R.I.P., Jacques Derrida

Derrida died late last week, and there was an interesting obit in the NYTimes (and other places as well). It was noted that Derrida’s following was always larger and more passionate in the U.S. than it was in Europe. It also noted that several political scandals regarding the Holocaust tarnished his image (a Jew, Derrida defended some scholars with former Nazi ties) and that his academic star had been on the wane for several years.

On this count, I had a long conversation with Andy Crouch at the Emergent Convention in Nashville last year — Andy’s feature article on the emerging church will be in the next Christianity Today. Andy wondered if we were behind the times to have Jack Caputo, a major interpreter of Derrida, at the EC; deconstruction, Andy noted, was yesterday’s news and no longer a force in academia.

Was our invitation of Caputo another examples of evangelicals coming to the game late and looking foolishly behind-the-times? I think not. While in the light of history, Derrida’s work may be deemed transitionary — a postmodern hyper-correction — his interpretation and futherance of Heidegger cannot be ignored. Where do we take Husserl and Heidegger’s work which all but killed metaphysics? Derrida offered one direction; and Caputo’s messianic interpretation of deconstruction is wonderfully optimistic — it’s no wonder that many post-evangelical and post-liberal Christians (myself included) have been encouraged by Caputo’s writings.

The Gadamer/Ricoeur hermeneutic turn is a more moderate response to the death of metaphysics, and it seems likely to win the day, but one of the reasons that they are what they are is that they were in conversation with Derrida and deconstruction. Derrida served an important function, and he will not be forgotten.

  • Anonymous

    Tony, have you heard about this book?Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times http://www.gnpcb.org/product/1581345682Whereas D.A. Carson’s book is written more for the lay person, this is more of an academic critique of the postmodern/emerging church, and the impact of postmodernism on evangelicalism as a whole. Translation: It’s way over my head, but it’d be no problem for you ;-)Just curious what you knew about it,Steve K.http://www.knightopia.com/journal/

  • tony

    Yeah, Steve, I’ve heard of it, but don’t know anything of the contents or point of view. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

  • Scott

    Even if Derrida was yesterdays news he is still an important influence. The lack of understanding by most of the evangelicals only illuminates our need to deconstruct more and better. I felt that Caputo was one of the highlights. If history shows us that Kant bridged the gap in his of skepticism then derrida may ne the bridge in our time of metaphysic paradox of certainty and upheaval? Just a thought.www.knowtown.com/scott/Scott, Anapapist

  • Tim Suttle

    Maybe Derrida will end up being like Paley – he can’t get you all the way to the truth but gets you closer than you were before you started. At least it’s another tool in the toolbox to break us out of our well grooved path, helping us see more of what is arbitrary, giving us a new set of questions to ask.

  • Michael

    i admire andy crouch, but …god forbid we should fall behind the times and not keep up with the lastest in philosophy.is it even possible that it is a good thing that the church lags a generation behind society in general? maybe the chance to see which of those crazy ideas really does reveal the truth is a good thing, that we should encourage, and not rush to get rid of.


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