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Jacques Derrida’s Comrades and Rivals

Your favorite critic has plenty of frenemies.

One of my fave little sayings is ''O my friends, there is no friend,'' the meaning of which entirely escapes my now, but it seems like an appropriate way to begin this section. And with that…


Paul de Man

Paul was definitely "de Man." (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) Not only was he a deconstructionist, but he was also one of my besties—and after a while, I didn't have that many. Paul and I met at a conference in 1961 and remained tight until he died in 1983. A few years later, I wrote an article about him, called "Like the Sound of the Sea Deep Within a Shell: Paul de Man's War." (Yeah, still trying to figure out that one myself.)

Oh, but things got really ugly when some Belgian researcher foundsome of Paul's pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic articles from 1941 and 1942. He had penned these little gems when he was just a wee lad living under the German occupation during World War II. Sort of a sticky situation, but young, naïve Paul voiced support for a Nazi-like "final solution" and seemed to approve of concentration camps. Ugh.

Here's where it got personal: People used the so-called "de Man affair" to hate on me and the whole idea of deconstruction. They actually accused me (me!) of excusing his offensive anti-Semitic pieces. Not true—I was merely arguing that his great contributionsto literary theory and philosophy shouldn't be tossed outbecause of writings half a century old. (Talk about baby with the bath water!) I mean, come on, haven't you ever looked back on a paper you wrote on Lord of the Flies and kinda cringed?

Fawning American Academic Groupies

For some reason, Americans love me, and American academics always flock to my lectures. (I have a following in Japan and Latin America, too). I got heaps of cash to swing byseveral East Coast universities and the University of Irvine and throw a few perplexing and thought-provoking ideas at my followers—ahem, audience.

I'm actually much more trendy(er, admired) in the old US of A than in France. Americans are just more opento the new and respect deconstruction for what it is: a portal to the exhilarating world of the unruly intellect. The French are so narrow minded, so reductive, so negative. Thank goodness I got some loving somewhere! (To be fair, there are a few Americans who think I represent the evil heart of French theory and even accuse me of eviscerating every last traditional standard of classical education… but I had to put someone under Comrades!)


Plenty of people hate me, but I will limit this list to the biggies.

John Searle

Boy does this American philosopher despise me. He really knocked me down a few pegs. His accusations? I'm not "philosophical," I'm deliberately perplexing, I exaggerate stuff—and that ultimately my ideas aremeaningless and trivial. Harumph. He makes me feel like Dr. Seuss.

Unnamed American Female Philosopher

This unknown woman hates me like whoa. Someone once told me: "Don't walk down the stairs in front of this woman." 'Nuff said.

Michel Foucault

Foucault doesn't really take a liking to my reading of his work on madness. Too many critics spoil the soup, I guess. Then I felt all ganged up on when the historian Carlo Ginzburg took Foucault's side by agreeing that my criticism of Foucault's work added up to "facile, nihilistic objections." Can you believe these guys? A bunch of brainy bullies!

To top it off, Michel got up in the whole Searle catfight. He is such a gossip! He told Searle—and I quote—that my prose was "terrorist obscurantism."  I wouldn't even use language that overdone, and he accuses me of being ambiguous!

Pierre Bourdieu

Well, this French sociologist rejected alliances with anything postmodernist, so that immediately ruled out any friendship between us two. I can't believe he's the "second most frequently quoted author in the world." Guess who's number one? Yep—Foucault.

Camille Paglia

That American lady critic. She thinks she knows everything—and maybe she does, but I still have a bone to pick. She wrote that America is no place for deconstruction, like it's too cool for all of that stuffy French philosophical thought. Listen, I may wear a suit and tie, but it's not required attire. We can be totally cazh, too, I swear.

Camille really hurt my feelings when she attacked me in the same sentence as Lacan and Foucault: "And as for the Lacan, Derrida, Foucault people, who needs them? Put them on an island and let them float out to sea. This is what I say!" She always grouped me with those guys—Foucault and I aren't even friends! Get your story straight!

Noam Chomsky

Grrr. Chompsky, as I like to call him, called my writing pretentious and illiterate and accused me—me!—of misreading and of lacking self-criticism. And those are just the nice things. The guy is a linguist, not a philosopher, but man does he know how to throw a punch.

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