Jacques Derrida on Seinfeld: “Deconstruction Doesn’t Produce Any Sitcom”

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.

via Peter B. Kauf­man 

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Philoso­pher Jacques Der­ri­da Inter­views Jazz Leg­end Ornette Cole­man: Talk Impro­vi­sa­tion, Lan­guage & Racism (1997)

Teacher Calls Jacques Derrida’s Col­lege Admis­sion Essay on Shake­speare “Quite Incom­pre­hen­si­ble” (1951)

Hear the Writ­ing of French The­o­rists Jacques Der­ri­da, Jean Bau­drillard & Roland Barthes Sung by Poet Ken­neth Gold­smith

130+ Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

by | Permalink | Comments (7) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (7)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • d block says:

    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.

  • mike joe says:

    well put — agree.

  • TG says:

    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.

  • bc says:

    He may not have liked Sein­feld but I was told he was a big fan of Mia­mi Vice

  • adfig says:

    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.

  • Bruce Rerek says:

    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?

  • dario says:

    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’.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.