There are those who worship him, his texts, his utterances. There are those who recognize that what the man did was brought new life to the science of literary criticism, otherwise in danger of dying of irrelevance. There are those who hate him, confident that no one is more responsible for the death of literature--if, in fact, there is such a death--than he is.
But today is his birthday, so it's only right we light a candle. It is the birthday of Jacques Derrida.
Now light is an interesting word in that sentence because it's opposite is dark, of course, and it's usage here values a concept or word that has been used negatively in a racist sense. Or something like that. I've never really understood exactly how a text (which is to say a group of words) "deconstructs" itself, but I know very, very bright people who say it does--all of them, somewhere along the line. How one says something almost always sows the seeds of the destruction of what one says. I think it's something like that.
Go to Wikipedia. "This site has multiple issues," it announces boldly at the top. In part, it's because he does--Mr. Derrida.
Consider him a messiah or a heretical demon, love him or hate him, Jacques Derrida has altered literary study forever. In fact, literary study may die before deconstruction. He's higher on the required reading list for graduate studies in literature than, say, John Milton, and vastly more cultic than the beat poets could have ever hoped to be. Harry Potter may have more readers, but not more disciples.
I don't understand him, but then few do. Noam Chomsky accused him of "pretentious rhetoric" after all. When Cambridge University bestowed upon him an honorary doctorate, a list of respected philosophers claimed his work didn't meet accepted standards of clarity.
By my estimation, he was and is the caricature "academic," because he beget upon us all--all academics, that is--a system of thought that has just about zero relevance outside the "academy." Millions--literally--genuflect to him today, even though he himself claimed not to know exactly what he meant.
Anyway, he died in 2004, but today is his birthday. Grad students everywhere will either celebrate or roll their eyes.
May he rest in peace. We won't.