|Jacques Derrida Biography||
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Jacques Derrida (July 15, 1930 – October 8, 2004) was an Algerian-born France philosopher, known as the founder of deconstruction. His voluminous work had a profound impact upon continental philosophy and literary theory. Derrida is often associated with post-structuralism and postmodernism, even though he never used the latter term and dissociated himself from it.
Derrida grew up in Algiers, Algeria. As a young student, he was expelled from his lycée by Algerian administrators zealous to implement anti-Semitic quotas set by the Vichy France government. He skipped school for a year rather than attend the Jewish lycée formed by displaced teachers and students. Following this, his family moved to France in 1949 to advance his secondary education, finally settling in Nice in 1962. Beginning in 1952, Derrida was a student at the elite École Normale Superieure (ENS), where he studied under Michel Foucault and Louis Althusser, among others. After studies at the Husserl Archive in Leuven, Belgium, completion of his philosophy agrégation, Derrida became a lecturer there. During the Algerian War of Independence, Derrida asked to teach soldiers' children in lieu of military service, teaching French language and English language from 1957 to 1959. Following the war, Derrida began a long, if slightly ambiguous, association with the Tel Quel group of literary and philosophical theorists. At the same time, from 1960 to 1964, Derrida taught philosophy at the University of Paris, and from 1964 to 1984 at the École Normale Superieure. He completed his Thèse d'État (roughly the equivalent of a doctoral thesis) in 1980; the work was subsequently published in English translation as "The Time of a Thesis: Punctuations". Until his death he was director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. With François Châtelet and others, he was a co-founder in 1983 of the International College of Philosophy (French acronym: Ciph), a research institution intended to give a place to philosophical researches and lectures which could not be carried out elsewhere in the academy. He was elected as its first president. Beginning with his 1966 lecture at Johns Hopkins University, at which he presented his essay "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" (see below), his work assumed international prominence. For the rest of his life, Derrida travelled widely and held a series of visiting and permanent positions, particularly in American universities. From 1986 on he was Professor of the Humanities at the University of California, Irvine, which has a major archive of his manuscripts. Derrida was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the 2001 Adorno-Preis from the University of Frankfurt. He was awarded honorary doctorates by University of Cambridge (after a great deal of controversy), Columbia University, The New School for Social Research, the University of Essex, University of Leuven, and Williams College. In 2003, Derrida was diagnosed with aggressive pancreatic cancer, which reduced his speaking and travelling engagements. He died in a Paris hospital on the evening of Friday, October 8, 2004 (BBC story).
Derrida's earliest work was a critique of the limits of phenomenology. His earliest academic manuscript for a degree was a work on Edmund Husserl, submitted in 1954, and published much later as The Problem of Genesis in Husserl's Phenomenology. In 1962 he published Edmund Husserl's Origin of Geometry : An Introduction, which contained his own translation of the Husserl essay. Derrida first received major attention outside France with his lecture, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," delivered at Johns Hopkins University in 1966 (and subsequently included in Writing and Difference). The conference at which this paper was delivered was concerned with structuralism, then at the peak of its influence in France, but only beginning to gain attention in the United States. Derrida differed from other participants by his lack of explicit commitment to structuralism, having already been critical of the movement. He praised the accomplishments of structuralism but also maintained reservations about its internal limitations, thus leading to the notion that his thought was a form of post-structuralism. Near the beginning of the essay, Derrida argued: The effect of Derrida's paper was such that by the time the conference proceedings were published in 1970, the title of the collection had become The Structuralist Controversy. The conference was also where he met Paul de Man, who would be a close friend and source of great controversy, as well as where he first met the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, with whose work Derrida enjoyed a mixed relationship.
Derrida's work demonstrated an interest in all the disciplines under discussion at the Baltimore conference, as was evinced by the subject of the three collections of work published in 1967: Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference and Speech and Phenomena. These three books contained readings of the work of many philosophers, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Husserl, Emmanuel Levinas, Martin Heidegger, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Michel Foucault, Georges Bataille and René Descartes, and also of anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, paleontologist André Leroi-Gourhan, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, and writers such as Edmond Jabès and Antonin Artaud. It was in this trinity of works that the "principles" of deconstruction were set out, not through theoretical explication but, rather, by demonstration, where he showed that the arguments promulgated by their subject-matter exceeded and contradicted the oppositional parameters in which they were situated. The next five years of lectures and essay-length work were gathered into two 1972 collections, Dissemination and Margins of Philosophy, at which time a collection of interviews (published together as Positions in 1981) was also released.
Starting in 1972, Derrida produced on average more than a book per year. He was said to have released more work in 2003 than in any other year. He was so prolific that there is no bibliography of his work that is complete. A good start is the bibliography included in Jack Reynolds' and Jonathan Roffe's (eds.) Understanding Derrida (London and New York: Continuum, 2004). During the 1970s, his work was arguably at its most playful and most radical: his crucial works Glas, and The Post-Card: from Socrates to Freud and Beyond set the tone for his deconstructive project, particularly by emphasizing his form of close reading.
Political and ethical "turns"
Two further points deserve mention: Derrida's "political turn," heralded by Specters of Marx in 1994, saw him divert his attention to politics. Derrida and many of his supporters have argued that much of the philosophical work done in his "political turn" can be dated to earlier essays, though the change of tone and the effort granted to political issues rose. His "ethical turn," in works such as The Gift of Death, saw Derrida applying deconstruction to the relationship between ethics and religion. Derrida reads Søren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling in this work and claims a leap of faith is required in many aspects of life, not just religion. Derrida is also indebted to Nietzsche. His discussion of responsibility, guilt, and the genesis of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, shows the influence of Nietzsche's genealogy of morals.
On March 14, 1987, Derrida presented at the CIPH conference titled "Heidegger: Open Questions" a lecture which was published in October 1987 as Of Spirit. It follows the shifting role of Geist (spirit) through Heidegger's work. Reconnecting in a number of respects with previous work on Heidegger (such as "The Ends of Man" in Margins of Philosophy) Derrida reconsiders three other fundamental and recurring elements of Heideggerian philosophy: the distinction between human and animal, technology, and the privilege of questioning as the essence of philosophy. Of Spirit is a crucial intervention in the long debate on Heidegger's Nazism and appeared at the same time as the French publication of a book by an unknown Chilean writer, Victor Farias, who charged that Heidegger's philosophy amounted to a wholehearted endorsement of the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) faction. Derrida responded to Farias in an interview, "Heidegger, the Philosopher's Hell" and a subsequent article, "Comment donner raison? How to Concede, with Reasons?" He noted that Farias was a weak reader of Heidegger's thought, adding that much of the evidence Farias and his supporters touted as new had long been known within the philosophical community.
The 1966 paper, in addition to establishing Derrida's international reputation, marked the start of Derrida's use of the concept of deconstruction. Although Derrida did not completely object to the characterization of his entire project with this one term, it was a development about which he remained ambivalent. At its core, if it can be said to have one, deconstruction is an attempt to open a text (literary, philosophical, or otherwise) to several meanings and interpretations. Its method is usually to take binary oppositions within a text — inside and outside or subject and object, or male and female, which he argues are culturally and historically defined, even reliant upon one another — and show that they are not as clear-cut or as stable as it would at first seem, that the two opposed concepts are fluid, then to use this ambiguity to show that the text's meaning is fluid as well. This fluidity stands against a legacy of traditional (that is, Platonist) metaphysics founded on oppositions that seek to establish a stability of meaning through conceptual absolutes where one term, for example "good," is elevated to a status that designates its opposite, in this case "evil," as its perversion, lack or inferior. However, these "violent hierarchies," as Derrida termed it, are structurally unstable within the texts themselves, where the meaning strictly depends on this contradiction or antinomy. This is why Derrida insisted that deconstruction was never performed or executed but "took place" through "memory work": in this way, the task of the "deconstructor" was to show where this oppositional or dialectical stability was ultimately subverted by the text's internal logic. The result is to find often strikingly new interpretations of texts, obtained through meticulous readings that find philosophy anew. No "meaning" is stable: rather, the only thing that keeps the sense of unity within a text is what Derrida called the "metaphysics of presence," where presence was granted the privilege of truth. To understand this argument, one needs to explore Derrida's deconstruction of the speech/writing opposition, of which Of Grammatology is perhaps the clearest study. Derrida's critique of oppositions may be partly inspired by Nietzsche's genealogical reconsideration of "good" and "evil" (see, in particular, Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morals). Derrida's practice of reading raises the question of the relationship between deconstruction and literary theory. Within literary studies, deconstruction is often treated as a particular method of reading — in contrast to Derrida's claims that deconstruction is an "event" within a text, not a method of reading it. Despite this apparent contradiction, the literary sensibilities of Derrida cannot be ignored, as many of his deconstructions were of poems and literary texts. Further, deconstruction's sensitivities to philosophical efforts at defining limits have been taken by some to imply a deconstructive agenda for the ultimate reversal of order. This agenda would cover: philosophy's claim to be the first of all academic disciplines; holding out hopes of uniting all; delineating what is proper to each as they remain apart; and expelling from itself non-philosophy (via judgements which irreducibly take part in violence and hinge on matters of interpretation made through language). This has been seen as the privilege of the non-serious and the literary over a humbled philosophy. Although its influence on literary studies is probably the most well-known and well-reported effect of deconstruction, its roots are more philosophical than literary, although it is also tied to distinct but abutting academic disciplines such as linguistics, women's studies, and anthropology (called the "human sciences" in France). Derrida's examination of the latter's philosophical foundations, both conceptual and historical, and their continued reliance on philosophical argument (whether consciously or not), was an important aspect of his thought. Among his foremost influences are Edmund Husserl, Sigmund Freud, and Martin Heidegger. Heidegger in particular was a major influence on Derrida—he claims in his "Letter to a Japanese Friend" ( Derrida and différance, eds. Robert Bernasconi and David Wood) that the word "déconstruction" was his attempt both to translate and re-appropriate for his own ends the Heideggerian terms Destruktion and Abbau via a word from the French language, the varied senses of which seemed consistent with his requirements. This relationship with the Heideggerean term was chosen over the Nietzschean term "demolition", as Derrida shared with Heidegger an interest in renovating philosophy to allow it to treat increasingly fundamental matters. In this regard, he moves beyond Heidegger in a significant way. While Heidegger passes through Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Kant, Descartes, Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato, and Parmenides, and finds their work wanting where the question of Being is concerned, Derrida prefers to mine the heterogeneous nature of their works — indeed, his reading of Plato in Dissemination is among his best-known and most important readings, in which Plato's khôra is treated.
Derrida received the 2001 Adorno Prize, named after Theodor Adorno. In accepting this award, Derrida noted both differences and affinities with Adorno. Their treatment of aporia was noted as an affinity. Aporia comes from the Greek απορια (from α-πορος) meaning "the impassable". The aporetic was a recurring structure for Derrida: Derrida strived to render as determinate as possible an interpretation, finding a series of "undecidable" decisions between a series of determinate constructions of interpretations. These passages through impossible decisions are unavoidable, according to Derrida, and potentially lead to a model of responsibility. Derrida views this as the point to which philosophy should aspire. In Derrida's view, philosophy would like to deliver its complete system, here and now: its absolute work made manifest to its reader, the end of philosophy being the end of philosophy. Derrida also shares with Adorno criticism of doctrines of immediate (unmediated) (self-)presence grounding Western philosophies: both wrote theses on Husserl critical of his philosophy for this reason. The idea of aporia is carried over in other deconstructive readings — particularly those of Paul de Man, whose readings of poems were known for concluding that the poems ended in an aporia.
Criticisms of Derrida
A broad overview of the history of Derrida's reception, covering the period until the publication of Specters of Marx (1994), is given in The Reception of Derrida: Translation and Transformation (2006).
Derrida and analytical philosophy
Analytic philosophy philosophers and scientists are prominent among Derrida's detractors, some of whom regard his work as non-philosophical or pseudophilosophy. Nevertheless, Derrida has repeatedly addressed the American Philosophical Association and is highly regarded by some contemporary American philosophers, such as Richard Rorty and Stanley Cavell. Most analytical philosophy critiques of Derrida follow the line set by John Searle in a 1974 response to Derrida's "Signature, Event, Context", itself a critical reading of John L. Austin's work How to Do Things with Words. Derrida responded to Searle in an essay entitled "Limited Inc". In opposition to such views, some further suggest that the major substance of analytical critiques is circular—that they propose a system of evaluating philosophy that is antithetical to Derrida, and then criticize Derrida for not adhering to it. Indeed, Derrida's critique of Searle was in part also based on this position: Derrida argued that Searle read his essay very poorly, essentially creating its own version of Derrida for the sole purpose of attacking it. Ironically, this was also Searle's main objection to Derrida—that he had created a version of J. L. Austin that was "unrecognizable". Derrida referred to the angry reactions his work sometimes produces in an interview: In 1992 the University of Cambridge awarded an honorary doctorate to Derrida, despite strenuous opposition from its Philosophy Faculty. Twenty philosophers from other institutions, including W. V. Quine and Ruth Barcan Marcus, signed a letter to protest the award, maintaining that Derrida's work "does not meet accepted standards of clarity and rigor" and describing his philosophy as being composed of "tricks and gimmicks similar to those of the Dada." Derrida replied that the letter embarrasses itself immediately, transgressing banal standards of "clarity and rigor," by grounding its accusations in supposed citations ("logical phallusies") which, Derrida wrote, "I challenge anyone to find in my writings" and which for him reveal the attempt to police academic freedom.
Noam Chomsky has expressed the view that Derrida uses "pretentious rhetoric" to obscure the simplicity of his ideas. He groups Derrida within a broader category of the Parisian intellectual community which he has criticized for, on his view, acting as an elite power structure for the well educated through "obfuscation". Chomsky has indicated that he may simply be incapable of understanding Derrida, but he is suspicious of this possibility. Chomsky's opposition to Derrida could be reduced to his opposition to the linguistic and semiotics theories on which Derrida has partly relied throughout his work, or to his opposition to the greater part of modern French thought. An obituary by Jonathan Kandell in The New York Times titled Jacques Derrida, Abstruse Theorist, Dies at 74 (October 10,2004) was criticized by many academics as being ideologically motivated, intentionally offensive, and excessively critical, and a letter of objection was signed online by over 5000 academics. http://www.humanities.uci.edu/remembering_jd/ (As a response to widespread academic anger over the obituary, the same paper also published two much more sympathetic assessments of Derrida's work: "The Man Who Showed Us How to Take the World Apart" (October 11, 2004) by Edward Rothstein and "What Derrida Really Meant" (October 14, 2004) by Mark C. Taylor. It did not publish many other critical responses to the obituary, and nevertheless, a quick search on the New York Times website will also show that writers in the paper often use "Derrida" as a derogatory shorthand for "difficult writing" or "academic seclusion." The Economist obituary (October 21, 2004) attracted similar criticism. By contrast, the obituary in The Guardian was more favourable and extensive.
Promulgation of nihilism
Some critics charge that the deconstructive project is "nihilism". They claim Derrida's writing attempts to undermine the ethical and intellectual norms vital to the academy, if not Western civilization itself. Derrida is accused of creating a blend of extreme Philosophical skepticism and solipsism that effectively denies the possibility of knowledge and meaning. Derrida, however, felt that deconstruction was enlivening, productive, and affirmative, and that it does not "undermine" norms but rather places them within contexts that reveal their developmental and effective features. Derrida may have seen himself as stress testing conventional notions of knowledge and meaning Perhaps most persistent among these critics is Richard Wolin, who has argued in support of this thesis (of corrosive nihilism) in relation to Derrida and more or less all of Derrida's major inspirations (Bataille, Blanchot, Levinas, Heidegger, Nietzsche, and so on). Wolin's anti-Derrideanism has a history: Wolin ran afoul of Derrida by publishing what Derrida argued was a "demonstrably execrable" and intentionally malicious mistranslation of a Derrida interview on Heidegger "in a book The Heidegger Controversy that, as is my right, I judge to be weak, simplistic, and compulsively aggressive". As French law requires the consent of an author to translations and such permission was not given, Derrida insisted that the interview not appear in any subsequent editions or reprints. Columbia University Press subsequently refused to offer reprints or new editions, and the book was offered in later editions without the Derrida interview by MIT Press. The matter achieved public exposure owing to a friendly review of Wolin's book by Thomas Sheehan that appeared in the New York Review of Books, in which Sheehan characterised Derrida's protests as an imposition of censorship. It was followed by an exchange of letters. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2658, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2591. Derrida in turn responded, in somewhat acerbic fashion, to Sheehan and Wolin, in "The Work of Intellectuals and the Press (The Bad Example: How the New York Review of Books and Company do Business)," which was published in the book Points....
Derrida was involved with many political issues, movements, and debates:
Derrida and his peers
Derrida's philosophical friends, allies, and students included Paul de Man, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Blanchot, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Sarah Kofman, Hélène Cixous, Bernard Stiegler, Alexander García Düttmann, Geoffrey Bennington, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe
Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe were among Derrida's first students in France and went on to become well-known and important philosophers in their own right. Despite their considerable differences of subject, and often also of method, they continued their close interaction with each other and with Derrida, from the early 1970s. Derrida wrote on both of them, including a long book on Nancy: Le Toucher, Jean-Luc Nancy ( Touching, Jean-Luc Nancy).
Paul de Man
Derrida's most prominent friendship in intellectual life was with Paul de Man, which began with their meeting at Johns Hopkins University and continued until de Man's death in 1983. Shortly after de Man's death, Derrida authored an article in the journal Critical Inquiry called "Like the Sound of the Sea Deep Within a Shell: Paul de Man's War". An eulogy for a late philosopher is not normally cause for controversy. This would be an exception. Shortly before Derrida published his piece, it was discovered that de Man had written almost two-hundred essays in a pro-Nazi newspaper during the German occupation of Belgium, including several that were explicitly antisemitic. Derrida's essay is a defense of de Man. Derrida argues, in the main, that one cannot define all of de Man's work in light of a few newspaper articles written in de Man's early twenties. Rather, any claims about de Man's work are to be considered in light of the entire body of his scholarship. The most controversial portion of the article is a relatively short section of analysis where Derrida deconstructs de Man's essays, suggesting alternative meanings to various phrases and propositions. Critics have read this section of the essay as a weak attempt to minimize the antisemitic character of de Man's writing. This "deconstruction" of de Man's work led to a flurry of responses that, along with Derrida's own reply, nearly filled a subsequent issue of Critical Inquiry. What makes this controversy more unusual is that in other contexts Derrida spoke out strongly against antisemitism and, in the 1960s, broke with the Heidegger disciple Jean Beaufret over a phrase of Beaufret's that Derrida (and, after him, Maurice Blanchot) interpreted as antisemitic.
Geoffrey Bennington, Avital Ronell and Samuel Weber belong to a group of Derrida translators. Many of these are esteemed thinkers in their own right, with whom Derrida worked in a collaborative arrangement, allowing his prolific output to be translated into English in a timely fashion. Having started as a student of de Man, Gayatri Spivak took on the translation of Of Grammatology early in her career and has since revised it into a second edition. Alan Bass was responsible for several early translations; Bennington and Peggy Kamuf have continued to produce translations of his work for nearly twenty years. In recent years, a number of translations have appeared by Michael Naas (also a Derrida scholar) and Pascale-Anne Brault. With Bennington, Derrida undertook the challenge published as Derrida, an arrangement in which Bennington attempted to provide a systematic explication of Derrida's work (called the Derridabase) using the top two-thirds of every page, while Derrida was given the finished copy of every Bennington chapter and the bottom third of every page in which to show how deconstruction exceeded Bennington's account (this was called the Circumfession). Derrida has referred to Bennington as his 'rabbinical explicator'.
Controversies and mourning
Derrida's relationship with many of his contemporaries was marked by disagreements and rifts. For example, Derrida's criticism of Foucault in the essay "Cogito and the History of Madness" (from Writing and Difference), first given as a lecture which Foucault attended, caused a rift between the two men that was never fully mended. Whatever the outcome of these discussions, Derrida was often left in the unappealing position of having an opportunity for the last word in too many, as he outlived many of his peers. Death and mourning are foundational to the analysis which lead Derrida to his understanding of inheritance, interpretation, and responsibility. Beginning with "The Deaths of Roland Barthes" in 1981, Derrida produced a series of texts on mourning and memory occasioned by the loss of his friends and colleagues, many of them new engagements with their work. Memoires for Paul de Man, a book-length lecture series presented first at Yale and then at Irvine as Derrida's Wellek Lecture, followed in 1986, with a revision in 1989 that included "Like the Sound of the Sea Deep Within a Shell: Paul de Man's War". Ultimately fourteen essays were collected into The Work of Mourning, which was expanded in the French edition Chaque fois unique, la fin du monde (literally, The end of the world, unique each time) to include essays dedicated to Gérard Granel and Maurice Blanchot.
An extensive online bibliography can be found at this site. The compilation, copyrighted by Peter Krapp, is still in progress, but all major works are listed, sorted by title or by year of publication. See also: Jacques Derrida Bibliography.
Selected works by Derrida
Works on Derrida
Works by others referenced above
Courtesy of: http://www.wikipedia.org/