Re: text and links some might like to see

From: L. Manning Vines <>
Date: Sun Feb 02 2003 - 00:16:58 EST

Jim said:
<< 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. >>

This might be so, but reading Chomsky widely one is struck, if by nothing
else, by his extraordinary breadth (if you consider the depth and
scholarship and influence of his POLITICAL work, for which he is probably
more famous than for the field of linguistics that he created, this becomes
even more abundantly clear). While he is something of a scientist -- he was
a leader in making the study of language more scientific, in fact -- he is
no stranger to philosophy. Picking up some of his books and thumbing
through an index, one will find reference to many of the same names that
have sprung up in conversations about Derrida on this list, and, I don't
doubt, names that pop up in a similar index of Derrida's. He is strongly
influenced by Descartes, actually, and has even been called (accurately or
not) a Cartesian.

I'm not sure if that hurts your point or helps it, but . . .

In any case, it appears that his biggest criticism of the group he
associates with Derrida is that he thinks they are deliberately obscure.
The link I posted to the text of his contribution to an internet forum
spells this out rather well, if you ever find the time to read it. He says
that he doesn't understand, for instance, controversy over the weight of a
neutrino or the proof of Fermat's last theorem, but he has been able to ask
friends in the respective fields to explain things like these and has come
to successfully understand them. The writings of those he associates with
Derrida, on the other hand, (I'm don't remember if he explicitly includes
Derrida in this) are often incomprehensible to him and nobody has been able
to successfully explain them.

He mentions Derrida specifically and says this: "So take Derrida, one of the
grand old men. I thought I ought to at least be able to understand his
Grammatology, so tried to read it. I could make out some of it, for example,
the critical analysis of classical texts that I knew very well and had
written about years before. I found the scholarship appalling, based on
pathetic misreading; and the argument, such as it was, failed to come close
to the kinds of standards I've been familiar with since virtually

There is more on the page (I encourage you to read it), but he doesn't go
into much detail on the specifics and he expresses some regret over this,
saying that he doesn't like to say such things without backing them up, but
that he was asked, and is thus answering, and that he can't for various
reasons (which should be obvious) post much detail to the forum in question
(which is a political forum). The best one can do, I suppose, is to learn
Chomsky's own readings by reading his work on de Saussure and others, of
which there is very much in print. I've read a good deal of it, and am of
the opinion that it is very good. But I suppose the necessary investment of
time will hinder you in this regard.

You also said: << Chomsky's prior commitments make it impossible for him to
appreciate Derrida. >>

This might be so, just as you suggest, but I'm not sure of it. And simply
from the breadth and diversity of Chomsky's work, I must admit, I am
skeptical of it, at least without a better defense of the assertion.

And a bit further down: << 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. >>

Perhaps it was suggested elsewhere, but I, for one, did not mean for the
letter to be used as a mark against Derrida. I actually posted it entirely
because you expressed interest in seeing it, and I thought that others on
the list might share that interest.

I think that the worth of the letter is solely in the indication of the view
it presents. I did not mean to express any judgment on the validity of that
view, and, as it turns out, the letter is necessarily without much argument.
It seem to me that such a thing is meant to be a declaration of dissent,
with the real argument going on elsewhere. A little bit of the sentiment in
the argument can be found by the links I posted. Doubtless there are
lengthy essays by somebody or other that argue in greater detail, but so far
as I know none exist that were written by Professor Mellor (whose signature
isn't on the letter, though he was one of the more vocal members of the
controversy at Cambridge) or Chomsky or several of the others I've
mentioned, which seems reasonable if they were not, in fact, pissed off:
believing as they do concerning the value of so much of Derrida's work, it
doesn't seem likely that they'd devote a great deal of time to it. The link
to Chomsky's text in fact faces directly the question of why he doesn't
write something that delves deeply into Derrida or the others he talks about
when he spends so much time doing that for the writing in, say, the New York

I'm not sure that I agree with you that indignant opposition is something
that is "expected" -- considering that, although many people have been
violently opposed for saying true things, the history of the west also
includes many people who said very controversial things to no substantial
problem, and as I said in the post to John, even cases like that of
Copernicus and Galileo where two people say the same thing and only one of
them gets any heat for it.

But I do agree that the existence of dissent does not by necessity either
indicate either value or its lack.

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Received on Sun Feb 2 00:17:27 2003

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