For a long time, I’ve struggled to understand the academy’s obsequious reverence for Jacques Derrida, famed founder of the deconstruction movement and an infamously ponderous writer. When I first had the misfortune of wading through Derrida’s near-incomprehensible writing, I was in an advanced French seminar. I wondered if I’d managed to forget a language I’d been studying for 10 years at the time. But I quickly realized that my French wasn’t the problem. The problem, it emerged when I read the rest of the texts in the seminar without much difficulty, was Derrida’s jumbled prose.
Though I’d arrived at college set on pioneering a “semiotics” major, my encounter with Derrida catapulted me towards analytic philosophy, where the prose was crystalline and the argumentation rigorous. For years, I felt about Derrida the way I felt about popular girls in middle school. He was worse than awful: he was overrated.
But it turns out the French weren’t too fond of Derrida’s prose either. A recently opened exhibition at the UC Irvine Libraries, which features the papers of several seminal thinkers, showcases a poorly marked essay that Derrida wrote on Shakespeare. The paper bears the grader’s comments, many of which mirror the criticisms levied against Derrida to this day: “In this essay you seem to be constantly on the verge of something interesting, but, somewhat, you always fail to explain it clearly. A few paragraphs are indeed totally incomprehensible,” the notes read. “Quite unintelligible,” the grader goes on to comment alongside one passage. The essay comes from Derrida’s days at Khâgne, a two-year institution designed to prepare French high school graduates to apply to top universities, Critical Theory reports.
Not only did Derrida do poorly on his Shakespeare essay, he also went on to flunk his university entrance exams, which he had to take three times. When confronted with a passage from Diderot, The New York Review of Books reports, he attempted evasion, arguing that “this text was a trap … that everything about it, in its form, was ambiguous, implied, convoluted, complicated, suggested, murmured.” Unimpressed, the jurors replied, “This text is quite simple. You’ve simply made it more complicated.”
That, I would argue, about sums up Derrida’s role in American intellectual life.
Through Discerning Eyes: Origins and Impact of Critical Theory at UCI continues at Langson Library, UC Irvine (Irvine, California) through mid-September.
Arriving amid increased anti-Asian racism and continuing discourse about the inhumanity of its prison system, this documentary is a strong historical gut punch.
A “show within a show” at the Whitney Biennial pays homage to the visual and literary art of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, whose life was cut short through an act of brutal violence.
The Newark Museum of Art Presents Jazz Greats: Classic Photographs from the Bank of America Collection
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Social media persona Sad Beige Werner Herzog presents a seemingly endless array of sniffling tots stuffed into gray, brown, and tan knits.
A new Bronx location for the Universal Hip Hop Museum is set to open its doors in 2024.
Art and photographs, publications from the 19th and 20th centuries, manuscripts, posters and more are set to cross the auction block on August 18.
Researchers at the University of South Florida have created a tool that can potentially help hone human concentration through the creation of art with only the power of the mind.
The settlement comes after Tate prevented an artist who exposed sexual harassment by one of its largest donors from co-curating an exhibition.
Let’s be honest: On a best bathrooms list, no one wants to be number two.
Advocacy groups are pushing for a 5% royalty in resales, which would pertain even after the artist dies, in which case the funds would go to their estate.
This week, the Getty Museum is returning ancient terracottas to Italy, parsing an antisemitic mural at Documenta, an ancient gold find in Denmark, a new puritanism, slavery in early Christianity, and much more.