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Thursday, February 1, 2007
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, there's a "quiet storm" brewing over the "ultimate disposition" -- elegant phrase, with a ring of euphemism -- of Jacques Derrida's papers. (By the way, I now relish the fact that I have a public forum to air my opinion that Derrida has the coolest name in all of academia. The rhythm of it smacks of SHOCK Rat-a-tat, or even SHOCK Derring-do. Both would apply.)
Many of Derrida's papers are held at the University of California at Irvine. Now U. Cal has sued the Derrida family in "the first public eruption of a bitter, behind-the-scenes battle." It's not entirely clear what is at issue -- it might be a pre-emptive strike against a rumored attempt to withdraw papers from the Irvine campus -- but it may concern the remainder of the literary theorist's papers, many of which are held at the Institute of Contemporary Publishing Archives, known by its French acronym IMEC, near the city of Caen, in northwestern France.
Perhaps what we are looking at here is really a battle over what nation owns Derrida and his legacy. He was French, bien sur, but at the time of his death taught at both the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, in Paris, and at Irvine (where his salary can only be imagined). What is more, as the Chronicle piece notes, "Derrida was an intellectual superstar in the United States but a lesser light in the firmament of the country [France] where he began his career as a scholar." Is his stock on the French exchange rising only now? He'd probably laugh at the thought.