Jacques Derrida could enjoy a good movie like anyone else. In a 2002 interview with TIME, he declared “I have watched The Godfather 10 times. I must watch it whenever it’s on.” Who couldn’t?
Coppola films were one thing. Apparently sitcoms quite another. In another 2002 interview, a journalist asked the French philosopher whether, in so many words, deconstruction shared anything in common with Seinfeld and the ironic/parodic way it looks at the world. This was taking things too far. “Deconstruction, as I understand it,” said Derrida, “doesn’t produce any sitcom. If sitcom is this, and people who watch this think deconstruction is this, the only advice I have to give them is just stop watching sitcom, do your homework, and read.” The cringeworthy scene originally appeared in the documentary, Derrida, directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Hoffman.
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I think one of the things that I think, as a French person who came from a very intellectual culture, where philosophers who wrote very difficult and often even obscure books were treated like rock stars, was that it was hard for Derrida to adjust to America because of just how anti-intellectual our culture is. And I think, he saw in comments like these a hint of the fact that people were trying to turn deconstruction into a kind of cultural fashion statement, without bothering to actually read his work to figure out what it really meant. And this is true, which is why he has just been misinterpreted and read so badly here. Most people today use the word deconstruction without knowing where it comes from or what it means, so to a certain extent he wasn’t wrong to say that, given that context. Deconstruction happens at the level of metaphysical concepts. It was never about ironically reading texts or parodying anything, though I can certainly see where that idea comes from. There is a level of playfulness and humor in his work. But there is also a serious engagement with philosophy going on there, and there’s nothing like what she described with Seinfeld. So anyway all I’m saying is I can see where he was coming from with that comment.
well put – agree.
Agreed. As a cultural artefact, perhaps there is something in Seinfeld that can be interpreted as deconstructive, but the TV presenter doesn’t even correctly describe how Seinfeld may be interpreted that way. She gets it totally wrong. In response, all Derrida could say was nothing.
He may not have liked Seinfeld but I was told he was a big fan of Miami Vice
He could have explained that deconstruction contains the future: if you are unable to the deconstruct the present, the future will be like the past. The interviewer and the audience could then take their own conclusions.
Funny thing is that he could be a wonderful character as the grumpy newsstand guy who Kramer worships as an intellectual. In ongoing episodes we witness Jacques teaching at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Hows that for Deconstructing Derrida?
I agree. It is evident from his face in the video that he has never heard of Seinfeld and from the way the series is presented to him it sounds like a brainless parody of your kitchen.
The way Derrida understood the question is “Do you think that a sitcom can do philosophy and deconstruction of life?” and the answer was “No, to do that you need to study, there is no easy way to think.”
In a larger context, Seinfeld *is* great and in a way a “decostructive” little work of art. But it’s not a work of philosophy as Derrida’s and others’.