i’m in ur Truth, killing ur ir0ny
May 3, 2007
The redoutable Ophelia Benson, still fuming at what she mystifyingly takes to be my insistence that criticism of Zizek is “impermissible”, now accuses me, in a post pleasingly entitled “Ironies”, of misrepresenting her own work in my published review of Benson & Stangroom’s Why Truth Matters last year. Since this is a slur on what passes for my “professional” reputation, allow me to recall that I wrote in the Guardian, at the end of a largely positive review:
Sadly, the authors also follow a modern tradition of lumping Jacques Derrida in with a bunch of his inferiors and slapping him around too, without showing persuasively that they have actually read much of the man’s work.
Benson now claims that this was “inaccurate”:
The inaccurate part is that we didn’t slap Derrida around, we slapped around some of his fans, which is a different thing.
In fact, on pp18-19 of Why Truth Matters, the authors say this:
But does it really matter? Is it worth bothering about? Academic fashions come and go. Dons and professors are always coming up with some New Big Thing, and then getting old and doddering off to the great library in the sky, while new dons and professors, hatch new big things, some more and some less silly than others. Casaubon had his key to all mythologies, Derrida had his, someone will have a new one tomorrow; what of it?
So this casually sneering comparison of Derrida’s oeuvre to the quixotic work of a fictional character, in the context of discussing “silly” “fashions”, is not an attack on Derrida? It’s just somehow about his “fans”? I don’t think so. Benson’s charge that my review was “inaccurate” is without merit: what is “inaccurate” is this defender of Truth’s account of what is in her own book. That’s ironic!
The “fans” do make an appearance later. On pp168-170 of Why Truth Matters, the authors first try a wan appeal to authority in citing Quine’s objection to Derrida’s nomination for an honorary degree at Cambridge, and then claim that the letters of complaint about the notorious New York Times obituary of Derrida (shorter version: French “abstruse theorist” who wrote “off-putting” books is dead) were written to protest the obituary’s “lack of unqualified admiration”: a plainly false characterization. Then they turn specifically to a letter by Derrida’s “fan” Judith Butler,1 and end up saying this:
As a matter of fact why should we not simply conclude that much or most of Derrida’s renown is the result of frequent mention by Butler and others like her? That he merely has what in US electioneering and public relations circles is called “name recognition,” which is well known to be quite independent of merit and quality. Serial murderers have much higher name recognition than any intellectuals, and it’s not because of their precision of thought (though it may be because their thinking takes some unanticipated turns). [p. 170]
Lol. But perhaps you think that the insinuation that Derrida’s renown was entirely divorced from any “merit and quality”, and the sniggering segue from Derrida to “serial murderers”, constitute another slapping around of Derrida himself and not just of his “fans”, to be counted along with the Casaubon jibe?
Benson & Stangroom’s unserious attack on Derrida is, you will have noticed, rather like Hari’s unserious attack on Zizek (“you end up hating the academics who take this non-thought seriously”). That’s ironic too!2
- As the first commenter on her new post points out, Benson now misrepresents Butler’s letter as claiming that criticism of Derrida is “impermissible”, by means of selective quotation: Butler’s statement that “There are reasonable disagreements to have with Derrida’s work” is left out from what Benson cites of the letter. Another irony from the indefatigable champion of “reasoned argument and the requirement of reference to evidence” (Why Truth Matters, p.171). To be fair, this might not be a deliberate attempt to mislead so much as an unconscious inability to see anything that contradicts her idée fixe – or, of course, mere incompetence. ↩
- Yet another delicious irony: when I bother to correct false claims of fact made by OB and her commenters, I am accused of engaging in “nitpicking” or “distraction”. They’d make a great bunch of “postmodernists”! ↩