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Jacques Derrida took up with vigor the Socratic vocation of philosophy as a kind of dying. Notoriously linked to discourses on "the death of the author" (and almost universally misunderstood on this score), Derrida's work was regularly haunted by ghosts. Death inscribed itself in his corpus and has now left its mark on his body, and we are left to mourn. But that is only to say that we are left with the task of deconstruction: what Derrida described as the work of mourning. It is not without reason that some of his most powerful meditations—on Levinas, de Man, Deleuze, Lyotard and others—come to us in the form of eulogies and memorials.

It has been the mistake of his critics—both in the academy and media—to conclude from Derrida's preoccupation with death that deconstruction is simply the next nihilism. And so Derrida has been vilified as the enemy of truth, justice, the university, and many more of our cherished institutions and values. The myths and lies—yes, lies—about Derrida persist even in his death (Jonathan Kandell's obituary in The New York Times was a travesty).

But this is a picture of Derrida and deconstruction that one could maintain only by failing to read him. For in the end—or better, from the beginning—deconstruction is a work of love. Far from being a mere "method" for critique, Derrida was at pains to demonstrate the essentially productive aspect of deconstruction. "It is not negative," he once commented, "For me, it always accompanies an affirmative exigency. I would even say that it never proceeds without love."

The news of Derrida's death came as a surprise, though we've known of his illness for over a year now. Most surprising is how sad it has made me. I received ...

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In Memoriam: Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
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October 2004

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