Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Butterflies Attack!

Have any of you read this?

In Defense of the Desceased,

Brian Leiter goes on to attack French philosopher Jacques Derrida in a very aggressive manner. In fact, Leiter questions Dirrida not only as having the capacity to "think" but also states in his attack, "But he devoted his professional life to obfuscation and increasing the amount of ignorance in the world: by "teaching" legions of earnest individuals how to read badly and think carelessly. He may have been a morally decent man, but he led a bad life, and his legacy is one of shame for the humanities."

This insult obviously encompasses us, as readers of Derrida. Leiter's attack is extremely biased, and never supported. Instead of explaining the qualms in Derrida's philosophies and ideas, he spends his time cross-attacking Mark Taylor's support of Derrida. From the get go Leiter discredits Taylor as having the slightest capacity to "think" or think originally, because he is "(yet another non-philosopher)." Leiter writes eloquently, as a philosopher, but never gives a single example of why he thinks Derrida fails. Not only does Leiter fail to give us examples in which to think about, his final comment above (prior paragraph) is only insulting, and as a personal attack has no original thought in it at all. He gives a general analysis or over-view of why he dislikes Dirrida and thinks Dirrida fails rather than showing proof, he leaves us to surmise that he (Leiter) knows what he's talking about. However, Leiter's attack on Derrida is as random as a butterfly’s flight pattern.

After I read Leiter’s article, I realized that I had been insulted as a reader, one who acknolowdges Derrida. Is insulting your reader's the best way to make your point? Of course not, and Leiter isn't overly concerned about not having any readers. This makes his disenfranchising of the "reader" force us to question Leiter's philosophy and whether or not he takes any of it, or us seriously.

Leiter is obviously a thinker who is against original thought. Why else would he segregate Derrida from other 'mainstream western thinkers', other than to separate him from the "norm." Leiter's argument seems more like a personal vendetta to get rid of an "original idea", and push it outside the box. Pardon the pun. Yet all Leiter seems to successfully do is insult us the readers, by assuming that if anyone even remotely has a non-western European ideology, that if we don't fit within the strict confines of the box, that we like Derrida (according to Leiter) must be ignorant and bad readers.

il n'y a pas de hors-texte

There is nothing outside of the text
-- Jacques Derrida

Is Leiter agreeing with Derrida in some perverse way? If the text was a box, and there is no outside the box for Leiter, can we presume he is supporting Derrida's claim? Of course not, because we can plainly see that Leiter is only categorizing ideologies and not trying to comprehend them. Who is the real "bad" reader? I'll leave that up to you, the audience, to decide.

According to the Editors of The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, "The translation "there is nothing outside the text," while not incorrect, is misleading because it implies an inside/ outside barrier whose existence Derrida is precisely putting in question. A text is constituted by the attempt to represent what is outside it: every attempt to get outside of that ends up repeating, not transcending, the structure.” (p.1825)

I feel that Leiter doesn't attempt to get outside, transcend, or even repeat. He obviously is contradictory to his claim, that Derrida was a bad reader, misinterpret, and not a philosopher. How could Derrida be these things when he put into question the very box, or “text”, or “ideal” which Leiter is so blatantly attacking yet contradictorily adhering to? Quite frankly, Leiter fails on all accounts to make an argument and he, more than surely, hopes he loses you in the "big" words and complex language, but the moment he resorts to sports analogies, you know you're not only reading a bad philosopher, but an extremely poor writer as well.

By Tristan Vick


Nikole Didier said...


What a refreshing response--and my feelings exactly. The entire tone of the piece was condescending. It was a gross generalization, personal attack, and structurally complicated. As an undergraduate in English Lit, I was offended by the excessive use of unnecessary large words to express such a feeble point. As a human being, I was ashamed of the complete disregard for compassion and respect of a person who dared to think differently. To me, Lieter is saying nothing new or inspiring, he is simply using rhetoric to demean a person for the sake of argument. Anxiety of influence anyone?


Tristan Vick said...

Thanks Nikole, and I think your comment is exactly my point. Well summed up! Thanks for the support too.

Nikole Didier said...


I just wanted to comment on your awesome presenation today! Will you please post a copy of your paper online? I am VERY interested in reading it!