Sunday, May 24, 2009

Kirby Dick, Outing Deconstruction

I think that I have now seen only one actually entertaining documentary film with a philosophical subject: DERRIDA (2002). DERRIDA, of course, refers to Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), the "father" of deconstruction. (There is a companion book, Derrida, with the film's screenplay and some additional material from director Kirby Dick, and co-director/interviewer Amy Ziering Kofman.)

We have all been exposed to deconstruction (a process of analysis, not a systematic philosophy) in snippets, or glimmers of understanding:

There is nothing outside the text. (or There is no outside text.)

Every text contains the seeds of its own deconstruction.

When the One diminishes or excludes the Other, therein lurks the beginnings of the up-ending the One.

Deconstruction is not neutral; it intervenes.

Texts, freed from the altar of Platonism and absolutism, are unstable, and reveal their true and natural meaning through the process of deconstruction.

And the film is really about exploring the field of deconstruction, not the man, Jacques Derrida himself. He says right off, If you want to know about the life of philosopher, read his texts. Everything else is mere anecdote. This point is driven home at every turn by Derrida dodging every question about himself as opposed to his philosophy.

At one point, in his home library filled with books stacked to the ceiling, the interviewer (Kofman) finds a stack of Ann Rice books. "Have you read these?" No, I was given these when I was giving a talk on vampires, but I haven't read them. I'm not really a story person. "How many of these books have you read?" About four of them, but I've read those four very well.. In another segment, Derrida is asked what he would like to know about famous philosophers. Their sex lives. But when asked to say anything of his own, he dodges.

Perhaps the most revealing statement about deconstruction is made when Jacques is asked, "If your mother had been a philosopher, who would she be?" It is difficult for him to answer this question, since he can only imagine a philosopher as a man. This is one reason I 'invented' deconstruction: so that my granddaughter could be a philosopher.

True to the spirit of deconstruction is that to find out more about it, turn instead to the writings of its critics. Max Goldblatt's, in a National Review review of the movie, is typical. Goldblatt, of course, takes the point of view expected from NRO: anything that deviates from orthodoxy of inerrant truth given from on-high, outside the mere province of mere mortals (e.g. the Bible or Papal Decree) is the work of fools. It represents a textual fascism or Catholicism — Plato, remember, was no friend of democracy — that stands up for defending "truth" against the pagans of deconstruction. (The only philosophers that matter to NRO, it seems, are Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas.) Some conservatives go to the "logical conclusion" of Goldblatt and actually equate deconstruction with homosexuality, which does make sense from their point of view. (See the last reference.)

This Kirby film is now followed by two others: This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006) and OUTRAGE (2009). (I haven't seen these two yet, but plan to.) The first, about the double-standards in the movie rating business (violence is OK; sex, not ... heterosexual sex can get a PG-13 or R rating, but any hint of actual homosexual sex is in ratings trouble), turned out to not being able to get an R-rating — and hence is "not rated" — in its "director's cut" since some the clips it examined in its analysis and included in the film were not able to get even a an R-rating themselves. The second, about gay politicians and staffers hiding out in the Republican Party, the party that officially stands against any gay social acceptance and believes homosexuality can be cured by Jesus, exposes the mind-numbing hypocrisy of it all. Both of these films, apparently, apropos follow-ons to the subject explored in DERRIDA.