February 25, 2005

Is that a trick question? . . .


After attending a recent conference on Jacque Derrida, Scott McLemee is prompted to recall that, “As it happens, Derrida himself became somewhat put out with the initial reception (and domestication) of his work by literature departments. As early as 1980, he referred to deconstruction as ‘a word that I have never liked, and whose fortune has disagreeably surprised me.'” As McLemee notes in his newest column for Inside Higher Ed, Derrida “insisted that his work had consequences not only for the reading of literary or philosophical texts, but for understanding and changing institutions — in particular, scholarly institutions.” But it went further than that: “Derrida’s effort to push his thinking beyond the university” also took him “past the boundary lines of contemporary politics,” says McLemee, to a discussion of “the democracy to come.” In fact, says McLemee, “he was posing a subtle but powerful question — asking, in effect, ‘What will democracy have meant, when we can begin to think about it, one day, in a democratic world?'”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.