There's an interesting discussion over at Perverse Egalitarianism following a post entitled "Derrida and the Professors" in which the post's author (Mikhail Emelianov) asks:
Why is it that Derrida’s philosophy, after a quick and eventful love affair with American English departments and a rather scandalous world tour and a series of “live albums” (excuse my music analogy here), has ultimately failed to make its essential points stick?
It's a good question, and one that I have wondered to myself on many occasions. Emelianov speculates that the problem is with the practitioners of (what he terms) "derridalogy"-- mostly philosophy professors who are excellent "commentators and summarizers" but who are not original thinkers, even less so bona fide deconstructors, perhaps only barely more than the rough-hewn products of a rather silly Derridean orthodoxy. What it means to be a "Derrida scholar" these days, according to Emelianov, is pretty much to be a kind of anal-retentive curator (or archivist) of the Master's minutiae. That is, Emelianov worries that the secondary literature on Derrida reads more like a series of tributes to the Doktorvater (the best French equivalent I could manage is pères de docteur), which is a rather peculiar phenomenon given that one of the first principles of Derridean Orthodoxy seems to be that "philosophy" is not only scandalous, but should be scandalized.
For the most part, I agree with Emelianov's complaints concerning the state of secondary literature on Derrida these days. (Although, for the record, I actually studied under two of the main targets of his criticisms, and I think he's a little hard on them!) The problem is not, of course, that commentators on Derrida's work are simply commentators-- because Derrida himself was, famously, an excellent commentator on other philosophers (Plato, Rousseau, Marx, Husserl, Heidegger, Levinas, etc., etc.) at the same time as being an original thinker. There's nothing about "secondary" literature that requires it to be completely derivative. The problem is rather that commentators on Derrida's work are often not very original. They are, instead, merely "professors" (in the pejorative/Kierkegaardian sense)... and I think Emelianov is right to point out that such orthodox professing is at odds with the ostensible project of philosophy-inspired-by-Derrida.
So, who's fault is this? Is there something about Derrida's work (or Derrida himself) that necessarily produces a cult of personality? It's certainly conceivable that the combination of Derrida's fame and eccentricity served as a kind of catalyst for poseurs who wanted to mimic the tricks of the Master without mastering the trade... but I'm mostly disinclined to believe this, if only because there are still really good "Derrideans" out there. Furthermore, there are plenty of other contemporary philosophers that seem to have inspired similar phenomena-- Foucault, Badiou, Negri, Deleuze and Guattari, just to mention a few. One of my chief complaints about the secondary literature on Derrida for years has been that I couldn't understand why native English-speakers still wrote as if they had been translated from French. Obviously, they were doing their best to ape the "style" of Derrida, though the resulting texts (and ideas) were mostly disastrous. But those disasters pale in comparison, in my mind, to conversations I've had with some of the Deleuzians out there, who could not tell you what "rhizomatic" or "the body without organs" actually means if their very precious plane of immanence depended on it.
So, I am led to wonder whether the fault lies not with the pères de docteur (because, let's be honest, we're mostly talking about the Frenchies here) but perhaps rather with a particular generation (or two) of American philosophers/professors. I don't want to continue to fuel the fire of contemporary stereotypes of the Continental/Analytic philosophy divide, but I find myself sympathetic with at least one variation on the Continental/European philosophy stereotype usually put forth by critics trained in the Analytic tradition, which is that some of our leading voices are too quick to sacrifice substance and clarity for style. Maybe that's the fault of their sources of inspiration... but I doubt it.