October 30, 2003

I Stand Corrected.

Remember this post, in which I quoted an excerpt from Derrida?

Well, it turns out that the excerpt in question, featured in Harper's magazine, was severely truncated. Truncated and edited enough, in fact, to change the overall tenor of the quote.

A reader emailed me to say:

I thought you might want to know that you have been duped by journalistic fraud perpetuated by Harper's magazine.

Jacques Derrida never wrote the excerpt about 9/11 that they lampooned in their October issue. What Harper's did was to take a very long
written answer that Derrida gave to an interview question about 9/11, randomly removed about 300 words of his prose in random places, and
then reassembled the text to make it look as ridiculous and nonsensical as possible. If you want to know what Derrida actually wrote, you have to look at the book Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, published by U of Chicago.

The University of Chicago has contacted Harper's about their fraud, by the way; but its editor, Lewis Lapham, did not run a correction in this
month's issue, nor even make reference to the "error". So apparently it is normal journalistic proceedure in Harper's to present a completely reassembled text as a direct and unmolested quotation.

The whole episode is a perfect example of the level of "scholarship" involved in people who have strong opinions about Derrida and other
writers, but have never read their works. As one writer on your site put it, it is much easier and much more gratifying to have one's "suspicions confirmed" by lazy and misleading journalism than to do research oneself. The whole anti-Derrida industry is comprised of people who have strong opinions about writers, but who simply refuse to do the work of reading.

I didn't buy the book--didn't have to, as the pertinent excerpt is included here (scroll down to the Derrida portion). Read it for yourself and you'll notice a more in-depth explanation by JD of his ideas about words as ineffectual in communicating the enormity of an event like 9/11.

Of course, as I responded to the reader in an email:

I'm all about the mocking, but my main point about the mocking is that academics are often silly enough without any "outside help." And my mocking of Derrida is and always will be that his ideas--while interesting--are expressed in a style that seems determined to alienate as many readers as possible. I've always wondered if he's just a bad writer or if he feels that his style is a litmus test to limit the number of those "worthy" of his intellectual gems.

That said, I can see why an editor would chop the passage; however, the chopping in question does change the tenor of the quote--and to do it without indicating that it was done is indeed wrong.

So there you have it. As we say here in Big Arm land--the best thing about mocking silly academics is that they write the comedy for you.

So the least I can do is get the quotes straight, right?

Thanks for the email.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at October 30, 2003 10:21 AM
Comments

OK, OK, I can't resist. I was going to resist, but I have given up. Mr. Artese writes:

"As one writer on your site put it, it is much easier and much more gratifying to have one's "suspicions confirmed" by lazy and misleading journalism than to do research oneself. The whole anti-Derrida industry is comprised of people who have strong opinions about writers, but who simply refuse to do the work of reading."

The phrase "suspicions confirmed" came from a post of mine, in which I poked fun at myself as a Philistine. HOWEVER, I didn't write any such thing about having suspicions confirmed by lazy and misleading journalism.

Maybe Mr. Artese should look closer to home to find those "people who have strong opinions about writers, but who simply refuse to do the work of reading". I'm afraid he simply reinforces my impression that the academic world does not do itself credit when it comes to Derrida!

Now, I promise myself, no matter what appears here I will NOT dive in again!

Posted by: nancy2784 at October 30, 2003 11:19 AM

Nancy -

Feel free to dive in! As long as you aren't advertising viagara, that is...

And per your request I got rid of the extraneous comments on the Toaster Oven post.

Posted by: BAW at October 30, 2003 01:09 PM

My apologies to nancy2784 about the "suspicions confirmed" quotation. I should have read her post more carefully.

Brian Artese

Posted by: Brian Artese at October 30, 2003 01:41 PM

... I don't mean to harp on this; but it's rather odd to say merely that the Harper's hoax merely changes "the overall tenor of the quotation." It's not like they simply truncated stuff that came before and after the quotation. They randomly eliminated dozens of sentences within the excerpt they transcribed -- and sometimes deleted many words *within a single sentence* -- without using ellipses or other editorial notation -- which made the final result complete gibberish.

For instance: Of the 9/11 as a "name," Derrida writes: "...the minimalist aim of this dating, also marks something else." -- and of course that "something else" follows this sentence as an explanation. Harper cuts not only the following sentence, but 209 of the following words; thus making it appear that Derrida has no conception of logical consequence.

...and then when they pick up Derrida's prose 209 words later, he has been discussing an entirely different topic, and the sentence begins: "The telegram of this metonymy points out..." -- and the reader rightly thinks, *what* metonymy? What the hell is he talking about? But of course, the introduction to the "metonymy" issue is exaclty what Harper's deleted, to make it appear that the author is simply raving.

The word "truncated" simply does not convey the severe journalistic fraud of presenting a gutted and reassembled excerpt without a single set of ellipses to let the reader know that what they're reading is a random and arbitrary pastiche. If this had been done in The New York Times or The Washington Post, the writer would be instantly fired.

Posted by: Brian Artese at October 31, 2003 09:54 PM