Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Derrida Question, or, The Question of the Derrida

For those that don't know what I am talking about, here are a bunch of links. Make sure to read comments, for that is where a lot of the action is taking place: here, here, here, here, here, and here. Whew. As you can see there is a lot of meta-discussion going on here: about tone, about accusations, about all sorts of very personal things. This is among people I generally like and respect in my interactions with them. So, I hope you all forgive me (particularly those involved) if I ignore the questions of tone and rudeness and the whatnot that occurred in the virtual vacuum (devoid of vocal and body expressions). I'll just try to talk about the philosophy.

Part of the reason I call this the Derrida question is this discussion has rapidly very little to do with Derrida (look at how many people cite any passages by Derrida). It has far more to do with a philosophical assemblage that seems to be going by the name Derrida and derridians. By which I mean there seems to be a way that Derrida and derridians (which just aren't the same thing) have effected different people engaging in this discussion in very different ways. Derrida has been a source of joy (in a very Deleuze's Spinoza sense of that term), and a source of sadness for others. There are also two Derrida's here: The first is Derrida the actual writer and philosopher. For some of us this Derrida has been a wonderful intellectual provocateur. I have both new thoughts and more rigorous thoughts because of my interactions with Derrida's work. The second Derrida is institutional, and has very little to do with Derrida the philosopher or Derrida the person. In both Levi's and Harman's cases, I think this Derrida was suffocating for them. Both of them have talked about the sort of push back to doing work that wasn't commentaries from their pro-Derrida grad programs. In one of these posts Harman even talks about how derridians didn't exactly support his book Tool-Being. I can't speak for Matt on this one, but for me Derrida's talking the animal question seriously has allowed far more freedom for me to take the animal question seriously. This became particularly true after the English translation of The Animal that Therefore I Am came out. This isn't because I have had to do any commentaries on Derrida (though occasionally I've been pressured to do so), or because I (or hell, most other people in the animal studies community) use Derrida as some sort of trump card. Rather, it is because a certain level of institutional legitimacy has been conferred on doing animal studies from a continental perspective. I have several stories of the times I have been laughed at when people found out I writing about animals, as if that wasn't a proper topic for philosophy. Those incidents have decreased significantly in the last three years. A good part of that is the work of Derrida coming into translation. Another big part of that is the efforts, rigor, and passion of people like Matt.
So, there are people who have found Derrida intellectually provocative, and people who have been bored or drained by reading Derrida. There are people who have found Derrida institutionally enabling, and people who have found Derrida institutionally stifling. And if we are able to engage in assemblages with either Derrida that allow for joy has only very little to do with if we are reading Derrida 'correctly' or not. When we come to Derrida, the context of those who have read Derrida around, the types of Derrida works we start by reading and what we are writing at that time. All of that is going to play a far greater role into defining our relationship to a thinker like Derrida than, you know, what Derrida actually did or did not believe.
But all of this is why debates over Derrida somewhat boring to me. Sure, I might role my eyes a bit at Levi's attacks on Derrida (sorry Levi), but I find Levi's work useful. And I have no doubt that Levi's polemical relationship to Derrida has contributed to Levi's philosophy that I have found enabling. Levi might roll his eyes when I find Derrida for thinking outside of anthropocentrism, but my hope is that he judges my work outside of the citational apparatus (and I'm pretty sure he does).
With that said, on the questions raised here, my reading of Derrida is the same as Matt's (he and I disagree elsewhere). And as Peter points out, there are plenty of people engaging seriously with Derrida that do not feel he is a correlationist (or always one, anyway).