The Derrida Paradox

 

Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida

The writings of Jacques Derrida, and his strategy of deconstruction, have fascinated me for years, even though I’m not sure I completely understand all of it. Derrida’s deconstruction poked holes in a reality that we have all taken for granted. By “we” I mean Western philosophy from Plato on down. The clearest explanation I’ve found is on this site called Derrida the Movie, which says in part:

Plato was saying that there is such a thing as ideal forms. These things are real, regardless of how we express them . . . for example, the idea of a cat is going to remain pure and unchangeable . . . the problem here is that it relies on the logic created by the power of symbolism. In other words, the logic is only as good as your ability to communicate it through the symbols. Derrida destroyed the symbolism, or at the very least called into question. 

And elsewhere on the site we read:

Plato pretty much laid the groundwork of how Western people viewed reality, constructed it and, most importantly, expressed it in terms that everybody else within that same culture would understand . . . Derrida enters the scene and says that Plato is essentially just one reading of reality.

And:

Marxists and other social critics, understandably, were happy with what Derrida did because he called everything into question. It’s as if the whole Western philosophical and academic infrastructure was like the Emperor in the familiar tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Now, here is a paradox: Western thought puts a high value on capitalism, but Marxists call capitalism into question. This website is promoting a film about Jacques Derrida, so it is important for them to be as clear and accessible as possible. To sell a film about Derrida, they have become the best teachers on a philosophy that points out flaws in the capitalist system!     

This is not to say that you must oppose capitalism to appreciate Derrida. I just thought it was an ironic twist.

I’ll be learning more about Derrida during my Fall semester graduate course in literary criticism at the University of North Florida, starting next week.

Go to Derrida the Movie Website

 

 

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Galapagos Regained Reviewed

Galapagos Regained by James Morrow

Review by Bill Ectric

Galapagos Regained Book Cover  James Morrow, Author                                                                                            James Morrow

James Morrow writes with a great sense of fun and wonder. In Galapagos Regained, he regales us with a surreal 1850s adventure that is equal parts historical fiction, metaphysical treatise, and Pirates of the Caribbean spree. Fictional characters interact with actual historical figures, including Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Gregor Mendel, Rosalind Franklin, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Samuel Wilberforce. The fact that some of these notable individuals were not contemporaries is resolved by a time/space anomaly, localized in a Turkish hookah den, which apparently acts as a hub for historical figures to weave in and out through swirling clouds of cannabis smoke.

The novels’ conflict revolves around a debate between Biblical Creationists and Scientific Evolutionists. The Percy Bysshe Shelley Society pledges a £10,000 award to anyone who can either prove or disprove the existence of God. Two competing groups embark on expeditions – one to Mount Ararat in search of Noah’s Ark to confirm the Genesis flood; the other to Galapagos, hoping to discredit the Genesis creation story with evidence of evolution. Morrow is a scientific humanist and a critic of the Church, but his satire is not unkind. He seems to understand the mindset of people on either side of the argument. Almost everyone in this novel, atheist or Christian, mystic or scientist, fictional or historical, is vividly human. For the most part, they are capable of civilized debates and peaceful coexistence. I say “for the most part” because anytime money and power are at stake, blood will be shed, and this exploit is no exception.

Morrow chose to write this book in a style reminiscent of 19th century authors, without sacrificing ease of readability, which helps to set the mood and is often quite entertaining. Chapters have titles like “The Pigeon Priest Moves From His Parsonage to a Madhouse, Even as Our Heroine Arranges to Circumnavigate a Continent,” and “Recruited into an Unlikely Army, Our Heroine Ponders the Doctrine of Just War and Savors the Virtues of Hallucinogenic Snuff.” The combination of style and subject matter triggered my memory of an M. R. James short story, “Two Doctors,” written in 1919, in which a doctor asks a minister if he believes in the existence of satyrs, given that those mythical creatures are mentioned in some versions of the Bible. The minister replies, “I am not seldom called abroad pretty late; but I have no mind of meeting a satyr in our Islington lanes in all the years I have been here; and if you have had the better luck, I am sure the Royal Society would be glad to know of it.”

At least one character in Galapagos Regained observes that neither the existence of an ark nor evidence of evolution can ultimately prove or disprove God’s existence. It is the twists and turns of the quest that make the book such a pleasure to read. There are strange encounters, a hot air balloon, high chicanery, romantic interludes, philosophical enigmas, and even a couple of mind-flips that reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s VALIS. Galapagos Regained is the best book I’ve read so far in 2015.

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