Re: text and links some might like to see

From: James Rovira <>
Date: Mon Feb 03 2003 - 11:33:17 EST

Responses below. Finally read the links:

L. Manning Vines wrote:

>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."
In this link I think Chomsky has a point about some of the
characteristics of "theory" though I think he tends to understand
"theory" in a scientific, mechanistic framework (you keep seeing
references to science when he gropes for examples). I tend to agree
with some of his observations, and think it's commendable that he
actually read /Of Grammatology/, but the fact is there are books out
there that do talk about Derrida's philosophy in fairly plain language.
 If he hasn't found them it's because he hasn't looked. It sounds to me
like he's not interested in looking -- which is, of course, fine -- but
then he needs to withdraw some of his claims. I suspect the people on
the list are probably guilty of just what he describes, but that's not
true of the world outside the list.

I agree that what many of the theorists are saying isn't necessarily
new, but it is their emphasis that is new.

When Chomsky said this: "It's certainly true that lots of people can't
read the books I write. That's not because the ideas or language are
complicated --- we have no problems in informal discussion on exactly
the same points, and even in the same words. "

I had to laugh. Spivak said the same thing about her writing recently
-- "the ideas and language aren't that complicated."

No, of course not, not if you're the author. I laughed at Spivak too.

>Another article is here:
>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. . ."
It's interesting that the author said this about Chomsky -- "But
postmodernism nonetheless says something, in its own obfuscated
language, that is an affront to Chomsky's sensibilities." -- which is
what I've been suspecting. The article didn't describe those
sensibilities and how postmodernism violates them, though, so it doesn't
really leave us any better than before.

I think Norris is a bit hard on Baudrillard. Yes, the Gulf War "really"
happened, but hundreds of millions of us only know it as a series of
images on a TV screen, voices on the radio, and words in print. These
are all simulacra and we don't, and can't, know how closely they
correspond to the "real" Gulf War. It's conceivable our sources of
information are lying to us significantly. It's almost certain they're
lying to us at least somewhat. I wonder what Norris would say about the
movie Capricorn One.

The article did mention Derrida in a positive light, yes. It's a nice
verbalization of some of my own ideas. Look at the language used to
describe Derrida's work in /Of Grammaology/, though -- it consists of
/tu quoque /("you too") arguments (a "you too" argument would go: "It's
hypocritical for the US to want to keep Iraq from having nuclear weapons
because it has them too." This is technically a logical fallacy, but I
think it depends on how the argument is being used), and it "carries the
argument by sheer force of reasoning and meticulous attention to the
blind-spots in his opponents' discourse."

None of this -- the /tu quoque/ argumentation, or the pointing out of
blind spots -- is really part of formal scholarship on, say, Rousseau
and Plato, unless it was incorporated into a coherent description of the
philosophies as a whole, which Derrida never attempts. He picks at
seams, pulls little threads, to unravel opposing arguments.

>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.
Heh...this opening line told me everything I needed to know: "Herbert
Feigl, who had been a member of the Vienna Circle and was a friend of
Einstein and Popper. I took a course with him. That was what really led,
in the end, to my becoming a philosopher." -- Popper is the kind of
philosopher only a scientist, or the scientifically minded, would love.
 No wonder he's not fond of Derrida.

I mean, look at what he says here: "But there is also a more
mathematically based, scientifically oriented tradition of philosophy
which I got from Richard Braithwaite, but which goes back through
Russell and Ramsey and Broad. I feel myself as belonging to this tradition."

Given his scientific bent, it's not surprising that he would say, "I
think the 'linguistic turn' in modern philosophy has greatly exaggerated
the importance of language for philosophy."

This is exactly the kind of predisposition that would generate hostility
to Derrida. For science to work, it can't question the language upon
which it is based. It can question some uses of language, but not the
institution of language itself. It doesn't have a frame of reference
from which it can stand outside language. It can critique verbal
language from a mathematical framework (which is what seems to be
happening in his discussion of time), but mathematics can't be used to
talk about everything.

So when he gets to Derrida it's no wonder he says, "But he also mixes
these truisms up with silly falsehoods, which, if believed and acted on,
would cripple intellectual activities of all kinds."

That's exactly the point. If he doesn't see Derrida's assertions as
"falsehoods," he wouldn't be able to do his work.

And of course he makes Derrida's central ideas "trivial" -- " it's just
trivially true that if an action leaves a trace, then the trace will
always be of something in the past that was once present" -- but that's
not the point Derrida makes. I think the point is that the trace is all
we ever have, not the presence of the thing itself. And this leads to
instability in the use of language. He can't and doesn't want to
confront this, however. In order to do science, he needs to believe he
is dealing with tangible, present, real things, not sign systems with no
anchor in a present reality.

It's interesting how he defends authorial intent when that's been tossed
aside for over 50 years now. Derrida has nothing to do with this.

I think it's interesting that the people mentioned here as critics of
Derrida seem to be associated with science. Derrida is negative and
questioning; science is positivist and answering. These stances are
foundationally incompatible. The question is the end for Derrida, but
just the beginning for the scientist. These critiques of Derrida are
inevitable given the previous commitments of the people making the


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Received on Mon Feb 3 11:33:20 2003

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