Mark Dooley , Liam Kavanagh, The Philosophy of Derrida (NDPR Review)

Review of The Philosophy of Derrida from Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

Mark Dooley , Liam Kavanagh

The Philosophy of Derrida

Mark Dooley and Liam Kavanagh, The Philosophy of Derrida, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007, 164pp., $22.95 (pbk), ISBN 9780773532359.

Reviewed by Matthew C. Halteman, Calvin College

The Philosophy of Derrida is the latest installment in McGill-Queen’s Continental European Philosophy series — a line of books that aims to furnish accessible introductions to the work of influential European thinkers, all the while “combin[ing] clarity with depth, introducing fresh insights and wider perspectives” and “providing a comprehensive survey of each thinker’s philosophical ideas.” It goes without saying that producing an introduction to Derrida that is at once clear, deep, original, and synoptic is a tall order to fill.

Dooley and Kavanagh succeed in a number of important respects. They offer a brisk but wide-ranging rendition of the increasingly popular narrative in which the seemingly disparate emphases of Derrida’s “early” and “later” work are unified by an underlying continuity. Highlights along the way include an informative take on Derrida’s relationships to Freud, Husserl, and Heidegger, and a more insightful and even-handed treatment of Rorty’s interpretation of Derrida than is typical. Accompanying these strengths, however, are a number of problems that, according to reviewers, have also challenged other recent introductions to Derrida. Such problems include the taking of a somewhat insular approach that hesitates to subject Derrida’s guiding assumptions to critical scrutiny, an underdeveloped assessment of alleged points of contact between “Derrida and analytic philosophy,” and an account of Derrida on “ethics” and “politics” that leaves these central terms ill-defined and pays insufficient attention to the difference between doing ethical or political philosophy and inquiring into the conditions of possibility for doing ethical or political philosophy.[1]

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Stanley Fish Uncovers Old Wounds.

Stanley Fish’s recent post in New York Times discusses the book on the influence of “French theory” in America, but finally – according to the comment section – does nothing but bring back to life an old (and very much dead) debate about the “value” of deconstruction. So every single proponent and opponent of “French theory” crawls out of their cubicles to leave a nasty comment – it’s pretty entertaining!

Stanley Fish writes:

It was in sometime in the ’80s when I heard someone on the radio talking about Clint Eastwood’s 1980 movie “Bronco Billy.” It is, he said, a “nice little film in which Eastwood deconstructs his ‘Dirty Harry’ image.”

That was probably not the first time the verb “deconstruct” was used casually to describe a piece of pop culture, but it was the first time I had encountered it, and I remember thinking that the age of theory was surely over now that one of its key terms had been appropriated, domesticated and commodified. It had also been used with some precision. What the radio critic meant was that the flinty masculine realism of the “Dirty Harry” movies — it’s a hard world and it takes a hard man to deal with its evils — is affectionately parodied in the story of a former New Jersey shoe salesman who dresses and talks like a tough cowboy, but is the good-hearted proprietor of a traveling Wild West show aimed at little children. It’s all an act , a confected fable, but so is Dirty Harry; so is everything. If deconstruction was something that an American male icon performed, there was no reason to fear it; truth, reason and the American way were safe. Continue reading

Catherine Malabou Interview

There is an interesting interview with Catherine Malabou in the latest issue of the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory. In response to how she became a philosopher and how she came to work with Derrida, Malabou comments:

I think the way I became a philosopher and the way I happened to work with Derrida are about the same thing. I would say that I wasn’t a philosopher before I met him. I used to be just a student in philosophy, and things really started when I met him. At the same time, you’re right, I wouldn’t define myself as a follower of deconstruction; unless we define the word to follow, what “to follow” means. The issue of “following” constitutes one of the leading threads of Derrida’s book The Post Card. In this book, Derrida undermines the classical order of filiation: first comes the father, then the son or the daughter. He undermines this order and shows that “to follow” may sometimes (or perhaps always) means “to precede.” Let us think of this extraordinary postcard showing Socrates writing under Plato’s dictation: “I have not yet recovered from this revelatory catastrophe: Plato behind Socrates. Me, I always knew it, and they did too, those two I mean. What a couple. Socrates turns his back to Plato, who has made him write whatever he wanted while pretending to receive it from him” (12). Then if to follow does not always mean to come after, or to imitate or to copy, if following implies a certain dimension of anticipation, then in this case, I would accept to define myself as a follower of deconstruction.

Rest the rest of the interview here (malabou.pdf). The rest of the issue has some interesting articles, esp., by William Large (who wrote an excellent book on Blanchot and Levinas) about Capitalism, Religion and Politics as well as a review by Negri on Agamben’s latest work.

Trauma and Reconcilation: Some (scattered) thoughts on Encounter Point

Here are a few more scattered and hopefully better than mediocre thoughts about Encounter Point. In the documentary we meet several Israelis and Palestinians who join the Bereaved Families Forum, a group in which Palestinians and Israelis who have lost family members in the conflict advocate nonviolence and reconciliation together. One of these people is Robi, profiled on the film’s website:

In 2002 a Palestinian sniper killed a group of Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. Robi’s son David was one of them. Robi is haunted by the loss of her son, and the knowledge that he was posted to defend an Israeli settlement in occupied Palestinian territory to which he was politically opposed. After David was killed, Robi joined the Bereaved Families Forum. She speaks in support of Israeli/Palestinian reconciliation throughout Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and internationally. Robi says that all of her work is aimed at furthering understanding between the Israeli and Palestinian people.

Towards the end of the film, Robi learns that the sniper that killed her son and subsequently became a folk hero was arrested by Israeli authorities. She decides to reach out to the family by writing a letter with the intent of meeting both the family and the sniper himself, all of whom were quite willing to meet her. This is both moving, but also gestures towards a sophisticated ethical position. Throughout the film we hear both Palestinians and Israelis expressing similar positions, namely, “we don’t have to forgive in order to reconcile.” On the way out of the theater I overheard the people in front of me talking to each other, one of whom suggested that the film documents a Christian ethic of love thy neighbor, turning the other cheek etc. This seems very wrong to me. In fact, I’d venture to say that such an ethical position has little to do with Christian ethics. Now, the documentary itself conjured up a number of themes/concepts dealt with by Derrida and Levinas. Not least, encounter, hospitality, forgiveness, trauma and ethics. Continue reading

New Titles from Fordham UP, Or Why You Should Read Catalogs.


I got Fordham University Press “Of Critical Interest” catalog yesterday and, even though these things usually go directly into my trash, I have decided to take a look and, to my delight, I have discovered that some interesting titles are set to come out in Spring 2008. So here’s a short public service post: Continue reading