Re: text and links some might like to see

From: Jim Rovira <>
Date: Sat Feb 01 2003 - 22:22:25 EST

Robbie --

I'm sure you've read a lot more Chomsky than I (and I'm not being gratuitious
here, I mean it), but his approach tends toward the scientific (as you said),
and being scientific he'd tend to emphasize what can be known about language
rather than what cannot -- how it communicates rather than how it does not (this
does not exclude the failure of communication as an object of study, but
contextualizes it). Derrida would probably seem to him to be completely
backwards. Chomsky would probably appreciate a positivist philosophical
approach to language, but certainly wouldn't like Derrida.

Rather than trying to specifically identify the particular schools of philosophy
represented by the signatories, this is the type of thinking I was trying to
identify as really being pertinent to our discussion. Chomsky's prior
commitments make it impossible for him to appreciate Derrida. I suspect this is
the case with the signatories as well. I have more important things to study at
the moment than "who dislikes Derrida," but if I did have the time, a websearch
would indeed be a good place to start.

Since the letter argued that the attitude described in it was representative of
the philosophical community at large, a large number of signatures would have
made a much more convincing case than a relatively small number. They could
have published a short list in the paper and sent a complete list to Cambridge
-- with a note mentioning that fact in the paper. Perhaps they did...I don't

RE: the quality of Derrida's "scholarship" -- I don't know that Derrida is doing
"scholarship" on, say, Plato, Saussere, Heidegger, Nietzche, Rousseau,
Levi-Strauss, etc., in any meaningful sense of the word. He's asking us to look
at them in a new light, to notice trends in their thought and use of language
that reveal how we think, and how our thinking is guided by our language.

So the letter sounded, in part, like these philosophers were complaining that
Derrida wasn't playing their game when he wasn't and never intended to.
Demanding that he does is to misunderstand him.

For example, Heidegger had some idiosyncratic readings of Parmenides that
professional scholars in that field would probably take issue with. Heck --
even when I was reading him, I found myself thinking, "amazing that Parmenides
said way back then exactly what you're telling us today...what a coincidence."

But to dismiss Heidegger on this basis is to misunderstand his project at this
point -- again, it's a rereading, an attempt to liberate a text from over 2000
of philosophical accrual so it can speak differently to us today. The
idiosyncrasy is the point, actually.

This is never "good scholarship" because good scholarship always proceeds with
some nod to everything that's been said before about the subject. This is,
instead, the development of a new philosophy, a new class of things to be said
about the subject. It requires a dismissal of what has been said before. In
Derrida's case it is even more fundamental than that. It is a critique of the
language undergirding everything that has ever been said before.

Of course people are going to take issue with this.

Derrida argues that our language, as it is structured, leads to ethnocentrism.
This is a serious, not trivial, observation supported by argument and textual
analysis. If these philosophers were reading Derrida to see how he entered into
an ongoing conversation about Plato, of course they'd be disappointed.

He was never interested in that conversation to begin with. He wanted to start
a completely new topic altogether. I think this is what John was getting at, a
bit, as well.

So while I completely agree that "In either case, opposition -- even indignation
-- is not necessarily a mark in his favor," I'd like to point out the letter was
originally mentioned with the assumption that opposition, in this case, is
undoubtedly a mark against Derrida.

My argument is that it is neither an mark for nor against, but simply to be
expected given what he is doing.

It is the content of the opposition that matters, and how directly it engages
Derrida's claims. The letter doesn't seem to do so. Perhaps specific essays by
some of the philosophers who signed the letter do?


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Received on Sat Feb 1 22:22:25 2003

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