October 27, 2004

Deconstruction Slapfight!

No one brings the wank like academics bring the wank. The Chronicle recently posted its paean to Derrida, Father of Deconstruction, blah, blah, blah lookwhatyoudidtomyEnglishLit-cakes.

I get the feeling that the folks at The Chronicle enjoy laughing at academics as much as I do, because the article was posted on their colloquy forum, with oh-so-predictable (and hilarious) results.

Seriously, you don't even need to read the article. Just go straight to the comments, which include:

  • An excoriation of Derrida in verse

  • A pissed off student of the versifier, excoriating the excoriator in verse--umm, bitter much, dude?

  • Endless litanies of "you don't like him because you're simply (pick one: too stupid, too ignorant, too republican) to get it!" including a weird rant by some euro-trash or euro-trash wannabe who manages to link dislike of Derrida to "deserving a president like Bush." Umm, SOMEONE just ran out of Xanax! Because no one who's READ Derrida and UNDERSTOOD him could ever, you know, still disagree. Dork.

  • A big fat Irony alert for this poster, who writes:

    This shock-infused thread shows nothing but intellectual immaturity, the equivalent of a 6 year-old screaming, "You're NOT smart! You're NOT! And nobody likes you anyway!" Derrida's legacy is somthing that a "literary criticism survivor" will never understand because he/she has not yet mastered the idea of philosophical and intellectual respect for thought, questions, and the written word. There are such big chips on the shoulders of those with such small minds.

    Poster and his/her gigantic shoulder chip excluded, of course!

  • An anti-Levitt PILE ON! Threadjack!

  • And a final trolling masterpiece which manages to bring in Abu Ghraib, the draft, and, well, just read it.

I heart the Colloquy. Every time I long for the days of teaching semi-literate freshmen, all I have to do is spend five minutes there and the nostalgia quickly passes.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at October 27, 2004 09:28 AM

I like Derrida but don't usually get into fights about it. Quine thought he was full of it though, one of the great moments in logic. (``Honoris Causa'' in _Points_)

Hard times for positivism, which showed such promise in the 50s. Austin wrote against it, but nobody understood him either. Least of all Searle. And later, coincidentally, Derrida. Derrida, usually a virtuoso reader, had that weak point in what is called ordinary langauge philosophy. He was unable to understand that one.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at October 27, 2004 01:18 PM

People understand Derrida?

Now, I realise some people claim to, but that's another matter. Some of them, of course, are perfectly sincere in their belief - and they might even be right.

But as near as I can tell the man was simply incapable of writing comprehensibly (at least in his Philosophick Works), so I honestly doubt that anyone really "understands" him in the sense the commentor meant.

Of course, I'm quite sympathetic to the idea that there's not really much of anything there to understand except linguistic masturbation and obsession over a few core "ideas".

Derrida should have studied Merleau-Ponty. Not, I mean, his ideas, which I'm sure he was aware of, but his ability to write clearly and express actual ideas using words.

Hey! I did get something out of that Philosophy degree, after all - the ability to complain about post-[modernists/structuralists/whateverists] while throwing around my Authoritah. Sweet.

(But more seriously, anecdotally, even people who really like that scene generally admit they're unsure what the hell Derrida is on about. Of course, they also seemd to become disillusioned with the entire enterprise, quite reasonably.)

Posted by: Sigivald at October 27, 2004 01:54 PM

Unfortunately, Derrida is writing about a literary effect that maddens the authors he reads. He's unusual and misunderstood because he's saying not that the author made a mistake, but on the contrary that explaining how things ``must'' work necessarily runs the authors in these circles, always clearing up the same final point.

Alas, you have to follow both Derrida and Derrida's author. Happily, he gives enough of the author that you can in fact follow him. I think this is where people find Derrida tedious. Well, if you're not interested, don't read it. What can I say.

Derrida's point is not to give up reason but to watch out for circles. Not even avoid, just watch out for. Quine was not open to the idea.

Wittgenstein, Austin, Cavell accommodate large enough gaps in their ``explanations'' that they don't themselves deconstruct, and Derrida misreads them when he tried (eg. Austin). The three are undermining the impulse to analytic philosophy, not explaining it.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at October 27, 2004 03:55 PM

Amazing! The thought that we really do have to think what the author might do with what he has proposed so far and from that deduce what the story must do to be consistent! What an amazing and original idea.

Face it, Ron, the man was a fraud. Like so many of our great "thinkers" (chomsky et al) people seem to equate obfuscation with intelligence. Not the same thing at all. It really boils down to the "KISS" principle. Keep It Simple, Stupid! Because it usually is in reality. When you spend so much time making it complicated, you make it useless.

Posted by: dick at October 28, 2004 07:35 PM

Dick, you might try working a while on computer natural language processing. It manages to make zero progress, after a promising beginning in the late 50s. Nobody knows what questions to ask, even.

How does that happen? Nothing is hidden. Everything is in plain view. But manifestly nobody knows how language works. How is it not wallpaper patterns but rather something meaningful?

Computers help because they disabuse you of the notion that you've figured it out. They have no hidden ``inside.'' (Coleridge's famous quote from Biographia Literaria, on mechanistic understanding, ``Matter has no inwards.'' Wittgenstein would say that's a grammatical remark.)

That's one way to get interested in Derrida. Some of the circles he finds are yours. He doesn't get you out of them, but you don't waste time repeating them. They are instead clues.

Now, if you're not interested in that problem, surely a rare interest, there may be other reasons to be interested in Derrida.

A guy might like _Spurs_ (Nietzsche on woman) or ``The Double Session'' in _Dissemination_ (Mallarmé on woman).

An ethicisist might like ``Violence and Metaphysics'' in _Writing and Difference_ (on Emmanuel Levinas).

I don't know that Derrida Studies would be a good approach except for a biographer. Where's the interest?

Hear Derrida speaking on prayer in minutes 8-22 of this symposium extemporaneously, on what a prayer is, and see if he doesn't hit a half dozen interesting and familiar but unnoticed things about it. That's another reason to read Derrida, just for the observations, apart from how he uses them. _The Gift of Death_ would be another book you could likely read that way.

Mostly I do not recognize anything familiar in academics' versions of Derrida. Derrida is something you have to read yourself.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at October 29, 2004 03:05 PM