Quick Thoughts on Derrida Today Conference

I’m a little late on this–many participants have commented on FB (at least from what I’ve seen while traveling). A bit jetlagged here in Thailand, here are quick thoughts:

1. This was one of the better conferences I’ve attended. The conference organizers did excellent work. The speakers weren’t just the usual Derrida translators but such new materialists as Karen Barad and Liz Grosz (both of whom I spotted at my own special panel–and later got to thank for contributing for a collection I’m putting together). The panels were most often vibrant (save those few younger scholars who tried to fit 40 minute papers into 20 minutes).

2. The top themes were certainly the world (particularly coming out of his last seminars), the death penalty (the most recently translated set of lectures), and animals. In short, except for the middle one, a great many papers were taking up Derrida’s work in light of speculative realism, critical animal studies, and the new materialisms. This meant that papers weren’t just of the “As Derrida reminds us…” variety, but full-on engagements and occasional critiques.

3. Derrida Today is huge. I can’t think of another philosopher who has a conference dedicated to them that gets this many participants on a bi-annual basis (at least 200).

4. It turns out there’s a tightly overlapping Venn diagram between “Derridean” and “really nice academic.” Maybe it’s all that stuff on the Other from the 90s, but Nicole Anderson, Michael Naas, Sam Haddad, and many others, down to newer people on the block are just some of the nicest people you’ll get to meet.

5. The stuff on new materialism–I noted this at several times during the conference–has run its course. Liz Grosz talked about the pain of rocks, Barad discussed the unconscious of protons…we have moved to the stage where there’s no method for the use of these terms, except anthropomorphism. I almost want to analyze why certain figures (and there were many at the conference) want to arrive at the conclusion that rocks have a world, etc. There are conclusions we don’t want to reach in this world: the rich only get richer, the frustration at work may just be leftover angst from one’s parental relation, racism will never end, etc. And then there’s this stuff about the pain of rocks and it having a “pure auto-affection”–it’s a conclusion that seems wanted at this moment. I’ll have to think this more through, but count me as incredibly dubious: it doesn’t multiply the differences in the world but in fact says to the world, you’re great, you’re like us. Martin Hägglund, who also gave a great talk, and I chatted about this quite a bit. (In any case, there’s an easy way out of not doing anthropomorphism, at least one from the tradition that inspires new materialists: just go Spinoza and say there are many more attributes to the modes than simply mind and body. And thus a rock’s self-relation may be many things that we cannot gather given our own attributes.)

Finally, I was glad Michael Naas capped the conference–it was after a long day and his paper was loose but masterful, but also expounded on something he told me when at DePaul some years ago: if I suspect there is a theme in Derrida, I would do no better than to look at Glas, which is a text I’ve never particularly loved. It was fun to hear his paper, think about the issues he raised, and then get the chance to hang out with him and other former DePaulians afterward.




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