Jacques Derrida Was a Shitty Student, and Other Things I Learned Today


A New York Review of Books  review of Derrida: A Biography published on March 25 contains several great nuggets from the live of Jacques Derrida. Namely,  the general disappointment among Derrida’s professors and his bouts with depression.

Derrida failed his exam for his license in philosophy. Yes, that’s how seriously the French take their thinking, you need a license for it.

He was awarded a dismal 5 out of 20 on his qualifying exam for a license in philosophy. “The answers are brilliant in the very same way that they are obscure,” the examiner wrote, encapsulating a sentiment about Derrida’s work that has since become a commonplace:

An exercise in virtuosity, with undeniable intelligence, but with no particular relation to the history of philosophy….Can come back when he is prepared to accept the rules and not invent where he needs to be better informed.

And during another exam where Derrida was asked to explain some simple philosophical concepts, he went all deconstruction on his professors to their dismay:

The jurors were unimpressed. “Look, this text is quite simple,” one complained. “You’ve simply made it more complicated and laden with meaning by adding ideas of your own.”

Read the full article at The New York Review of Books

  • nope

    “Yes, that’s how seriously the French take their thinking, you need a license for it.”

    Can’t tell if this is ironic or not, but “license” is a false cognate, it’s just a sort of diploma, similar to a bachelor’s degree.

    • Eugene

      Thanks for the correction, we took the New York Review of Book’s translation of the term for face value.

  • disqus_ep1iDyw2bR

    The jurors of Derrida are the true philosophers.

  • Raymond

    “Never let your schooling get in the way of your education.” I think that quote is attributed to Mark Twain, not sure if he said it or not, but it applies here.

    “Can come back when he is prepared to accept the rules”

    This pretty much summarizes education, at least here in America (I don’t doubt it’s any different anywhere else). School is not really about thinking for yourself, it’s about following the rules. I graduated high school with a 2.1 GPA, despite being in the top 5 for test scores in my city. Growing up as a Latino from the rough part of town, all throughout my middle school and high school career I was treated to suspicion and sometimes even down right contempt by the public education system. I had great teachers but the administrative staff always saw me as a delinquent, and so I tried my best not to disappoint them.

    Being a bad student doesn’t mean you aren’t smart. It might mean you are a little too smart for public education. I meet kids all the time who are smart, but are turned away by education because of its institutionalized nature and its preoccupation with discipline. I’m in college now, 4.0 GPA, Honors student. But college, at least my humble community college, largely encourages out of the box thinking. I also TA and it’s amazing to me how, coming in, many students are completely incapable of thinking on their own. And it’s because they have never been encouraged to. The concept is completely foreign to them. And that’s why I consider Derrida an admirable figure, someone we can aspire to be a little more like, because in spite of, or maybe because of, the fact that the public education system had marginalized him on the basis of his ethnicity, he was able to apply his own creativity and insights to his education and make it his own. And this is something that I encourage everyone to do.

  • dhanusha

    its their fucking exam so write their fucking answers