Jacques Derrida died on Friday, October 8th 2004. The Guardian has a good obituary, which includes a lot of discussion of his theories and how they have been received. I’ve always found his work fascinating, but generally only when it is being explained by another writer; Derrida’s own texts I find impenetrable and rarely worth the effort involved in reading them.
In any case, in honour of the great man I am republishing below some silliness I wrote about Derrida on another web site.
Jacques Derrida is everyone’s favourite French philosopher, much-loved for his pioneering of deconstruction, coining of the word différance, and general cheerful poststructuralism. However, if you’ve ever read any of his writings, especially in English translation, you will also be aware that his style of communication can cause bending of the brain. Much as we love his ideas, we find it easier to hear them explained by anybody other than the man himself.
Anybody who has completed a degree in philosophy or literature will have asked him or herself the question, “Why would you choose to write in such an abstruse manner?”. Personally, I have always assumed there could only be two reasons:
- A conventional style of writing would have been incompatible with his ideas of deconstruction, for some incredibly arcane reason which would always be beyond my grasp.
- He deliberately wanted to confuse the reader so as to make himself seem more intelligent.
However, only today I happened across a third possible explanation. I tried formulating a few sentences in a derridean stylee for use in online chatter, and I believe I now know why M. Derrida chose his particular mode of expression: it’s enormous fun.
So, with that extended preamble out of the way, I would like to offer a few guidelines which will help the ordinary duffer express his or herself in a manner indistinguishable from that of a cerebral master thinker.
- Use the phrase “always already”: Not only is the meaning of language always slipping out of our grasp, it has already moved on as we attempt to grasp it. What better phrase to express the urgency of this dynamic than to jam together two words which lesser minds would never have in the same room together? Thus, we are always already finding ourselves closer to the Derridean mode of expression.
- Become a thesaurus: Why use one word, term, phrase, idiom, when you can use many, multiple, a plurality, two, maybe five words for the same concept, idea, meaning, signified?
- Open parenthesis wherever possible: Derrida (who even now must be speaking, writing, discoursing in parenthesis (how can he not, when the world itself is parenthesised, bracketted, enclosed, circumscribed?) wherever he may be) would be offended by any sentence which did not branch off into several discrete parts, sometimes returning to the original thought (if such a thing were possible).
- Pun like crazy: The thought (which when taught, becomes taut, tight, tense, stretched to breaking, which is to say ever looser as it becomes tightened) is illuminated by the pun, which has been called the lowest form of wit (whereby the bun may be termed the lowest form of wheat), to wit, a pun is more like a pin, which bursts the taut (taught) surface of the meaning, freeing it to explode/implode in all directions at once.
- Never finish a sentence too early: Always there will come an impulse, a wish, a directive to bring a sentence to a conclusion (a linguistic parole – Barthes’ parole applied to his lang? – time off for good behaviour, the sentence is brought to an end, the meaning is no longer a danger to society: but what could be more dangerous than meaning?), to bring the discourse to a terminus, which is after all merely another starting point, but this desire must be resisted (often through creating another subordinate clause, a subordinate which may grow to resist its subordinator, finally becoming the dominant term in the grammatical relationship, which is, after all, an essentially political one), although when one is quite certain (which is to say, one believes oneself to be certain) that the reader will have forgotten (or rather, neglected to remember) how the sentence began in the first place.
Naturally, there are other guidelines, rules, suggestions which may help (which is to say, hinder) one to adopt the discourse (this course, which is almost at an end, please submit your assignments) of Derrida, but it would be false (falsch, flesh, fish, fowl, foul play) to assume (as we must!) that we can know all of these, for we remember that Derrida himself is always already ahead of us, generating new idioms, idiosyncracies, ideologies, and even he runs ahead of himself, his future self grasping for his past, his present self always living in the future (his past self, of course, having never existed). In the meantime (by which we mean time, although time has no meaning per se), we will be diverted (subverted but not perverted), by the natural (!) enjoyment of discoursing in this obtuse, abstruse, but not abstract mode or mood.