Jacques Derrida

French philosopher (1930–2004)
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Jacques Derrida (15 July 19308 October 2004) was a French philosopher who introduced the practice of "deconstruction".

What is called "objectivity," scientific for instance (in which I firmly believe, in a given situation) imposes itself only within a context which is extremely vast, old, firmly established, or rooted in a network of conventions … and yet which still remains a context.


  • Il n'y a pas de hors-texte.
    • Of Grammatology (1967). G. Spivak translated this as "There is nothing outside the text," which Derrida opponents have characterized to mean that nothing exists but language. Later scholarship has translated it as "There is no outside-of-text" or "There is nothing free of context," i.e. all experience is mediated by interpretation.
  • At the end of Being and Nothingness, ... Being in-itself and Being for-itself were of Being; and this totality of beings, in which they were effected, itself was linked up to itself, relating and appearing to itself, by means of the essential project of human-reality. What was named in this way, in an allegedly neutral and undetermined way, was nothing other than the metaphysical unity of man and God, the relation of man to God, the project of becoming God as the project constituting human-reality. Atheism changes nothing in this fundamental structure.
    • "The Ends of Man," Margins of Philosophy, tr. w/ notes by Alan Bass. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago, 1982. (original French published in Paris, 1972, as Marges de la philosophie). p. 116
  • The end of man (as a factual anthropological limit) is announced to thought from the vantage of the end of man (as a determined opening or the infinity of a telos). Man is that which is in relation to his end, in the fundamentally equivocal sense of the word. Since always.
    • "The Ends of Man," Margins of Philosophy, tr. w/ notes by Alan Bass. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago, 1982. (original French published in Paris, 1972, as Marges de la philosophie). p. 123
  • What is called "objectivity," scientific for instance (in which I firmly believe, in a given situation) imposes itself only within a context which is extremely vast, old, firmly established, or rooted in a network of conventions … and yet which still remains a context.
    • Limited Inc (1977)
  • As soon as we cease to believe in such an engineer and in a discourse which breaks with the received historical discourse, and as soon as we admit that every finite discourse is bound by a certain bricolage and that the engineer and the scientist are also species of bricoleurs, then the very idea of bricolage is menaced and the difference in which it took on its meaning breaks down.
    • "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," Writing and Difference, tr. w/ intro & notes by Alan Bass. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago, 1978. p. 285
  • Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: 'here are our monsters', without immediately turning the monsters into pets.
    • Some Statements and Truisms about Neologisms, Newisms, Postisms, Parasitisms, and other small Seismisms, The States of Theory, ed. David Carroll, New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
  • Circumcision, that’s all I’ve ever talked about.
    • "Circumfession." In Jacques Derrida, eds. G. Bennington & J. Derrida, trans. G. Bennington. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, p. 70
  • I am one of those marranes who no longer say they are Jews even in the secret of their own hearts.
    • "Circumfession." In Jacques Derrida, eds. G. Bennington & J. Derrida, trans. G. Bennington. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, p. 170
  • No one gets angry at a mathematician or a physicist whom he or she doesn't understand at all, or at someone who speaks a foreign language, but rather at someone who tampers with your own language, with this 'relation,' precisely, which is yours.
    • Derrida Jacques, Elisabeth Weber (1995), Points...: Interviews, 1974-1994. p. 115
  • Deconstruction never had meaning or interest, at least in my eyes, than as a radicalization, that is to say, also within the tradition of a certain Marxism, in a certain spirit of Marxism.
    • Specters of Marx. Routledge, 1994. p. 115
  • Amy Kofman: Have you read all the books in here?
    Derrida: No, only four of them. But I read those very, very carefully.
    • Derrida (2003 documentary), referring to his personal library
  • If it recedes one day, leaving behind its works and signs on the shores of our civilization, the structuralist invasion might become a question or the historian of ideas, or perhaps even an object. But the historian would be deceived if he came to this pass: by the very act of considering the structuralist invasion as an object he would forget its meaning and would forget that what is at stake, first of all, is an adventure of vision, a conversion of the way of putting questions to any object posed before us, to historical objects-his own- in particular. And, unexpectedly among these, the literary objects.
    • Force and Signification
  • Whatever the poverty of our knowledge in this respect, it is certain that the question of the sign is itself more or less, or in any event something other, than a sign of the times. To dream of reducing it to a sign of the times is to dream of violence.
    • Force and Signification
  • By virtue of its innermost intention, and like all questions about language, structuralism escapes the classical history of ideas which already supposes structuralism’s possibility, for the latter naively belongs to the province of language and propounds itself within it.Nevertheless, by virtue of an irreducible region of irreflection and spontaneity within it, by virtue of the essential shadow of the undeclared, the structuralist phenomenon will deserve examination by the historian of ideas. For better or for worse. Everything within this phenomenon that does not in itself transparently belong to the question of the sign will merit this scrutiny; as will everything within it that is methodologically effective, thereby possessing the kind of infallibil-ity now ascribed to sleepwalkers and formerly attributed to instinct, which was said to be as certain as it was blind.
    • Force and Signification
  • This book, admirable in so many respects, power in its break and style, is even more intimidating for me in that, having formely had the good fortune to study under Michel Foucault, I retain the consciousness of an admiring and grateful disciple. Now, the disciple's consciousness, when he starts, I would not say to dispute, but to engage in dialogue with the master or, better, to articulate the interminable and silent dialogue which made him into a disciple-this disciple's consciousness is an unhappy consciousness.
    • Cogito and The History of Madness (Routledge classics edition)
  • The disciple must break the glass, or better the mirror, the reflection, his infinite speculation on the master. And start to speak.
    • Cogito and The History of Madness, p.37 (Routledge classics edition)
  • In writing a history of madness, Foucault has attempted-and this is the greatest merit, but also the very infeasibility of his book-to write a history of madness itself. Itself. Of madness itself. That is by letting madness speak for itself.
    • Cogito and The History of Madness, p.37 (Routledge classics edition)
  • The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of these metaphors and metonymies. It’s matrix—If you will pardon me for demonstrating so little and for being elliptical in order to come more quickly to my principle theme—is the determination of Being as presence in all sense of this word.
    • Structure, Sign and Play

Dissemination (1972)

  • A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game. A text remains, moreover, forever imperceptible. Its law and its rules are not, however, harbored in the inaccessibility of a secret; it is simply that they can never be booked, in the present, into anything that could rigorously be called a perception.
    • Plato's Pharmacy, intro
  • The dissimulation of the woven texture can in any case take centuries to undo its web: a web that envelops a web, undoing the web for centuries; reconstituting it too as an organism, indefinitely regenerating its own tissue behind the cutting trace, the decision of each reading. There is always a surprise in store for the anatomy or physiology of any criticism that might think it had mastered the game, surveyed all the threads at once, deluding itself, too, in wanting to look at the text without touching it, without laying a hand on the "object," without risking- which is the only chance of entering into the game, by getting a few fingers caught- the addition of some new thread.
    • Plato's Pharmacy
  • In writing what he does not speak, what he would never say and, in truth, would probably never even think, the author of the written speech is already entrenched in the posture of the sophist; the man of non-presence and non-truth. Writing is thus already on the scene. The incompatibility between written and the true is clearly announced at the moment Socrates starts to recount the way in which men are carried out themselves by pleasure, become absent from themselves, forget themselves and die in the thrill of song.
    • Plato's Pharmacy, Pharmacia

Positions (1982)

Jacques Derrida (1982), Positions University of Chicago Press, 15 nov. 1982 With interviews with Henri Ronse (p. 1-14), with Julia Kristeva (pp. 15-36), and with Jean-Louis Houdebine and Guy Scarpetta (p. 37-97)
  • 1) Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other. This spacing is the simultaneously active and passive (the a of différance indicates this indecision as concerns activity and passivity, that which cannot be governed by or distributed between the terms of this opposition) production of the intervals without which the "full" terms would not signify, would not function.
    • p. 21
  • Although Saussure recognized the necessity of putting the phonic substance between brackets ("What is essential in language, we shall see, is foreign to the phonic character of the linguistic sign" [p. 21]. "In its essence it [the linguistic signifier] is not at all phonic" [p. 164]), Saussure, for essential, and essentially metaphysical, reasons had to privilege speech, everything that links the sign to phone. He also speaks of the "natural link" between thought and voice, meaning and sound (p. 46). He even speaks of "thought-sound" (p. 156). I have attempted elsewhere to show what is traditional in such a gesture, and to what necessities it submits. In any event, it winds up contradicting the most interesting critical motive of the Course, making of linguistics the regulatory model, the "pattern" for a general semiology of which it was to be, by all rights and theoretically, only a part. The theme of the arbitrary, thus, is turned away from its most fruitful paths (formalization) toward a hierarchizing teleology:... One finds exactly the same gesture and the same concepts in Hegel. The contradiction between these two moments of the Course is also marked by Saussure's recognizing elsewhere that "it is not spoken language that is natural to man, but the faculty of constituting a language, that is, a system of distinct signs … ," that is, the possibility of the code and of articulation, independent of any substance, for example, phonic substance.
    • p. 21
  • 2) "the a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation - in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being - are always deferred. Deferred by virtue of the very principle of difference which holds that an element functions and signifies, takes on or conveys meaning, only by referring to another past or future element in an economy of traces. This economic aspect of différance, which brings into play a certain not conscious calculation in a field of forces, is inseparable from the more narrowly semiotic aspect of différance.
    • p. 28
  • It is also the becoming-space of the spoken chain - which has been called temporal or linear; a becoming-space which makes possible both writing and every correspondence between speech and writing, every passage from one to the other.
    The activity or productivity connoted by the a of différance refers to the generative movement in the play of differences. The latter are neither fallen from the sky nor inscribed once and for all in a closed system, a static structure that a synchronic and taxonomic operation could exhaust. Differences are the effects of transformations, and from this vantage the theme of différance is incompatible with the static, synchronic, taxonomic, ahistoric motifs in the concept of structure.
    • p. 28
  • At the point at which the concept of différance, and the chain attached to it, intervenes, all the conceptual oppositions of metaphysics (signifier/signified; sensible/intelligible; writing/speech; passivity/activity; etc.)- to the extent that they ultimately refer to the presence of something present (for example, in the form of the identity of the subject who is present for all his operations, present beneath every accident or event, self-present in its "living speech," in its enunciations, in the present objects and acts of its language, etc.)- become non pertinent. They all amount, at one moment or another, to a subordination of the movement of différance in favor of the presence of a value or a meaning supposedly antecedent to différance, more original than it, exceeding and governing it in the last analysis. This is still the presence of what we called above the "transcendental signified.
    • p. 29
  • When I say that this phase is necessary, the word phase is perhaps not the most rigorous one. It is not a question of a chronological phase, a given moment, or a page that one day simply will be turned, in order to go on to other things. The necessity of this phase is structural; it is the necessity of an interminable analysis: the hierarchy of dual oppositions always reestablishes itself. Unlike those authors whose death does not await their demise, the time for overturning is never a dead letter.
    • p. 41-42
  • To live, by definition, is not something one learns. Not from oneself, it is not learned from life, taught by life. Only from the other and by death. In any case from the other at the edge of life. At the internal border or the external border, it is a heterodidactics between life and death.
    • Exordium
  • It has no sense and cannot just unless it comes to terms with death. Mine as (well as) that of the other. Between life and death, then, this is indeed the place of a sententious injunction that always feigns to speak the just.
    • Exordium
  • Oh. Marx's love for Shakespeare! It is well known. Chris Hani shared the same passion. I have just learned this and I like the idea. Even though Marx more often quotes Timon of Athens, the Manifesto seems to evoke or convoke, right from the start, the first coming of the silent ghost, the apparition of the spirit that does not answer, on those ramparts of Elsinore which is then the old Europe.
    • Injunctions of Marx
  • No text in the tradition seems as lucid concerning the way in which the political is becoming worldwide. concerning the irreducibility of the technical and the media in the current of the most thinking thought-and this goes beyond the railroad and the newspapers of the time whose powers were analyzed in such an incomparable way in the Manifesto. And few texts have shed so much light on law. international law. and nationalism.
    • Injunctions of Marx
  • Nevertheless, among all the temptations I will have to resist today. There would be the temptation of memory: to recount what was for me, and for those of my generation who shared it during a whole lifetime. The experience of Marxism. The quasi-paternal figure of Marx, the way it fought in us with other filiations, the reading of texts and the interpretation of a world in which the Marxist inheritance was-and still remains, and so it will remain-absolutely and thoroughly determinate. One need not be a Marxist or a communist in order to accept this obvious fact. We all live in a world, some would say a culture, that still bears, at an incalculable depth, the mark of this inheritance, whether in a directly visible fashion or not.
    • Injunctions of Marx
  • How can one be late to the end of history? A question for today. It is serious because it obliges one to reflect again, as we have been doing since Hegel, on what happens and deserves the name of event, after history; it obliges one to wonder if the end of history is but the end of a certain concept of history.
    • Injunctions of Marx
  • No differeance without alterity, no alterity without singularity, no singularity without here-now.
    • Injunctions of Marx, p,31
  • In order to try to remove what we are going to say from what risks happening, if we judge by the many signs, to Marx's work today, which is to say also to his injunction. What risks happening is that one will try to play Marx off against Marxism so as to neutralize, or at any rate muffle the political imperative in the untroubled exegesis of a classified work. One can sense a coming fashion or stylishness in this regard in the culture and more precisely in the university. And what is there to worry about here? Why fear what may also become a cushioning operation? This recent stereotype would be destined, whether one wishes it or not, to depoliticize profoundly the Marxist reference, to do its best, by putting on a tolerant face, to neutralize a potential force, first of all by enervating a corpus, by silencing in it the revolt [the return is acceptable provided that the revolt, which initially inspired uprising, indignation, insurrection, revolutionary momentum, does not come back]. People would be ready to accept the return of Marx or the return to Marx, on the condition that a silence is maintained about Marx's injunction not just to decipher but to act and to make the deciphering [the interpretation] into a transformation that "changes the world. In the name of an old concept of reading, such an ongoing neutralization would attempt to conjure away a danger: now that Marx is dead, and especially now that Marxism seems to be in rapid decomposition, some people seem to say, we are going to be able to concern ourselves with Marx without being bothered-by the Marxists and, why not, by Marx himself, that is, by a ghost that goes on speaking. We'll treat him calmly, objectively, without bias: according to the academic rules, in the University, in the library, in colloquia! We'll do it systematically, by respecting the norms of hermeneutical, philological, philosophical exegesis. If one listens closely, one already hears whispered: "Marx, you see, was despite everything a philosopher like any other; what is more [and one can say this now that so many Marxists have fallen silent], he was a great-philosopher who deserves to figure on the list of those works we assign for study and from which he has been banned for too long.29 He doesn't belong to the communists, to the Marxists, to the parties-, he ought to figure within our great canon of Western political philosophy. Return to Marx, let's finally read him as a great philosopher." We have heard this and we will hear it again.
    • Injunctions of Marx
  • The time is out of joint. The world is going badly. It is worn but its wear no longer counts. Old age or youth-one no longer counts in that way. The world has more than one age. We lack the measure of the measure. We no longer realize the wear, we no longer take account of it as of a single age in the progress of history. Neither maturation, nor crisis, nor even agony. Something else. What is happening is happening to age itself, it strikes a blow at the teleological order of history. What is coming, in which the untimely appears, is happening to time but it does not happen in time. Contretemps. The time is out of joint. Theatrical speech, Hamlet's speech before the theater of the world, of history, and of politics. The age is off its hinges. Everything, beginning with time, seems out of kilter, unjust, dis-adjusted. The world is going very badly, it wears as it grows, as the Painter also says at the beginning of Timon of Athens (which is Marx's play, is it not). For, this time, it is a painter's speech, as if he were speaking of a spectacle or before a tableau: "How goes the world?-It wears, sir, as it grows.
    • Wear and Tears (tableu of a ageless world)
  • If ,­ there is a tendency in all Western democracies no longer to respect the professional politician or even the party member as such, it is no longer only because of some personal insufficiency, some fault, or some incompetence, or because of some scandal that can now be more widely known, amplified, and in fact often produced, if not premeditated by the power of the media. Rather, it is because politicians become more and more, or even solely characters in the media's representation at the very moment when the transformation of the public space, precisely by the media, causes them to lose the essential part of the power and even of the competence they were granted before by the structures of parliamentary representation, by the party apparatuses that were linked to it, and so forth. However competent they may personally be, professional politicians who conform to the old model tend today to become structurally incompetent. The same media power accuses, produces, and amplifies at the same time this incompetence of traditional politicians: on the one hand, it takes aways from them the legitimate power they held in the former political space (party, parliament, and so forth), but, on the other hand, it obliges them to become mere silhouettes, if not marionettes, on the stage of televisual rhetoric. They were thought to be actors of politics, they now often risk, as everyone knows, being no more than TV actors.
    • Wear and Tears (tableu of a ageless world)

The Animal That Therefore I Am (1997)

Text of Derrida's ten-hour address to the 1997 Crisy conference entitled The Autobiographical Animal. Published in French as L'animal que donc je suis (2006). Edited by Marie-Louise Mallet; translated by David Wills (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8232-2790-7
  • No one can deny the suffering, fear, or panic, the terror or fright that can seize certain animals and that we humans can witness. … No doubt either, then, of there being within us the possibility of giving vent to a surge of compassion, even if it is then misunderstood, repressed, or denied, held at bay. … The two centuries I have been referring to somewhat casually in order to situate the present in terms of this tradition have been those of an unequal struggle, a war (whose inequality could one day be reversed) being waged between, on the one hand, those who violate not only animal life but even and also this sentiment of compassion, and, on the other hand, those who appeal for an irrefutable testimony to this pity. War is waged over the matter of pity. This war is probably ageless but, and here is my hypothesis, it is passing through a critical phase. We are passing through that phase, and it passes through us. To think the war we find ourselves waging is not only a duty, a responsibility, an obligation, it is also a necessity, a constraint that, like it or not, directly or indirectly, no one can escape. Henceforth more than ever. And I say “to think” this war, because I believe it concerns what we call “thinking.” The animal looks at us, and we are naked before it. Thinking perhaps begins there.
  • Confined within this catch-all concept, within this vast encampment of the animal, in this general singular, within the strict enclosure of this definite article (“the Animal” and not “animals”), as in a virgin forest, a zoo, a hunting or fishing ground, a paddock or an abattoir, a space of domestication, are all the living things that man does not recognize as his fellows, his neighbors, or his brothers.
  • There is no Animal in the general singular, separated from man by a single, indivisible limit. We have to envisage the existence of “living creatures,” whose plurality cannot be assembled within the single figure of an animality that is simply opposed to humanity. … The confusion of all nonhuman living creatures within the general and common category of the animal is not simply a sin against rigorous thinking, vigilance, lucidity, or empirical authority, it is also a crime. Not a crime against animality, precisely, but a crime of the first order against the animals, against animals.

Quotes about Derrida

  • Derrida’s work emerged from the tradition of Husserl and Heidegger, and although it has proved catching in some circles, it is not easily assimilated by people used to normal expressions of thought.
  • Contrary to the claims of Derrida’s more careless critics, the passion of deconstruction is deeply political, for deconstruction is a relentless, if sometimes indirect, discourse on democracy, on a democracy to come. Derrida’s democracy is a radically pluralistic polity that resists the terror of an organic, ethnic, spiritual unity, of the natural, native bonds of the nation (natus, natio), which grind to dust everything that is not a kin of the ruling kind and genus (Geschlecht). He dreams of a nation without nationalist or nativist closure, of a community without identity, of a non-identical community that cannot say I or we, for, after all, the very idea of a community is to fortify (munis, muneris) ourselves in common against the other. His work is driven by a sense of the consummate danger of an identitarian community, of the spirit of the “we” of “Christian Europe,” or of a “Christian politics,” lethal compounds that spell death of Arabs and Jews, for Africans and Asians, for anything other. The heaving and sighing of this Christian European spirit is a lethal air for Jews and Arabs, for all les juifs [Jews as archetypal outcasts], even if they go back to father Abraham, a way of gassing them according to both the letter and the spirit.
    • John D. Caputo (1997). The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, pp. 231–232
  • Derrida’s special significance lies not in the fact that he was subversive, but in the fact that he was an outright intellectual fraud -- and that he managed to dupe a startling number of highly educated people into believing that he was onto something. […] whatever Derrida is affirming he is also simultaneously denying. From a logical perspective, the only way to read Derrida on his own terms is mentally to insert the phrase “or not” after every one of his statements.
  • Derrida has been assuming all along that the linguistic processes described by Saussure, signification and the differencing of signs, act like forces. If so, then there is no reason for them to stop, and each sign evoked by difference will introduce a new set of differences. But there is no justification for making Saussure's signifiers and differences into forces, and indeed, there is no longer any justification for Saussure's signifiers and differences.
    Justification or no, language for Derrida lacks the stability that Saussure found. Saussure's neat pairings of signifier and signified came from a finite system of distinctive features. By contrast, Derrida's signifier and signified go on and on in endless differencing or differing or deferring (all terms involved in Derrida's own word, différance). And since our minds only work in signs, and nothing is ever fully present in signs, everything becomes flickering and unstable, both present and absent, present and future. It follows therefore that human beings are not the master of language, since the forces of language cannot be mastered. I try to mean, but my meaning is dispersed, divided, at odds with itself. Indeed, I myself am one of my meanings, as much a fiction, as little a stable entity as they. In Terry Eagleton's phrasing, "Because language is the very air I breathe, I can never have a pure, unblemished meaning or experience at all."
    Wow! With one masterful stroke, Derrida seems to have gotten rid of meaning, structures, categories, and mankind itself. Yet the whole argument rests on the idea of signification. As Eagleton sums the position up, "If the theory of signification . . . is at all valid, then there is something in writing itself which finally evades all systems and logics."
    But that's the trouble. It is not valid. Saussure's is finally a flat earth theory. If we consider only how the hearing and the understanding of a word feel to us, if we only introspect, his account has a certain commonsensical appeal. It seems right, just as the horizon seems to define a flat earth. A better linguistics, though, and a great deal of psychological evidence show that Saussure's theory leaves out a world of complexities. The text-active model leaves out all of human activity in interpreting language or the world.
    So does Derrida.
  • Anyone who has heard [Derrida] lecture in French knows that he is more performance artist than logician. His flamboyant style--using free association, rhymes and near-rhymes, puns, and maddening digressions--is not just a vain pose (though it is surely that). It reflects what he calls a self-conscious "acommunicative strategy" for combating logocentrism.
    • Mark Lilla, Review of Derrida's Moscou Aller-Retour in The New York Review of Books, June, 1998
  • Oriental religions had proposed the idea of a supreme Being beyond the grasp of language. But Greek thinkers were so wont to identify the real and the conceivable with what can be said that they dared not state there is an unintelligible reality; therefore, they made it into a non-being, thus originating the ontology of absence whose latest versions are Heidegger’s Being (always placed beyond positive existence) and its semiotic child, Derridian difference or ‘trace,’ forever avoiding presence and identify.
    The usefulness of such comparisons show that, for all the novelty of his terminology, the thought structure of Derrida is a philosophical antique with a more theological than epistemological origin -- something that may remain concealed to those who broach deconstruction theory as thought it were just conceptually sharpened semiotics.
  • [T]he tenor of Derridian philosophy shares with Heidegger’s a dangerous proclivity towards the bombastic translations of problems of being and knowledge into strident moral dilemmas. Like the cosmic drama of Being repressed by being in Heidegger, Derrida’s protests against phonocentrism sound more like lay sermonizing than genuine analytical argument. Those manichean dichotomies -- Being verses being, ‘writing’ verses phoné -- betray a religious pattern of thought that leaves Derrida -- for all his reticence regarding eschatology -- infinitely closer to the prophet Levinas than to the cool-headed practice of philosophy as analysis.
    Once removed from this original ‘theological’ and mystical framework, the Derridian ontology of absence makes for an irrationalist philosophy, as was the case with Heidegger. Hence the blatent non-sequiturs. […] Logical jumps are dictated by by the obsessional nature of dramatic philosophy, that is, where the glamour of a manichean grand-guignol (Presence the goodie versus absence the goodie) is substituted for analytics rigour.
  • In most later essays by Derrida, oracular assertion by dint of jocular or half-jocular pun-juggling has come to replace argument almost completely.
  • Saussure sets out to conceptualize a proper way of describing language, not the nature of language to reality. Consequently, he can hardly provide a linguistic pedigree to Derrida’s philosophizing about that relation.
  • Deconstruction, in particular, is a fairly formulaic process that hardly merits the commotion that it has generated. However, like hack writers or television producers, academics will use a formula if it does the job and they are not held to any higher standard (though perhaps Derrida can legitimately claim some credit for originality in inventing the formula in the first place).
  • [Derrida is] simply not worth studying for someone who has been studying [W. V. O.] Quine and [Hilary] Putnam and [Donald] Davidson.
    • Martha Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1997, p 41
  • Those who hurled themselves after Derrida were not the most sophisticated but the most pretentious, and least creative members of my generation of academics. [...] Lacan, Derrida and Foucault are the perfect prophets for the weak, anxious academic personality, trapped in verbal formulas and perennially defeated by circumstances. They offer a self-exculpating cosmic explanation for the normal professorial state of resentment, alienation, dithering passivity and inaction.
    • Camille Paglia, "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders : Academe in the Hour of the Wolf", first published in Arion, Spring 1991, reprinted in Paglia's Sex, Art and American Culture : New Essays (1992), ISBN ISBN 9780679741015
  • Jacques Derrida, the father of the pseudo-philosophy of "Deconstructionism", has been deconstructed into the next world. He had been conducting a terminal "narrative" with cancer. Well, at least that is the subjective unproven conclusion we have, since, after all, how do we really know that death and cancer exist? [...] Derrida was one of the fathers of this school of Deconstructionism. He was best known for his attack on "logocentrism," that is, on the cruel oppression by rational thinking. (What a great guru for the humanities departments at your university!) He even dismissed Stalin as a logocentrist, which explains I guess why those Gulags and Red Terror ruined what otherwise would be the great blessings of Marxism. In short, we should all seek salvation through resistance to logic. What a great excuse not to do your homework!
    • Steven Plaut, "The Deconstruction of Jacques Derrida," Front Page Magazine, 11 October 2004
  • [John Searle is] right in saying that a lot of Derrida's arguments … are just awful.
    • Richard Rorty, "Essays on Heidegger and Others", (Philosophical Papers II, Cambridge : Cambridge, University Press, 1991), pp. 94-95.
  • Derrida has a distressing penchant for saying things that are obviously false.
    • John Searle (1977). “Reiterating the Differences: A Reply to Derrida”, Glyph 1:198-208
  • On the face of it, this claim [i.e., Derrida's thesis that speech is privileged over writing] is bizarre. The distinction between speech and writing is simply not very important to Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, etc. And of these listed, the only one about whom Derrida offers any evidence for the privileging of the spoken is Plato, who, in Phaedrus, made a few remarks about the impossibility of subjecting written texts to interrogation. Plato points out, correctly, that you can ask questions of a speaking person in a way that you cannot of a written text.
    On Derrida's account, however, it is essential not only to Husserl, but to philosophy, and indeed to "the history of the world during an entire epoch," including the present, that speech should be mistakenly privileged over writing. If Derrida's claim were to be taken at its face value, I believe that a contrary argument could be given equal or even greater plausibility. From the medieval development of Aristotle's logic through Leibniz's Characteristica Universalis through Frege and Russell and up to the present development of symbolic logic, it could be argued that exactly the reverse is the case; that by emphasizing logic and rationality, philosophers have tended to emphasize written language as the more perspicuous vehicle of logical relations. Indeed, as far as the present era in philosophy is concerned, it wasn't until the 1950s that serious claims were made on behalf of the ordinary spoken vernacular languages, against the written ideal symbolic languages of mathematical logic. When Derrida makes sweeping claims about "the history of the world during an entire epoch," the effect is not so much apocalyptic as simply misinformed.
    • John Searle, "Word Turned Upside Down." New York Review of Books, Volume 30, Number 16 · October 27, 1983.
  • [W]e can now give a general assessment of the deconstruction of the distinction between speech and writing.
    1. Derrida's eccentric reading of the history of Western philosophy, a reading according to which philosophers are supposed to be roundly condemning writing, while privileging spoken language, is not grounded on an actual reading of the texts of the leading figures in the philosophical tradition. Derrida only discusses three major figures in any detail: Plato, Rousseau, and Husserl. Rather it seems motivated by his conviction that everything in logocentrism hinges on this issue. If he can treat the features of a suitably redefined notion of writing as definitive of the issues that philosophy has been concerned with —- as definitive of truth, reality, etc.-— then he thinks he can deconstruct these notions.
    2. The proof that speech is really writing, that writing is prior to speech, is based on a redefinition. By such methods one can prove anything. One can prove that the rich are really poor, the true is really false, etc. The only interest that such an effort might have is in the reasons given for the redefinition.
    3. Derrida's redefinition of writing to "reform" the "vulgar concept" is not based on any actual empirical study of the similarities and differences of the two forms. Nothing of the sort. He makes nothing of the fact that speech is spoken and writing is written, for example, or of the fact that, in consequence, written texts tend to persist throughout time in a way that is not characteristic of spoken utterances. Rather, the redefinition is based on a misrepresentation of the way the system of differences functions, and the misrepresentation is not innocent.' It is designed to enable the apparatus of writing, so characterized, to be applied quite generally—to experience, to reality, etc.
    Michel Foucault once characterized Derrida's prose style to me as "obscurantisme terroriste." The text is written so obscurely that you can't figure out exactly what the thesis is (hence "obscurantisme") and then when one criticizes it, the author says, "Vous m'avez mal compris; vous êtes idiot" [roughly, "You misunderstood me; you are an idiot"] (hence "terroriste").
    • John Searle, "Word Turned Upside Down." New York Review of Books, Volume 30, Number 16 · October 27, 1983.
  • Many French philosophers see in M. Derrida only cause for silent embarrassment, his antics having contributed significantly to the widespread impression that contemporary French philosophy is little more than an object of ridicule.
    M. Derrida's voluminous writings in our view stretch the normal forms of academic scholarship beyond recognition. Above all -- as every reader can very easily establish for himself (and for this purpose any page will do) -- his works employ a written style that defies comprehension.

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