DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" ""> A Quick Note Re: the Derrida/Caputo Nutshell

A Quick Note Re: the Derrida/Caputo Nutshell

I took a bit of time this morning to sit on the back porch (actually, it’s a step) and read through a bit of Derrida/Caputo (Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A conversation with Jacques Derrida). I’m not finished with the book, but I will be through this evening. This morning, I was amazed, thrilled, and inspired by the following excerpt:

For example, and this is not just an example but the very idea of deconstruction, everything in deconstruction is turned toward a “democracy to come.” For even if the existing democracies are the best we can do at present, the least bad way to organize ourselves, still the present democratic structures are deeply undemocratic. They are corrupted, among other things, by the money that blatantly buys votes, by corporate contributions to politicians and political parties that frees their corporate hand to fill the air and water with carcinogens, to encourage smoking by the youngest and poorest people in our society; by cowardly politicians who believe in nothing, who change their views with each new poll, who perpetuate themselves with demagogic promises, who appeal to the worst and lowest instincts of the populace; by media that corrupt national discourse, that fuel the fires of nationalist resentment and racism and stampede voters.

American politicians regularly predicate their careers on promises to lower taxes, exclude immigrants, throw the weakest and most defenseless people in our society - usually black and Hispanic women and children - on their own under the cloak of ‘reform’ and ‘freedom,’ thereby filling the pockets of the richest members of society. In the highest hypocrisy of all, they try to ram down every one’s throat a right wing, xenophobic, reactionary Christianity that has nothing to do with, which flies in the face of, Jesus’s prophetic fervor and his stand with the weakest and most outcast among people. They claim that the United States was founded on Christian principles while dismissing the mass genocide of native Americans by the colonizing, Christianizing, missionary Europeans. Their ‘Christian’ message of hatred for the other and self-aggrandizement, their skill at turning the crucifixion into a profitable business, has more to do with the self-righteous hypocrisy of what Kierkegaard called ‘Christendom’ that with Jesus’s prophetic denunciation of the powers that be (42-43).

So, who says deconstruction doesn’t lead to truth? So far, Deconstruction in a Nutshell is proving to be a good, thought provoking read. I’ll know more when I am finished with it. The above quote is worth the read, if nothing else rings profound. Too, I’m glad I sat down with my theology prof. and had a serious one-on-one conversation about postmodernism and deconstruction. Hauerwas was beyond helpful too. Light bulbs are clicking on all around me.


  1. Posted May 8, 2007 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    If you like that book, you might be interested in Religion With/Out Religion: The Prayers and Tears of John D. Caputo which includes responses of others to Caputo’s work on Derrida (The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida) and an interview with him. ( link) I don’t consider myself a postmodernist, but I did enjoy that one, and also an older compilation by Vattimo & Derrida, Religion (Cultural Memory in the Present).

  2. Posted May 8, 2007 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, ck. I would not cal myself a postmodernist, just yet. I’m still sifting through the ramifications of postmodernism and reason (modernism?), especially as regards Christianity. You, if anyone, already know this about me. So, while I do have strong sympathies for pomo that I didn’t have before, I’m investigating slowly. Then maybe I’ll adopt a tag (maybe). I suppose this epistemological struggle was brought on by going from VFCC (modernism/reason) to Lancaster Theological Seminary (postmodernism). Now that I’m done, I’ll weigh, compare, and contrast both communities … and put something together for myself as I evolve.

    So, if I may ask, are you a Dawkins rationalist?

  3. Posted May 8, 2007 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Lol…I didn’t know that “Dawkins rationalist” was a category! If I *had* to describe myself, I’d say I’m an agnostic, a methodological naturalist who is trying to dissolve the empiricist/rationalist distinction (along with John McDowell), and who has sympathies towards some elements of Buddhist philosophy, but whose ethic is grounded in classical liberalism and humanism a la Kant, Korsgaard and Martha Nussbaum.

    That’s a mouthful, though, so I usually just say I’m in process and am an agnostic humanist. (I have a seven part series nearing its conclusion on my blog that tries to lay some of this out).

    I enjoy Dawkins on science, but his reflections on religion are boring to me. I much prefer Daniel Dennett, Pascal Boyer, and folks who are bringing together cog-sci/philosophy of mind and religion.

    Ask me again when I’m through my PhD…. :)

  4. Posted May 8, 2007 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I may have just invented the category of “Dawkins Rationalist.” It seems appropriate, given the times.

    You wrote, “Ask me again when I’m through my PhD …”

    That’s probably the best answer there is … :)

  5. Posted May 8, 2007 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Please tell me you’ll read some texts that are critical as well. There are a lot of insights to be gained from deconstruction, but it’s a beast that will devour itself if left to its own devices.

    For instance, the assertion about the “genocide of native Americans” is something of a misnomer. Genocide was accomplished simply by showing up. Native American civilization was completely competent to deal with the European “invaders” until their population was repeatedly decimated by disease. Consistently, the first successful European settlement in an area was immediately preceded by a plague nearly wiping out the indigenous population. Europeans were as evil as the next men, but they couldn’t have accomplished anything if they hadn’t unknowingly brought disease along with them, and hadn’t the Americans been particularly susceptible because of their lack of diversity.

    I think the argument that Jesus consistently “stood with” the most destitute parts of society also needs to be deconstructed. Did he really? Or did he also “ingratiate” himself by accepting donations from tax collectors and other charlatans? When Zacchaeus repented and gave all that money away, who did he give it to? Jesus brought the kingdom of God, and that certainly meant protecting the poor and downtrodden. And it meant demoting money from its godlike status. But Jesus never, for instance, rebuffed the temple itself for it’s opulent display of wealth. He simply said “one greater than the temple is here.”

  6. Posted May 9, 2007 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Kyle! I appreciate your comments. I’ll respond by offering my thoughts to each of your paragraphs.

    Paragraph One: Yes, I’ve read many critical texts. My undergraduate college was vocally anti-postmodern. Too, I think (emphasize ‘think,’ because I’m still investigating the subject) history has a way of continuing its move forward in spite of changes and alterations naturally brought on by things like ‘deconstruction.’ I do not think the sudden act of giving it a name will cripple progress. Also, I’m not so sure implosion is as dangerous a possibility as people think, given the strong need for qualifying adjectives (communally) created by something like postmodernism. So, in the end, I can be a Christian in a pluralistic world, and live happily with others who are different. Too, Christianity as a way of life may just be the best way of life. It may be just be “The Way.” In fact, I am one who thinks it so. It obviously could and/or would not be The Way, if there were no other ways to be, would it?

    Paragraph Two: So, it was the Native American lack of diversity, and a subsequent inability to resist European induced disease … Interesting spin. Are you serious? This smacks of blaming the victim, don’t you think?

    Paragraph Three: Ah! So, you do partake in deconstruction! Perhaps you are a “situational deconstructionist” (when it suits and sustains your own prejudices and presuppositions?). In your defense, I’d simply say that not everything tagged “deconstruction” is good deconstruction. Your above questions re: Jesus and portions of the narrative just seem seriously uninformed, for example. Note: 1. Zacchaeus gave the money back to the poor folk from whom he took it. 2. Jesus knocked the temple AND its entire priestly system over … on more than one occasion.

    So, if what you are doing in the above comment is the opposite of deconstruction, then you can find me in the deconstruction isle, thinking.

    Thanks, Kyle. Again, you and your comments are appreciated, even if I tend to disagree. It’s ok to disagree. :)

  7. Posted May 9, 2007 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I think of deconstruction as a useful tool. I actually used something like deconstruction in my paper on Literature theory, which was sort of the thesis class for English majors in my school. My problem is I get the impression that people like Derrida actually thought of deconstruction as a way of life, a philosophy very close to pure nihilism.

    As for the Native American thing, I am serious. I’m pretty sure I buy into the arguments presented in 1491. I don’t think this is “blaming the victim” though. I think this is historical fact. The Indians were in fact victims of oppression. The Europeans did push their advantage to the point of villainy. But this would not have been possible had the Indians not first been victims of something the Europeans took advantage of, but could not help but cause.

    A bad analogy: blaming the victim would be saying to a rape victim: “well, you are female.” It’s something else again to say to a tortured POW, “it sure didn’t help that, before the enemy got to you, you had already broken both arms.” Of course, even that analogy doesn’t go all the way: It was the Europeans who brought the diseases. They just didn’t know they were doing it.

  8. Posted May 12, 2007 at 7:43 am | Permalink


    As one of Hauerwas’ students and someone who enjoys both Derrida and Caputo (though I generally tell people to read Caputo if they’re just getting into either’s work), I’m glad you’re reading it. Slightly more challenging and already mentioned, but worth reading is Caputo’s The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida.


  9. Posted May 12, 2007 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    @Kyle: Yes, the Europeans brought diseases. Did they know they were doing so? Maybe not. The point I can’t get beyond is that they brought it. I’m not able to make the jump from their delivery to a lack of diversity on the part of the indigenous peoples as ultimate culprit.

    @Dan: Ah! I’m quite envious of your position as one of Hauerwas’ students! It must have been a seriously rich experience and study, I’m sure. I love his work. Your advice re: Caputo’s work as start point is received, and happily so! Thanks bro.

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