I’m wondering why I am being so defensive of Derrida on the thread on my post about his death and on Russell’sâ€”and in the hallway at BYU today when I accosted a poor student who was going on about deconstruction and Derrida in a remarkably uninformed way. I think it is because, for me, the attacks are attacks on a person rather than a slogan, an idea, or a mannikin, and that person was not only interesting and thoughtful, but kind to me. But I also think there is another reason.
As I mentioned on another thread, I do not understand the kinds of discussions that have probably always dominated in politics and at least now seem also to dominate much of the academy: We align ourselves with slogans, calling on secondary sources to justify our alignments, secondary sources that themselves usually rely only on other secondary sources. It is more important that we be in the right camp than that we understand what we are talking about. Politics and academics as fashion and anti-fashion.
Some insist on aligning themselves with what they perceive to be a new voice. Others insist on aligning themselves against the new. But neither group actually bothers to find out what the voice in question has to say. In these discussions, explanations are not explanations, they are demands for concession, and criticisms are not criticisms, they are brickbats and clubs.
If we do not respect that with which we agree or disagree enough to understand it, to take it seriously, we do not to respect ourselves and we certainly do not respect those whom we engage in discussion. It is no secret that I am a partisan of Jacques Derrida and a critic of President Bush. But if I cannot read Derrida and see where I disagree nor listen to Bush and see where he is right, then I cannot claim to understand either. And I have no intellectual or moral right to either criticize or recommend what I do not understand. I have an intellectual and moral obligation to hear those who disagree with me in a way that allows me to see not only where they are wrong, but where they may be right.
Presumably anyone reading this blog thinks of himself or herself as an intellectualâ€”as someone concerned with matters of the intellectâ€”regardless of how many years he or she spent in school. In fact, whatever your claims to the contrary, by definition you are an intellectual if you read this blog more than once. Presumably almost everyone reading this blog is also a Latter-day Saint. As Latter-day Saints and as intellectuals, we ought to seek understanding rather than to glom onto whatever slogans first strike us as according with what we already believe.