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April 02nd 2013 print

Mervyn F. Bendle

Derrida and the Destruction of the Humanities

Jacques Derrida never gets to the point. That is the key to his enormous influence throughout the humanities, especially in countries like America, Britain and Australia, where the intelligentsia has largely abandoned its philosophical and critical traditions to embrace the irrationalist, anti-humanist and anti-Enlightenment tendencies of continental philosophy. This is taught in various degraded forms as “theory”, its presence exemplified by such gargantuan anthologies as the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, which runs to some 2700 pages of frequently impenetrable prose, while declaring that the study of literature is inherently political, must take its lead from new social movements, provoke scepticism about society’s institutions and values, and be prepared to engage in political “resistance”.

Derrida has proved to be emblematic of this shift from a concern with the substance and form of texts (which can draw on centuries of profound reflection and criticism going back to Aristotle), to politicised theories of text (which rely on half-baked neo-Marxism, psychoanalysis, radical feminism and philosophical irrationalism going back to Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche). And although Derrida’s influence peaked in the 1990s his thought is still represented directly or indirectly by scores of entries in such anthologies, and in classes, seminars, conferences, theses, journal articles and books. More importantly, his success has emboldened many lesser minds to pursue the same type of impenetrable, jargon-filled, “terroristic obscurantism” (as Michel Foucault described it), to the fatal detriment of the humanities. The publication of the first comprehensive biography of Derrida provides an opportunity to assess his thought, career, and baleful legacy.

Derrida never gets to the point because, according to him, there is no point, either to his own work or to human activity in general. This is the fundamental nihilistic foundation of his entire system of thought. Or, to put it in the type of giddy circumlocution that characterises Derridean prose: this is the fundament that isn’t a fundament, to a foundation that isn’t a foundation, of an entirety that can only ever be a partiality, of a system of thought that isn’t a system, of thinking that isn’t thinking … and so on, around and around the never-ending circle of différance, the term Derrida invented to signify how language, in his view, involves not only difference between linguistic elements (such as sounds and letters), but also an endless deferment of meaning, indeed an ultimately pointless play of meaning, so that no concepts can ever be agreed upon, no definition ever arrived at, no inquiry ever finalised, no dispute ever resolved, no interpretation ever selected, no discussion ever brought to a close.

To think otherwise, according to Derrida, is to be guilty of logocentrism, the assumption, perennial in the Western tradition, that there is an order to things, a logos, which human reason can grasp to comprehend the meaning of the world. Logocentrism is the pre-eminent Derridean term of opprobrium, and, as Benoît Peeters points out, it was later elaborated by Derrida under feminist influence into “phallogocentrism”, a seminal conception meant to indicate the way in which logocentrism allegedly perpetuates the masculinist (phallic) and patriarchal domination of the West, especially in the realm of thought, where it appears in the form of binary oppositions where the initial term is dominant (self/other, male/female, mind/body, reason/emotion, top/bottom, speech/writing, rational/irrational, intelligible/unintelligible). His desperate desire to avoid phallogocentrism is another reason Derrida never gets to the point.

Indeed, according to Peeters, in the 1960s “Derrida had been endeavouring for some time to show that the logos and the phallus were two manifestations of the one and the same system, inseparable from the Western metaphysical tradition”. This feminist-friendly commitment later proved fortuitous as Derrida’s behaviour attracted criticism: “He was a male, a white, a seducer, a philosopher: all potential flaws that might lead to him being seen as on the side of traditional power.” Fortunately, “his alliance with several radical women seems, in this respect, to have been a valuable plus” in deflecting the type of feminist censure that might otherwise have destroyed his career. On another occasion Derrida yielded to philosophical vegetarianism, impressed by the argument that eating meat involves “incorporating the body of the other”, and extended his core theoretical conception into “carnophallogocentrism”, a term that his acolytes proved unable to digest.

At any rate, to combat carno/phal/logocentrism, Derrida devised deconstruction, the intellectual activity with which he is most commonly associated, which Peeters calls “the most bankable product ever to emerge on the market of academic discourse”. Despite its prominence, it is impossible to pin down what Derrida meant by this notion. At a formulaic level deconstruction involves identifying and “taking apart” (de-constructing) the core concepts that serve as the unquestioned presuppositions and rules of procedure for thinking within a philosophical or literary tradition. However, according to Derrida, deconstruction is nothing so clear-cut; it is not a method or any form of analysis or critique, and any attempt to pigeonhole it in this fashion would constitute a logocentric act in itself. His own purported attempts at clarification include the following from Deconstructions: A User’s Guide (2000):

Each time that I say “deconstruction and X (),” this is the prelude to a very singular division that turns this X into, or rather makes appear in this X, an impossibility that becomes its proper and sole possibility, with the result that between the X as possible and the “same” X as impossible, there is nothing but a relation of homonymy, a relation for which we have to provide an account ... For example, here referring myself to demonstrations I have already attempted gift, hospitality, death itself (and therefore so many other things) can be possible only as impossible, as the im-possible, that is, unconditionally.

Another similarly obscure definition has been provided by the Australian deconstructionist Niall Lucy, a professor in the School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts at Curtin University, and co-author of The War on Democracy: Conservative Opinion in the Australian Press (2006). This book attacks conservative commentators like Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen and Miranda Devine as undemocratic, and proposes instead a deconstructive, Derridean concept of democracy. The result is a work of “applied deconstruction” that was ridiculed even by the leftist journalism academic Margaret Simons, who despaired of “wading through a sea of double negatives … qualifying clauses … sentences that seem to exist in fear of the full stop … ad hominem argument, generalisation, leaps in logic, smear, labeling, pretension … attack-dog attitude [and] turgid prose”.

Lucy’s approach to defining deconstruction in A Derrida Dictionary (2004) is characteristically opaque:

While in a sense [deconstruction] is impossibly difficult to define, the impossibility has less to do with the adoption of a position or the assertion of a choice on deconstruction’s part than with the impossibility of every “is” as such. Deconstruction begins, as it were, from a refusal of the authority or determining power of every “is”, or simply from a refusal of authority in general.

On the core Derridean concept of “Writing”, Lucy provides the following helpful guidance:

As I start this sentence I am not absolutely sure how it will end … Every time anyone sits down to write a sentence (…), the end remains to come; whatever “happens” happens later, even if the interval between the beginning and the end lasts only for a split second.

He elucidates différance by pointing out that “there is no inside without an outside … and that the outside is not the inside”.

As such passages suggest, Derrida put the “con” in deconstruction. Indeed, this is literally true, as he has conceded his massive debt to Martin Heidegger—Derrida’s “essential philosopher”, as Peeters notes—who developed the notion of ontotheology, from which Derrida derived the view that the entire tradition of Western thought, from Plato to the modern day, is an oppressive logocentric force, which has to be systematically destroyed. As Derrida explained: “I wished to translate and adapt to my own ends the Heideggerean words Destruktion or Arbau … But in French the term ‘destruction’ too obviously implied an annihilation or a negative reduction … So I ruled that out.” Instead he chose the French term déconstruction, which means to disassemble things, including literature, but also to deconstruct oneself: to rid oneself of one’s own structure. This suited perfectly Derrida’s desire to launch a philosophical campaign on several fronts: against the entire Western tradition, humanism, liberalism, the Enlightenment, the prevailing critical approach to literature, and the “bourgeois” sense of the individual self.

Offered the chance to meet Heidegger in 1967, Derrida declined, as he was unprepared to expose himself to Heidegger’s rigorous type of philosophical cross-examination. Nevertheless, he leaped to his defence when the full depth of Heidegger’s commitment to Nazism became public with the publication in 1987 of Heidegger and Nazism by Víctor Farías. He was, of course, also defending his own philosophical position, as became obvious once the controversy intensified and he used legal action to prevent the publication in Richard Wolin’s collection, The Heidegger Controversy (1991), of a damaging interview he had given. For many critics, Derrida was clearly protesting too much and some drew the (not unreasonable) inference that the deconstruction he advocated led to the same fascist irrationalism that Heidegger had embraced. This suspicion was strengthened when the wartime Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitism of Derrida’s key colleague in America, Paul de Man, were revealed around the same time. Derrida wrote an extended defence of de Man, which even the prominent Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton has said “must rank among the most shamelessly disingenuous texts of modern times”.

Heidegger and de Man were implicated in a real-world tragedy of monumental proportions; but for Derrida it was all something of an academic game, something at which he was quite adept. As Peeters remarks, Derrida’s great achievement “was to invent an audience that would suit him”, hanging upon his every word without recourse to criticism or questioning. Or as the young, anti-Marxist nouveaux philosophe Bernard-Henri Lévy observed, Derrida’s acolytes went to his seminars as “others go to mass or to market; to seek the last rites or the latest trendy concept”. Derrida and Lévy subsequently came to blows at a conference, in another of the generational contests that characterise French philosophy.

Indeed, given what Derrida calls the play of meaning, academia involves, for him, little more than endless talk, or more precisely, endless writing, the beloved vocation that, as Peeters shows, Derrida discovered early as a child, and which he pursued for millions of words throughout his life. Indeed, he wanted to elevate writing to a pre-eminent position in human affairs in the late twentieth century in much the same way as Marx elevated labour a hundred years earlier. Writing, he declared, was the primordial world-creating act. Whereas once the world was built with labour, now it is built from text, to the extent that Derrida famously claimed “there is nothing outside the text”. (In the 1990s, as he was seen increasingly by himself and his acolytes in messianic terms truly akin to Marx, he tried to dissociate himself from this absurd position by claiming that what he meant was that “there is nothing outside the context”, an innocuous position that allowed him to introduce history into his system where previously it had been marginalised.)

Indeed, as Marx had been the prophet of the proletariat (the old revolutionary class, which worked with its hands) so Derrida put himself forward as the prophet of the intelligentsia (the new revolutionary class, which works with words). His mission was to be writing’s champion in an apocalyptic showdown with the oppressive domination of speech, which had hitherto reigned unchallenged throughout Western culture and history, producing all manner of injustice. Where Marx had said that “All history hitherto is the history of class struggle”, Derrida was implying that “All history hitherto is the history of a linguistic struggle”. If it sounds silly, that’s because it is.

Derrida announced this epoch-shaping project in his most influential book, Of Grammatology (1967), which introduced his new “science of writing”. In this book Derrida proclaimed the liberation of writing from speech, which, he insisted, had illegitimately been assumed by all philosophers, linguists, anthropologists and archaeologists to have been the primordial form of human communication. And he sees all this in political terms of domination and oppression: “The history of (…) metaphysics … from the pre-Socratics to Heidegger [involves] the debasement of writing, and its repression outside full speech”. Derrida set out to liberate writing from its exile, to lead it to its promised land. He was to become the messianic liberator of all those (for example, in the ALP, the Greens, the federal Human Rights Commission and the Attorney-General’s office) who believe that people are oppressed by words. According to Derrida, “the science of writing—grammatology—shows signs of liberation all over the world”.

According to Derrida, all the oppressive binary oppositions noted above are derived from the primordial distinction between writing and speech. Similarly, speech is associated with presence and writing with absence, while speech is identified with life and the written word with death, which is why it has allegedly been feared and subordinated within the Western tradition. Consequently, Derrida implies that in the face of this millennia-long history of oral oppression only a philosopher of real courage (Derrida, for example) would be prepared to step forward as the champion of the down-trodden written word—the modern-day equivalent of the oppressed masses.

This type of intellectual messianism has to be seen in the context of French academic politics and its Darwinian struggle for recognition. As Peeters shows, this struggle was particularly intense amongst the generation of radical intellectuals who were rising to influence as the cultural revolution of the 1960s approached. Born in 1930, Jackie Derrida (as he was originally named) was of Algerian Jewish descent but his outstanding intellectual gifts won him entry into the ultra-elite École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris. As he began his studies in 1952 he walked into one of the great controversies on the French Left, between Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. This controversy highlighted the great tensions that existed in Western culture in the depths of the Cold War and shaped Derrida’s outlook for his entire career.

The dispute centred on Camus’s famous book The Rebel (L’Homme révolté, 1951), which was an exploration of the historical and philosophical dimensions of the impulse to rebel, carried out through a discussion of a diverse group of writers and activists. At a personal level, Sartre resented his friend’s success; while at the political level he followed the Stalinist line of the French Communist Party, in condemning any analysis that didn’t endorse the ideological supremacy of Marxism-Leninism, or assert the vanguard role of the Party and the Soviet Union in all revolutionary struggles. Moreover, Camus associated himself with the anti-communism of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, condemning both Nazi and communist totalitarianism, and for Sartre (and the PCF), “an anti-communist is a dog”, irrespective of their ethical or political position. The onslaught against Camus was intense.

The Party dominated the ENS and while Derrida didn’t join up he found a comfortable position for himself on the extreme Left, noting the price that had been paid by Camus and recognising the penalty he also would incur if he opposed the Party line. He also followed Sartre in adopting the long-term French intellectual position (held by both the Left and the Right), that their true enemies were liberal democracy and middle-class society, a lesson that equipped him well as the 1960s unfolded, and the path towards his own future ideological pre-eminence opened up before him.

As the cultural revolution got under way, Derrida returned to the ENS as a junior academic after a period teaching at the Sorbonne, arriving newly minted as “Jacques”. (He had been named “Jackie” at birth after the child movie star Jackie Coogan, who was in the 1960s inconveniently featuring on television as “Uncle Fester” in The Addams Family; an unfortunate namesake for an ambitious French intellectual.) The ENS was still dominated by the communist intellectuals, and central to this cadre was the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. Derrida had been his protégé since he had first arrived there as a student, and in 1964 he became Althusser’s colleague, often assuming much of his workload as Althusser struggled with bipolar disorder. Althusser was frequently in hospital (usually when there was marking to do) and was ultimately institutionalised when he strangled his wife in 1980. (Althusser’s contacts in the French intellectual establishment led to his release in 1983, after which he wrote a memoir, The Future Lasts Forever, in which he portrayed himself as an intellectual fraud.)

In the early 1960s however, Althusser was pre-eminent, providing ideological direction for a group of brilliant young leftist intellectuals who had begun their studies at the ENS in 1960, including Régis Debray, Étienne Balibar, Jacques Rancière and Pierre Macherey. All of these men were about a decade younger than Derrida and rivalled him in intellectual ability. They were also committed communists who rose to considerable ideological prominence during the 1960s, with Debray playing John the Baptist to Che Guevara in promoting Third World revolution under Soviet and Cuban sponsorship. The others collaborated with Althusser in a seminar series on Marxism that produced three of the most influential radical texts of the past fifty years, Reading Capital (1965), For Marx (1965) and Lenin and Philosophy (1968).

These texts marked the shift from humanist Marxism, which accommodated the individual, to anti-humanist Marxism, which placed all emphasis on various types of impersonal structures. They also introduced an entire lexicon of neo-Marxist theory, including concepts like the “epistemological break” (which served to separate the humanist young Marx from the structuralist mature Marx), “theoretical practice”, and “ideological state apparatuses”. Such concepts elevated the revolutionary role of ideology, culture and intellectuals, and shifted the focus of “class struggle” from the factories to the universities and schools. They took the academic world by storm, particularly in the humanities, where they continue to be very influential. Suddenly, says Peeters, “Althusser was the object of a passion, an infatuation, and an imitation evoked by no other contemporary figure. To many people, he appeared the secret pope of world revolution.”

As Peeters notes, in the face of this neo-Marxist tour de force, Derrida “seemed, in spite of his youth, a more traditional kind” of intellectual; “marginalized [and] condemned to silence [by] a sort of intellectual terrorism or at least theoretical intimidation”, while his own work on phenomenological issues was “considered suspicious, backward, idealistic, even reactionary”. Nevertheless, it appears in retrospect that Althusser and his colleagues played a transitional role in the history of late-twentieth-century radical thought, and that Derrida actually represented the future.

This is because Althusser and company, for all their promotion of ideology and culture as primary sites for revolutionary activity, still followed traditional Marxism in affording a lead role to the proletariat and the industrial class struggle. Derrida, on the other hand, had little time for the workers or the Marxist paradigm. Instead, he provided a rationale for the intelligentsia assuming the lead role of revolutionary subject. Consequently, according to deconstruction, the enemy of freedom ceased to have the concrete form of capitalism and became instead an abstract conception of Western thought, especially as it expressed itself in language. Class struggle in the factories, the streets, and on the barricades was revealed as passé. The battle would now be fought in universities, schools, conferences, journal articles, policy statements, and in the formulation of laws to “liberate” people from the oppression of language. As one reviewer enthused at the time:

After him, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Freud, Saussure, Jakobson, Levi-Strauss, etc, appear dull. This is because Derrida shows himself to be more radical than they are … By showing that metaphysics continues to poison Western thought, Jacques Derrida makes his mark as the boldest contemporary thinker. His works cannot fail to constitute a new, superior field for the reflections of those—critics, philosophers, teachers, students—who are interested by developments in our culture.

This ascension of Derrida to the status of pope of the word revolution remained in the future. At a time when Régis Debray exemplified the radical intellectual, Derrida remained part of the supporting cast, lacking the élan and flamboyant street appeal that would grab the attention of the Che Guevara generation of would-be revolutionaries.

Seeking to establish his critical credentials, Derrida targeted a long-time friend, mentor, and colleague, Michel Foucault. Foucault had established himself with the massive tome History of Madness (1961, published in an abridged English translation as Madness and Civilization, 1965), and would follow it up with The Order of Things (1966), which established him as a leading structuralist. Wary of targeting the communists, Derrida set out in “The Cogito and the History of Madness” (later published in Writing and Difference, 1967), to demolish Foucault’s History of Madness, and, says Peeters, “little by little, many of the book’s postulates, including the very definition of madness, were cast into doubt or undermined by his analysis”.

At first conciliatory and bemused by Derrida’s belligerence, Foucault later returned fire, accusing Derrida of “terroristic obscurantism” and dismissing his entire oeuvre as a “petty pedagogy”, “which teaches the student that there is nothing outside the text … that it is never necessary to look beyond it”, because hidden within it allegedly lies “the meaning of being”. In Foucault’s view, this extreme emphasis upon the centrality of text merely reinstated the traditional role of the scholastic “master of the texts”, the authorised interpreter who alone had access to the truth. Foucault was quite astute here, as this is precisely the intellectually imperious manner in which Derrida and his acolytes increasingly came to behave as they tightened their grip on the humanities.

This desire to protect his intellectual pre-eminence—to follow Althusser as the pope of radical thought—is another reason that Derrida never gets to the point, because to do so, to give definitive shape to his argument, would be to cede exclusive control over what it is that he is actually saying, and allow others to evaluate, and perhaps reject his claims (Foucault concluded that Derrida’s grasp of the history of philosophy was “pitiful”). Thus, a studied slipperiness has always been essential to Derrida’s project.

For example, the following passage shows how he insists that he is communicating something while at the same time denying the validity or adequacy of the very concepts he himself puts forward, implying that he alone properly grasps them:

The pharmakon is neither remedy nor poison, neither good nor evil, neither the inside nor the outside, neither speech nor writing; the supplement is neither a plus nor a minus, neither an outside nor the complement of an inside, neither accident nor essence, etc.; the hymen is neither confusion nor distinction, neither identity nor difference, neither consummation nor virginity, neither the veil nor unveiled, neither inside nor the outside, etc.; the gram is neither a signifier nor a signified, neither a sign nor a thing, neither presence nor an absence, neither a position nor a negation, etc.
(Positions, 1981)

In this fashion, Derrida, to his own great delight, remained an ever-elusive intellectual presence, always just beyond the grasp of those many critics who lined up to demolish his pretensions to profundity. They were mired in the honourable convention that once traditionally ruled at the level of civilised intellectual discourse, where interlocutors mutually sought to communicate and engage in dialogue in good faith with a view to achieving a mutual understanding. Derrida would have none of this, as he was interested only in the sound of his own voice, or rather the sight of his own words.

The issue of Derrida’s obscurantism came to a head in 1992 when Cambridge University announced it was going to award Derrida an honorary doctorate, provoking an outcry from his many critics, who published an open letter denouncing his “nihilism … tricks and gimmicks”. Nevertheless, the Chancellor of Cambridge, Prince Philip, duly conferred the degree, observing that the royal family was undergoing its own deconstruction at the time. It is a measure of how unbalanced even elite universities had become that Oxford refused to make a similar award to Margaret Thatcher in 1985.

However, if Derrida continually befuddled and eluded his critics he always remained beyond the grasp of his acolytes, those invariably lesser intellects who have tried for forty years to codify the amorphous blob of Derrida’s thinking and give it a coherency suitable for textbooks, primers and lecture theatres, invariably simplifying and betraying the sophistication (or deliberate sophistry) to which Derrida aspired. Most of these acolytes are academics seeking to attain or preserve tenured positions around which they quickly build impenetrable walls of Derridean and post-structuralist jargon to hide the vacuity of their own thinking. Appropriately, this vacuity corresponds to a central tenet of Derridean nihilism—the ultimate pointlessness and nothingness of things—but paradoxically it never seems to undermine the self-regard or impede the careerism of these academic toilers, or their firm belief that they and their opinions really matter.

And, strangely enough, it transpires that they do matter, because it appears that deconstruction always reveals the same thing. Indeed, this is the central conceit of Derrida’s entire project, because it transpires that the ultimate denouement of deconstructive inquiry is always the confirmation of core elements of the far-Left political agenda of the contemporary intelligentsia. It always accommodates and confirms anti-capitalism, extreme feminism, post-colonialism, gay rights, anti-Israel campaigns, Islamism, pro-terrorism, radical environmentalism and the rest. Moreover, the justice and legitimacy of these radical positions are never questioned through deconstruction, but are instead always ratified by it.

Consequently, a legion of textual warriors rail as a self-styled “resistance” in the universities, seeking to “interrogate” and “subvert” the “hegemonic” tradition of Western thought, imposing their half-baked ideas on impressionable undergraduates, presenting incomprehensible papers to each other, and publishing articles and books denouncing America, Australia, liberalism, capitalism and democracy, usually to stupefied students or other academics impatiently waiting their turn to deliver their own denunciations. Consequently, few experiences can match the predictability and tedium of seminars or conferences in the humanities.

Derrida provided a manifesto for these faux revolutionaries in his 1992 essay “Force of Law: The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority’”, in which he attempted to position himself as a “New Marx”, identifying himself and his favoured causes with the logic of history and promoting himself as a prophetic voice in the eternal pursuit of justice (for select causes, of course). There he claimed that an intrinsic connection existed between deconstruction and a range of fashionable political issues. Indeed, it transpired that deconstruction penetrated to the very essence of the world and found itself to be at one with it—coincidentally, on the far Left of politics, as if the universe itself was neo-Marxist. As one devotee (Simon Glendinning, Derrida, 2011) has observed:

Deconstruction, the movement of the dismantling of the Western philosophical heritage (…), was not to be thought of merely as a procedure or practice or process that promised a more just theoretical end or some kind of judicious advance for critical thinking, but as the very movement of justice in its relation to law: “Deconstruction”, Derrida announced, “is justice”.

It is a measure of the cult-leader-like status of Derrida amongst his followers that this one acolyte stands in awe of “Derrida’s astonishing effort to make visible nothing short of a new mutation in the history of the world”.

How did it come to this? How did it transpire that a French academic, whose work is generally incomprehensible, wrong or trivial, could ascend to such an iconic status within the humanities? He is, of course, not alone. Foucault and Edward Said (the inventor of the intellectual crime of “Orientalism”) enjoy a similar status, while Althusser remains influential, along with many other younger exponents of theory like Judith Butler and Slavoj Žižek.

One answer is that Derrida (like the others) became a celebrity and a commodity, and was promoted beyond any semblance of his intrinsic value by the very system that he claimed to be opposing. Another answer involves the massification of higher education, which (while laudable in terms of rewarding merit) has led to a cataclysmic deterioration in the quality of thought and discourse in the humanities, now compounded by a virtual prohibition of robust debate and criticism.

A further answer lies at a deeper level: it appears that liberal democracy has lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the intelligentsia, and now nurtures within the universities a pampered cadre of academics anxious to propagate an “adversary culture” that denounces and undermines the foundations of the very system that supports them.

Consequently, studies in the humanities are no longer seen as having intrinsic value, but are seen as merely an occasion for radical pseudo-political analyses whose primary purpose is to reveal how language reproduces alleged inequalities of class, gender and race, and reinforces power relationships in society. Perennial human concerns have been excluded, pushed to the margins and discredited. Little or nothing is said of beauty, love, hate, good, evil, tragedy, intimacy, loss, grief, aspiration, betrayal, genius, foolishness, arrogance, heroism, cowardice, the angelic, the satanic, redemption, damnation, or the pursuit of higher, perhaps transcendent ideals. The very existence of a canon of great works is held to be oppressive and a construct of those in power, while the notion that the Western tradition is a monument to human intellect and imagination is ridiculed and deplored. Students are left intellectually under-nourished and ideologically over-burdened.

This is Derrida’s legacy. The solution will be demanding but must involve root and branch reform, freeing up the system and promoting the development of liberal arts colleges that offer an alternative to the dead hand of deconstruction.

Mervyn F. Bendle wrote in the January-February issue on “The Quest for Jesus”.