text and links some might like to see

From: L. Manning Vines <lmanningvines@hotmail.com>
Date: Sat Feb 01 2003 - 04:25:00 EST

A little while back a link was posted that was to a webpage that included
brief quotations from a letter of protest that was written when Derrida was
suggested as a recipient of an honorary degree from Cambridge. Apparently
his candidature originated in the English department and some opposition
came from the Philosophy department. The letter with the impressive
collection of signatories was written by one Mr. Barry Smith, editor of the
Monist and I believe later a professor at SUNY Buffalo.

At the time the link was posted, Jim (I think it was Jim) expressed interest
in reading the rest of the letter. I had forgotten all about that, but
yesterday while I was searching online for something totally unrelated I
mistakenly stumbled upon the very letter. I thought to post the link.
Looking back at it now, I see that the font on the webpage is (to me at
least) virtually unreadable, so rather than posting a link I will copy and
paste, for Jim and anybody else who is interested. To the uninterested, I
apologize for posting such an off-topic message even after the pertinent
thread has run its course. You can delete this and be assured that there
will not be another similar one from me (I'm happy with the old conversation
being over, and these are just some links and text that some bananafish
might be interested in as a brief diversion from whatever they want a
diversion from).

Reading the letter had me curious to look for something else, which I will
explain with the pertinent links below.

What follows is the letter:

Sir, The University of Cambridge is to ballot on May 16 on whether M.
Jacques Derrida should be allowed to go forward to receive an honorary
degree. As philosophers and others who have taken a scholarly and
professional interest in M. Derrida's remarkable career over the years, we
believe the following might throw some needed light on the public debate
that has arisen over this issue.

M. Derrida describes himself as a philosopher, and his writings do indeed
bear some of the marks of writings in that discipline. Their influence,
however, has been to a striking degree almost entirely in fields outside
philosophy -- in departments of film studies, for example, or of French and
English literature.

In the eyes of philosophers, and certainly among those working in leading
departments of philosophy throughout the world, M. Derrida's work does not
meet accepted standards of clarity and rigour.

We submit that, if the works of a physicist (say) were similarly taken to be
of merit primarily by those working in other disciplines, this would in
itself be sufficient grounds for casting doubt upon the idea that the
physicist in question was a suitable candidate for an honorary degree.

M. Derrida's career had its roots in the heady days of the 1960s and his
writings continue to reveal their origins in that period. Many of them seem
to consist in no small part of elaborate jokes and the puns "logical
phallusies" and the like, and M. Derrida seems to us to have come close to
making a career out of what we regard as translating into the academic
sphere tricks and gimmicks similar to those of the Dadaists or of the
concrete poets.

Certainly he has shown considerable originality in this respect. But again,
we submit, such originality does not lend credence to the idea that he is a
suitable candidate for an honorary degree.

Many French philosophers see in M. Derrida only cause for silent
embarrassment, his antics having contributed significantly to the widespread
impression that contemporary French philosophy is little more than an object
of ridicule.

M. Derrida's voluminous writings in our view stretch the normal forms of
academic scholarship beyond recognition. Above all -- as every reader can
very easily establish for himself (and for this purpose any page will do) --
his works employ a written style that defies comprehension.

Many have been willing to give M. Derrida the benefit of the doubt,
insisting that language of such depth and difficulty of interpretation must
hide deep and subtle thoughts indeed.

When the effort is made to penetrate it, however, it becomes clear, to us at
least, that, where coherent assertions are being made at all, these are
either false or trivial.

Academic status based on what seems to us to be little more than
semi-intelligible attacks upon the values of reason, truth, and scholarship
is not, we submit, sufficient grounds for the awarding of an honorary degree
in a distinguished university.

Yours sincerely,

Barry Smith
(Editor, The Monist)

Hans Albert (University of Mannheim), David Armstrong (Sydney), Ruth Barcan
Marcus (Yale), Keith Campbell (Sydney), Richard Glauser (Neuchâtel), Rudolf
Haller (Graz), Massimo Mugnai (Florence), Kevin Mulligan (Geneva), Lorenzo
Peña (Madrid), Willard van Orman Quine (Harvard), Wolfgang Röd (Innsbruck),
Karl Schuhmann (Utrecht), Daniel Schulthess (Neuchâtel), Peter Simons
(Salzburg), René Thom (Burs-sur-Yvette), Dallas Willard (Los Angeles), Jan
Wolenski (Cracow)
Internationale Akademie für Philosophie, Obergass 75, 9494S Schaan,

That's the letter. It mentions a lack of support from philosophy
departments though Derrida's work is ostensibly philosophical, and this
reminded me of reading a long time ago some harsh criticism of Derrida
coming from some linguist or other, though his work considers language a
great deal. I couldn't place the particularly harsh instance that I
remember, but one thing that came immediately to mind was a memory from
somewhere that Noam Chomsky does not look very favorably on him. To be sure
that I wasn't misremembering, and out of a curiosity that stumbling upon the
letter inspired, I looked up "Derrida" in the indexes of several books and
had no luck, and then turned to Internet searches.

I found one document written by Mr. Chomsky that was about something a bit
different (post-modernism within the activist community, if I now remember
it correctly), but mentioned Derrida and a few others specifically (and
specifically his Grammatology), and somewhat harshly. There was some
question concerning the authenticity of this document, so I asked Mr.
Chomsky, and he confirmed it. He was careful to note, so I will be careful
to note, that it is not an article but a contribution to an Internet forum
and a response to specific questions (which are not included on the page).
The text is not a polished document, it leaves things unanswered and is in
places too brief, but he did write it and it does represent his views

You can find it here:
If you don't want to read all of it, you can jump to the pertinent stuff by
having your browser search for "Derrida."

Another article is here: http://cognet.mit.edu/Books/chomsky/5/8.html
This, also, is on post-modernism (I am aware that John -- I do believe it
was John -- said with some authority that on some grounds Derrida is not a
post-modernist) and Derrida fares a little bit better here. Chomsky is
still critical of him, but does say that "Derrida. . . at least should be
read. . ."

And finally, I also bumped into this:
It's an interview with Cambridge Professor (Emeritus) Hugh Mellor, one of
the more vocal opponents to the honorary degree. He talks about it and
Derrida (briefly) toward the bottom of the interview.

I hope nobody is bothered by the irrelevance of this post.

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Received on Sat Feb 1 04:25:32 2003

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