The Corner

Jacques Derrida, Rip

The French father of deconstruction, Jacques Derrida, has died at the age of 74, in Paris. His intellectual legacy essentially is to have articulated a theory proposing that communication is impossible. Think about that for a second, because that’s what deconstruction really is: a theory that argues communication is impossible. As one critic of deconstruction has pointed out: “It is a contradiction to say that nothing can be said, and a multiple contradiction to say it at length.”

My co-author Mark Molesky and I have written an entire chapter on Derrida and his fellow French intellectuals in our new book, Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France. (The chapter is called “Fables of the Deconstruction.”) We discuss Derrida, Sarte, de Man, and others. Much of what these men wrote is abstruse–after a dose of Derrida, it’s just possible to believe that communication really is impossible, though not for the reasons Derrida supposes. At any rate, Mark and I tried to make sense of what these folks were saying, put it in historical context, and explain its influence on America. I hope we succeeded, because if we did then we will have provided one more small piece of evidence that Derrida was wrong.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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