Biography and Timeline
Derrida was born on 15 July 1930, in El Biar (Algiers), then French Algeria, into a Sephardic Jewish family that became French in 1870 when Crémieux Decree granted full French citizenship (Pied-Noir) to the indigenous Jews of French colonial Algeria.On the first day of the school year in 1942, Derrida was expelled from his lycée by French administrators implementing anti-Semitic quotas set by the Vichy government. He secretly skipped school for a year rather than attend the Jewish lycée formed by displaced teachers and students. At this time, Derrida read works of philosophers and writers such as Rousseau, Camus, Nietzsche, and Gide. His name has become virtually synonymous in some circles with the word ‘deconstruction’. Derrida’s publications have become an enormous, though not uncontested influence on literary study and other academic disciplines in the latter half of the 20th century, particularly since the 1970s. Derrida first came to the attention in the English speaking academic world in 1966, following a paper presented in a colloquium Johns Hopkins University. In the following year 1967, Derrida published three books subsequently Of Grammatology in 1976, Speech and Phenomena in 1973 and Writing and Difference in 1978. These were followed in 1972 by three more in French, translated as Dissemination, Margins of Philosophy and Positions, securing Derrida’s influence. This influence has subsequently spread beyond the study of literature and literary theory, to produce effects in film and cultural studies, legal theory, in the study and theory of architecture and more generally throughout the humanities and social sciences. AS professor of philosophy, Derrida’s writing, ironically, though perhaps not surprisingly met with the greatest resistance sometimes, more simply, a lack of comprehension- in philosophy departments throughout British and North American Universities, and French and intellectual and political circles
1930 Derrida is born in El Biar, Algeria.
1950 Derrida begins his studies in France.
1957 Derrida becomes interested in how philosophy both denigrates and depends upon writing.
1962 Derrida's first major publication, a translation of Edmund Husserl's Origin of Geometry.
1966 Derrida attends a conference on Levi-Strauss at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He delivers a paper called "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," which marks his introduction of deconstruction into the US. This paper may be the most famous conference paper of all time.
1967 Derrida publishes Of Grammatology and a collection of essays, Writing and Difference.
1972 Derrida, Positions, a volume of interviews, and Dissemination. At this time, Derrida takes visiting appointments at prestigious US university, including Yale and Johns Hopkins.
1974 Derrida, Glas
1976 Derrida's Of Grammatology is translated into English.
1979 Derrida, Spurs and "Living On" in Deconstruction and Criticism, an anthology of essays edited by Harold Bloom.
1982 Derrida's Dissemination, the volume containing "Plato's Phramacy," is translated into English.
Gorgias and Socrates
To really understand Jacques Derrida one must trace the origin of Western Philosophy and the birth of the logo-centric way of thinking. Before the era of the great Greek trio there emerged a movement in Athens called “Sophism”, the proponents of this movement were known as Sophists. They worked on rhetoric and spoke on justice, truth, politics etc. The youth of Athens were introduced to “Sophistry” as a part of their education, prior to this they had the hereditary form of leaning. One such Sophist was a person who is called Gorgias and he emerged in the time of Socrates. His three main propositions were 1. Truth does not exist 2. Even if it exists it cannot be understood 3. Even if it can be understood it cannot be communicated. Socrates challenges this view and claims that truth can be understood and there is a “true” nature to the world around us. Socrates was favored over Gorgias in the history of Western Philosophy and this led to a formulation of the concept of “The Logos” which is the underlying principle behind everything that exists. The “Logo” centric way of thinking was opposed to the play of language that the Sophists participated in and Philosophy became a quest. With Derrida there is a resurfacing of the Gorgias of old. Derrida shifts this way of thinking and promotes the free play of language over the quest for the center. Derrida claims that the quest for a center only leads one into an “aporia” or waylessness by stating that every “center” has within itself a “deconstructive” element that contradicts its own pattern of expression. He reads the History of Western Philosophy as a search for meaning through “logo-centrism”. He does not invent the concept of “deconstruction” but merely “exposes” what already exists.
Derrida as a Post Structuralist
“Must not structure have a genesis and must not the genesis of the structure already be structured in order for it to be the genesis of something.”
Derrida was a post-structuralist. Post-structuralism offers a study of how knowledge is produced and a critique of structuralist premises. It argues that because history and culture condition the study of underlying structures it is subject to biases and misinterpretations. To understand an object (e.g. one of the many meanings of a text), a post-structuralist approach argues, it is necessary to study both the object itself and the systems of knowledge that produced the object.
Derrida also critiques the structuralist view on history as an already structured experience. Thus historical events have structures within themselves and these structures function in different combinations. Thus History has the tendency to repeat itself and there is also a statistical possibility of an incident that happened in the past to repeat itself exactly with the same combination in the future. As a critique of this Derrida emphasizes that an event is completely unforeseen, for an event to actually be an event it should be completely unpredictable and it should “affect” reality. In his conference in Toronto called “Other Testaments” Derrida talks about “Revelation” and “Revealibility”, Derrida talks about revelation as an event that takes place in History and affects all existence and completely changes the course of History. He even argues that this event should even be unforeseen by God and should also affect his existence.
Another critic of Structuralism and Claude Levi Strauss is that he uses the “language” of Myth to study myth and claims that his study is scientific. This method of study is criticized by Derrida as another form of a myth.
Heidegger questions the “privileged” form of philosophy. He critiques “phenomenology” by rejecting the difference between the subject and the object. He rejects the concept of the “Cartesian” dualism between mind and body and the “scientific” analysis of the world around us. He instead coins the word “dasein” which means “each of us”. He stated that the “dasein” is “engaged” in this world and thus is not a subject that can study an object. Dasein cannot exist without that which qualifies it to exist ie the world. Heidegger uses the word “destruktion” to explain his project on the destruction of widely accepted “ontological” concepts. His basic enquiry is “ontological” in nature ie he studies the being that “questions”. He also distinguishes between the “self” that society constructs and the “authentic” self. He says that the “authentic” self emerges when the “dasein” in engaged in its activity.
Nietzsche's relativism has had a powerful influence on Derrida.
“ The goal of life should be to find yourself. True maturity means discovering or creating an identity for yourself.” “The highest virtue is to be yourself.” – Nietzsche
These notions seem to be the centre of Derrida’s work, as they constantly refer to the ‘authenticity of being’ and the affirmation of being true to oneself. They also move him towards acceptance of the simplicity in reality which is the basis of Deconstruction (merely a play with words in the strict sense of their meaning.)
Though the expression of Sigmund Freud ends up being extremely controversial, it seemingly has true reasons. Articulation of the highest order coupled with exploration of the inner self, gives the work of Freud. Such an approach apparently has caught the mind of Derrida and has influenced him to carry on with the same in his works.
Derrida is best known for developing deconstruction, a form of philosophical and literary analysis. Derrida argues that “deconstruction” is not a methodology nor is it neo-logism. This approach involves, in part, closely examining the language and logic of a written work, revealing its underlying assumptions, and showing how contradictions within the text itself undermine those assumptions. Derrida challenged the basic oppositions in texts of Western philosophy between pairs of concepts-such as mind and body or nature and culture-in which one is taken to be fundamental and the other secondary. In many of his essays and books, for example, he critically examined texts in which speech was assumed to be a more authentic form of language than writing. He argued that this opposition of speech and writing is neither natural nor necessary.
Probably the most important strategy at work in deconstruction is the tracking down of hierarchical structured oppositions. According to Derrida, it has been a characteristic of the western philosophical and scientific tradition since the classical times to think in binary oppositions. Presence opposes absence, speech opposes writing, philosophy opposes literature, the literal opposes the metaphorical, the central opposes the marginal, life opposes death, the real opposes the imaginary, the normal opposes the pathological, etc. Derrida shows how one of the oppositional terms is always privileged, controlling and dominating the other (dominating 'the other'). 'In a classical philosophical opposition we are not dealing with the peaceful coexistence of a vis-à-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy. One of the two terms governs the other (axiologically, logically, etc.), or has the upper hand'
An example of a “deconstructive” work would be Derrida’s take on “Being”. He claims to inherit the concept from Heidegger who questions the question. Thus the question of “Being” is radically opposed to the affirmation. Thus the question is an answer when one analyzes what comes before and after the question which Derrida claims is more radical that the question itself and it is an affirmation. The Binary of presence and absence is also deconstructed when he says that for a question to be valid there should be the other. Thus “presence” is an interaction of the past trace with the “future”.
"DifferAnce" is a term that Derrida coined. Derrida also is responsible for the popularity of the word "deconstruction' in our postmodern vocabulary. "Deconstruction", however, is a term he harvested from a little known use of the word "deconstruction" in Heidegger.
Trace can be seen as an always contingent term for a "mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent present", of the ‘originary lack’ that seems to be "the condition of thought and experience". Trace is a contingent unit of the critique of language always-already present: “language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique” Deconstruction, unlike analysis or interpretation, tries to lay the inner contradictions of a text bare, and, in turn, build a different meaning from that: it is at once a process of destruction and construction. Derrida claims that these contradictions are neither accidental nor exceptions; they are the exposure of certain “metaphysics of pure presence”, an exposure of the “transcendental signified” always-already hidden inside language. This “always-already hidden” contradiction is trace.
Derrida’s Style of writing:
When a few universities in the west decided to give Derrida a honorary doctorate for his contribution, about twenty renown scholars from across the west wrote saying that he did not deserve the honors due to his lack of clarity (as per the standards of such reputed universities) or deliberate obscurity
Derrida redundantly uses his rhetoric style of writing. Such redundancy and obscurity was not appreciated by the modern scholars.
Archi-writing is a term used by Derrida in his attempt to re-orientate the relationship between speech and writing. As far back as Plato, speech had been always given priority over writing. In the West, phonetic writing was instead considered as a secondary imitation of speech, a poor copy of the immediate living act of speech.
Derrida's central contention is that language is haunted by dispersal, absence, loss, the risk of unmeaning, a risk which is starkly embodied in all writing. The distinction between philosophy and literature therefore becomes of secondary importance. Philosophy vainly attempts to control the irrecoverable dissemination of its own meaning; it strives—against the grain of language—to offer a sober revelation of truth. Literature—on the other hand—flaunts its own meretriciousness, abandons itself to the Dionysiac play of language. In Dissemination—more than any previous work—Derrida joins in the revelry, weaving a complex pattern of puns, verbal echoes and allusions, intended to 'deconstruct' both the pretension of criticism to tell the truth about literature, and the pretension of philosophy to the literature of truth."
Because Derrida is saying that all truth bears falsity along with it, some have declared Derrida absurdist for supposedly claiming that truth is falsehood, but this view is ill considered. The thrust of Derrida's thought points up the contingency and constructedness of truth, not that there is no such thing as truth. Satisfied to demonstrate the contingency of truth under any and all conditions, Derrida is silent on the nature of truth's contingency. A more considered critique of Derrida's view might see his thought as a form of transcendental skepticism, not dissimilar to Kant's. In any case, via rigorous philosophical demonstration, Derrida explicates the limitations of the logical conceptual thinking one routinely employs to live the requirements and ordinary situations of everyday life.
Derrida's works have tended to incite passionately divergent reactions from critics. Philosophers oriented toward the analytical and logical positivist schools, such as John Searle, refute Derrida by arguing that his championing of "indeterminacy" and linguistic freeplay leads to extreme forms of skepticism and nihilism. However, critic Christopher Norris defends Derrida by pointing out that deconstruction is actually an exceedingly rigorous form of analysis, and that Derrida's understanding of philosophy as a rhetorically structured form of writing indistinguishable in its essence from literature has been espoused by numerous other philosophers, notably Nietzsche. Derrida's reception among literary critics has been no less contentious. Part of the controversy may be attributed to the casual linkage of Derrida's name to the literary deconstructionists. As Rodolphe Gasché has pointed out, Derrida's philosophy does not concern itself directly with literary texts, and literary deconstruction is actually an independent movement which has for the most part only loosely applied Derrida's theories. Given that ideological and intellectual differences of opinion have made Derrida an extremely controversial figure, there can be no critical consensus as to the value of his work. However, his prominence in the history of philosophy seems assured. Philosopher Richard Rorty argues that the lasting value of Derrida's work is in its critical analysis of traditional Western philosophy. Rorty concludes: "Having done to Heidegger what Heidegger did to Nietzsche is the negative achievement which, after all the chatter about 'deconstruction' is over, will give Derrida a place in the history of philosophy."