A friend of mine who studies social theory flagged this annoying New York Times op-ed called What Derrida Really Meant. Shockingly, three weeks before the election, what Derrida "really meant" apparently has a lot to do with how President Bush sucks and how he's similar to Islamic extremists in his religious fundamentalism. Check out the coded language:
1) A defense of nuance
Like Kant, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Mr. Derrida does argue that transparent truth and absolute values elude our grasp. This does not mean, however, that we must forsake the cognitive categories and moral principles without which we cannot live: equality and justice, generosity and friendship. Rather, it is necessary to recognize the unavoidable limitations and inherent contradictions in the ideas and norms that guide our actions, and do so in a way that keeps them open to constant questioning and continual revision. There can be no ethical action without critical reflection.
2) An attack on religious fundamentalists on all sides who embrace certainty (aka Bush and the Islamists)
During the last decade of his life, Mr. Derrida became preoccupied with religion and it is in this area that his contribution might well be most significant for our time. He understood that religion is impossible without uncertainty. Whether conceived of as Yahweh, as the father of Jesus Christ, or as Allah, God can never be fully known or adequately represented by imperfect human beings.
And yet, we live in an age when major conflicts are shaped by people who claim to know, for certain, that God is on their side. Mr. Derrida reminded us that religion does not always give clear meaning, purpose and certainty by providing secure foundations. To the contrary, the great religious traditions are profoundly disturbing because they all call certainty and security into question. Belief not tempered by doubt poses a mortal danger.
As the process of globalization draws us ever closer in networks of communication and exchange, there is an understandable longing for simplicity, clarity and certainty. This desire is responsible, in large measure, for the rise of cultural conservatism and religious fundamentalism - in this country and around the world. True believers of every stripe - Muslim, Jewish and Christian - cling to beliefs that, Mr. Derrida warns, threaten to tear apart our world.
Now, I know very little about Derrida, and I'm sure he personally hated Bush, but this strikes me as a very political and reductionist attempt to put his work into a box relevant to the election. Does everything on the New York Times op-ed page have to be a shot at Bush? Bob Herbert is tiresome enough.