Friday, July 15, 2011

Jacques Derrida (July 15, 1930)

Derrida is known as a leading proponent of the very obscure deconstructionist philosophy. I heard a lecture by him in 2003, but I felt I couldn't understand anything he said. Of course I recognize that he's very famous as a philosopher; indeed, he's characterized as a media celebrity. I am inadequate.

When reading about Derrida's life, I learned about his reactions to antisemitism that he experienced, and his development of a broader secular philosophy. A native of a Jewish suburb of Algiers, at age 12 he experienced French fascism: the collaborating French officials in World War II expelled all the Jewish students from the school that he attended. He left North Africa to study in Paris in 1949, where he experienced antisemitism as well. He wrote to one French acquaintance: "French anti-Semites are only anti-Semitic with Jews whom they do not know personally.” To another: “As soon as an anti-Semite is intelligent, he no longer believes in his anti-Semitism.”

Derrida's philosophy was detached from anything as specific as religion, including Judaism:
“When Derrida was buried, his elder brother, René, wore a tallit at the suburban French cemetery and recited the Kaddish to himself inwardly, since Jacques had asked for no public prayers. This discreet, highly personal, yet emotionally and spiritually meaningful approach to recognizing Derrida’s Judaism seems emblematic of this complex, imperfect, yet valuably nuanced thinker.”*

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