The thing that most people remember about Derrida was his habit of talking non-stop all day long, if you let him. (Personally I put my limit for listening to him during any one sitting at around two hours.) But they forget his redeeming sense of humour. His sly smiles suggested he was always ready to laugh at his own absurdity. He admired, perhaps even envied l’humour britannique. I got the impression that he would have liked to be a stand-up comedian. His inability to deliver anything approaching a punchline, however, meant that he was condemned to spend his life, like a very long-winded Woody Allen, explaining the joke that was Western metaphysics.
Or perhaps like James Joyce. As Peeters rightly points out, Derrida never really got over his first encounter with Finnegans Wake, and in many ways it became the model for his understanding – not that there is anything to understand, of course – of the text at large. Everything was a labyrinthine amalgam of languages, a towering Babel of puns and glossolalia.
Language was not just a game for Derrida, it was also a method of seduction. He was a seducer on a heroic, even epic scale, right up there with Sartre and Camus, possibly heading more in the direction of Georges Simenon or Warren Beatty. As he once said, if we want to know about Hegel’s philosophy, we should really investigate what Hegel was like in love. Peeters helpfully sketches in the elements of the major secret love affair in Derrida’s life: Derrida managed to hide away the love letters, and the lover herself has kept silent, but even they couldn’t entirely hide the lovechild.