Magazine article The Spectator

Is Derrida Really Dead?

Magazine article The Spectator

Is Derrida Really Dead?

Article excerpt

Jacques Derrida, the famous French philosopher, is 'dead'. But as there is no straightforward, one-to-one relationship between the signifier ('dead') and the thing signified (the termination or otherwise of the actual person, M. Derrida), we cannot be entirely sure what has happened. We are faced instead with an endless multiplicity of truths, a string of infinite possibilities. I suppose it is entirely up to the reader to decide. It would be logocentric of us all to assume that Jakki's corporeal remains are in a state of decomposition simply because of the unbidden and puzzling presence, in our newspapers, of that signifier 'dead' in relation to the name 'Jacques Derrida' a name which is, of course, itself merely a signifier bearing no straightforward relationship with the actual thing which we have come to call 'Derrida'. The 'Jacques Derrida' which has 'died' was, or is, merely a refraction of a refraction of reality. So 'Jacques Derrida' might indeed be 'dead'. After all, he was getting on a bit and had been suffering from that thing which we have come to call 'cancer'. And then again, he might not be 'dead', whatever that is. Take your pick. We have to allow for the possibility that, contrary to the doctor's notes, which are a refraction of reality again, and contrary to the lamentations of family and friends and admirers and the newspaper obits and the undertaker's report, what has actually happened might well be this: somebody who isn't 'Jacques Derrida' hasn't 'died'. Go on, write that headline.

Hell, it's confusing stuff, isn't it? I bet it wasn't like this when a good old dependable British philosopher like Hume, or maybe Bertrand Russell, bit the dust. With them, one minute they were there, alive, without speech marks, and the next minute they were dead, devoid again of speech marks, and indeed breath. You know where you are with British philosophers and, up to a point, German philosophers. Except for Nietzsche, of course. And maybe Habermas. And Hegel.

Our problem comes, as ever, with the French. You think the 'death' of 'Derrida' is philosophically problematic? Just wait until Jacques Lacan dies. Believe me, we won't know whether we're coming or going. Lacan makes Derrida look like Paul Gascoigne.

The thing I always loved about Derrida was that all of those people on the Left who loved him never, ever read anything he wrote. This was about the only thing Derrida had in common with Marx: a huge fan club and a great lagoon of unreadness. University courses dedicated to their work; acre after acre of academic library stuffed to the gills with commentaries and revisions; thousands upon thousands of graduates pinning pictures of them on the mildewed walls of their bedsits. And only nine people in Europe actually read their published work. Well, maybe a few of your more intellectual Trots and commies read a couple of pages of Das Kapital or, more likely, the Communist Manifesto or Grundrisse and then, faced with Derrida, managed most of the preface to Of Grammatology. Then, through the conduit of helpful five-page readers and crib notes they would bandy about terms and concepts like the 'negation of the negation' (from Marx) and of course 'différence' (from Jakki) and start to Change The World. (Philosophers have hitherto attempted to explain the world: the point, however, is to change it. …

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