Monday, March 01, 2010
Kaufmann, David. "A Skeptic's Skeptic." TABLET January 20, 2010.
Mikics, David. Who Was Jacques Derrida? An Intellectual Biography. New Haven: Yale UP, 2010. In Who Was Jacques Derrida?, David Mikics provides a lucid, polemical intellectual biography of the French philosopher. He is also settling accounts. In the 1970s and 1980s, Derrida, who died six years ago at 73, was the most important and most polarizing figure in the humanities in America. His brand of thought, deconstruction, dominated classrooms, conferences, articles, and books. Derridian deconstruction was a heady brew of high philosophical discussion and counterintuitive assertion, all spiced up by Derrida’s trademark labyrinthine style, which was easy to parody but hard to surpass. Mikics was in the thick of it. Now a professor of English at the University of Houston, he earned his doctorate at Yale when it was the mother ship of literary theory in America. In the mid-’80s he was a follower of Derrida, drawn in by the Frenchman’s bracing skepticism. In many ways, Who Was Jacques Derrida? serves as an explanation of Mikics’s own rejection of skepticism, of his disillusionment with disillusion itself. Philosophical skepticism aims to demonstrate that our attempts to make unequivocally valid claims about the world are ultimately misguided. To put it simply, Derrida’s writings from the 1960s to the 1980s sought to show that the history of Western thought tried and failed to nail down the essences of things because things do not have essences to speak of. A subtle dialectician, he argued that there was nothing as unstable as the notion of a stable identity and nothing less knowable than what appears directly before us. For those who hated him, Derrida was a mountebank, a sloppy thinker and even sloppier writer whose antics did nothing but muddle what should be clear. To those who loved him—and his defenders were as ferocious as his detractors—he offered a whole new way of thinking. According to Mikics, both sides were wrong. . . . Read the whole review here: http://www.tabletmag.com/arts-and-culture/books/23952/.