Saturday, February 25, 2006
Habermas and Derrida via Wikipedia
Who knows how long a passage at Wikipedia will be allowed to persist; so, I've recorded the following. (Who wrote this rather amazing passage?)
Habermas and Jacques Derrida, perhaps Europe's two most influential philosophers, engaged in somewhat acrimonious disputes beginning in the 1980s and culminated in a refusal of extended debate and talking past one another. Following Habermas's publication of "Beyond a Temporalized Philosophy of Origins: Derrida" (in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity), Derrida, citing Habermas as an example, remarked that, "those who have accused me of reducing philosophy to literature or logic to rhetoric ... have visibly and carefully avoided reading me" ("Is There a Philosophical Language?," p. 218, in Points...).
Others prominent in deconstruction, notably Jean-François Lyotard, engaged in more extended polemics against Habermas, whereas Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe found these polemics counterproductive (in hindsight they probably contributed to a rift within deconstruction), as they tended to circle around what one may regard as overinvestment in an opposition between modernism and postmodernism — these terms were occasionally elevated to totemic if not cosmological importance in the 1980s, due in no small part to works by Lyotard and Habermas and their often enthusiastic and sometimes uncautious reception in American universities. It may not be unreasonable to generalize that schematic terminology such as poststructuralism, trafficked heavily in the United States but virtually unknown in France yet imported into some of Habermas's readings of his French contemporaries, inflected their exchanges with the vitriol of the "culture wars" which had begun to rage in the American academy and helped overheat matters at a time when many prominent European academics saw strategic value and career opportunities in extending their influence in America, arguably the world's largest market for academic imports. In short: although the differences between Habermas and Derrida (if not deconstruction generally) were profound but not necessarily irreconcilable, they were fueled by polemical responses to mischaracterizations of those differences, which in turn sharply inhibited meaningful discussion.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Derrida and Habermas established a limited political solidarity and put their previous disputes behind them in the interest of "friendly and open-minded interchange," as Habermas put it. After laying out their individual opinions on 9/11 in Giovanna Borradori's Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, Derrida wrote a foreword expressing his unqualified subscription to Habermas's declaration, "February 15, or, What Binds Europeans Together: Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in Core Europe,” in Old Europe, New Europe, Core Europe (Verso, 2005). Habermas has offered further context for this declaration in an interview. Quite distinct from this, Geoffrey Bennington, a close associate of Derrida's, has in a further conciliatory gesture offered an account of deconstruction intended to provide some mutual intelligibility. Derrida was already extremely ill by the time the two had begun their new exchange, and the two were not able to develop this such that they could substantially revisit previous disagreements or find more profound terms of discussion before Derrida's death. Nevertheless, this late collaboration has encouraged some scholars to revisit the positions, recent and past, of both thinkers, vis-a-vis the other.