Thursday 19 August 2010

re: "Realism is de rigueur" (pt. 2)

@ BB (post 53)

Thanks for the reading suggestion (G. Bennington “Not Half No End”), I’ll check it out.

[I]n the spirit of OOP, why not talk about the object (i.e. Derrida) and not your linguistic mediation of the object (i.e. the “tradition”?)

Is Derrida more of an ‘object’ than ‘the tradition’? Of course there is Derrida and then there is “Derrida” (just as in Latour’s Pasteurization of France there is Pasteur (the man) and “Pasteur” (the myth, the legend, the ‘genius’)).

It is difficult to disentangle these two things but certainly both were objects or collections of objects. Derrida is dead so he’s not much of an object anymore!

As for his texts, they remain objects but very much in the plural, translated into many different languages and printed thousands of times. Never mind the fact that they are intertextually related and cannot be understood qua philosophy texts outside of that relationality.

But aside from that, if you mean that I should just talk about the real Derrida rather than what I was taught about him (perhaps erroneously) then I must say that my impression upon reading him was that while he was ambiguously realist in his interviews, in his other texts he was straightforwardly anti-realist.

Derrida was extremely lucid in his interviews and rather difficult everywhere else and I suspect many of the citations arguing for his ‘realism’ came from the interviews rather than his other texts as there he let himself use declarative sentences.
But I must be clear: I am no Derrida expert — not even close, so I am not claiming any interpretative authority whatsoever. My point is more that if Levi and others take Derrida to be an anti-realist they are, in this respect, fully in agreement with the vast majority of the secondary literature on J.D.. Where they differ is that Levi and others think anti-realism is a bad thing and most Derrideans don’t.

This jars with the Derridean side of this ‘debate’ which broadly takes the line: ‘how can you think he is anti-realist? he obviously is a realist, just look at A, B, C, D…’. Well, it isn’t at all that obvious; if it was then fewer people would have made this mistake (if that is what it is).

My question therefore is: if Derrida was a realist why have so many people come to the opposite conclusion? Everybody is perfectly entitled to argue that he is a realist but I would like to hear why it is that so many intelligent people have made the mistake of thinking he isn’t (if it is a mistake).

It may well be that he has said anti-realist things and realist things at different times and in different texts. This seems most plausible. In this case we should ask if there is enough realism in Derrida for him to be usefully taken as a realist philosopher. That would seem to be the more pertinent debate.