This article concerns the expression ‘logical phallusies’, imputed to Jacques Derrida by Barry Smith in 1992 in a letter arguing against the proposed award to Derrida of an honorary doctorate at Cambridge. Derrida insisted that this expression appeared nowhere in his oeuvre – it has never been found – and yet it has endured, in discussions of Derrida's work and general legacy, more than any other aspect of Derrida's ‘Cambridge Affair’. I address two cases of the expression's weird stubbornness, arguing that its misattribution to Derrida is a gesture which Derrida's work guards against and undermines – even deconstructs – in advance. The article sounds a note of caution about the ‘post-theoretical’ practice of assimilating philosophers and theorists to the humanities via the decontextualised appropriation of putatively synecdochic buzzwords.
Niall Gildea teaches in the Department of English at Lancaster University. His first monograph, Jacques Derrida's Cambridge Affair: Deconstruction, Philosophy and Institutionality, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. He is currently writing a book on literary post-criticism.