Derrida often referred to himself as a historian. He questioned the assumptions of Western culture. Personally, I don’t think Western culture gets questioned enough, so I like this aspect of Derrida’s philosophy. By modifying and questioning the accepted discourse, Derrida attempted to democratize the university. I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing universities more democratized. I think universities are run too much like businesses. Education should not be a business. As a result, he managed to attract the anger of right-wing intellectuals. Derrida also apparently referred to deconstruction as a “radicalization of a certain spirit of Marxism.” As a result of readings from Plato, Rousseau, and Heidegger, as well as many other philosophers, Derrida frequently argued that Western philosophy had allowed models to govern its conception of language and consciousness without properly analyzing those models. As a result, Deconstruction was an attempt to expose and undermine such metaphysics.
Derrida was concerned with creating an elaborate critique on the limits of phenomenology in the earliest part of his philosophical career. His first lengthy academic manuscript was on the work of Edmund Husserl. He published Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction in 1962, in which he translated Husserl’s essay himself. It wasn’t until 1966 when Derrida first gained major attention outside France. He gave a lecture titled “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” at Johns Hopkins University. The talk was focused around Structuralism, but it was given at a time when Derrida was becoming critical of Structuralism. The paper Derrida presented had such an impact that by the time they were published along with the other conference proceedings in 1970 the collection had been titled The Structuralist Controversy.
Derrida began speaking and writing publicly in the 1960’s. He addressed the most prominent debates at the time, including Structuralism. Structuralism at the time was widely considered to be the successor of phenomenology. Phenomenology rejects the rationalist bias that has dominated Western thought since Plato in favour of reflective attentiveness, which focuses the individual’s “lived experience.” Structuralists believed that this was a false problem. They believed that the depth of experience could only be an effect of structures, which are not experiential in themselves. In 1959, Derrida asked a question which is considered an important aspect of his work. That question is “Must not structure have a genesis, and must not the origin, the point of genesis, be already structured, in order to be the genesis of something?” Derrida is saying that every structural phenomenon has a history, and the structure cannot be understood without understanding that history.
Derrida published his work in three collections in 1967. They are Speech and Phenomena, Of Grammatology, and Writing and Difference. Derrida asked “What is ‘meaning’, what are its historical relationships to what is purportedly identified under the rubric ‘voice’ as a value of presence, presence of the object, presence of meaning to consciousness, self-presence in so called living speech and in self-consciousness?” in these three works. In an essay in Writing and Difference entitled “Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas,” Derrida offers another major theme in his thoughts: the Other as opposed to the Same. This collection elaborated Derrida’s theoretical framework. Derrida attempted to approach the very heart of the Western intellectual tradition, labeling the tradition as “a search for a transcendental being that serves as the origin or guarantor of meaning.” Derrida described the logocentrism of Western Intellectual tradition as phallocratic, patriarchal, and masculinist. Suddenly I like Derrida a lot more. But that’s neither here nor there. Derrida contributed to “the understanding of certain deeply hidden philosophical presuppositions and prejudices in Western culture,” arguing that the philosophical tradition rested on arbitrary dichotomous categories. He also argued that all texts contain implicit hierarchies, “by which an order is imposed on reality and by which a subtle repression is exercised, as these hierarchies exclude, subordinate, and hide the various potential meanings.” Deconstruction was Derrida’s method for uncovering these hierarchies.
After 1972, Derrida received increasing attention in the United States. He became a regular visiting professor and lecturer at several major American universities. It was in the 1980’s when American conservatives began to attack Derrida’s work. It has been claimed that he influenced more American literary critics and theorists than academic philosophers.