s discussion of Derrida--online) that Derrida denies a sort of basic referential or correspondence theory of “truth” predicated upon a view of language whereby syntax can objectively refer to non-linguistic things in the world (that’s what they are doing, not in the Plato for Gay and Lesbian Liberal Arts majors 200, but across campus in the biology classes, Maestro)…

    And I note your typical professorial ad hominem implications: “you just don’t know
    all the intricasies of Derrida’s “system” etc."--This is true, but one does not need to know all of say Aquinas or Plato to take issue with many basic tenets (say idealism/or platonic universals) of those weltanschauungs; I have read enough of Derrida to know that he is avoiding or miscontruing many weightier issues, such as the intentionality/determinism debate, and the consciousness issues now being addressed by Dennett, Changeux, Chalmers, cognitive science, etc....

    But I know when I am not wanted, Maestro, so I bid you, a dew

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  01:22 PM
  47. I don’t see how derrida could possibly be an all out attack on science, rationality etc.. Heck, he “deconstructs” his pomo peers the same way he does Plato.  In fact, I believe he in fact affirms rationality when he takes his teacher Michel F. on “madness.” Well, if you think about it, if a text privilages “reason,” deconstruction as a er, theory about language will displace reason and show a parasitic relation to “madness.” But if you really are a postmodern anti-essentialist, anti-reason, anti-science, anti-god, anti-coherency, anti-everything engineers believe in, then deconstruction as a theory about language will displace those notions and show the necessary parasitic relation to western metaphysics.

    But no wait, we arn’t talking about “reason” as it appears in someone’s essay, modernist or postmodern, we are talking about it you know, in general. “Reason” as the platonic form or the “universal"--reason as abstracted from the text the way parallel lines are abstracted from an architecture whose walls may actually intersect if they were extended out far enough.  But I think if there exist any straigtforward points about deconstruction, one of them is that such a privilaged space does not exist. 

    But then we can be tricky and say, sure, but doesn’t derrida, and don’t in fact, my comments here on derrida at once try to speak as if from such a space? And if so, then a close enough reading might show that the very possibility of denial of such a space exists thanks to the affirmation of these kinds of spaces.  So, there exist no such universals as “spaces” either.

    But now, doesn’t this mean if Derrida is “right,” then there is no “meaning” and we’re on the road to nihilism? I don’t have a good answer for that.  But I think it’s worth pointing out that any kind of discussions of foundations usually comes up with some kind of similar problem, where if you press the logic hard enough, pretty soon nothing seems to make any sense.  I don’t think epistemology is a worthless and nihilistic subject of discussion even though there seems to be no end in sight to the number of times you can ask, “Well, what makes that a good criteria?”
    And certainly, even the champions of science (Karl Popper for example) are forthcoming about these kinds of problems (not poststructuralism in particular) and don’t suggest we need to tie up these matters neatly before we can go back to our microscopes. 

    I realize this is already probably too long.  But one other thing I’d like to mention is that when I was reading Derrida, I used to email deconstruction friendly academics and ask them what it would mean if I were deconstruct my VCR manual.  Should I fear the “On” and “Off” switches wouldn’t work anymore?  Or that what I thought was a VCR maybe is really a horse? Or maybe a horse really is a VCR, differed through time and space, and the marks on a page?

    The *best* answer I ever got was a suggestion to read “Tympanum.” And I think, I gathered that if deconstruction is ever anti-science, it’s not in the way that most scientists who study deconstruction take offense.  Tympanum by the way, kind of shows how in a literary way, deconstruction works on the most technical and pragmatic texts, but how irrelavent those results are if we were to try and strain too much for a consise statement from deconstruction about the reality of the inner ear.

    In the end, I think deconstruction is interesting, it’s not some kind of horrific perversion of reason, but I’m not sure the world we be too much worse off if it was never invented.
    But to be fair, I’d need to think about it’s relative benefit as compared to other abstract philosophical, linguistic, or literary theories.  Maybe it’s not much worse.

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  02:48 PM
  48. That post I just submitted is badly written in a few places.  I’m not used to posting on blogs where I can’t go back and edit a few times.  Hope you will all have some charity on me. : )

    Posted by  on  10/11  at  02:58 PM
  49. I’m not going to try to defend Derrida from the substantive criticisms of Mitchel, as Michael has already done so much more successfuly than I could. I just want to address the referenced remarks from Chomsky, perhaps because I am about as anti-Chomsky as Mitchel is anti-Derrida, or maybe just any criticism of the abstruseness of another’s writing can only be seen as the height of hypocrisy.

    I am not a linguist, but I have studied linguistics extensively, and work in an allied discipline (cognitive psychology). I’ve read all of Chomsky’s linguistic writings, as well as his writings on language of a more philosophical bent. No one, and I mean no one, could ever claim that Chomsky is a good writer. Even when his writing does not cross line into unintelligability, it is often so poorly phrased and opaque that even the linguists who worship him (and they do. boy, do they!) have trouble figuring out what he means (about semantics, for instance… seriously, what does he mean by semantics, much less about it?). Chomsky’s Sokal is the Chomskybot, which humorously presents Chomsky-like paragraphs (compiled from Chomsky’s own writing), which are often indiscernable from his own, even to people who are fairly familiar with his writing.

    Derrida, as Michael has so eloquently noted, has gone out of his way to show how difficult language, and its problems can be. I often wonder if that is what Chomsky is doing with his own writing. Prior the the advent of modern linguistics in the 1950s, pretty much everyone, even professional linguists, saw language as something that was pretty straightforward. Chomsky came around and, admirably, showed them just how wrong they were. Then things got messy, very messy. The distinction between competence and performace, for instance, has become so forced that Chomsky’s writing on the topic are necessarily chaotic. Then there’s the Minimalist Program, which no one seems to understand, and not in the sense that no one understood special relativity in 1905 because it was so new. Linguists think they understand it, and ask a bunch of intelligent questions based on that presumed understanding. Yet, each time I’ve seen Chomsky speak about the MP before a group of linguists, he’s spent half of his time trying (and probably failing) to explain what the purpose of the MP is, and becomes visibly frustrated at the (mis)understanding behind the questions.

    Chomsky’s difficulty is not due to biological or computational jargon that is impenetrable to those who enter the surreal Chinese room of generative linguistics without the proper translation guide. His writing is difficult because he’s a terrible writer. If you doubt this, read the infinitely more comprehenisble (even to non-experts) explanations of Chomsky’s ideas by people like Steven Pinker or Ray Jackendoff (who, by his own admission, is confused by some of Chomsky’s writings).

    Posted by Chris  on  10/12  at  06:51 AM
  50. Let’s see if I interpret you correctly. Since Chomsky eschews the belle-lettrist rhetoric and endless stream of pompous “ontology” characteristic of Derrida, he is not to be taken seriously?  Au contraire.  I am not qualified to speak about the minimalist program, but the basic idea of universal grammar--that traditional associationist/empiricist accounts of language acquisition cannot account for creative language use--has not been refuted. UG may have been modified and altered; but Chomsky did claim it was a refutable thesis anyways, provisional until a better model of language acquisition was established.  Can you imagine a Derrida or Lacan declaring that one of their semiotic arabesques was a “refutable thesis”? 

    It is true Chomsky is no Bertrand Russell, yet his plain-spokenness may be a deliberate choice.  Aspects of the Theory of Syntax certainly is not the work of some linguistic or philosophical amateur.  Anyways, Chomsky’s prose style is pretty much irrelevant, but count upon some effete literary type to use that as an excuse to denigrate someone’s methods and concepts.  And in terms of political impact certainly the calm rational prose of Professor Chomsky has had far more of an impact than Derrida’s bizarre theories.

    Posted by  on  10/12  at  12:01 PM
  51. Hey, low-rent, I thought you said you were leaving us, and I believed you.  One more comment on this thread, OK, and after that I’m going to have to ask for contributions to cover the bandwidth charges.  The metonymic skid has to stop somewhere, and 50 comments are enough already.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/12  at  12:23 PM
  52. Don’t worry maestro, I am.  First though let’s compare our GRE scores, ja? Or our notes on Quine....

    You surely don’t need anymore Derrida or Lacan, you need a stat.s class....

    tah tah

    Posted by  on  10/12  at  12:29 PM
  53. Posted by  on  10/12  at  12:48 PM
  54. I’m pretty sure that once you’re a tenured professor, GRE scores aren’t a factor anymore—at least that’s what I’m hoping for.

    Posted by Adam Kotsko  on  10/12  at  02:50 PM
  55. I hate to respond to low rent, or even to think that he was responding to what I said (because he didn’t respond to anything that I said), but to call Chomsky “plainspoken” is analogous to calling the Fox News “evenhanded.” My point, something anyone who has read Chomsky would know, is that Chomsky is anything but plainspoken. His writing is incredibly difficult to read. One person had suggested that it might be because of technical jargon, but as someone who’s well-versed in the technical jargon, I can tell you that’s not it.

    I certainly think Chomsky should be taken seriously, at least in linguistics, which is area of his writing about which I was speaking. It has nothing to do with the relationship between his ideas and Derrida’s. I simply think it’s absurd to have Chomsky complain about making social scientific concepts sound more difficult than they are, since he’s (im)famous for doing so himself.

    Posted by Chris  on  10/13  at  10:09 AM
  56. Quote: “My point, something anyone who has read Chomsky would know, is that Chomsky is anything but plainspoken”

    Hmm. I’ve been reading “Language and Problems of Knowlege”; I don’t know if the Chomster has now repudiated this or not, but it’s not bad reading.  Here’s a claim near the end: “the evidence seem compelling that..fundamental aspects of our mental and social life, including language, are determined as part of our biological endowment, not acquired by learning, still less by training, in the course of our experience.”

    That is sort of the main thesis of the book and of much of the UG project. Is that too hard for you to grasp?  We may or may not assent to this, but it is debatable, and inductive methods may prove it correct or incorrect. 

    Can we find any similar assertions brought forth in Derrida? Naw, but we can discover this: “the value of displacement, of transport, etc., is precisely constitutive of the concept of metaphor with which one claims to comprehend the semantic displacement that is brought about from communication as a non-semiotic phenomenon to communication as a semio-linguistic phenomenon.”

    Ugh. At least errors in Chomsky’s program can be more easily located and refuted....

    Anyhoo, to you, and the other tea swilling, east-coast faux-leftists milling around The Weblog, Berube, and UWC, I now declare (a performative, man), in good Sean-Penn fashion, a sincere Phuck Off

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  10:40 AM
  57. I’ve got to take exception to the remark about 30-something crowds defending “classic” rock against punk, rap, hardcore, etc.

    The oldest 30-something today would have been 15 in 1980, when punk was in its second wind, hardcore was at its height and rap was beginning to flourish; would have grown up with Sonic Youth, GBH, the Pixies, Einsturzende Neubauten, Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, Crass, and so forth.

    Johnny (Rotten) Lydon of the Sex Pistols is 48 years old.

    I had hoped to see Derrida speak in Irvine this spring.

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  12:21 PM
  58. And then I saw that this essay was written 14 years ago, and the scales fell from my eyes. Pay no mind.

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  12:23 PM
  59. Now here’s a good speech-act-theory question:  if Mr. Low Rent says goodbye three times, when precisely has he taken his leave?

    Posted by  on  10/13  at  02:30 PM
  60. The School of Humanities at the University of California, Irivine is hosting a website in honor of Jacques Derrida. At this website, you can register your name on a NY Times / In Memoriam page that has been established in order to testify to the lasting influence of Derrida’s writing, teaching, and life.

    In many of the obituaries for Derrida, including that written by Jonathan Kandell in the New York Times, Derrida’s legacy has been deliberately distorted and maligned. The most typical distortion is some version of the claim that Derrida wanted to destroy the Western canon. As Michael and many others have noted, Derrida’s writings were intense and thorough engagements with some of the most important texts in the Western Canon, ranging from Plato’s Phaedrus to Joyce’s Ulysses to the Declaration of Independence.

    By signing the letter, you can show your support for Derrida and send a message to the editors of the New York Times and the world that their dismissal of Derrida as an “abstruse theorist” is ignorant.

    Posted by EDR  on  10/14  at  07:45 AM
  61. I forgot to include the URL for the “Remembering Jacques Derrida” website. It is: http://www.humanities.uci.edu/remembering_jd/index.php

    Posted by EDR  on  10/14  at  07:47 AM
  62. You can understand alot about Derrida by reading Kevin MacDonald.

    Posted by  on  10/16  at  04:07 PM
  63. THANK YOU THANK YOU. I didn’t know what I was reading. Now I’ll go back and read again but with more clarity.

    Posted by  on  03/02  at  07:11 PM





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