“What differs? Who differs? What is difference?”
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
“Napoleon was better at canvassing support for himself in between times. He was especially successful with the sheep. Of late the sheep have taken to bleating “four legs good, two legs bad” both in and out of season and they often interrupted the meeting with this.” Orwell, Animal Farm
The bizarre appearance of Donald J. Trump as the President of the United States has been attributed to the postmodern musings of the late French rock star philosopher Jacques Derrida, an allegation roundly denied in liberal American newspapers. Derrida, an intellectual-stock-market conman, along with postmodernist allies such as Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard, allegedly perverted academia and corrupted naturally rebellious youth with nonsensical ethical relativism, which motivated students to do their own things no matter how ridiculous and foul. The cult of unreason with its fake reality was spread by media and has been enormously profitable to publishers and their advertisers. Americans, wallowing in relative luxury, were especially prone to becoming untethered from reality, mistaking media simulations for the real thing. Animal Farm came true at the White House with the election of the unreality show star The Donald.
It is with that in mind that I recovered ‘Derridadaism,’ notes I had taken on the University of Hawaii Manoa Campus decades ago, where I interviewed students enthused by Derrida. At that time it seemed the student body had been polluted by postmodernism, that it had infected the minds of many students, turning them into idiots. Now that I have reread my notes, Derrida actually seemed to make sense. I realized that it was my interpretation that made sense, because when I turned to translations of his work, what he had said was utter nonsense. Of course, and he would no doubt agree, a great deal was lost in the translation of French unpolluted by English words.
Derrida is most famous for his critical method dubbed ‘deconstruction.’ When asked to define deconstruction, he said, “It is impossible to respond. I can only do something which will leave me unsatisfied. The questioning subject might not even exist, or at least it is impossible to know it.”
Jacques Derrida advocated the critical deconstruction of structuralism that left radical thinkers with so-called postmodern post-structuralism, wherefore he was obliged to explain the conception he was demolishing.
Exclusive, dogmatic constructions are repressive creations doomed because they depend for their structure on excluded content hence the repressed content is always implied in the creation a structure and shall invariably return with destructive consequences. Structuralism smacks of brittle metaphysical rigidity, of the nebulous permanencies of ontology. Structure is just another name for the outcome or production of a presiding being in itself unmoved but is at once the motivating principle from which systems are supposedly derived; such as, figuratively speaking, the principle of the line, which is a non-dimensional point, somehow present throughout the extent of the line. The history of an idea or object of thought is a series of such points or imagined being differently named.
“The entire history of the concept of structure,” posited Derrida in Writing and Difference (1967), “must be thought of as a series of substitutions of centre for centre, as a linked chain of determinations of the centre. Successively, and in a regulated fashion, the centre received different forms or names. The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of metaphors and metonymies. Its matrix … is the determination of Being as presence in all senses of this word. It could be shown that all the names related to fundamentals, to principles, of to the centre have always designated an invariable presence – eidos, archê, telos, energia, ousia, essence, existence, substance, subject, alêtheia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth.”
As for the hidden essence of his Deconstruction, it was necessarily ambiguous, an eternally elusive eel, impossible to grasp barehanded or to mentally pin down. When asked to define it, Derrida evaded the question with his famous answer: “It is impossible to respond. I can only do something which will leave me unsatisfied. The questioning subject might not even exist, or at least it is impossible to know it.”
Nevertheless, he suffered the mystic’s desire to get immediately to the things themselves, to intuit the things-in-themselves, and ultimately the Thingie; i.e. the Thing-in-Itself or the X or Being or God and the like names for the same presumed subject of spiritual discourse. That coincides with the phenomenological project of getting rid of or destroying such concepts as ‘being’ with critical analysis because all such efforts are bound to fail: ontology, or the science of being, is a false science because it is impossible to know its subject, namely, being. But this begs the question by asserting the existence of being while denying its explanations. Since phenomenology is the science of experience, and we do have an experience of being ourselves, one might say a religious experience of the presence of some sort of absolute being, a phenomenalist true to his phenomena would describe that subjective experience without affirming or denying the objective existence of being-in-itself. Of course there may be no such thing in reality regardless of the experiential implications. Judging from his pursuit of the Impossible Being, Derrida obviously had faith in the existence of that absolute something or rather nothing that ontology failed to grasp intellectually. Apprehension of the impossible, absolute Thingishness of things is delayed or deferred (difference) by their differences. It is impossible to know the thing-in-itself, although one can try to grasp the slippery subject, and always fail because of its lack of qualities. The command inscribed on the temple at Delphi, Know Thyself, is an impossible task. The names we have for things, for instance, ‘self,’ fail to capture them; things in themselves, as Kant reiterated, are inapprehensible and inconceivable. The difference between things is in their relation to one another, the meaning of which is always deferred: as in the ethical relation, the sexual relation, the relation to the other, whom Derrida places in every self and to whom one owes a responsibility for everything, namely, oneself, the self that can never be known because knowledge is an ongoing, endless project. Although skeptical of metaphysical absolutes, criticism can be constructive, analyzing or breaking down things to find out how they work through the internal contradicting, and reconstructing or synthesizing another system to obtain a better result; this is where the deconstructionists have allegedly failed, degenerating into cynical and popular dogmatic skepticism.
Theologians were naturally interested in Derrida’s blathering to the effect that the irrational Logos cannot be approached by reason but only by a leap of faith. Professor John D. Caputo remarked that Derrida had religion without religion. Indeed, in his maturity Derrida spoke of something “undestructible” and the undestructibility of democracy, hospitality, friendship, justice, democracy, etc. His criticism of conventional concepts was iconoclastic, the destruction of idols to clear the way for indestructible Being, a yearning for the independent absolute, the omnipotent Other. He was a sort of atheistic rabbi for whom God’s name was important because it was a way of naming the unconditional indestructible. His pursuit of the Undestructible betrayed his atheism and revealed that he loved the Absolute so much that he could not cease and desist from destroying the conceptions besmirching it immaculateness.
Traditional religions certainly give atheists cause for uncertainty, to doubt the things of this world and what is said about the Supreme Being, never fully known or adequate represented, although they may still believe that the universe has a hypostasis. The ultimate standard, whether it is God’s law, the law of Nature, or the correlation of the two, forever eludes our grasp. Simply calling the social mores natural or divine does not prove their moral worth. Love and kindness may come naturally by divine order, but so does hatred, despite the fact that we would absolve God of evil by blaming it on ourselves, or call evil good. Theodicy cannot turn evil into good: we may rationalize evil until doomsday, but it is impossible to rationally vindicate anyone for the pain and sin of this world. The beginning and end of the reasoning process that draws the ratio between good and evil is doubt, and that is as it should be if we are to survive our errors.
Indeed, the original sin of humankind is in the imperfection of the part in comparison to whole; if it were not for the individuality that naturally inclines it to error, the newborn baby would be innocent of such sin. Goodness is not merely knowing what one does best and doing it as one’s career, or in suiting one’s purpose in all honesty; we have an honest-to-goodness devil that suits the purpose of his career very well. God’s creation may be perfect, but we should not presume to fully understand its creator, if there is one, or to explain the divine plan. Wisdom is in knowing that we are in fact ignorant of some things, that we do not know ultimate things, thus leaving the future open for change. It is the true believers who make war on the world, and not the skeptics. The low tolerance for uncertainty in certainty certainly has motivated a great deal of violence in our world.
People of faith, who are faithful because everything is uncertain, have nothing to prove to themselves or to others; their faith is expressed in deeds. Religious bigots are people of little faith or bad faith. More often than not we find the pious at war with the world and each other. Their hypocrisy is unsurprising: we are seldom surprised when the do-gooder is caught with his pants down in unseemly places. As for atheists, the world’s greatest atheists are hardly infamous for iniquity. Incredulous and skeptical people are not as well know for evil deeds as credulous, superstitious people, who are more than willing to destroy lives for unseen things, for arbitrary causes, unaware of their ambiguity and repressed ambivalence.
Derrida had little faith in logical structures. He pointed out that the concept of structure was, up to a certain point, as old as the hills of Western thought, a notion he calls the ‘Epistêmê’ (Thought). Both the concept and our name for structure have, like a venerable old tree with a sign on it, roots “thrust deep into the soil of ordinary language.” The Epistêmê plunges deep into the fertile linguistic soil to incorporate the structural concepts below and elaborate figures of speech above:
“The structure of structure –although it has always been at work, has always been neutralized or reduced… by a process of giving it a center or of referring it to a point of presence, a fixed origin… to orient, balance, and organize the structure… to make sure that the organizing principle of the structure would limit what we might call play of the structure… play of the elements inside the total form. And even today the notion of a structure lacking any center represents the unthinkable itself… (T)he center also closes off the play which it opens up and makes possible. As a center, it is the point at which the substitution of contents, elements, or terms is no longer possible… At the center, the permutation or transformation of elements… is forbidden…. (T)he center, while governing the structure, escapes structurality. This is why classical thought concerning structure could say that the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside of it. The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality… the totality is elsewhere. The center is not the center. The concept of centered structure –although it represents coherence itself, the condition of epistêmê as philosophy or science, is contradictorily coherent. And as always, coherence in contradiction expresses the force of a desire.”
The notion of a contradictory coherence, illogical as it might seem, is standard fare for Hegelian dialecticians. Static logicians who believe A cannot be A and not-A have logical cause to deny the self-contradictory existence of a center or point or principle of a structure or system or organization that is not in itself a structure. Yet a dynamic logician, who is willing to admit to the absurd reality of a continuity between extremes or coincidence or union of apparent opposites, might point out that the non-dimensionality of the principle of a line, namely the point continuously present in the line and referred to in its particular infinitudes by pointing howsoever clumsily to one small place along the line or another, does not disprove the ideal being of an entity whose concrete existence as a unit is denied; in fact, the concept of the invisible point derived from pointing at points is imminently practical. Likewise the principle of an arch in a bridge is invisible but may be imagined and idealized by the drawing of a line through a series of points. A catenary arch, say, the illusionary form of which we witness in the St. Louis Arch, which can be mathematically expressed, although invisible or “merely” ideal, practically sustains the weight of the structure and persons who rely upon it to traverse the impediments. Can the metaphysical beings of ontology do the same, at least metaphorically speaking? Must a human being, who must have faith in the ground under him in order to walk, have faith in the arche of nature, the archon of humanity, or the universal being, perchance to fly, so to speak, to transcend material reality?
Sociologists borrowed paradigms from the field of linguistics in their search for the underlying structures of a variety of sociological phenomena. Given the elements of speech, a virtually infinite variety of sentences can be produced from definite rules of syntax and grammar hence it follows that other forms of behavior might have, respectively, a fundamental structure from which their apparent diversity is derived. Nothing and only nothing is absolute, and even then the notion of nothing is only relatively absolute inasmuch as the negative or the nonexistent is dependent on positive existence. Chaos might be the origin of all things; but order somehow emerges out of chaos and is elaborates itself, giving form to all sorts of stuff. Yet Derrida challenged the notion that any particular order is necessary or final.
We observe that order is a relational quality and not a thing in itself; the term names a verb, the ordering process or way of doing things. We use a set keyboard, the QWERTY keyboard, for the fixed mechanical order of its letters, to mechanically produce the linguistic order of our language, but another typewriter system might do as well; in fact there is a more efficient keyboard-lettering system, one that apparently matches the natural law of our physiology, yet who wants to change now given the cost of the changeover in time and money, especially since the gain in efficiency is rather minor? But the human brain is much more complex than a typewriter. The god in the thinking machine, when unhindered by orthodoxy, loves to play and to experiment; this god when hindered for long shall revolt and be called Satan for whispering in the ear of the tyrant in us all.
Youth naturally tends to rebellion against received authority. A young man wants to be an authority in his own right; that is, to do his own research and arrive at his own conclusions. He would reinvent the wheel, in other words. His conclusions will resemble the ones discovered long before, because research invariably leads to what others have said on the same subject, and one becomes trapped in history, in mental culture, which is, after all, our collective memory, without which we would perish as human beings. Alas, by the time we find out what is really going on it is almost too late. Thus a great deal of time is seemingly wasted, but sometimes new and useful ground is covered when the wheel is rebuilt and the axle greased. When push comes to shove, bad habits might be broken and the behavior of those who have been doing wrong so long that they think wrong is right changes for the better. Hence the wheel must be challenged and retarded at every revolution lest the race be crushed.
Derrida was necessarily familiar with the classical turns of humanism, which are very difficult to master; and within that liberating narrative he found a sort of impossible center or crisis critical of every angle and arc as history rolled merrily along, presumably forward, that everyone might be freed of divisive differences. He heard the irrational screams from the rubble of wrecked Europe. She had careened towards the light at the end of the historical tunnel; not realizing that she was in reverse, she lost her bearings and crashed. Reason was not really at the wheel; at most reason is derived from passion or is a passion itself or part of a passion. Faith in reasoning alone can lead one astray, particularly when Reason is affixed as an idol to the dashboard, and the Heart no longer encompasses the course. Surely there must be some other course than the seemingly rational one that led to the great calamity where havoc and panic and murder and mayhem ran amok, as if the world could not turn without bloody contradictions.
For Derrida, Reason was a historical construction. Intuited truth is illogical and not a historically concocted, reasonable story. The attempt to understand reason tries to be reasonable about reasoning, but reasoning cannot be understood and more than can the man who reasons, or his other passions for that matter. In fact it is Unreason that leads to the One, and Reason to the Many.
Johann Georg Hamann, a Christian mystic, confessed that he was “close to suspecting that the whole of philosophy consists more of language than of reason, and the misunderstanding of countless words, the personification of arbitrary abstractions.” And, “The light is in my heart but as soon as I seek to carry it in my head it goes out.” The Christian is skeptical of all but God, the ultimate source of arbitrary abstractions.
And Derrida, conditioned to skepticism and cynicism by a philosophical discourse that never seemed to arrive at the absolute truth because it is a creature of humankind and therefore fashioned by the historical circumstances at points in continuous time, was familiar with ambivalences, antinomies, ambiguities, absurdities, the so-called opposites or seeming contradiction which in continuous coincidence work the machines. He was fascinated by the alternatives to everything; the more incoherently expressed the better. Surrealism for him was not surrealistic enough. At bottom reality was logically absurd: it was impossible for reason to get to the bottom of it. The notion of the Absurd, keenly felt by Gustav Flaubert, the frustrated romantic turned realist, and developed by Albert Camus, frustrated philosopher turned novelist, both of whom were well versed in the classics, was really nothing new, notwithstanding the German pool table and the English put on the French cue ball.
Derrida saw his opportunity in the Absurd, the Land of Opportunity, slapped together his texts, hustled the intellectual market, overturned the big trick and came out on top. For that he is denounced by the losers as an enemy of Western civilization, and even a terrorist, but what he did is at the basis of that civilization; that is, if proper European civilization is, as Pope Benedict thinks, founded mainly on Greek culture and the critical and skeptical philosophy that demonstrated that only the wise know they are ignorant of the alpha and omega of ultimate things. The Greek philosophers might as well be charged, like Derrida, for playing “mere” language games; they certainly loved their riddles.
Of course Derrida’s detractors were offended most of all by his style, which they called “postmodern” to his dismay; he should not have been offended, for there is some truth to the term. Yes, postmodernism is such a hodgepodge of intellectual rubbish left from the deconstruction of structuralism that it is impossible to define, yet when applied to architecture, the label implies a classical restoration, albeit somewhat disheveled under modern guise.
Derrida’s freestyle clouded the fact that he was offering up the same old dishes but differently sauced and garnished. Some things never change, like the bay leaves, which the Pythias at the oracle of Delphi chewed ad they inhaled the natural gas emitted from the earth with hysterical effect; the priests translated their ravings into ambiguous, bad poetry. Derrida’s allegedly unreasonable, anti-Enlightenment approach, however, was tethered to traditional standards, employing well the tried and proven methods of the ancient skeptical masters. As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the Sun. By all means one must avoid saying the same thing in the same way to avoid seeming platitudinous. If we bear with Derrida long enough, he makes sense because he is referring us to something we already know but cannot express.
Derrida certainly had his detractors. He was a skeptic who did not merely suspend judgement in his search for something but apparently believed in nothing verbal except nothing exists. The person who apparently believes in nothing is hated as an infidel. A most caustic, the October 21, 2004, obituary in ‘The Economist’ declared:
“The inventor of ‘deconstruction’ – an ill-defined habit of dismantling texts by revealing their assumptions and contradictions – was indeed, and unfortunately, one of the most cited modern scholars in the humanities…. It is not that Mr. Derrida’s views, or his arguments form them, were unusually contentious. There were no arguments or really any views either. He would have been the first to admit this. He not only contradicted himself, over and over again, but vehemently resisted any attempt to clarify his ideas. ‘A critique of what I do,’ he said, ‘is indeed impossible’….“The playful evasiveness of deconstruction masked its moral and intellectual bankruptcy.”
Playful deconstruction, then, is a rite of passage for rebellious children, maintained by adults who never mature. Since wordplay is multi-vocal and vents a plurality of unique interests despite a universal mode of expression, nothing is final: There is no such thing as absolute truth, nor is there a singular meaning of a complete sentence; everything metaphysically said may be misinterpreted and reinterpreted. One way to rid the society of the linguistic domination of its high priests is to make a joke out of it, to not take it serious, to play with it, to philosophize freely with it hence denying that philosophy is scientific, something reasonable and prior to language that must therefore be separated from the play of language in order to represent truth in some concise, terse, formulaic manner. It is talk about talk and that is all it is. The logo-centric deconstructionists do not want to take life seriously; they want to play with things, they would rather talk about everything than fight for the right; thus in their intellectually intolerant tolerance they leave the dominant oppressive power intact; they want to talk about talk instead of doing something useful; they are conservative in the sense of regression to babbling childhood. Their talk about personal identity in multicultural diversity is vain and subjective, deludes people into thinking their own lifestyle is righteous, and leads to ethnocentrism when challenged. Socrates’ declamation against the followers of Heraclitus may be recalled in our context: “If you ask one of them a question, they draw out enigmatic little expressions from their quiver, so to speak, and shoot one off; and if you try to get hold of an account of what that one meant, you’re transfixed by another novel set of metaphors. You’ll never get anywhere with any of them.”
Having faith in nothing, claiming that everything was defined by inherently indefinite differentiation, Derrida is said to have denied his responsibility for the irresponsible behavior of his followers. Literature teachers corrupted by his pernicious nonsense, were allegedly “armed with a new impenetrable vocabulary, and, without having to master any rigorous thought, they could masquerade as social, political, and philosophical critics,” and corrupt the youth and demolish classical culture.
Maurice Blanchot was one of Derrida’s heroes. Blanchot supported Petain during the decline of democracy, advocated terrorism and anti-Jewism. Another hero was Georges Bataille, averse to reason and an advocate of fascism as a charismatic martial means of glory and unity. Derrida’s concept of the Other was influenced by Bataille’s view, that otherness transcends the political and economic considerations of the money-loving, utilitarian, bulging-belly bourgeoisie. Furthermore, he used his deconstructionist technique to defend Nazi Party members Martin Heidegger and Paul de Mann.
Derrida’s radical skepticism promises reconstruction after deconstruction but never delivers, hence is by no means creative destruction or constructive criticism, but is in reality dogmatic skepticism, hence nihilistic. The deconstructionists therefore would not compromise or contribute to compromise or mutual give and take, that is, engage in a democratic process. Quite to the contrary, Derrida himself condoned irrational Nazism by not condemning his dead friend, Paul de Man, who had in his youth had written anti-Jew articles in Belgium for the Nazis, one of which articles seemed to advocate a final solution to the so-called Jewish Question: “A solution to the Jewish problem that aimed at the creation of a Jewish colony isolated from Europe would entail no deplorable consequences for the literary life of the West.” Professor De Man, by the way, had lied at Yale, where he was a member of the literature department: he claimed he was a refugee from Europe, and insinuated that he had been a member of the Belgian resistance. Derrida deconstructed his friend’s articles in such a way that led him to conclude they were not anti-Jewish, leading one critic to say that deconstruction could prove Hitler was not anti-Jewish.
Derrida wrote fondly of friendship, the affection people have for each other despite or because of the differences between the one and its others. Loyalty is the prime virtue of friendship, a favorite stance of neoconservatives until they are indicted and offered a deal. Still, personal integrity demands that we admit the faults of our friends when defending them, rather than deceiving ourselves and others because we believe we are always right in love no matter the defects of its object. He believed that the death of a friend one loses the significant other who opens up the world for us. “There come moments,” he said, “when, as mourning demands, one feels obligated to declare one’s debts. We feel it our duty to say what we owe to friends.” In ‘The Work of Mourning’, as a writer who writes because he reads, he recognizes his debt to other writers by way of mourning them with his words
Derrida defended Martin Heidegger, who had been exposed as a member of the Nazi party, and he stooped to describing Nazism, which is opportunistic and has no set philosophy, as a rational philosophy, admonishing his friend merely for his faint adherence to liberal humanism. Wherefore Derrida was accused of fostering racism and fascism and for being influenced by Heidegger’s philosophy of Being and Time. To add insult to injury, although he denied he was a “postmodernist,” he was accused of being a postmodernist associated with terrorism, guilty by association because postmodernist Jean Baudrillard had remarked that the destruction of the World Trade Center, the binary symbol of the military-industrial complex, fulfilled in fact the wishful thinking of people fed up with the arrogance of the sole superpower.
For Baudrillard, the external violence was the visible counterpart to the violence of internal security forces. Derrida himself rejected the description of the September 11 attacks as an act of “international terrorism” because the concept labeled “international terrorism” was too vague to identify the specific nature of the subject of discourse. Yet a propensity to terrifying physical violence was imputed to Derrida from his conceptual deconstruction of metaphysical notions; i.e., his radical criticism of dogmatic positions by using opposition to turn them upside down and inside out. Indeed, he was derided by his intellectual foes as a violent man for restating platitudes attributing progress from revolution and justice under the law, to violent enforcement. His deconstruction of grand traditional narratives is intellectual terrorism, it was said, was tantamount to the Nazi book-burnings. His champions, however, claim that his skepticism and active disintegration of the concepts embraced by warmongers made him an apostle of peace.
Derrida was purportedly a diabolical French agent of the German Romantic corruption of the democratic principles of the French Revolution, and an anti-humanist ally of Germany’s neoconservative anti-intellectuals of the 30s. His celebration of cultural differences undermines universality and thus constitutes a threat to imperial democracy, presumably the only reasonable and therefore valid universal form of civilization capable of the toleration of differences. The United States of America, the sole superpower and epitome of high civilization, is the epitome of representative democracy incorporated. So notwithstanding his pronounced repudiation of postmodernism, Derrida was classed with the postmodernists, who were themselves wont to praising his works.
Derrida’s detractors said that he, like the flotsam-and-jetsam postmodernists, hated America’s guts and wished all along for the fall of the military-industrial complex’s Twin Towers of Either-Or reasoning: One is either good and therefore for Us, or evil and therefore against Us; one must either buy this or buy that, by all means must buy into our consumer democracy; all those who do not lead productive lives as consumers are defined by the surgeon general as mentally ill and therefore need the subsidized drug industry. In fact, Derrida was faulted for not drawing Either-Or differences to raise one difference over the other, say Right over Left, except to reverse or subvert stated hierarchies in order to demonstrate that what can be raised high in a text can be set low, and vice versa, to demonstrate that no meaning is final, no concept is absolute, no value is permanent or eternal. He emphasized change over permanence, a sort of dynamic differentialism that struggles to know perfect, the impossible – Nothing is perfect. You see, binary oppositions such as Good/Evil are arbitrary, happenstance coincidences.
His admirers claimed his ultimate political target in celebrating difference or pluralism was totalitarianism of any kind. His detractors, however, insist that he, like Socrates, the greatest Sophist of them all, and other sophisticates and dialectical devils down to this very day, used reason to raise the worst thing as the best, to make the weaker argument the stronger, and the like; or at best, they cultivate a dangerous ethical relativism that tends to topple all gods and social goods, leading to the demoralization and degeneration of civilization, especially when one of the plural factions, say a racist or ethnocentric party, reverts to the barbarian tribal principle, that might is right, to terrorize all, suspend civil constitution, and establish arbitrary tyranny in defiance of the tolerant pluralism that allowed it to seize power.
Wherefore humanists, for whom the rational human being is the alpha and omega of discourse, worked to constitute rational safeguards that would prohibit, for the sake of the universal, any particular faction from seizing power and holding permanent sway over the body politic. A democratic constitution would ideally afford all parties in opposition to any party holding power a chance to take seats in legislative bodies, and, if the majority of the people so will or tolerate it, to preside over the state from time to time.
The authors of relatively democratic institutions warned against the emergence of particular factions and parties lest they stray from the common good and overthrow the constitution. Two major parties ordinarily emerge in a relatively free atmosphere, the left and right wings of the political bird, and both extremities are affixed to the central body. All too often the two major parties, who find it necessary to compromise somewhere in the middle to preserve their relative interests in keeping the body in flight, wind up playing musical chairs, simply rotating in and out of power in order to share the spoils of powerful offices.
Coincident to the population explosion of the industrial-scientific revolution, big political parties dominated by bosses became necessary to organize the masses and to educate them to the issues; needless to say, the education was simplistic and often exploitative, suiting the motives of power brokers rather than the needs of the people. The major U.S. parties, both of which recognize the same founding father, are essentially the same in their “neo-liberal” principle or organized greed; voters are given virtually the same candidate with different names and party affiliations; true, differing ideological campaign stances are taken, but radical reform is rendered impossible when the candidate takes the oath of hypocrisy, stating he will do the will of the so-called People instead of following his prejudice—but the general will is so diverse and in itself incomprehensible that the elected official can and will do pretty much what he wants whether it be in the public interest or not, and most people will not be any the wiser until someone gets caught with their hands in the cookie jar or in other inappropriate places.
Derrida’s deriders liked to associate him with the counter-Enlightenment, anti-Kantian, anti-philosophe, anti-humanist mode of thought with its right-wing authoritarian antipathy to liberal democracy, inherited by the New Conservative movement in Germany, a conservatism rooted in the line of thinking of the likes of Joseph de Maistre, J.D. Herder and his friend Johann George Hamann, culminating in the Nazi Party in Germany and the neoconservative movement in the United States. The neoconservative or pseudo-conservative ideology defends particular interests against the universalizing tendency of humanism, which liberates people only to totally enslave them after the final analysis. European conservatives went so far to insist that there is no such being as humanity, that the generalized Man humanists abstract from human beings and idolize simply does not exist except as a figment of their liberal imagination.
Humanism, as far as so-called neoconservatives were concerned, was responsible for the revolutionary violence that eventually resulted in massive crimes against humanity and the threat of nuclear annihilation. From their neoconservative perspective, the cult of reason with its obsession with liberating everyone in the world by spreading democracy throughout the world whether the spheres of interests like it or not is really sophisticated violence and oppression. The light of the Enlightenment, idolized Reason, has been overheated and is bound to set the world ablaze and scorch the earth, incinerating the natural environment and social organisms, each of which had its own, individual or cultural center of life – so much for the relativistic notion that one outfit is as good as another. Public reason claimed as the common good rejects the differences of others, disrespects otherness. Humankind must be liberated from the tyranny of reason and its oppressive either-or mechanic; given the native hypocrisy of the human race, every individual is at odds with itself and the others in the war of all against all; the doctrine of individualism, which would universalize all individuals under the rubric, category-of-one, is a collective farce.
One may resort to myth, magic, martinis, madness and religion to restore the person to exalted status, but there is no better agent for dissolving the nefarious leveling influence of unitary reason than the analytic acid of critical reason liberally applied to the perverse perfusions of so-called liberals – every person, conservative or liberal, would be liberated from his limitations. Of course to use Reason against itself and to set dogma against dogma is blasphemy, but Man seems originally bound and determined to contradict himself ad infinitum – columnists on both sides of every division feed on human ambiguity, hypocrisy, contradiction. Language, given its relation to reason, is in itself violent, a war by abstract means; philosophical writing is virtual suicide in advance of the fact: a philosophical book is bomb and its author a suicide-bomber. May the best or worst man win, for one is as good as another, and likewise his relative ethic and culture. Finally, might is right; hence rightists lash themselves together as a Total under chimerical central authority and are this time called fascists, patriots under Pater instead of liberal democrats led by a Caesar or communists by a revamped Tsar. Ideological lines may be drawn between the political organizations, but in the final critical analysis – that of the battlefield where man degenerates to brute and reduces civilization to rubble – all are the same in violence, devastation, death. Once the ground is leveled, the messiah may appear to compensate for violent, competitive patriarchy; then and only then shall a feminine center of attention hold, dispelling dystopia and giving birth to the New Man in Utopia. Yes, something must be coming from all of this, something much better than presently recalled from past presents, but it cannot appear until the slate is wiped cleaned – expectant Nothing is pregnant with meaning because we are used to waking up.
In any case, Derrida personified the politically divisive French school wont to undermine traditional standards. His followers allied themselves with gay rights, feminism, and Third World causes. People who knew him said he had the devil in his eyes and deliberately pursued a program he knew would madden everyone. As founder of the diabolically difficult school of the impossible philosophical project labeled deconstructionism, he deliberately used dense, complex, and circular language. He infuriated intellectuals with his insistence that the meaning of a set of words is never fixed and clear, for pointing out language is inherently ambiguous, and that the meaning of a term is never present with the word since its meaning depends on a the contextual complexity of innumerable other words. In other words, Meaning is not in the words themselves but in their relations. Those relations change, words are added and subtracted, their meanings change, and those meanings fluctuate by interpretation. Not even the author knows his meaning.
He was accused of corrupting the youth with nihilism, which he repeatedly denied. Arguably, to honestly confess that we do not really know who we are, or what the true nature of the universe is, or what, if anything, god is, proves a man or woman to be of sounder mind than other people whose ideological certainly renders them idiots inclined to destructiveness. After all, the presumably omnipotent Supreme Being, the absolutely self-motivated or uncaused cause, does not have to have a reason for anything at all, for it precedes all things, hence has no cause to think. Yet human beings like other mobile and mortal creatures have good cause to doubt at length in an ever-changing world; it doubt that moves them to exercise their reasoning power to extend their lives. We depend on our want of life for its pursuit by availing means. The human being stands upright with head in the heavens to survey the world in general. The individual shares that perspective with others and is accordingly a social person; the very I or unity of self-conscious processes is a social process. The absence of clarity and certainty of language for the communication of causes (reasons) moves us to reason and communicate all the more. The fact that there is no perfect system of self-help does not stop us from doing our best to help, and to fill the bookshelves with our findings.
An author’s style may be disparaged by critics who do not like an author’s ideas or do not understand them. Anglo-American professors of English who preferred plain English and wanted everything spelled out for them in short sentences did not like the way Derrida wrote, finding his style repugnant to their sensibilities. Human life is inherently ambiguous hence speech is fraught with internal contradictions that, when carefully examined, layers of multiple meanings, but pointing that out will tend to confuse people. His explanations of his philosophy were murky. Deconstruction, if there is such a thing, is an experience of the impossible, so he should not have said anything at all. His prose is turgid and baffling, with single sentences running into three pages, and footnotes even longer. His obsession with making much of difference by drawing differences is irrational, divisive, and destructive of consensus and social harmony, therefore unethical. Never mind that to recognize, account for and analyze differences of opinion is a rational process and one of the pillars of democracy.
Literary professors with scant wisdom tried to imitate his style and philosophical approach and establish themselves as philosophers with profound insight into human issues. Derrida was especially derided by the finalists, the academic lords who wanted traditional finality in their respective English departments, and he was duly praised by the critical climbers who wanted to play musical chairs with the high chairs, because he allegedly preferred to elevate the many over the few if not the one, the multiple interpretation of meaning over the singular, the one and only meaning of literature and life. After all, if literature and its texts have multiple meanings capable of virtually infinite interpretation, every innovative literary critic has an opportunity to become a noteworthy critic as well as a philosopher of note, and might even preside over his or her own English department some day. What could be more democratic, in the sense of equal opportunity, and rational, in the sense that everyone might have his and her ration or fair share, than the celebration of multiplicity? Did not the eternal rationalist and cockeyed optimist, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz do the same? Did he not reconcile the interests of the many individuals, each standing alone, with their common interest in individuality, in the category of one? Ah, but the lords of English at Cambridge adhered to the absolute, unmitigated truth, and militated against the perverse proposal that Derrida be awarded an honorary degree in 1992.
Derrida died at age 74 of pancreatic cancer. It is very bad manners to curse a man at his funeral, to drop deconstructive bombs on his wake. After all, who is “destructive” in distinction to “deconstructive”? Every human being has its faults in the eyes of others if not in its own, and great beings have more defects than others. Jacques Derrida was the Representative or Great Man of Philosophy ala Victor Cousin, the French eclectic who stole Hegel’s soup, the same soup copiously imbibed by Derrida. Cousin was well aware of the flaws in the great men he studied, yet he said that we must emphasize their positive features to posterity. That being said, we offer this obituary:
Derrida was postmodern philosophy’s rock star; postmodern in this sense, that he was a classical philosopher in neoteric garb, a dandy who dazzled and corrupted the youth with skepticism for the authority we necessarily receive at birth whether we like it or not, doubting dogmatic authors who thought they knew everything in truth, but in truth knew absolutely nothing at all, least of all themselves and their gods; wherefore he continued the Socratic project of putting absolute authority to death, picking its metaphysical corpus apart and laying its authors to rest while mourning their passing into the Impossible—Comte’s Great Being, if you prefer—for the disciples of genuine masters must cut the cord and do their own thing, put their own twists and turns and spins on the same old thing; yea, the disciple devours his yogi and sits on his mat, and for Jacques Derrida that was not a hateful project but a painstaking, loving endeavor that would in time reconcile its unwholesomeness with its holy end, the death that seems impossible after waking up time and time again, hence Jackie had the dreams of a boy, of “dreaming of making love, or being a resistance fighter in the last war blowing up bridges or trains,” until Jacques, in his maturity, wanted “one thing only, and that is to lose myself in the orchestra I would form with my sons, heal, bless and seduce the whole world by playing divinely with my sons, produce with them the world’s ecstasy, their creation – I shall accept dying if dying is to sink slowly, yes, into this beloved music.”
Self Portrait par Moi