Jacques Derrida took up with vigor the Socratic vocation of philosophy as a kind of dying. Notoriously linked to discourses on "the death of the author" (and almost universally misunderstood on this score), Derrida's work was regularly haunted by ghosts. Death inscribed itself in his corpus and has now left its mark on his body, and we are left to mourn. But that is only to say that we are left with the task of deconstruction: what Derrida described as the work of mourning. It is not without reason that some of his most powerful meditations—on Levinas, de Man, Deleuze, Lyotard and others—come to us in the form of eulogies and memorials.I was in the midst of writing up my own thoughts on Derrida (as always, prompted by a conversation with my younger brother). Jacques Derrida is philosophy's Stephen Hawking: as many people have read his works as have finished A Brief History of Time. This might explain, partially, why reactions to his thought are so disparate; contrast Adam Shatz
It has been the mistake of his critics—both in the academy and media—to conclude from Derrida's preoccupation with death that deconstruction is simply the next nihilism. And so Derrida has been vilified as the enemy of truth, justice, the university, and many more of our cherished institutions and values. The myths and lies—yes, lies—about Derrida persist even in his death (Jonathan Kandell's obituary in The New York Times was a travesty).
But this is a picture of Derrida and deconstruction that one could maintain only by failing to read him. For in the end—or better, from the beginning—deconstruction is a work of love. Far from being a mere "method" for critique, Derrida was at pains to demonstrate the essentially productive aspect of deconstruction. "It is not negative," he once commented, "For me, it always accompanies an affirmative exigency. I would even say that it never proceeds without love."
Derrida took play seriously; it was a synonym, really, for the unexpected reversals of history with which he was intimately acquainted. Even at his most somber, this spirit infused Derrida's work, whether he was writing on Plato, Heidegger, Stéphane Mallarmé, Freud, Artaud or the American Declaration of Independence. In his writing he developed a voice as original as Jean-Luc Godard's--alternately inspired and maddening, animated by a similarly Joycean predilection for puns and collages of association, and a melancholy fascination with specters of the past that haunt the present, or "traces," as Derrida called them. The two men also shared an interest in the French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, whose ruminations on the dialectic of Self and Other figure prominently in Godard's latest film, Notre Musique, a beautifully fractured meditation on the wars in Bosnia and Israel-Palestine.with Brian Leiter
...overwhelmingly those who engage in philosophical scholarship on figures like Plato and Nietzsche and Husserl find that Derrida misreads the texts, in careless and often intentionally flippant ways, inventing meanings, lifting passages out of context, misunderstanding philosophical arguments, and on and on. Derrida was the bad reader par excellence, who had the gall to conceal his scholarly recklessness within a theoretical framework.
What of Derrida's "relativism" and "nihilism?" Simon Glendinning:
"Well, it is very difficult to summarise Derrida's thought... It, like any serious and penetrating thought, even resists summary - any philosophy that can be summed up in a nutshell belongs in one. People are troubled by a form of critique which challenges our most cherished assumptions - and so they want a caricature."In the end, Derrida was no Nietzsche, either in scope of thought or power of prose, but his personal humility in the quest for philosophic truth is certainly worth imitating.