Derrida clarification

October 22, 2004

You report with meticulous accuracy my observations on Jacques Derrida, the "gnomic thinker" (October 15). Only on reading them in print do I realise that their import might be misinterpreted.

Rivarol's famous dictum " Ce qui n'est pas clair n'est pas français ", I suggested, was regarded by Derrida as a personal challenge, in the sense that his grammatically impeccable French was nevertheless sometimes totally opaque, and deliberately so. This wilful obscurity was part and parcel of his philosophical project to "destabilise" certain forms of Western academic discourse.

I ended up on the rough end of this destabilisation when Derrida once "replied" to a review I wrote of a book about him. Clearly, Derrida did not like what I said. But, typically, the content of the review was ignored; instead he accused me of being one of a team of hirelings of The Times Literary Supplement , whose editor, he imagined, was conducting an orchestrated campaign of vilification against him.

Derrida's overall legacy has been a disaster. Derridaspeak is imitated by sycophantic followers who reiterate the initiates' jargon and copy the rhetorical tricks, but without any understanding of their original rationale (or anti-rationale).

Roy Harris
Oxford University

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