Occasionally, I get excited about a guest because I just know that he or she is the possessor of a playful explorative mind, and thus I can kick around ideas and intuitions, speculate and throw imaginative fancy into the exchange. Peter Salmon falls into such a category. Aussie, writer and British resident, Peter has written a wonderful book on Jacques Derrida for Verso books called, An Event, Perhaps, and in so doing has made much of Mr Derrida’s opaque thought, transparent and approachable. The book mixes an intellectual biography of his thought and writing, with an exploration of the man’s life and how the two oscillate and inform one another.
The book is a great feast affair and illustrates how much a regular diner Derrida was at the banquet of ideas intellectual history we are blessed by, refusing to be tied to even his own ideas as yet another iteration of ideological dominance or the next best thing. This illusiveness can make Derrida appear bewildering, confusing and bonkers, yet this would be a superficial reading of a deeply human, deeply engaged man who paved the way for rethinking the world, and our relationship with what is given and appears as matter of fact.
Derrida was a generous mind, gifting us ideas such as spectrality and hauntology and of course deconstruction. He questioned oppositions, contemplated imagined futures, questioned the distinctions we use to separate the human species from other animals, and suffered from a nagging feat that those who thought him a charlatan might be right. His writings may be beyond hard work for many, but his ideas should not be and Peter’s book unpacks them to such an end.
Derrida has something to say on Buddhism too. In fact, many of Derrida’s core insights mirror core principles within Buddhism and this observation is what drove me to get Pete on.
Peter carries some of the fine qualities of the Aussie character; he’s down to earth, informal, devoid of superbia, and has a open sense of humour. His writing mirrors his character and asides from the book, you can find his writings all over the web with more recent pieces building on Derridian thought.
Our conversation was rich: We tackle Derrida and Buddhism, Derrida and the culture wars, Derrida and practice. Focault gets a mention, as does Heidegger, as does spiritual enlightenment, mindfulness, spirituality, and critique of the dearth of good questions among those operating weaponry on the left or right. Our conversation was incomplete. We made plans. This is the first part of a two part conversation.
I’m currently reading up on Zen and Derrida, Madhymakha and Derrida, so expect the second rendezvous to be even more Buddhist. For now, enjoy.
Listen to Peter Salmon on Jacques Derrida and Buddhism at the New Books Network
For more on Mr Salmon