I first heard Derrida's name while watching an episode of "I'm Alan Partridge". He is referred to as regularly eating at a "fictitious" restaurant called the "Restaurant with no name." He was also referred to as being the World's greatest living philosopher (as opposed to Alan's choice, Peter Ustinov). For some reason I became curious and started to find out about him. It's worth adding that trying to untangle the event referred to is itself quite a good Derrida primer
I don't honestly think I've done much more than began to understand Derrida's ideas and ways of thinking. However, here are some initial observations.
The following box including its contents, especially the quotation marks (and including the box (and this introduction?), is possibly a good place to start...
|'Derrida' 'is' 'into' 'thinking' 'without' 'the' 'box' '...'|
If you want to try 'unpacking' that box, start thinking about what each word means: in particular , reflecting on how many different meanings it could have in this context. For example, what does 'is' mean here? If it refers to the man himself, it is odd, because he is dead, so the tense is wrong. Is it about thought inspired by his philosophy? That seems to work, but, then again, how possible is it to attribute those thoughts to him alone, rather than other thinkers and one's own history? Furthermore, why is the present tense appropriate? What/when is the implied now?
If all this bores the pants of you and you really can't see the point, that's OK: there's no obligation to proceed further. You may also have heard Derrida critised as breaking things down into meaninglessness. But to me nothing could be further from the truth: I find myself fascinated by the meanings within meanings, the spinning chains of metaphors, and the constant sense one gets from his work of one level of reality being 'haunted' by others.
Here follows some other food for thought...
- In the film 'Donnie Darko'
there is (possibly!) a clever plot twist at the end, that may (or may
not) mean that one's interpretation of previous events was wrong. I
felt disappointed, as I wanted the initial explanation for what had
been happening was the real one. But how can this be? None of it was
real anyway! Why was I disappointed?
- 'Fargo', another of my favourite films, starts with a declaration
that the events in the film are based on a true story. William H Macy,
who played a leading role in the film, recalls asking the director
about this, who told him that it wasn't true. Macy objected, arguing
that you couldn't lie to people, but the Coen pointed out that the
whole thing was fiction! Where does a film start and end? What are the
borderlines between fact and fiction, and even between lies and
- 'It is only by contact with the art of foreign nations that the art
of the country gains that individual and separate life that we call
nationality' Oscar Wilde
- One of Derrida's favourite words is 'Pharmakon': I'm still
struggling to get to grips with exactly what's going on here, except
that it's to do with the paradox associated with things that may be
poison or remedy, or both, simultaneously. For example, the act of
writing both helps and hinders memory, and the two are (arguably)
inseparable. Another came to me while reflecting about learning Spanish,
which I am currently trying to do. When you start learning a language
and you hear someone speaking, you try to translate every word that
passes their lips and then process the grammar. Of course you fail:
no-one can process information that quickly. You have to learn to just
let the words sort of float by and let the meaning condense out. The
words are, in fact, a snare; and yet they are also what carries the
meaning, and without them there would be nothing: you cannot hope to
understand unless you have learnt the vocabulary and the grammar,
which are yet now somehow an obstacle. Or alternatively, imagine that
you have had an affecting experience and, afterwards, write it down in
your diary. The written record will, in the future, help you to
remember the event, but it will also damage the memory by, as it were,
pasting over the event a restricted and partial account of it. Yet
would you remember it at all without the record?
- Actually, I think most attempts to understand the spiritual and the
'super-real' is fraught with 'pharmakon issues'. Any attempt to
concentrate on spiritual things and understand them, line by line,
will fail, will miss the mark. They have to be grasped in one go,
without analysis, and somehow in passing. And yet the analysis is
still necessary. I think that the Sufis
would understand (for example, in Rumi's song about the reed flute
crying for the reed bed, he says '...the reed is hurt and salve
combining. Intimacy and longing for intimacy, one song. A disastrous
surrender and a fine love, together')
- You might say, correctly, that when I use the name 'Derrida' I am
really referring to a much wider set of sources, i.e. all the
philosophers and linguists on whose work Derrida built, and of which I
learn when I study the Derrida's thinkings. But for me he is the entry
point, and when I read up on Baudrillard or Peirce and I am using them
to supplement my understanding of Derrida. But is Derrida's work a
supplement to theirs?
- Dotted around this website are 'hyperlinks': these emphasise that I
find it hard to decide where one theme ends and another begins: in
fact i doubt that such a line exists. Each subject's edges blur into
those of other subjects, and none can be understood in its fullness
without being informed by the others (see Wilde's quotation above).
This does not diminish the meaning of any subject: it does mean that
to try to study some subject (text/person/...) in isolation is a
futile and hollow endeavour
- (and what about all the unwritten/ghostly hyperlinks that exist in
the mind of you, the reader, or me? Surely every word in principle
could be hyperlinked. To get near to this have a look at the wikipedia!
- Some of Lorca's thoughts (see spain) on place and identity have a distinctly Derrida-esque feeling about them
'Let us go then and buy this pencil. But just as we as turning to
obey the command, another self disputes the right of the tyrant to
insist. The usual conflict comes about. Spread out behind the rod of
duty we see the whole breadth of the river Thames - wide, mournful,
peaceful. And we see it through the eyes of somebody who is leaning
over the Embankment on a summer evening, without a care in the world.
Let us put off buying this pencil; let us go in search of this person
- and it soon becomes apparent that this person is ourselves. For if
we could stand there where we stood six months ago, should we not be
again as we were then - calm, aloof, content? Let us try then. But the
river is rougher and greyer than we remembered. The tide is running
out to sea...
...The sights we see and the sounds we hear now have none of the quality of the past; nor have we any share in the serenity of the person who, six months ago, stood precisely where we stand now. His is the happiness of death: ours the insecurity of life. He has no future: the future is even now invading our peace. It is only when we look at the past and take from it the element of uncertainty that we can enjoy perfect peace. As it is, we must turn, we must cross the Strand again,...'
from 'Street Haunting: a London Adventure' by Virginia Woolf, PenguinTOP OF PAGE