Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Jacques Derrida and Deconstruction

More thoughts on non-trending topics of the day.

Have you ever wondered what Steve Bannon might have been talking about when he used the phrase "deconstruction of the administrative state"?

Perhaps you've heard Jordan Peterson talk about "deconstruction" and "Derrida" and wondered what those things are and why anyone would care about them?

After going down a fair number of dead ends I found a lecture online from someone named Wes Cecil who knows a lot about "deconstruction" and "Derrida". Wes Cecil describes himself as someone, "interested in literature, philosophy, history and gardening." He lives in the beautiful town of Port Angeles Washington. He has a PhD in English and wrote his doctoral dissertation on Derrida. The fact that he's studied many different languages and comes from the English studies part of academia makes him a good candidate to interpret Derrida.

I had a suspicion from my reading and research that some philosophy professors and others who mention his name, don't understand Derrida - but are upset with Derrida. You'll understand why after listening to Wes Cecil's lecture.

This discomfort with Derrida's way of thinking may boil down to the futile effort of analytic philosophers and others (after 2500 years or so) to come up with the one true and final answer to the -

"Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything"

Francis Fukuyama thought western style liberalism provided such an answer, as he outlined in his 1992 book called The End of History.


I don't think anyone "understands" Derrida and that's the way he wanted it. That's not to say he didn't have some super interesting and at times what seem to be profound ideas.

In this lecture the professor says Derrida wrote over 50 books and that none of them are readable. He talks about the sort of cultish admiration of Derrida that caused large numbers of students, who didn't understand French, to sit through talks that Jacques gave in French. He says Derrida wanted high schools to teach philosophy (two thumbs up to that) and that Derrida wanted everyone to read (re-read) the canon of great philosophical thinkers. He talks about how upset many people (mostly in academia) were with Derrida.

Here's my boneheaded interpretation of why Derrida gets so many people upset -

Derrida asks us to question how much we really know about anything. Derrida asks us to particularly question things we think we know - for example what it means when we categorize a person, or group of people as "black". Absolute certainty that we have the only right answer to something can cause (and has caused) all sorts of problems for humanity.

When I think, say, or write, that some one or some group is "Republican" or "conservative" or "liberal" or "illegal" or "Evangelical" or "Christian" or "Catholic" or "Muslim" I'm thinking, talking or writing about some "thing" that doesn't exist; but that non-existence wouldn't necessarily prevent me from hating other people or groups and possibly going to war to defend my (and my tribes) singular interpretation.

Derrida was asking us to show a little humility, lighten up and enjoy the ride.


In my quest for understanding I watched a "documentary" of Derrida and thought....that guy seems (a) like a bit of a trickster or joker (b) to have a sort of strange aversion to cameras and (c) like a nice guy.

After listening to Wes Cecil's lecture I think my hunches were fairly accurate.

Anyway if you are at all interested in this stuff his lecture is the best thing I've found.

The lecture gets more and more interesting as you go along - I found it fascinating and hope that you may as well.

Wes Cecil has over eighty lectures on his Humane Arts YouTube channel. They are also on Soundcloud and Apple podcasts. A lot of them look really interesting. Perhaps a nice break from the trending topics of the day...