If reading philosophy isn’t a walk in the park, reading French postmodernist philosophy is more like a wade through the swamp. But just as reading a text of physics with understanding requires specialized training, especially in mathematics, reading a text of postmodernist theory requires a grasp of lots of specialized vocabulary and odd syntax. But specialists can usually explain complex ideas in terms we can understand.
Paul Sorenson, a physicist studying quark-gluon plasma with the relativistic heavy Ion collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory wrote the following explanation of his work on particle physics for non-physicists:
“Where I work, we slam together small things to break them into even smaller things until we have the smallest things possible. This is how we know what matter is made of.”
I came across this baffling passage from Of Grammatology by the French postmodernist guru Jacques Derrida:
“The dative or vocative dimension which opens the original dimension of language, cannot lend itself to inclusion in and modification by the accusative or attributive dimension of the object without violence. Language, therefore, cannot make its own possibility a totality and include within itself it own origin or own end.” [Emphasis in the original)
I couldn’t make anything out of it, so I turned to a highly erudite academic friend of mine who regularly reads difficult texts and explains them to students, or at least trains students to read the texts closely in order to understand them. I asked him to elucidate the Derrida passage for me in terms I could understand. Here is his reply:
“It’s pretty clear to me. Let me try to explain it simply.
To address the other in the solicitude of an epiphany goes by way of a speech that is non-phenomenal, after ‘coming behind one’s appearance,’ or from behind, one could say, appearance itself. ‘Coming from’ has to be taken in the sense of a responsibility or a priori obligation as much as a deictic arrival into presence. That’s why Derrida emphasizes the vocative element of this discursive relation. Rather than “at,” language goes toward the other.
Hope this helps.”
Understanding Derrida is obviously way harder than understanding particle physics.