[Paleopsych] Presidential Lectures: Jacques Derrida: Introduction

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Presidential Lectures: Jacques Derrida: Introduction 

    Algerian-born French philosopher Jacques Derrida has had an enormous
    impact on intellectual life around the world. So much so that his work
    has been the subject, in whole or in part, of more than 400 books. In
    the areas of philosophy and literary criticism alone, Derrida has been
    cited more than 14,000 times in journal articles over the past 17
    years [14]^1. He was recently featured in a [15]story in The New York
    Times. More than 500 US, British and Canadian dissertations treat him
    and his writings as primary subjects. He came into prominence in
    America with his critical approach or methodology or philosophy of
    [16]deconstruction, and it is this line of thought that continues to
    identify him.
    Derrida's deconstructionist works are integrally related to the more
    general phenomenon of [17]postmodernism. Postmodernist theories and
    attitudes come in a variety of forms. In the realm of social and
    political theory, what unites them -- from Foucault to Baudrillard,
    from Lyotard to Derrida and others -- is a challenge to, and largely a
    rejection of, both the truth value and pragmatic capacity for
    achieving justice or peace of the modern system of political and
    economic institutions, as well as the very ways in which we know and
    act to explain and understand ourselves. Especially in the latter
    theoretical and explanatory domain, Derrida's deconstructionism is
    provocative, if not subversive, in questioning the self-evidence,
    logic and non-judgmental character of dichotomies we live by, such as
    legitimate/illegitimate, rational/irrational, fact/fiction, or

    During the 1960s Derrida published several influential pieces in Tel
    Quel, France's forum of leftist avant-garde theory. Among this group
    were not only those mentioned above in relation to postmodernism, but
    also Bataille, Barthes, Kristeva, and several others. He later
    distanced himself from Tel Quel.

    He taught philosophy at the Sorbonne from 1960-1964 and the École
    Normale Superieure from 1964-1984. He currently directs the École des
    Hautes Études en Science Sociales in Paris. Since 1986 he has also
    been Professor of Philosophy, French and Comparative Literature at the
    University of California, Irvine and continues to lecture in academic
    institutions on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Derrida is "perhaps the world's most famous philosopher -- if not the
    only famous philosopher," in the words of Dinitia Smith, the talented
    and entertaining author of the aforementioned New York Times feature
    "Philosopher Gamely in Defense of His Ideas." Ms. Smith confided in
    the article, "A scholar ... warned against asking him [Derrida] to
    define 'deconstruction,' the notoriously difficult and widely
    influential method of inquiry he invented more than three decades ago.
    'Make it your last question,' the scholar counseled, because it sends
    deconstructionists into "paroxysms of rage.'"

    If Derrida and deconstruction can not be discussed one without the
    other, what then is [18]deconstruction? Definitions even vary, from a
    [19]seven page-explanation to a [20]four page entry or an [21]eleven
    page reference. How does Professor Derrida himself define it? He says
    of course a very great deal in numerous writings as well as in
    published interviews such as Deconstruction in a nutshell: a
    conversation with Jacques Derrida. What Ms. Smith reported of their
    conversation at the Polo Grill is the following:

      "It is impossible to respond," Mr. Derrida said. "I can only do
      something which will leave me unsatisfied." But after some
      prodding, he gave it a try anyway. "I often describe deconstruction
      as something which happens. It's not purely linguistic, involving
      text or books. You can deconstruct gestures, choreography. That's
      why I enlarged the concept of text."

      Mr. Derrida did not seem angry at having to define his philosophy
      at all; he was even smiling. "Everything is a text; this is a
      text," he said, waving his arm at the diners around him in the
      bland suburbanlike restaurant, blithely picking at their lunches,
      completely unaware that they were being "deconstructed."

    The name Derrida brings up controversies that would normally be
    reserved for political figures. In 1992 at the ever proper Cambridge
    University, the granting of an honorary degree to Derrida provoked an
    [22]impassioned debate among the dons. The end result was the unusual
    step of putting the issue to vote, the first rift of its kind in
    twenty-nine years. It was settled by a 336-204 vote in Derrida's favor
    (a veritable landslide victory in the context of normal politics).

    And in such an atmosphere of keen debate and disagreements, parody is
    not unknown. Stanford English Professor John L'Heureux, with
    deconstruction and its critical-theoretical progeny in view, offered
    the reader this prospect of a brave new academic world in his novel
    The Handmaid of Desire:

      This department [The Department of Theory and Discourse] was his
      dream; it would revolutionize university studies. It would include
      Comp Lit, Mod Thought, and all the little language departments --
      French, Russian, Spanish, you name it. It would take on all written
      documents, equally with absolute indifference to the author's
      reputation or the western canon or the nature of writing itself --
      whether it was Flaubert's Bovary or a 1950 tax form or a label on a
      Campbell's soup can . . .-- and subject them all to the probing,
      thrusting, hard-breathing analysis of the latest developments in
      metaphilosophical trans-literary theory. Whatever those theories
      might be. Wherever they might lead.

    However one values Derrida's writings and the philosophical positions
    and intellectual traditions from which he proceeds, it would be
    wrongheaded to think of him as an occupant of some "ivory tower".
    Derrida is the proverbial activist-theorist, who, over the years, has
    fought for a number of political causes, including the rights of
    Algerian immigrants in France, anti-apartheid, and the rights of Czech
    Charter 77 dissidents. True to his own construction of the world and
    his own autobiography, he has admitted few, if any, strict dichotomies
    in his life. As he put it in another context, "I am applied Derrida."

    By John Rawlings

    Jacques Derrida pages edited by Stanford University curators: John
    Rawlings (Humanities and Social Science Bibliographer,
    [23]rawlings at sulmail.stanford.edu), Tony Angiletta (Morrison Curator
    for the Social Sciences and Population Studies
    [24]tangilet at sulmail.stanford.edu), and Mary Jane Parrine (Curator for
    Romance Languages Collections, [25]parrine at leland.stanford.edu)

    [4]Jacques Derrida


    4. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/index.html
    5. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/biblio.html
    6. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/excerpts.html
    7. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/deconstruction.html
    8. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/interviews.html
    9. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/links.html
   10. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/jdsched.html
   11. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/symposia/index.html
   12. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/humanities/index.html
   13. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/gifs/derrida.jpg
   14. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/#footnote1
   15. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/nytderrida.html
   16. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/deconstruction.html
   17. http://www.colorado.edu/English/ENGL2012Klages/pomo.html
   18. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/deconstruction.html
   19. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/deconstruction.html#1
   20. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/deconstruction.html#2
   21. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/deconstruction.html#3
   22. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/interviews.html#cambridge
   23. mailto:rawlings at sulmail.stanford.edu
   24. mailto:tangilet at sulmail.stanford.edu
   25. mailto:parrine at leland.stanford.edu
   26. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/discussion/index.html
   27. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/calendar/index.html
   28. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/index.html
   29. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/symposia/index.html
   30. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/humanities/index.html
   31. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/#top
   32. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/home.html
   33. http://www-sul.stanford.edu/
   34. http://www.stanford.edu/

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