Although we tried hard, we never really understood much of what Derrida wrote. Now the Forward's Benjamin Ivry wrote, "Sovereign or Beast? Jacques Derrida and His Place In Modern Philosophy."
It's an excellent report. The problem with that Forward essay is that it has next to nothing to say about Derrida's place in modern philosophy. It tells us a little about who liked and disliked him.
Its main concern is the man's Jewish upbringing and Jewish identity during his lifetime.
Was he Jewish? Yes, and he was a complicated Jew. But really, is there any other kind?
Ivry tells us things about Derrida like this:
Born Jackie Derrida (named after silent-screen child star Jackie Coogan from Chaplin’s “The Kid”) in El-Biar, a Jewish suburb of Algiers, the youngster relished the Sephardic music he heard at the local synagogue, but loathed the “racist violence” he saw at school: “Anti-Arab, anti-Semitic, anti-Italian, anti-Spanish, there was everything!” he would later recall.Not complicated enough? Okay, try this:
In 1949, he arrived in Paris for further studies at the École Normale Supérieure, only to discover a different form of the same old anti-Semitism. At the bourgeois home of a classmate, one parent informed Derrida at dinner that she could “smell Jews at a distance,” to which Derrida retorted: “Really, Madame? It happens that I am Jewish!” He later wrote to his host that “French anti-Semites are only anti-Semitic with Jews whom they do not know personally,” adding later, to another friend, “As soon as an anti-Semite is intelligent, he no longer believes in his anti-Semitism.”
Thus acutely aware of his ethnic identity, Derrida devoted early writings to such subjects as the Jewish authors Edmond Jabès and Emmanuel Levinas (and fellow Jews), both later collected in 1967’s landmark “Writing and Difference,” and in other works. While Jabès appreciated Derrida’s analyses, Levinas had a more nuanced response, and another subject of Derrida’s scrutiny, Claude Lévi-Strauss, dismissed Derrida’s writings as “philosophical farce.”
Despite such objections, Derrida was always surrounded by ardently supportive Jewish friends and colleagues, like Sarah Kofman, Peter Szondi, Hélène Cixous and Avital Ronell. ...Read more...
...When Derrida was buried, his elder brother, René, wore a tallit at the suburban French cemetery and recited the Kaddish to himself inwardly, since Jacques had asked for no public prayers. This discreet, highly personal, yet emotionally and spiritually meaningful approach to recognizing Derrida’s Judaism seems emblematic of this complex, imperfect, yet valuably nuanced thinker.