Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 7: Derrida and the Ends of Man
…and ah, I think that is not at all a bad effect that Derrida has had. The fact that he has a sense of humour I don’t hold against him. I wish more academics did. I think it’s pedagogically useful not to be a damn bore all the time… and just, you know, put people to sleep… is pedagogically useful. After all, you know, professors and lecturers have to compete with MTV, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jurassic Park. So, I hardly think it’s in our interest to be boring. And eh, that’s one thing Derrida certainly is not. And, it’s nice to encounter in the dark days that lay ahead as I eh, trudge through what a self can be, it’s nice to encounter a playful spirit. Derrida is very troubled about what the self might even be. But, he is troubled in that playful way that Nietzsche is troubled when he is at his best. And eh, so, ah, I hope that I could at least interest you in ah, looking at something of Derrida’s. In fact, I will leave you with one last little joke of Derrida’s.
So much work has been spent, and so much time has been spent interpreting Nietzsche, and now of course paradoxically Derrida, because these things go on and on. Ah, he wrote a little book called “Spurs: Nietzsche’s Style” and in it, he imagines that Nietzsche left behind, among his many papers a little scrap of paper that says: “I forgot my umbrella”. Then Derrida goes through a long, complex way that an academic interpreter would try to fit this brilliant aphorism of Nietzsche’s into the body of his work. I mean, after all, it might just mean “I forgot my umbrella”, but on the other hand… And, of course, by the time – and this is a short little book I think you could enjoy – by the time that Derrida’s finished, I think that one has at least learned to be an interpreter with more grace, and with a little bit more poetry, and perhaps it would free us for richer, more multicultural, more diverse, and more humane interpretations… if we would free ourselves from the myth. The invidious myth that there is a right way to read a book – one. A right civilization to belong to, as though we chose it. A right gender to be, as though we could pick it. A right class to belong to, as though we chose those things. A right race to be. A certain mythology preferable to others, as in White. Which according to some African-American scholars today – insofar as it’s Greek – was stolen from the Africans in the first place. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s certainly an interesting conjecture, and it’s one in which the readings and the battles of interpretation, as Derrida points out, will not stop. There won’t be a last book, and I am afraid that also warns you that in this class as in many others, there will not be a last word. Thank you very much.