Saturday, October 09, 2004

Derrida: Flip Flopper Supreme

"Each death is unique, of course, and therefore unusual, but what can one say about the unusual when, from Barthes to Althusser, from Foucault to Deleuze, it multiplies in this way in the same 'generation,' as in a series - and Deleuze was also the philosopher of serial singularity - all these uncommon endings?"

Derrida, I'll Have to Wander Alone

"I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous--a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite."

--Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 'Why I Am a Destiny.'

The king of all flip-floppers has shuffled off the mortal coil, ironically at a time when the key talking points of the Republican candidate against his Democratic opponent for the American Presidency are French -- "nuance," and "naivete." (Nietzsche always went in for the French word)

Call me superstitious, but there is something almost creepy about how ideas and the deaths of their greatest proponents tend to coincide one another. To wit, The Corsair is thinking here of the instance of former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who shuffled off his own mortal coil at the same time the Bush Administration shrugged off calls for multilateralism, the diplomatic concept of pacta sunt sevanda and international law going it alone in Iraq.

Rhetorical nuance: Derrida::International Law: Moynihan?

The Corsair was never a big fan of Jacques Derrida, who died today, or, for that matter, French philosophical movements in general post-World War II, which were all style and little substance.

Renee Descartes, the great doubter, was, arguably, the earnest beginning of French philosophy, he began a noble tradition winding through the Philosophes and the French Existentialists (which produced the wildly overrated Jean Paul Sartre -- who, incidentally, in 100 years time will even have heard of his nauseating La Nausee, much less his little nothing of a book on Nothingness? Nobody, The Corsair wagers), but, eventually, the French Philosophical tradition lost it's way in the labyrinthe of Western thought, a cause de trauma perhaps, from the Nazi occupation of Vichy. As a result, the French philosophical tradition lapsed instead into a gaudy sort of aestheticism -- a life of the mind devoted to the triumph of the senses, of -- tasting, smelling, touching (and the unpardonable sin of doing all of this in berets. Eew); all those tasty things we now associate being French.

Only a Gaul, like Proust, had belle espirit enough to link, through singularly poetic and, quite frankly, symphonically structured prose, the concept of Memory with the taste of Madeleine's and tea. But even this Proustian aestheticism has about it whiffs of a particularly French existentialist fragrance of melancholy.

Post WW2 French philosophers were mesmerized by the gemlike afterglow of Nietzschean End-of-Philosophy fragment bombs -- mesmerized like at the reflections thrown off by some otherworldly dark emerald -- and thus they began posing and strategizing, orchestrating and performing, assuming, incorrectly, that Nietzsche was correct, that metaphysics had indeed ended-- all nice and postmodern, thank you very much (The Corsair gives a studied bow) -- but Deconstruction was entirely devoid of any content. So, The Corsair asks, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what indeed is philosophy if it devoid of content?

Mere rhetoric. Style.

And Derrida, like all Deconstructionists -- and, in particular, French aesthetes, are expert at making rhetoric dance. Deconstructionists like to talk naught else but shit, in a negative, witty, ironic vain (And if you say -- "But isn't that what The Corsair does?" I'll wound you ... I really will wound you). And, usually, this shit is talked on such "controversial" topics as (Averted Gaze) "sex," and "oppression" and "Art(The Corsair yawns, as if encountering a magnum full of chloroform)". It would all be perfect comedy if it didn't nestle so tragically snug into Kierkegaard's Aesthetic Phase, the lowest phase of existence in his Stages of Life.

Reuters says of Derrida's passing:

"Derrida, who divided his time between France and the United States, argued that the traditional way we read texts makes a number of false assumptions and that they have multiple meanings which even their author may not have understood.

"His thinking gave rise to the school of deconstruction, a method of analysis that has been applied to literature, linguistics, philosophy, law and architecture.

"It is heralded as showing the multiple layers of meaning at work in language, but was described by critics as nihilistic.

"...His work focused on language. Challenging the idea that a text has an unchangeable meaning, Derrida said the author's intentions cannot be accepted unconditionally and that this means each text can have multiple meanings."

This sounds not unlike nuance. And what not. The calling into question of truth and ultimate reality and the possibility of a final vocabulary is how Karl Rove characterizes liberalism, and Democrats would be well served to deeply consider what the death and legacy of Derrida at this time symbolically means and whether or not it is lasting and whether or not Liberal academia wants to continue be identified with such a thinker -- as it once was with Marx and Freud.

"His ideas were seen as showing unavoidable tensions between the ideals of clarity and coherence that govern philosophy.

"He was seen as the inheritor of 'anti-philosophy,' the school of thought of predecessors such as Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger."

The use of Heidegger here is unfortunate (leaving aside his disgusting radical politics). Heidegger was setting up the possible ground-of-Philosophy, which was a different activity altogether than Nietszche and Freud, who were explaining a universe that they perceived to be governed by will and besieged on all sides by an outmoded Platonic and Christian idealism that suppressed natural drives. This, from Beyond Good and Evil, was, in many respects the key to understanding Deconstructionist activity:

"The will to truth which will still tempt us to many a venture, that famous truthfulness of which all philosophers so far have spoken with respect -- what questions has this will to truth not laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions! . . . until we finally came to a complete stop before a still more basic question. We asked about the 'value' of this will. Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth and uncertainty even ignorance?"

This figured into Derrida's antifoundationalist stratagem of turning the world on its head. If Nietszche was the philosopher with the hammer, Derrida was the philosopher with the crafty pen.

An anonymous poster -- thanks -- hipped me to a Lakoff essay, which says, wisely:

"While conservatives understand that all of their policies have a single unified origin, liberals understand their own political conceptual universe so badly that they still think of it in terms of coalitions of interest groups. Where conservatives have organized for an overall, unified onslaught on liberal culture, liberals are fragmented into isolated interest groups, based on superficial localized issues: labor, the rights of ethnic groups, feminism, gay rights, environmentalism, abortion rights, homelessness, health care, education, the arts, and so on. This failure to see a unified picture of liberal politics has led to a divided consciousness and has allowed conservatives to employ a divide-and-conquer strategy."

This perhaps is what liberals ought to consider now, at the death of the philosopher. RIP, Jacques Derrida.


Unknown said...

Thanks Ron, that was a brilliant post, a post to be shared.

Cupie xoxo

Anonymous said...

This post is why I come to The Corsair. Blogging about Derrida. Hot. Thought I'd never hear that name uttered again after my last postmodernism class.

- Pencopal