Jacques Derrida and Deconstruction: Part 1: Derrida’s Life


Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher. He was born into a Jewish family in Algiers in 1930. He also dealt with a lot of discrimination. He was either forced out of or dropped out of at least two schools as a child simply on due to his being Jewish. He was expelled from one school because they had a 7% limit on the Jewish population. Derrida was later refused a position in the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure twice. However, he was accepted into the institution when he was 19. As a result, he moved from Algiers to France. He also began to play a major role in the leftist journal Tel Quel.
Derrida’s early work in philosophy was largely phenomenological (which I briefly touched on in my post on Continental philosophy). His early training as a philosopher focused heavily on the work of Husserl. However, he was also inspired by Nietzsche, Heidegger, Saussure, Levinas, and Freud. Derrida has credited all of these philosophers in the development of deconstruction, which I will discuss further later on.
In 1967, Derrida gained importance as a philosopher. He published three momentous texts: Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference, and Speech and Phenomena. All of these works have been influential for different reasons, but it is Of Grammatology that remains his most famous work. His preoccupation with language in this text is typical of much of his early work. Since the publication of these and other major texts deconstruction has gradually grown in popularity from being a major component of the humanities and social sciences in continental Europe to becoming a significant aspect of those faculties in American universities as well. This is particularly true in literary criticism and cultural studies, where deconstruction’s textual analysis has inspired theorists such as Paul de Man.
As was briefly mentioned above, Derrida is best known for developing deconstruction. He is one of the major figures associated with post-structuralism and postmodern philosophy. He had a significant influence on the humanities and social sciences, including philosophy, literature, law, anthropology, historiography (I’ll be writing a post on what this is and why it’s significant in the future), linguistics, sociolinguistics, psychoanalysis, political theory, feminism, and queer studies. In his later works he often addressed ethical and political issues. These writings influenced various activists and political movements. Derrida became a well-known and influential public figure, but his approach to philosophy, as well as the notorious difficulty of his work, made him controversial.
Deconstruction has itself frequently been the subject of controversy. When Derrida was awarded an honorary doctorate at Cambridge in 1992, there was a good deal of protest from many analytic philosophers (again, I briefly discussed this in my post on Continental philosophy). Derrida also had many dialogues with philosophers where deconstruction has been quite thoroughly criticised.
Derrida’s death was in 2004.

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