Jacques Derrida is dead. The Telegraph has an intelligent and balanced review of his life and work. Derrida’s work had a huge influence on my college education, and it was always clear to me that his own writing was far more precise — and humane — than that of his American imitators. I am sorry to hear he’s gone.
Short Derrida story: Derrida spoke at Williams College in 1990 or so. It was a huge event, since deconstruction was ascendant at the time, and his writing influenced a huge proportion of the English, Religion, and other department faculties. Now, much deconstructivist philosophy deals with the “death of the author” and the relative unimportance, or even irrelevance, of individual actors — who are always implicated in webs of interpretation that guide, or subvert, their intentions. Ironically, however, Derrida, was accorded star status; it was clear that everyone cared very much about this particular author and wanted to know what he thought, what he said, how he looked, what he wore, and who he spent time with on campus.
So, at the end of Derrida’s talk, KJ and I joined the press of people moving to the stage to talk with the great man. When she got her turn, KJ pulled out a Sharpie and asked Derrida if he would sign the back of her T-shirt. At first he didn’t seem to understand, but once she clarified, a big smile broke out on his face. Being a Frenchman, he was obviously pleased to be signing a young lady’s T-shirt, and being a rock star, it was an entertainingly apt gesture. I don’t know if Derrida appreciated the irony or not, but we definitely did.