See also:  [Semiotics]
             [Performance Art] (in A/H)
             [Derrida's Wager]
           [Philosophical Concepts]


Jacques Derida

On this page: {Stuff} {Richard Kostelanetz' advante guardes entry on derrida} {Readings list}


Err, i'll take modernism for $400 and it's the daily double.... Ok, so here we go. Talking about Derrida though my hat (sort of like Monty Python's "Sumarise Proust" contest). (and believe me i'm NO expert on this... but see Richard K's comments below).... First off, Derrida was one of the most advanced and abstract thinkers of *any* century - so trying to figure him out is a bit like delving into the Pensieve of Leonardo's mind... First off, he was trying to come to grips with how we talk about ideas. As such, he realised several things (i think): 1) In order to talk about things, we need to use words - and they are in-herently mis-used, un-reliable, and of course infinitely maleable (just look at poetry, or set/acting directions, etc). 2) Logic is no better. With Kurt Goedel's discovery that almost EVERY system of logic has within it the very tools to destroy or at least leave un-answered questions and concepts within it and of course Bertrand Russell's "paradox" (two catalogs: one containing all sets that contain themselves and one that contains sets that do NOT contain themselves - but the two catalogs them selves ARE also sets: Where to put them?) Even simple systems fall apart!! 3) World War I - the war to end all wars, "The Great War" -- and it essentailly accomplished nothing (so concluded many people including the Dada'ist's and the "Cuttle Fish Bones" poets (see, Eugenio Montale, the proto-absurdists esp German Realists/Expressions around 1910), etc: WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN???? And along comes Derrida the young philosophy and literature student: How can we talk about ANYTHING? How can we make sense of the world? How do we escape our own cultural biases? etc. What happened was several fold: 1) If every text of "sufficient length" contains every other text; eg, a dictionary contains every possible text that can be written in that dictionary's language. See also, "The Library of Babel" and "Tlon" by Jorge Luis Borges.

Richard K. sez...

In his superb book "Dictionary of the Avante Guardes", Richard
Kostelanetz sez: "A Frenchman from North Africa, Derida has become some academic literary circles the most influential critical theorist since Northrop Frye. His books seem designed for the classroom, which means that they are most successfully read with a guide, in concert with other seekers. Where they are comprehensible, at least in my experience, the ideas are obvious; where they are in-comprehensible, Derrida's theories of deconstruction offers the cognoscenti rich opportunities for the kinds of one-ups-man-ship endemic to such hierarchical societies as the military and most universities. "To my mind, Derrida's originality comes from his way of thinking, which I discovered not from reading his works, but from hearing him speak. In Jerusalem, several years ago, I witnessed a question/ answer performance before a mostly academic audience, mostly speaking, as he, non-native English. Whenever Derrida took a question, you could see him fumble for the beginnings of an answer, but once he got on track, an elaborate digression followe, at once elegant and idiosyncratic, until he reached a pause. Having followed him so far, you wondered whether he would then turn to the left or to the right, each direction seeming equally vaid, only to admire the next verbal flight that led to another roadstop, with similarly arbitrary choices before continuing or concluding. In response to the next question, Derrida improvised structurally similar rhetorical gymnnastics. "What separates Derrida from tradtional literary theorists is this commitment to improvisitory thinking with all of its possibilities and limitations. Shoul you have a taste for high-flown intellectual gymnastics, consider Marshall McLuhan, whose similarly improvised perceptions were sociologically more substantial. "If you think improvisation is "no way to play music", you might judge that Derrida's example is no way to think." [Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes", P.58.] btw: I typed this in while listening to Frank Zappa's "Hot Rats" alb, a subj btw which Kostz. cvers in his bk; ie, F.Z. [Back to the TOP of this page}


"Points...; interviews, 1974-1994", edited by Elisabeth Weber, translated by Peggy Kamuf & others. (here is *exactly* where an excelent
'et al' could have been used!). ISBN 0.8047.2488.1 (California, 1992). (Yes, i know that the dates '1994' and '1992' "don't match"; go figure).