NOTE: Jacques Derrida is known as the “founder of deconstructionism” (if that’s not a subtle contradiction in terms). Deconstruction’s connection with language teaching can at best be described as...textual. Nevertheless this exclusive interview for TLT, which never took place, took place during a road trip in a rental car somewhere in western Japan.
OLD GRAMMARIAN: Mr. Derrida, you’ve been quoted as saying that post-structuralism could be a springboard for political movements such as feminism, etc., as long as they didn’t simply replace the existing hierarchy with their own hegemonic system.
JACQUES DERRIDA: Yes, I have.
OG: Do you consider yourself a supporter of the feminist movement?
JD: As long as it doesn’t simply replace the existing hierarchy with its own hegemonic system.
OG: I see you’ve already read this interview.
JD: I have not read it, I have misread it.
OG: I’m not sure you understood my question.
JD: Nor did you.
OG: Uh, do you encourage those who would use your ideas for political gain?
JD: They are not my ideas, they have always already existed. I have only funneled them from one text to another for the purposes of—
OG: Could you please not wave your arms around like that when you talk? It distracts me when I’m driving.
JD: I’m sorry. It’s just that sometimes these concepts are easier to follow if I gesticulate vigorously.
OG: I see. Well, if I ever get a budget for video podcasting I’ll be sure to give you another call, but unfortunately for now we’re confined to words on a page.
JD: Ah, and ever were we thus...
OG: Huh? [Pause.] Um, seeing as we’re in an Asian context here, do you feel there is any connection between your ideas of perpetual misreading of texts and, say, Zen ideas about “understanding” coming from recognizing one’s eternal inability to understand?
JD: Well, they are all variations on the same theme, aren’t they? We can approach it via texts, à la myself; or via the self, à la Zen; or via societies, à la someone like Edward Said, who said that—
OG: I like those.
JD: What, my “via”s and “à la”s?
OG: No, those tricks people play with words, sometimes unintentionally. Words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently.
JD: You mean homographs?
OG: Yes, those.
JD: Said said?
OG: Exactly. [Chuckles.] I like those. And of course there’s your own différence and différance.
JD: No, you fool, you’ve no idea what you’re talking about! For one thing, différence and différance are homophones, the exact opposite of Said said, and for another they are completely irrelevant to the point I was making!
OG: Sorry, sir. Do homographs carry the same weight verbally that they would on a written page?
JD: [Sighs.] Oh, who cares? It’s all a stinking play on words, anyway. [Pause.] Why are you turning here?
OG: I thought you might want to get some udon or something.
JD: The sign said the airport was the other way.
OG: Yeah, but who can trust a sign? I mean, you said so yourself—
JD: I wish to return to my hotel, please!
OG: All right, I’m turning around, I’m turning around! [Pause.] So...is this interview over, or is it just...umm...deferred...until later? [Chuckles.]
JD: I’ll just sit here quietly and let you figure that one out on your own...