07.19.13 2:46 PM ET
One Last Derrida Attack
Faye’s new book arrived just in time for the 30th anniversary of the CIPh, and was framed as a response to biographer Benoît Peeters, whose doorstop of a book on Derrida came out in France in 2007 and depicted Faye as a man who nursed grudges over Derrida’s celebrity, particularly when it came to the CIPh. The collège had initially been Faye’s project, and Derrida was hesitant to get enmeshed, especially after his campaign for a position at a university in Nanterre had ended in humiliation. But the other philosophers and members of the Mitterrand administration who were involved thought it was more natural for someone with Derrida’s international reputation to be the face of the collège, and eventually persuaded him to join. Perhaps unbeknownst to Faye, Derrida had been in contact with French officials for some time about the government’s policy toward philosophy, and had always been seen as an ideal point man for future experiments.
Though the CIPh certainly excited Derrida’s hopes for a university environment that could break free from what he saw as the stifling hierarchy of the French education system, he wasn’t nearly as thrilled with his participation as Faye seems to think. As the collège was taking shape, Derrida wrote to his friend, the Yale literary critic Paul de Man, that he was in “a state of crazy hyperactivity almost completely foreign to my interests and tastes.” In his letters published in Peeters’s biography, Derrida was skeptical that the French government was serious about setting up the institution, and predicted it would come to a “sticky end.” He was wrong about that: he was unanimously elected director of the new college and given fawning media coverage in all of the major French newspapers—another thing that almost certainly aroused Faye’s jealousy. But Derrida never lost his initial pessimism about the CIPh: he departed the position after only three years, later saying that being a director had been “too big a job” and that he “couldn’t handle the cliques.”
But this time, the polemic has an antiquated feel. The Heidegger debates have cooled in France: though he remains a major point of engagement, and remains influential in the United States, French philosophy has moved past its close identification with his thought. No longer does engagement with Heidegger have major consequences for one’s political reputation. This time, Faye’s attempts to label Derrida as an uncritical disciple of Heidegger, and reject Heidegger’s philosophy as inherently tainted by Nazism, are meeting with annoyance from people who know better.
“According to Faye, one can, in transmitting words, carry entire ideologies with them,” Nancy and company responded in Libération. The philosophers point out that neither Derrida nor Heidegger were the first to use the word “deconstruction,” and Heidegger’s usage in Being and Time was, like most other common terms in Heidegger, carefully qualified as meaning something entirely different than it had in the work of previous thinkers. “A philosophy student knows these are elementary reminders.”
“We must study Heidegger to understand how Europe became what it is,” Nancy added in another interview. “Analyze him while smacking him.” Friends and followers have done the same with Derrida’s work, and it’s no surprise they have little time for critics who want to dismiss him without a debate.