UPDATE II (1/12): For those who are possibly reading this trying to decide whether to read Hägglund’s book on Derrida (as is stated in the somewhat disingenuously existential title of this post) should regard this blog post and its subsequent comments as a certain singular perspective on the issue – this comment is, of course, always already arrogant and pretentious since it assumes that someone will be making a decision regarding a book based on this post. I have since finished reading the book, therefore it was ultimately “to be”; I found it seriously lacking at certain points and somewhat insightful at others. It is not purely derridalogical in that it does propose an interesting (even if almost entirely familiar) reading, it does not engage Derrida’s ideas very much, simply creatively restates them while mainly ignoring the large body of secondary literature on the issues discussed in the book. If you are interested in the issue of “time” and “temporality” in Derrida, I think that Joanna Hodge’s excellent study Derrida on Time would be a much better choice…
UPDATE I (12/27): Just started chapter 2 and already I am discovering things: the opening paragraph and a half from this chapter on Derrida and Husserl is a word for word the same as the opening two paragraphs of Hägglund’s essay on Nabokov mentioned below that I’ve read this afternoon. No, it’s not a self-citation, it’s the same text only in New Literary History Hägglund goes on to discuss Nabokov and in Radical Atheism the transition is to Derrida – can you do that?
Just got Martin Hägglund’s book on Derrida – Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life – several days ago and having finished the introduction and the first chapter on Derrida and Kant, I am having doubts about whether I should continue with the book. There are several reason I read as much as I did so far:
1) The book is written in a very accessible non-derridalogical style. I mean, of course, Hägglund slips into a semi-non-sensical derridalogical musings here and there, but generally he keeps his head above the water and one can easily discern his meanings (which, of course, is not always good when one writes about Derrida, as it makes Derrida sounds quite banal and commonsensical).
2) Judging by the introduction, one might expect Hägglund to challenge some of the derridalogical giants and their pet theories, there are a lot of “so and so is wrong” or “the most famous misreading of this passage is that of so-and-so” – a lot of familiar names, so one hopes for some critical assessment where one usually expects general logrolling… However, he does it in a kind of dismissive way that is not something one usually finds among contemporary Derrida scholars, and it is good, even if, as I can see so far, most of Hägglund’s challenges are only to come in the future chapters, so I cannot yet judge their effectiveness.
3) There’s a clear, if not very original, reading of the problem of time and temporality and some things about Derrida’s work are potentially thought-provoking, “potentially” mostly because at this point there are plenty of promises (“As I will show”), but not very many actual analyses…
Why am I hesitating then?
1) Most of the chapter on Derrida and Kant has very little interesting to say about either one: in fact, the chapter does not really deal with Kant, Hägglund only cites a couple of passages from the first Critique on time and space (apparently without being aware of the proper A/B citation format – a small thing, but annoying), and then proceed to basically present Derrida’s views – no real encounter between the thinkers, unless saying that Kant’s position is nothing like Derrida’s can be counted as one.
2) General content of the introduction and the first chapter is frighteningly similar to the general content of Hägglund’s previous work on Nabokov that can be found in New Literary History (37:2, Spring 2006) – in fact, after reading an essay on Nabokov (“Chronophilia: Nabokov and the Time of Desire”) with Brian Boyd’s (Nabokov scholar Hägglund criticizes in his essay) rather curtly response, I wonder if Boyd’s skepticism concerning Hägglund’s scholarship is just rhetorical devise or is actually factual? I mean if Derrida and Kant chapter is any indication, Hägglund knows just enough Kant to say a few general things about his view of time/space, as for Derrida’s discussion of time/space, many of the things in intro and first chapter are generalities that are not original to Derrida at all – like the Augustine inspired questions on the nature of time and such… Actually, maybe the book will pick up some pace in this particular area, because otherwise it would be a waste of time, that is, if Hägglund is going to repeat Derrida’s observations about time without paying attention to the battles Derrida is fighting (Hegel and Heidegger are suspiciously largely absent from the book, as far as I can tell, and it makes me rather nervous) and if Hägglund is going to simply summarize and retell Derrida as he does in the chapter on Kant without any considerable challenge to Derrida’s presentation (Hägglund’s beef seems to be primarily with Derrida scholars that he takes to be misreading Derrida, yes, most of them), then I think it’ll be once of those books that promises a lot and delivers very little.
3) Michael Naas’ blurb on the back suggests, as always, that this is the best book ever written… Well, not in so many words, but something like: “…Radical Atheism is a brilliant and most original work that is certain to be read, argued with, commented on, and frequently cited.” I know it’s a blurb, but does Naas have to like every book he reads?
4) I don’t really like the phrase “logic of deconstruction” that Hägglund uses when trying to present his thesis (as well as a use of the verb “deconstruct” as a transitive verb), it seems to me that anyone comfortable enough to write “the logic of deconstruction” might need another look at Derrida’s whole discussion of logocentric discourses.
Have you read the book? Care to share your reaction?