Monday, February 26, 2007

Derrida's archives

The Los Angeles Times reports that philosopher Jacques Derrida sought to use his archives as a bargaining chip to quash a sexual harassment charge against a vampire expert:

When a vampire expert allegedly seduced a tipsy [University of California at] Irvine student four years ago, he inadvertently set off a chain of events that now jeopardizes the school's control of a dead philosopher's prized archives. The story came to light after UCI announced last week that it would drop a lawsuit against the widow and sons of philosopher Jacques Derrida. . . .

Buried in the news that UCI would resume negotiations with Derrida's family was a mysterious footnote: The feud over his archives was sparked by a letter Derrida sent to UCI shortly before his death.

According to multiple sources, Derrida wanted UCI to halt its investigation of a Russian studies professor, Dragan Kujundzic, who was accused of sexually harassing a 25-year-old female doctoral student. So he tried to use his archives as leverage to derail the case, they said.
What I find most striking in this account is Avital Ronell's comment on Derrida:
"Toward the end of his life, he enjoyed the same status as Aristotle among the ancients, and every perception of injustice was routed to his desk," said Avital Ronell, a Derrida protege who teaches at New York University. "Even as he was crawling with fatigue, he put himself in the service of those seeking his help and needing the strength of his prestigious signature."
Injustice in this situation would seem to me to be the use of academic power and prestige to influence the resolution of a harassment charge. Ronell's characterization should look ironic to anyone who knows (or in my case, remembers) Derrida's Limited Inc, which is, among other things, a deconstructive inquiry into the power and prestige of signatures.

All of the LA Times article is worth reading, including details from court records of opera music, photographs of Moscow, and Transylvanian wine.
A philosophical view of sex (Los Angeles Times)
More info: The LA Times article draws no connection between Derrida and Kujundzic and leaves the impression that news of Kujundzic's situation somehow made it to Derrida's desk. Kujundzic has in fact written about Derrida and curated a UC Irvine exhibit of his work. A 2002 publication of the UC Irvine Libraries characterizes Kujundzic as a friend and colleague of Derrida's for "many years."
UC Irvine Libraries Newsletter (2002)

June 27, 2018: Very strange: by 2009, Avital Ronell’s comment, which lives on at several websites, had disappeared from the online article.

In a 2007 Chronicle article (behind the paywall), Ronell describes Derrida’s friend and colleague in less than noble terms: “‘This guy had nothing better to do than to ask Jacques for help.’”

A related post
Prestigious signatures

comments: 4

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

D. said...

Dude ... I just discovered you and love the blog. Best, Dan

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog while recounting the story of the Derrida archives to my husband. I was acquainted with the graduate student Prof. Kujundzic targeted for "special attention." What was most upsetting to me about the incident was the refusal of feminists on the faculty to offer their support to the student. She had been victimized by an individual whose behavior toward women (including his colleagues) was frequently disrespectful and self-serving. It was an ugly chapter in UCI history.

Michael Leddy said...

I have no knowledge of this incident beyond published reports, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see faculty siding with those who have power and prestige.