Micro-Reviews #7 Caputo’s “Deconstruction in a Nutshell”
Overall Rating: 6/10
In his Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida, John D. Caputo attempts to provide a basic introduction to deconstruction’s founder and most prestigious (or perhaps notorious) member Jacques Derrida. On the one hand, I must emphasize that this book is not without its quirks ( I find my appreciation for Caputo’s “everyman” quality wanes after a chapter or two). More seriously, Caputo’s posture in this work is apologetic at best, defensive at worst. This short series of essays appears to have directly risen out of Caputo’s frustration that his friend and ally had been consistently attacked (personally and professionally). While I certainly resonate with his rejection of these attacks, including the notorious Cambridge honorary doctorate incident, this posture stretches Caputo’s professionalism and credibility, and in the end, hinders the effectiveness of the work as a whole. On the other hand, this work does provide an extremely helpful entrance into deconstruction for those who are fully or relatively unfamiliar with the discipline; it tracks many of Derrida’s most important moves, charts out important terminology (Différance, Khora, etc.), and places Derrida’s thought within the context of his predecessors (Husserl, Heidegger, etc.).
That being said, I must warn that the there remains an inconsistency in approach which may cause considerable difficulty or frustration. On the one hand, Caputo attempts to provide a work which truly encompasses deconstruction “in a nutshell” that is, a non or pseudo-technical examination of deconstruction. This approach is aided by Caputo’s lighthearted presentation and his intentional repetition of key points. Yet, in many instances, Caputo nonetheless requires a considerable familiarity with philosophical discourse and terminology (e.g. the “transcendental signified,” and the “thing-in-itself”). The result is that the primary audience of this work is split into those who will be frustrated by its repetition and those who (being unfamiliar with post-modern/modern philosophy) will stumble over its terminology. Nevertheless, for those who are suitably familiar with the terminology, and still in need of a basic introduction to deconstruction ( myself, for instance) this remains an extremely useful text.
Lastly, even if Caputo’s commentary is bracketed (which, even in light of my criticisms, I truly would not recommend), this work is still quite valuable for its opening dialogue between Derrida and the faculty of Villanova (a transcript of the official inauguration of the Villanova philosophy PhD program), during which Derrida provides some interesting insights into his own conception of deconstruction’s role in academia, politics, and society as a whole.