It goes without saying that political correctness is not the only thing that makes parody difficult these days. There are also the excesses of academic culture. New York University is generally regarded as a reasonably serious educational institution; anyway, it certainly charges its students as if it were. What are we to make, then, of the fact that this “private university in the public service” (NYU’s motto) declared October “Derrida Month” after the French deconstructionist and part-time NYU faculty member Jacques Derrida? When we first saw the flyer announcing the month-long series of symposia, lectures, films, hommages, and general exercises in hagiography, we thought perhaps it was some sort of hoax. But no, it is meant earnestly if not, exactly, seriously. On October 16, for example, one could attend “Face to Face with Deconstruction,” in which Joonsung Yoon was scheduled to deliver “Seeing His Own Absence: Yasumasa Morimura’s Photographic Self-Portraits,” Susan Sterling was to weigh in with “Making-Up Gender, Sexuality, and Self-Presence in Annie Liebowitz’s Women and Helmut Newton’s Immorale,” and Ben Binstock was to contribute “De-nuding the Face, or, Deconstruction as Art History.” On October 17, the great Derrida himself was to lecture on the subject of perjury—an appropriate topic, we thought.

“No one reading, writing or thinking today,” we read in the announcement, “can avoid the iconoclastic French philosopher Jacques Derrida.” We cannot let that statement pass unchallenged. Like the southerner who, when asked if he believed in infant baptism, replied, “Believe it? I’ve seen it,” we know that reading, writing, and thinking can certainly be accomplished today without Jacques Derrida; the question is whether they can survive too close an acquaintance with that pseudo-sage’s hermetic nonsense. Just to keep things in perspective, tuition, room, and board at NYU is currently $33,562 per year. Caveat emptor.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 19 Number 3, on page 3
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