I watched the documentary Derrida last night, and I found it fascinating. I’m not an “expert” on Derrida’s work, though he does figure into my dissertation in some important ways and it’s pretty much impossible to deny the influence of his thought on the academy and beyond. My dissertation advisor was no fan of Derrida, calling him a “one trick pony.” That may be true, but deconstruction is a pretty impressive trick.
Anyway, I liked two things in particular about the film. First, Derrida was able to talk about his work in ways I thought were helpful. Now, I might feel this way because I’ve actually read enough (not a lot, just enough) of Derrida’s work to find his explanations helpful, so I don’t know what someone not familar with his work would think of this. But if I were to teach a class that focused on Derrida’s work, I would probably want to show this movie at some point.
Second, I liked the voyeuristic pleasure of seeing Derrida as a “real” person. You can imagine the different layers with all this. A lot of what Derrida talks about in the movie is how Heidegger said at one point that the “personal life” of the philosopher is essentially irrelevant. And, of course, he’s saying these things in a documentary about himself. The movie has these really interesting and even funny juxtapositions; for example, Derrida sitting there saying something profound and smart, and then we cut away to Derrida in his house looking for his car keys or spreading butter on a bagel. We see Derrida getting his hair cut, and I was struck by the fact that he’s a handsome and charming man who seems to know that he is both handsome and charming. We see Derrida talking at different seminars, dressed in these really wacky suits (Derrida is not afraid of either color or patterns in his wardrobe), being approached after words by people like he was a rock star. Which, in a way, he is. He doesn’t talk about it too much (which is one of the points of the movie), but it turns out that Derrida has been married for nearly 50 years, something I personally found kind of surprising given the level of divorce among academics.
Anyway, interesting stuff, especially if you’ve only encountered the man on the page.