UC Irvine drops suit over Derrida’s personal papers
The University of California, Irvine, has dropped a lawsuit against the family of world-renowned French philosopher and professor Jacques Derrida after an outcry from the late scholar’s followers.
The university had sued in an attempt to get manuscripts and correspondence from Derrida’s widow and children that it believed the philosopher had promised to UC Irvine’s collection.
This week, however, a school spokeswoman said the university had resumed negotiations with Derrida’s family and would drop the lawsuit.
“We feel confident that in the very near future this issue will be resolved in a manner that satisfies the Derrida family,” said UCI spokeswoman Christine Byrd.
Derrida, who died in 2004 at age 74, was the founder of an intellectual movement called deconstruction and taught part-time at UC Irvine from 1986 to 2003. Deconstruction rejects the idea that a text can have a single, authoritative interpretation; it became popular on U.S. college campuses in the 1970s.
Until his death, Derrida had slowly been turning over lecture manuscripts, journals and other materials to UCI’s special collections library under an agreement he signed in 1990.
UCI had spent more than $500,000 on the project, installing two copy machines at Derrida’s house near Paris and hiring French-speaking graduate students to help catalog the documents, according to the lawsuit.
But in 2004, Derrida sent a letter to UCI’s then-chancellor, Ralph Cicerone, threatening to withdraw permission for scholars to photocopy or quote material from the archives, a move that would have rendered the papers virtually useless, said Peggy Kamuf, a friend of the Derrida family and chairwoman of USC’s comparative literature department.
Derrida was “quite unhappy with some things the University of California was doing,” Kamuf said, adding that she couldn’t discuss details except to say it didn’t involve Derrida’s own relationship with the university.
After Derrida’s death, his widow and sons said they wanted copies of UCI’s archives shared with the Institute of Contemporary Publishing Archives in France, Kamuf said.
“Irvine is not exactly the center of the world,” Kamuf said, so the family requested duplicate archives to assure wider scholarly access to the philosopher’s work.
Derrida’s estate also sought changes in how UCI managed the papers, said Jackie Dooley, who heads the school’s special collections and archives.
About a year ago, the family cut off negotiations, she said, so UCI sued in November, seeking $500,000 in damages and a court order requiring the family to transfer its stash of papers to California.
On Feb. 1, following a meeting of UCI professors, librarians and administrators, the university “began the process of dismissing the lawsuit,” said Karen Lawrence, UCI’s dean of humanities.
Kamuf said she was told that UCI would agree to share copies of its archives with the French institute. Byrd, the UCI spokeswoman, said a more complete description of the agreement would be made public later this week.
“This is what should have happened all along,” said Kamuf. “One hundred years from now, Derrida will be considered the most important philosopher since (Immanuel) Kant.”