Theory and Criticism
Derrida lives on!
Derrida Dies at 74
October 13, 2004
by Alex Linhardt
Sun Associate Arts & Entertainment Editor
Jacques Derrida, the influential French theorist and former A.D. White Professor-at-Large, died Friday in a Paris hospital from pancreatic cancer. He was 74.
As the originator and principal exponent of the literary technique known as deconstruction, Derrida captivated and rankled academic institutions for nearly four decades. The author of nearly 70 books, as well as numerous lectures and articles, Derrida was partially responsible for redefining notions of philosophy and literature in the 1960s and 1970s, guiding intellectuals beyond the early twentieth-century movement known as structuralism. Through his frequent interactions with professors at Yale, Johns Hopkins and Cornell, Derrida successfully integrated deconstruction into American curricula, eventually becoming one of the most cited and respected professors in the world. Derrida's influence was felt even in academic disciplines traditionally thought of as outside philosophy and literature, such as anthropology, law, political science and gender studies.

Derrida first gained his reputation as a rebellious and profound thinker with an infamous speech at John Hopkins in 1966 entitled "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." The following year he published three influential books: Of Grammatology, Speech and Phenomenon and Writing and Difference. In these books, Derrida outlined the methods and "concepts" of deconstruction.

Deconstruction, a notoriously indefinable term, exposes and analyzes the power conferred arbitrarily upon certain "centers" in all philosophical, political and ethical structures. For Derrida, it was necessary to realize that these centers are social constructions and not innate or impermeable "natural facts." The "goal" of his activities, he argued, was to recontextualize or dismantle those structures in order to challenge and alter centers of power. This dismantling was expressed in withering attacks on the foundations of Western philosophy and its production of "common sense." It also entailed jubilant celebrations of the differences that pervade and divide all meaning and identity in thought and literature.

However, Derrida persistently argued that deconstruction is not a rigid theory but a perpetual activity that must always use its own tools to investigate and subvert its own core processes and beliefs. Prof. Richard Klein, romance studies, said, "For him it was necessary not merely to criticize old ways of thinking but to elaborate new ways of conceiving old ideas. Derrida furiously rejected the notion of the end of history. For him the future was always the focus of his speculation, the possibility of thinking something new, or anew."

Although Derrida's philosophy derived from the erudite texts of German philosopher Martin Heidegger and French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, it was eventually applied to various cases of marginalized cultures throughout history and the contemporary world.

Deconstruction's advocates suggest that through his technique, one can glimpse Western civilization's arbitrary and degrading prioritization of, for example, speech (as opposed to writing), nature (as opposed to civilization) and content (as opposed to form).

Derrida was often met with derision for his reluctance to succinctly define the term "deconstruction." However, he contended that it was precisely Western philosophy's emphasis on immediate definition and rigid meaning that deconstruction attempted to interrogate and undermine. Derrida's texts are generally oblique and dense, teeming with comic neologisms, puns and metaphors in order to demonstrate the absence of an "essence" behind our language.

By all accounts, he was also a brilliant and charismatic speaker. Prof. Philip Lewis, romance studies, a host of Derrida when he was an A.D. White Professor-at-Large in the late 1970s and early 1980s, remarked, "By conventional measures, Jacques Derrida was perhaps the most successful professor-at-large in the history of [Cornell's] program."

In his books, Derrida suggests that language resists authors' efforts to intentionally posit certain beliefs within their own texts. In deconstruction, texts do not only refer to "objects" and "concepts," but to other texts and references. As he famously theorized, "There is nothing outside the text."

Prof. Jonathan Culler, chair of the department of comparative literature and the author of On Deconstruction, further elaborated upon this basic element of Derrida's work: "Instead of thinking of life as something to which signs and texts are added to represent it, we should conceive of life itself as suffused with signs."

Born on July 15, 1930 in El-Biar, Algeria, Derrida was of Sephardic Jewish origin and was consequently expelled from a French school at the insistence of the anti-Semitic Vichy government. After a failed first attempt at a baccalaureate in 1947, he eventually studied at the ...cole Normale Supérieure and Harvard University before teaching philosophy, logic and literature at the Sorbonne and the ...cole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. He was also a visiting professor at Yale, Johns Hopkins, New York University and UC-Irvine, among others.

Throughout his life, many of Derrida's opponents alleged that deconstruction prevented any sincere commitments to politics or ethics. In response, deconstructionists maintained that their philosophy did not promote apathy or inactivity, but rather a progressive freedom that allowed readers to engage with the richness of texts and the world they constitute. It was still possible to be a moral human being, they argued, but with the understanding that all moral judgments require uncertainty, speculation, and malleability. In the 1980s, Derrida actively contributed to protests against apartheid and French alien and sedition laws for North African immigrants.

Although some critics have suggested that deconstruction's popularity has waned in the last decade, Derrida was prolific and vocal during his last years, even promoting a documentary of his life, Amy Ziering Kofman's 2002 film "Derrida." In his more recent books, such as The Gift of Death, Aporias and The Work of Mourning, he wrote obsessively on death and absence. He once claimed, "All my writing is on death. If I don't reach the place where I can be reconciled with death, then I will have failed."

Derrida is survived by his wife, psychoanalyst Marguerite Aucouturier, and three son.
"Less and less, I have not learned to accept death,'' he was quoted saying.

IT is indeed sad that such a great challenger, rebel, genius, is no more to throw exciting thoughts and share brilliant insights, I pray on behalf of all of you, Peace for him.
Subhadeep Gupta
Derrida lives on!
thanks for this article
you can check out the Derrida section in the Stanford Presidential Lectures
with good texts by and about Derrida.
Gregory Buchakjian
Derrida lives on!
I personally did not understand architects fascination with Derrida.
Shiraz Allibhai
Derrida lives on!
father of deconstuction,who always wanted to get to origin of everything has left very appriciable ligacy of thinking to challange constructivisam in all aspects of life.needs to be remembered /appriciated/recognised/honoured for quastioning very basic authorititive system of thinking.great thinker of last century to be rememberd.
Dushyant Nathwani


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