cambridge university affair…

The ‘Derrida Affair’ at Cambridge University
from “Honoris Causa: ‘This is also very funny'” pp. 409-413

Q.: Your work has, to put it mildly, always stimulated a great deal of controversy, but more than this, you have been attacked in exceptionally violent ways, and denounced as undermining the very nature of intellectual inquiry itself. How do you account for the ferocity and exaggeration of these attacks on your work?

J.D.: If it were only a question of “my” work, of the particular or isolated research of one individual, this wouldn’t happen. Indeed, the violence of these denunciations derives from the fact that the work accused is part of a whole ongoing process. What is unfolding here, like the resistance it necessarily arouses, can’t be limited to a personal “oeuvre,” nor to a discipline, nor even to the academic institution. Nor in particular to a generation: it’s often the active involvement of students and younger teachers which makes certain of our colleagues nervous to the point that they lose their sense of moderation and of the academic rules they invoke when they attack me and my work. If this work seems so threatening to them, this is because it isn’t simply eccentric or strange, incomprehensible or exotic (which would allow them to dispose of it easily), but as I myself hope, and as they believe more than they admit, competent, rigorously argued, and carrying conviction in its re-examination of the fundamental norms and premises of a number of dominant discourses, the principles underlying many of their evaluations, the structures of academic institutions, and the research that goes on within them. What this kind of questioning does is modify the rules of the dominant discourse, it tries to politicize and democratize the university scene. If these blindly passionate and personal attacks are often concentrated on me alone (while sometimes maintaining that it isn’t me but those who “follow” or “imitate” me who are being accused–an all too familiar pattern of argument), that’s no doubt because “deconstructions” query or put into question a good many divisions and distinctions, for example the distinction between the pretended neutrality of philosophical discourse, on the one hand, and existential passions and drives on the other, between what is public and what is private, and so on. More and more I have tried to submit the singularity that is writing, signature, self-presentation, “autobiographical” engagement (which can also be ethical or political) to the most rigorous–and necessary–philosophical questioning. Not that I intend putting the subject (in the biographical sense) at the center or origin of philosophical discourse (indeed, I would normally be accused of doing the opposite), but I do try in each case to put these questions in their primary terms, to relate them with themes which no doubt must irritate or disturb certain colleagues who would prefer to repress them (for example questions of sexual difference and femininity, the “proper name,” literature and psychoanalysis–but it would be necessary here to review so many other themes, scientific, technical, or political). All of this probably explains why my most resolute opponents believe that I am too visible, that I am a little too “personally” “alive,” that my name echoes too much in the texts which they nevertheless claim to be inaccessible. In short, to answer your question about the “exceptional violence,” the compulsive “ferocity,” and the “exaggeration” of the “attacks,” I would say that these critics organize and practice in my case a sort of obsessive personality cult which philosophers should know how to question and above all to moderate.


~ by aikaterine on June 11, 2007.

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