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.