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Jacques Derrida's Cambridge Affair


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Table of Contents

Preface / 1. Reprising the Cambridge Affair / 2. Some Kantian stereotypes: the (conflict of) The Conflict of the Faculties / 3. The place of philosophy / 4. 'Preferance' / Conclusion / Bibliography / Index

About the Author

Niall Gildea teaches Critical Theory at Goldsmiths College and Queen Mary, University of London, UK.


The so-called Cambridge affair surrounding the work of Jacques Derrida was both a tempest in a teapot and a significant event. Despite its "teapot" provenance, the Cambridge affair needs to be understood if one is to understand Derrida's biographical and philosophical development, the "theory wars" of the 1980s and 1990s, and the gulf separating Anglo-American philosophy and Continental philosophy. Gildea (critical theory, Goldsmiths College and Queen Mary, Univ. of London, UK) provides the material and analysis needed to truly come to terms with this often-referenced (yet poorly understood) event. A great merit of the book is the archival detail it presents. Although the press covered the issue, the perspectives of those actually involved lie in the archives at the University of Cambridge and the University of California, Irvine. One substantial chapter examines the in-house argument among Cambridge faculty articulated via fly sheets. Gildea follows this welcome factual presentation with substantial analysis of the relevant issues in Derrida's work--e.g., the definitions and roles of philosophy and the university. In the book's concluding section, Gildea deals with thinkers (e.g., Martin Hagglund, J. Hillis Miller, Ernesto Laclau) who have elaborated on these issues. Gildea has produced a definitive treatment of a defining moment in Derrida's intellectual career. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.-- "Choice"
In his probing analysis of the 1992 Cambridge Affair, Niall Gildea argues convincingly that Derrida's work, far from being simply an affront to philosophical norms, provides powerful resources for thinking about the meaning, practice, and institutions of philosophy today.--Edward Baring, Associate Professor of Modern European History, Drew University, USA
Niall Gildea's new study offers the reader a scrupulously balanced and exhaustively researched account of the serio-comic encounter between Jacques Derrida and the hierarchy of the University of Cambridge. Gildea is illuminatingly attentive both to the neo-liberal political 'moment' and to the putative ideological and institutional implications of deconstruction, as voiced by both disciples and detractors. The controversy surrounding the award of the honorary doctorate is fruitfully framed by reference to Kantian aesthetics and 'negative theology', and this study will clearly be of interest not only to students of post-structuralist thought but to all concerned with the social and political role of the academy.--Roger Ebbatson, Visiting Professor at Lancaster University, UK
Niall Gildea has come up with the timely idea of revisiting the rumpus over Derrida's honorary Cambridge doctorate and asking what significance that episode still holds in various latter-day contexts and connections. These include the politics and ethics of deconstruction along with their cruder, less edifying counterpart in the thinly-veiled intrigues and tactics of the anti-Derrida faction. At the same time Gildea is careful to avoid an overly partisan stance and does a fine job of reconstructing the debate from a range of intellectual, cultural, and socio-political perspectives. He is acutely perceptive in showing the multiple forms of projection, displacement, and unwitting self-exposure that characterise the adversary cohort. But he also brings out, to just as striking effect, how the issues are prefigured or obliquely rehearsed in Derrida's writings on Plato, Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Habermas and others. All this in a lively and deeply engaged yet judicious expository style which presents its case to convincing effect. If It doesn't do much to redeem the reputation of 'Cambridge Philosophy' at its 1992 low-point Gildea's book none the less shines a clear and critically penetrating light into some dark and until now unvisited corners.--Christopher Norris, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Cardiff University, UK
A continental philosopher called Jacques Derrida is (not) honoured by a university called Cambridge. There are, it seems, 'aliens in Cambridge.' Or so Niall Gildea writes in a stunning book that combines the page-turning appeal of investigative history and the intellectual force of high philosophy.--John Schad, Professor of Modern Literature, University of Lancaster, UK

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