Friday, January 26, 2007

Derrida the Foundationalist?

There is a popular trend in certain circles to label thinkers--especially those with whom one disagrees--as "foundationalist." The language a thinker uses is carefully sifted through in order to find "clues" of modernist tendencies. Terms such as "basis," "build upon," and, "grounded on" are seen as indications of latent modernist presuppositions.

When I see this happen, I almost get the feeling that I'm watching some unfortunate individual dragged out of bed in the middle of the night by an angry mob from a postmodern Salem, who wag their collective finger and shout in a virtual state of terror and disbelief--not "She is a witch!" but--"She [or he] is a foundationalist!"

Now, I'm not anymore of a fan of modernity than I am of witchcraft--in fact, I'm sure Moses would have said something about it in the book of Deuteronomy had he thought the Israelites would have had to deal with a Jacob Derrida. Nonetheless, I think we have to be careful that we aren't seeing modernist foundationalism where it isn't.

That said, let me point out a line I just come across in Derrida, the father of postmodernism:

It was never our wish to extend the reassuring notion of the text to a whole extra-textual realm and to transform the world into a library by doing away with all boundaries ... but ... we sought rather to work out the theoretical and practical system of these margins, these borders, once more, from the ground up.
Source: 'Living On: Border Lines', in Deconstruction and Criticism (trans. James Hulbert; London: Routledge, 1979), p. 81

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