My son Raphael Simon’s essay on studying at UC Irvine with recently-deceased Godfather of Deconstruction Jacques Derrida appears in today’s Los Angeles Times.
For those not registered at the LAT site (not difficult, btw), here is an excerpt:
For Derrida’s followers, “deconstruction” was like a code word in reverse. Only his critics spoke it aloud. I was at Irvine in the early ’90s, when, as his recent obituaries have taken pains to point out, Derrida’s influence was on the wane. Poststructuralism no longer in vogue, university literature departments were in thrall to more overtly political movements like Cultural Studies and the New Historicism. Not long before, it was revealed that Derrida’s late friend and advocate, Paul de Man, had written for a collaborationist publication during World War II – a fact upon which Derrida’s adversaries seized to make a tenuous but widely embraced connection between deconstruction and fascism. Irvine was deconstruction’s last stand. The proud but beleaguered Derrida was like an aging Napoleon in exile; he seemed to be biding time in Irvine, plotting his return to power with his faithful but shrinking retinue.
Nonetheless, the California sunshine suited the Algerian-born Jew. Tan, white-haired and well dressed, Derrida was known at UCI for being fond of the beach – and of beautiful women. His reputation may have diminished during his tenure at Irvine, but he became increasingly famous until he achieved the ultimate California dream and became, literally, a movie star. Instead of his countless books, it was the documentary “Derrida” that would serve for many as an introduction to the man who had spent so much of his career defending the priority of text over image. That is, the theoretical priority.