Saturday, October 09, 2004

Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye

Jacques Derrida has died. Legal scholar Jack Balkin writes a nice appreciation....

I read Derrida in grad school, back in the 80s. Most decidedly tough sledding, but fascinating. The first piece of his I read (or tried to read) was his "Living On/Borderlines" essay in the Deconstruction and Criticism book, collecting the "Yale Mafia" inside one set of covers. Derrida's contribution ran an essay on Blanchot on top of a long footnote consisting of an essay on - long footnotes? It's been awhile. The way it looked on the page, though, was instantly addictive, and I kept reading Derrida in hopes that I could understand some of it. Eventually I did, though I had to read a lot of Nietzsche and a fair amount of Hegel first.

But understanding aside - the way he wrote suggested things, ways of writing, mixed registers. You don't see that sort of thing in academic writing all that often. You see it, instead, in works of genius like The Third Policeman . It is pleasant to imagine Derrida as a kind of gallic, "serious" Flann O'Brien. It's only slightly far-fetched - O'Brien's japes are very serious; Derrida in turn seems, if not precisely comical, certainly delighted in the sheer oddness of his writing. The puns and wordplay and elaborate typographical trickery he occasionally indulged in cannot be completely rationalized as high seriousness.

At any rate, it was that - the sense of excitement in the act of writing and thinking that his work gave off - that drew me to him first, and kept me at it, long enough to get some clue what was going on. And then - frankly, it made sense. A lot of what he said simply makes sense. Not that I can possibly justify that conclusion at this hour of the night. But as far as I am concerned, Derrida made the world a better place.

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