Tuesday, November 30, 2004

from The Nation (or, Brian Leiter's doltishness exposed)

Finally, something of real substance, doing justice to the facts without engaging in the reductive, pop-analytic kind of biography so often passing for literary criticism these days (those plentiful American Freudians who have never bothered to read Freud). (Nor, of course, showing any interest in the predictable Anglo-centric sledgeyammering by people in unfortunately high places who should certainly know better.) A brief exerpt from the longer piece:

Another charge that stalked Derrida throughout his career was that he was an enemy of the Enlightenment, indeed of reason itself, and that deconstruction was a sinister anti-Western doctrine. It is true, of course, that Derrida lambasted the philosophical tradition for having marginalized "women, children, animals and slaves." In a 1974 essay, he notoriously described metaphysics as a "white mythology which reassembles and reflects the culture of the West," a mythology "the white man takes...for the universal form of...Reason." Deconstruction was, he proudly declared, "a gesture of distrust with respect to Eurocentrism," as well as to "phallogocentrism."

Not surprisingly, feminist and post-colonial literary critics drew inspiration from Derrida's critique of "white mythologies." More often than not, however, they overlooked the profound tribute his work paid to the Western canon; his distrust was that of a lover, not a prosecutor. As Derrida pointed out, "even when [deconstruction] is directed against something European, it is European.... Since the Enlightenment, Europe has always criticized itself, and in this perfectible heritage, there is a chance for the future." In an age of uncontested American dominance, he said in one of his last interviews, Europe "has responsibilities to assume, for the future of humanity, for that of international law--that is my faith, my belief." Among these responsibilities, he argued, was the creation of a European army independent of NATO, "neither offensive nor defensive nor preventive," that "would intervene without delay in the service of resolutions finally respected by a new UN (for example, in all urgency, in Israel, but also elsewhere)." (more)

-"The Interpreters of Maladies: Maxime Rodinson and Jacques Derrida," by Adam Shatz

There is also a subtle reflection (and good summary of the "culture wars" context endlessly re-hashed by the gross Jonathan Kandell obituary), penned by one Ross Benjamin, a dear friend.

Update: Some more thoughts on Brian Leiter here.

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