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Jacques Derrida was one of the most original and influential French philosophers in the contemporary world. He was born in Algeria on July 15, 1931, to a Sephardic Jewish family. He moved to France in 1949 and studied in Paris at the École Normale Supérieure, where he wrote his dissertation on Edmund Husserl’s genetic phenomenology (Le Problème de la genèse dans la philosophie de Husserl [The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy], 1953–1954). In the 1960s Derrida published major works concerned with the limitations of phenomenological and structuralist thought in the human sciences. Prior to his death, he was the director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Socialies in Paris and professor of humanities at the University of California, Irvine. Derrida died on October 8, 2004.
Derrida is today universally recognized as the leading figure in the field of poststructuralist thought designated by the term deconstruction. He is typically referred to as the most prominent critic of Western metaphysics (understood as a universal discourse that is foundational, subjectoriented, and logocentric); he is also frequently described as an antihumanist, a postphenomenologist, and the founding father of the discipline of grammatology. His early writings are best represented by three key texts: La Voix et le phénoméne (Speech and Phenomena), De la Grammatologie (Of Grammatology), and L’Écriture et la différence (Writing and Difference), all published in 1967. These works were the first to circulate the poststructuralist themes of the role of différance, textuality, and writing in all systems of meaning (and thereby to set into play wider currents of research in disciplines concerned with the dynamic characteristics of texts, writing, and cultural dissemination).
Derrida is particularly noted for questioning the unity, direction, and stability of traditional philosophical discourse. Yet thematically his major writings have all been concerned to advance careful readings and interpretations of the texts of major figures in both ancient and modern philosophy, including Plato (427–347 BCE), Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831), Edmund Husserl (1859– 1938), Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), and Sigmund Freud (1856–1939). These writings are supplemented by analyses of such “nonphilosophers” as Samuel Beckett (1906–1989), Maurice Blanchot (1907–2003), George Bataille (1897–1962), and Jean Genet (1910–1986), among other important literary figures. Derrida reads all of these texts as complex intertextual “objects” saturated with indeterminate meanings, ambivalent oppositions, and “undecideable” interpretations.
For many readers in the analytic or Anglophone tradition of philosophical thought, Derrida is a subversive relativist, a nihilist word-player who has largely abandoned the pursuit of rational criticism to embrace a form of negative and playful experiment with words and their indefinite allusions and meanings. Derrida’s pantextualism was notoriously symbolized by his claim “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte,” usually translated as “There is nothing outside of the text,” but perhaps more literally expressed as “There is nothing outside of text” (a declaration that Derrida later reformulated to “Il n’y a pas de hors contexte,” or “There is nothing outside of context”). On this reading, Derrida is frequently grouped with other “enemies of reason” as an irrationalist or even a nihilist. In this interpretation, the terms deconstruction and deconstructionist have been used as derogatory expressions designed to define deconstruction as a method of literary criticism rather than serious philosophy (an approach that remains oblivious to the fact that Derrida spent a lifetime of painstaking reading and commentary with the objective of questioning and deconstructing this type of binary opposition).
Despite such one-sided interpretations, what has come to be called deconstructive studies has had a major impact upon contemporary philosophy, literary theory and criticism, sociology, educational practices, media, and cultural studies. One of the first intellectual traditions to assimilate Derrida’s work was the Yale school of literary criticism, struggling to elaborate forms of reading and interpretation richer than the available models of new criticism. In this context, we can mention the work of Paul de Man (1919–1983), Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, and J. Hillis Miller. Following Derrida’s lead, these critics have radically questioned the nature of literary “meaning,” “authorship,” and “authorial intentionality” by uncovering the metaphysical presuppositions and binary oppositions that have structured the methods of traditional textual analysis and interpretation. In generalizing deconstruction from texts narrowly conceived in literary-critical terms to the “general text” of social life, we have come to see that all theory and research in the human sciences is inextricably involved in complex questions of language and interpretation.
In his later work, Derrida turned to a range of problems linked with contemporary social and political life. His writings became increasingly preoccupied with urgent ethical and political problems of European integration, immigration and the treatment of “asylum seekers,” and questions of friendship and otherness in an increasingly borderless, cosmopolitan world order. His books Of Hospitality (2000), On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness (2001), and The Work of Mourning (2001) are indicative of these themes.
While Derrida’s work has profoundly changed the practice of philosophical analysis, literary theory, and other textual sciences, perhaps his most long-lasting impact lies in the turn toward ethical and political issues that has transformed the intellectual landscape of what passes for the theory and practice of the human sciences, the arts, and philosophy.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1962. L’Origine de la géométrie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. English trans.: 1978. Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction. Trans. John P. Leavey. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1967. De la Grammatologie. Paris: Minuit. English trans.: 1974. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1967. La Voix et le phénomène: Introduction au problème du signe dans la phénoménologie de Husserl. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. English trans.:  1979. Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs. Trans. David B. Allinson and Newton Garver. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1967. L’Écriture et la différence. Paris: Seuil. English. trans.: 1978. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1969. The Politics of Friendship. Trans. George Collins. London: Verso.
- Derrida, Jacques.  1982. Marges de la philosophie. Paris: English trans.: 1982. Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Brighton, U.K.: Harvester.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1987. The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1987. The Truth in Painting. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1989. Mémoires: For Paul de Man. Trans. Eduardo Cadava, Jonathan Culler, and Cecile Lindsay. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1992. Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge. New York: Routledge.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1992. The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe. Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. New York: Routledge.
- Derrida, Jacques. 1998. Monolingualism of the Other, or, The Prosthesis of Origin. Trans. Patrick Mensah. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Derrida, Jacques. 2000. Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond. Trans. Rachel Bowlby. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Derrida, Jacques. 2001. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes. New York: Routledge.
- Derrida, Jacques. 2001. The Work of Mourning, ed. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Llewelyn, John. 1986. Derrida on the Threshold of Sense. London: Macmillan.
- Norris, Christopher. 1987. Derrida. London: Fontana.
- Sallis, John, ed. 1987. Deconstruction and Philosophy: The Texts of Jacques Derrida. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
- Wood, D., and R. Bernasconi, eds. 1988. Derrida and Difference. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press.
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