Blogs > Cliopatria > Noted Here and There ...

Oct 9, 2004 7:33 pm

Noted Here and There ...

Jacques Derridahas diedof pancreatic cancerat 74. Hat tip to Adam Kotsko.

David Brooks,"The Report That Nails Saddam," New York Times is a must read on the Duelfer Report. Brooks is good, perhaps even better, when you disagree with him.

If re-elected, President Bush commits to not re-naming Chief Justice Roger B. Taney to the Supreme Court. He is said to prefer naming younger conservatives to the bench.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Ralph E. Luker - 10/12/2004

As I said, Kotsko's tribute to Derrida is over at The Weblog, not hidden here in comments. It may be ahistorical of me, but I think there is something to be said for a respectful silence in the face of death. I am reminded of those who celebrated with a "pig roast" at Michael Bellesiles's metaphorical death on the HNN comment boards. It's just unseemly, distasteful. I would not celebrate the death of Ossama bin Laden or Adolph Hitler -- evil as they may have been. There is something appropriate about silence in the face of death and it doesn't follow, as you imply, that you would then have to stop writing history and making historical judgments. It's just bad taste to write the kind of obit that appeared in the NYT.

Derek Charles Catsam - 10/12/2004

Ralph --
Derrida did more bad for the scholarly world than good. Derrida defended a screaming anti-semite. defend him if you want. Criticizing the dead is no more out of bounds than criticizing the living, particularly for historians. Perhaps Richard ought not to have made the joke, but Adam countered by calling Richard a "dick." then they got into an argument of substance, which Richard to my mind won. Unless suddenly calling someone a "dick" on HNN has become ok. So Adam also loses a point for not even bothering to come up with a clever insult.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/11/2004

Good point. Nothing compels anyone anyone to say anything about the deceased. A point I made, when questioning Derrida's defense of de Man's anti-Semitic writings.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/11/2004

I think there is a useful distinction to be made between not praising in death those whom one wouldn't praise in life, and making his death the occasion for a tasteless joke as an elliptical comment on his philosophy. Mea culpa.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/11/2004

No ..., on second thought, it isn't in dispute. Nothing compels _anyone_ to say _anything_ about the deceased. A gratuitous insult of the deceased invites a insult of the living. Advantage: Kotsko.

Derek Charles Catsam - 10/11/2004

Ralph --
And while Adam's essay on why Derrida influenced him is fine as far as it goes, it is not in and of itself a defense of Derrida. I am not sure I could be convinced that there is a good deal of value in Derrida and, as important, in what he wrought. Adam's Weblog piece notwithstanding, my judge's card still has Richard ahead on points. The "dick" comment merely took points away from the person getting bludgeoned.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/11/2004

Whether Richard is a dick or not seems to remain in dispute, I think. But Adam Kotsko's refutation of him on Derrida is over at The Weblog, not hidden here in comments.

Derek Charles Catsam - 10/11/2004

I cannot believe I am saying this, but Richard: I'm basically on your side in this one.
I am reminded of the old bathroom wall graffiti cum joke cum theological argument:

Written on the wall: "God is dead. -- Nietzsche"

Beneath it, in different penmanship: "Nietzsche is dead. -- God."

No need to praise those in death one would not have praised in life. If one's only response to that is to call you a dick, well, I think you win on default.


Richard Henry Morgan - 10/10/2004

Adam, forgive my poor taste in my original post.

Derrida's thesis isn't established by reference to an ambiguous passage -- it is a global thesis that no text can have a definitive meaning. It is characteristic of a certain tendency in French philosophy -- to raise every-day garden variety questions of philosophy, or morals, or linguistics, to the realm of metaphysics. At least that is one reading.

As for the final word on de Man, he was not only an anti-Semite (at least in youth, or at least wrote that way), but a bigamist, a liar, and a cheat.

The opposition to Derrida's honorary doctorate was not a marginal thing. It brought to pass the rarest of things -- a vote of the entire faculty. He passed by (if I remember correctly) a margin of 2 to 1, with the most opposition coming from philosophers. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Among those most opposed was Quine, probably the least politically engaged major philosopher in recent history.

Analytic philosphy is the dominant approach within Anglo-American philosophy. Within analytic philosophy, Derrida is almost universally ignored, as being below refutation -- that explains the opposition. One analytic philospher did engage Derrida (John Searle) and by most accounts routed him.

That he is found to be philosophically unserious by the majority of philosphers is not, for the most part, a criticism with moral import (though some might argue against that).

I would suggest that, given the evidence, silence would have been the best approach on Derrida's part (concerning de Man). I don't think there is a moral duty to twist the knife -- just some loyalty to intellectual honesty. Rather than renounce him, a diplomatic silence would have sufficed.

Adam Kotsko - 10/10/2004

I made a remark in one of these comment threads a few days ago that you can tell the Democratic Party is a farce because they rely heavily on minority votes, and only white votes are "real" votes. I don't actually hold that opinion -- I was mocking a familiar trope that was making its way around the blogosphere a few months ago. At the same time, if that was the only extant writing of Adam Kotsko that history had handed down to us, it would be reasonable to assume that I actually held that view -- or at very least, you could never convince all readers that I actually intended to be ironically citing that particular meme. So which reading would be the "one true meaning" in that case? Or is it possible that shifting contexts might very well change the effects that the text would have?

I've never read all the material surrounding Paul de Man -- but I can certainly imagine that after de Man devoted his career to promulgating the ideas of Derrida, a Jew, and became very close friends with Derrida, a Jew, Derrida may well think that there was possibly something going on in those texts besides anti-Semitism, or at the very least that anti-Semitism isn't the final word on Paul de Man. Again, I haven't read the texts in question, and it's very possible that Derrida made a huge mistake in defending de Man -- but would you have preferred that he renounce his close friend and disciple on the basis of writings that de Man was obviously ashamed of later in life?

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/10/2004


That last line was aimed at Derrida, not you Ralph.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/10/2004

Ralph, I don't think there is a line from deconstructionism to anti-Semitism. In fact, Derrida abandoned his prior theses to defend de Man against the charge of anti-Semitism. I don't think that makes Derrida an anti-Semite. Nor do I think Derrida guilty by association with de Man, and de Man's anti-Semitism.

Several of de Man's wartime writings are plainly, to the great majority of readers, anti-Semitic. Derrida's defense, that they were brilliantly ironic comments on other anti-Semitic writings appearing on the same page, is belied by the fact that de Man never claimed the writings as his own, and falsified his own personal history in order to obscure his authorship. I would think that anyone who doesn't feel that the claim to one's loyalty of six million murdered Jews trumps loyalty to an acolyte easily qualifies as a moral idiot.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/10/2004

Look, Richard, to make the point about de Man is only to say that no one should accept full responsibility for one's disciples or for the foolish things that they might say. You've charged Derrida with a sort of second-hand or guilt by association. Far more important than his disciples' shady past is Derrida's teaching of a whole generation to question a text closely. Until you've demonstrated it, there is no logic, as you imply there is, that leads directly from deconstruction to anti-semitism

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/10/2004

Why? Because Derrida didn't believe that a text had any one meaning (something you apparently reject as bullshit, if your post is any indication, and to the extent it can be assigned a definitive meaning). Derrida maintained that pose right up until it was revealed that one of his acolytes, Paul de Man, had written anti-Semitic tracts for a collaborationist newspaper during WWII -- at which point Derrida offered that there was a definitive meaning, and that de Man was being ironic (an irony so attenuated that nobody else could detect it). So yeah, I do have a problem with guys who defend anti-Semites -- even if the guy is a Jew. And I don't take seriously philosophical charlatans who pretty much only took root in literature departments. And I don't subscribe to that bourgeois notion that one not speak ill of the dead, when one had nothing positive to say about the charlatan in life.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/10/2004

I think Mr. Morgan underestimates the effect of Derrida on our willingness to tolerate him.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/10/2004

The inventor of the "Four Elements" theory believed in reincarnation. He jumped into Mt. Etna, leaving behind only a sandal. That's committment.

Adam Kotsko - 10/10/2004

Why do you have to be such a dick? Seriously.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/9/2004

I finally found an interpretation under which Derrida's "death of the author" thesis is true. Seems a long way to go, though, for a theory.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/9/2004

Whether his interpretation of things supports a party line or not, Brooks's column struck me as interesting, precisely because it challenges so much of the other commentariet on the Report.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/9/2004

Brooks would be more interesting if he weren't toeing the party line which allows there to be only two options: Iraq now or Saddam Hussein Re-Ascendant. Kerry's position, and that of many of the rest of us, is "neither of the above"