Lecture Report

Last night I attended a lecture at DePaul University given by Ginette Michaud of the Université de Montréal. Her topic was the relationship between Derrida and Cixous, centered in a reading of Derrida’s H. C. for Life: That is to say… and Cixous’ Insister of Jacques Derrida (forthcoming in a translation by Peggy Kamuf).

Not having read either text, I cannot give a detailed report of Prof. Michaud’s paper. All I can report is a feeling of being, as it were, re-convinced of the ambition and the real greatness of Derrida. My recent reading of his On Touching–Jean-Luc Nancy reminded me that Derrida was the hardest working man in academia, and for those like me who have gone through phases of being “tired of Derrida,” I think that the decisive factor may well be tiredness — not simply a feeling of aesthetic boredom with Derrida’s writing style or with his sometimes predictable moves (particularly in his ethical writings), but literal fatigue or even exhaustion in the face of the sheer labor necessary to keep up with Derrida.

A commenter at this post was disturbed by Peggy Kamuf’s “(un-Derrida-like?)” statement that “One hundred years from now, Derrida will be considered the most important philosopher since (Immanuel) Kant.” Whatever “un-Derrida-like” may mean in this context–and I’m not sure that it’s un-Derrida-like at all, given that Derrida was willing to call one of Nancy’s books the modern equivalent of Aristotle’s De anima or to call Cixous one of the greatest poets of all time–one still has to say: Perhaps. Perhaps he will. Perhaps he’s correct in his final interview that one has not yet even begun to read him.

13 thoughts on “Lecture Report

  1. As I recall, the beginning was a little over-the-top style-wise, but once he gets into the philosophy of touch, it becomes much better. Plus he shares a weird dream he had about Nancy in the later portions of the book.

  2. I have a question–do you think there is a “kehre” in Derrida’s thought, that surfaces around 1989 with “Force of Law”? I’m trying to get a handle on Derrida’s thought more generally, partly since he’s dead and finished writing, and partly since I’m trying to teach him (to undergraduates!). I tend to read Derrida more continuously and in accord with his claims that there is not a significant turn, but a lot of people seem to think there is/was one.

    I thought On Touching was really interesting, especially the stuff on the deconstruction of Christianity, as well as the critique of Deleuze and Guattari’s haptology on pp.123-26 (although I’m not sure that I agree with it).

    I like the site, by the way, having tracked you down here from the weblog.

  3. Clayton, I’m glad to see a comment from you. My thought on a “turn” in Derrida is that I don’t think there’s a radical shift on the order of, say, Wittgenstein’s — but I do see the later work, beginning with around “Force of Law” as a kind of deconstruction of deconstruction itself, and perhaps his copious references to his past works that deal with the apparently new topics can be understood in that light.

  4. Thanks Adam, that’s a helpful way to characterize it.
    Although at the same time, his new emphasis on justice (deconstruction is justice) and the mystical foundation of authority really caught a lot of people off guard, and set off the “turns”–ethical, political, religious, that then have opened up new avenues of thought that Caputo has most successfully capitalized on. And at the same time, these very turns have turned off others, including Mark Taylor, because they seem too pious, as if the later Derrida got soft and threw in his lot with Levinas and Kierkegaard and collapsed some of the tension present in his earlier works. I’m still talking about effects here.

    I could be way off base here, but my hunch is that what we call Derrida’s turn could be traced to the De Man affair, which really hurt him because he really liked De Man(not the Heidegger affair, because everybody already knew H. was a Nazi and JD never liked H. personally), and this compelled him to make some of these ethical, political and religious concerns much more explicit. I can’t give any textual evidence though, at least not at this point.

  5. Clayton,

    Like Adam, I’m not sure we can identify a Derridean ‘turn’. That seems too dramatic, and quite possibly rhetorically weighted — though for pedagogical purposes, this might not be so bad! There is certainly a shift in the late-80s / early-90s, but really only insofar as his thinking becomes explicitly ethical. Though is this shift any more dramatic than, say, the relation of Hegel’s late political, aesthetic, and religious works to his Science of Logic?

    That’s a really interesting idea about the De Man affair’s role in affecting (or, depending on your perspective, effecting) this shift. Though I wonder if the collapse of Communism and the “victory” of liberal democracy played just as large a role, and perhaps even the context for the philosophical importance of De Man’s exposure.

  6. I asked Caputo what he thought of the idea of the kehre, and he told me that he agrees with the view expressed here by Adam and Brad that it’s less of a turn and more of a bringing out and making explicit something that was more latent in his early work. He specifically referenced “Violence and Metaphysics” as countering the notion that Derrida was not interested in ethical, religious or political topics prior to the late 80s.

    I also asked Jack about the De Man affair, and he said it was an interesting idea. He got the sense that Derrida was frustrated at the widespread notion in the US that decontruction meant ethical relativism and wanted to intervene, but thinks that the De Man and Heidegger controversies maybe made the need to respond more urgent and acute.

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