Me demander de renoncer à ce qui m'a formé, à ce que j'ai tant aimé, c'est me demander de mourir. Dans cette fidélité-là, il y a une sorte d'instinct de conservation. Renoncer, par exemple, à une difficulté de formulation, à un pli, à un paradoxe, à une contradiction supplémentaire, parce que ça ne va pas être compris, ou plutôt parce que tel journaliste qui ne sait pas la lire, pas lire le titre même d'un livre, croit comprendre que le lecteur ou l'auditeur ne comprendra pas davantage et que l'Audimat ou son gagne-pain en souffriront, c'est pour moi une obscénité inacceptable. C'est comme si on me demandait de m'incliner, de m'asservir - ou de mourir de bêtise. -- Jacques Derrida, interview, Le Monde
The headline in the Nouvelle Obs read: Disparition de Jacques Derrida, inventeur de la «déconstruction». Ah, Derrida might very well have smiled at that coupling of inventor and deconstruction. In a series of articles that approached Maurice Blanchot with that typical scrupulousness so maddening to those who expect their philosophers to approach a structure with a machete instead of a scalpel, or at least an ideology with several ID tags to it (ideologies, like the clothes in the marked down section, always flutter their tags), Derrida had already sussed out the venir and its variants, playing, as usual, on etymologies under the sign of the warning sign of the Sausserian arbitraire.
I devoted a good three years to the man – this is how long it took me to write, in my off and on fashion, my master’s thesis. I saw him give a talk, once, at NYU – the room was absolutely crowded with students. I’m not sure if they knew he was going to be speaking in French. And remember, this is Derrida’s French, a language that was born from the unnatural coupling of Mallarme and Heidegger.
Derrida didn’t deliver a shock to my system, the way Deleuze did, but I still love the man.
From the AP we read: “On the third stage of his asian tour in China, Jacques Chirac expressed his sadness in learning of the decease of this universal thinker, who will remain, according to the president, an “inventor, a discoverer, a master of an extraordinary fecundity.” ‘With him, France has given the one one of the great contemporary philosophers, one of the major figures of the intellectual life of our time,” he emphasized, recalling that Jacques Derrida was ‘read, admired, translated, published, taught and discussed all over the world.”
He was 74, and died of cancer of the pancreas.
The NObs lists some of his works, leaving out – weirdly enough – La Grammatologie. We do like the prudent way they define deconstruction:
He is the author of numerous books, among which are Writing and Difference, Dissemination, Margins of Philosophie, Glas, The Truth in Painting, For Paul Celan, On the Spirit, Heidegger and the Question, Inventions of the other, From right to philosophy (Du droit a la philosophie – long before he wrote this tome, I entitled my Master’s thesis – Droigt d’auteur reserve – it is a rather untranslatable pun, pointing to the place of droit – law, right, norms – and fingers – as in point out, montrer a droigt – in Derrida. The reserve part – the part maudit, the part of property, the part of dissemination – was the subdued key. But I digress), Specters of Marx. Jacques Derrida proposed, launching himself from classic philosophic texts, a deconstruction, which is to say a critique of the presuppositions of discourse. (la parole).
There are a lot of shark reactions besides that of Chirac. Jack Lang, who I do like, claimed to be floored by the death of Derrida. The mayor of Paris and one of the heads of the French communist party also chipped in their accolades.
Interesting how they flock about the term deconstruction. In France, I imagine Derrida’s real importance, outside of philosophy, wasn’t deconstruction,. but decentering. All power to the marges was the slogan of the ultra left wing in Italy in 1970, which was borrowed from J.D. That idea filtered through the left in various ways. The reception of Foucault, who didn’t like Derrida’s work, was contextualized, I think, partly in Derridian terms in the early seventies. Although perhaps I am getting that relationship optimistically backwards. American Foucaultians and Derridians have a dog and cat relationship, which isn’t known to people outside the community.
Of course, the right, who know Derrida from some article that somebody who read somebody else’s article who read a page of Marges de la philosophie, at most, will have a wonderful time jumping up and down on his grave. Bastards.
Read the NYT obit for an example. The level of intellect displayed in it, and the incredibly blah blah blah stupidity about Paul de Man (gee, the Derrida didn't trample all over his best bud when it was discovered that long before JD met him, he wrote for a collaborationist Belgian newspaper. How dare he! Denunciation is, as the House Unamerican Committee and Bill Keller know, the only way to really purify the heart!). But obits in the NYT are pretty meaningless.
Well, Jacques, I’m getting drunk tonight for you. Good night, ladies, good night sweet ladies, good night good night.