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October 13, 2004

To the Editors of the NY Times:

Jonathan Kandell’s obituary for Jacques Derrida is mean-spirited and uninformed. To characterize Derrida, one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century, as an "Abstruse Theorist" is to employ criteria which would disqualify Einstein, Wittgenstein, and Heisenberg.  

With scarcely concealed xenophobia, Kandell describes deconstruction as another of those "fashionable, slippery philosophies that ... emerged from France ... undermining many of the traditional standards of classical education." In fact, Derrida wrestled with central works of the Western tradition, including Plato, Shakespeare, and the Declaration of Independence - none of which he slighted.  

Kandell reports that "many otherwise unmalicious people have in fact been guilty of wishing for deconstruction’s demise--if only to relieve themselves of the burden of trying to understand it." Whether Mr. Kandall's article is "unmalicious" we will leave to others to decide. There can be no question, however, that it does everything it can to "relieve" readers "of the burden of trying to understand" Jacques Derrida and deconstruction, by celebrating the demise of both. The New York Times has done its readers an injustice in publishing such a dismissive article as its official obituary.


Samuel Weber
Avalon Foundation Professor of Humanities, Northwestern University

Kenneth Reinhard
Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, UCLA

and collective signatories posted at remembering_jd