Archive for July 15th, 2010

Vive la différence

Thursday, July 15th, 2010
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Josh Cohen

Josh Cohen reviews two books on Derrida in the July 2 TLS — the first, The Beast and the Sovereign, is the first volume from the University of Chicago Press, includes Derrida’s lectures from 2001 to 2002, revealing “a vivid attestation to the experience of Derrida as a teacher — the quality of his attention, the tone and rhythm of his voice, his means of sparking his students’ capacities to read and think.”

Josh makes me want to take a dive into Derrida, with intriguing explanations such as this one:

“Derridean practice of philosophy simply doesn’t consist in making, elaborating and defending propositional statements, even sceptical ones.  It is premissed rather on a conception and practice of philosophy as reading, understood in a very singular way.  Briefly put (and risking the very perils of summary exposition I’ve just pointed to), reading as Derrida conceives it focuses on the predicament of philosophy itself.  To read is to be subject to the temporal delay and spatial dispersion that are the conditions of any and every text.  Meaning is never gathered immediately in a determinate textual time and place but, to use Derrida’s terms, ‘differs’ (that is, depends on the play of difference between words, or ‘signifiers’) and ‘defers’ (that is, spreads over the time and space of reading).  Derrida famously coined the term différence for this radically elusive logic of differing and deferring, a term reducible to no entity or substance.  The play of différence ensures that meaning is always divided from itself.  Reading is a kind of ongoing experience of this internal division in, and dispersion of, meaning.”

Alas, he’s not as enthusiastic about David Mikics’s biography, Who Was Jacques Derrida? He finds the Derrida who emerges  from the pages “is a tediously predictable one, and as such, unrecognizable,” and writes that Mikics reduces Derrida’s thought to a few summary positions:  “One imagines a reader new to Derrida coming away from Mikics’s book rather puzzled as to why the question posed in the title was worth asking.”