Deconstruction (French: déconstruction) is a literary theory and philosophy of language derived principally from Jacques Derrida's 1967 work Of Grammatology. The premise of deconstruction is that all of Western literature and philosophy implicitly relies on a metaphysics of presence, where intrinsic meaning is accessible by virtue of pure presence. Deconstruction denies the possibility of a pure presence and thus of essential or intrinsic meaning.
Derrida terms the philosophical commitment to pure presence as a source of self-sufficient meaning logocentrism. Due to the impossibility of pure presence and consequently of intrinsic meaning, any given concept is constituted and comprehended linguistically and in terms of its oppositions, e.g. perception/reason, speech/writing, mind/body, interior/exterior, marginal/central, sensible/intelligible, intuition/signification, nature/culture. Further, Derrida contends that of these dichotomies one member is associated with presence and consequently more highly valued than the other which is associated with absence. Deconstruction reveals the metaphysics of presence in a text by identifying its conceptual binary oppositions and demonstrating the speciousness of their hierarchy by denying the possibility of comprehending the "superior" element of the hierarchy in the absence of its "inferior" counterpart. Denying an absolute and intrinsic meaning to either element of the hierarchy différance is revealed (rather than proposed as an alternative) according to Derrida. Différance is a Derridaean neologism that is the antithesis of logocentrism, it is a perpetual series of interactions between presence and absence—where a concept is constituted, comprehended and identified in terms of what it is not and self-sufficient meaning is never arrived at—and thus a relinquishment of the notions of intrinsic and stable meaning, absolute truth, unmediated access to "reality" and consequently of conceptual hierarchy.
To situate deconstruction within philosophy in general, it is a critique of Idealism and a form of antifoundationalism. In terms of heritage, style and conceptual framework (namely phenomenological), deconstruction is within the Continental—as opposed to analytical—tradition of philosophy.
Derrida's writings on deconstruction are most strongly associated with literary criticism. However, they have also been applied to music, visual arts, feminist theory and post-colonial theory, film theory, and Post-Marxist political philosophy. Derrida's theories on deconstruction were themselves influenced by the work of linguists such as Ferdinand de Saussure (whose writings on semiotics also became a cornerstone of structuralist theory in the mid-20th century) and literary theorists such as Roland Barthes (whose works were an investigation of the logical ends of structuralist thought). Derrida's views on deconstruction stood opposed to the theories of structuralists such as psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan, linguist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and political and social theorist Michel Foucault. However, Derrida resisted attempts to label his work as "post-structuralist".
- 1 Etymology
- 2 On deconstruction
- 2.1 Derrida's approach to literary criticism
- 2.2 Basic philosophical concerns
- 2.3 Deconstruction in relation to Nietzsche's philosophy
- 2.4 From différance to deconstruction
- 2.5 Illustration of différance
- 2.6 Derrida vs. Hegel – Distinguish deconstruction from speculative dialetics
- 2.7 'There is nothing outside the text'
- 2.8 Deconstructing "normality" in analytical philosophy
- 2.9 The difficulty of definition and Derrida's "negative" descriptions
- 2.10 Alternative definitions
- 3 Related works by Derrida
- 4 Development after Derrida
- 5 Criticisms
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References (works cited)
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Although he avoided defining the term directly, Derrida sought to apply Martin Heidegger's concept of Destruktion or Abbau, to textual reading. Heidegger's term referred to a process of exploring the categories and concepts that tradition has imposed on a word, and the history behind them. Derrida opted for deconstruction over the literal translation destruction to suggest precision rather than violence.
Derrida's approach to literary criticism
Derrida's method consisted in demonstrating all the forms and varieties of the originary complexity of semiotics, and their multiple consequences in many fields. His way of achieving this was by conducting thorough, careful, sensitive, and yet transformational readings of philosophical and literary texts, with an ear to what in those texts runs counter to their apparent systematicity (structural unity) or intended sense (authorial genesis). By demonstrating the aporias and ellipses of thought, Derrida hoped to show the infinitely subtle ways that this originary complexity, which by definition cannot ever be completely known, works its structuring and destructuring effects.
Deconstruction denotes the pursuing of the meaning of a text to the point of exposing the supposed contradictions and internal oppositions upon which it is founded—supposedly showing that those foundations are irreducibly complex, unstable, or impossible. It is an approach that may be deployed in philosophy, in literary analysis, and even in the analysis of scientific writings. Deconstruction generally tries to demonstrate that any text is not a discrete whole but contains several irreconcilable and contradictory meanings; that any text therefore has more than one interpretation; that the text itself links these interpretations inextricably; that the incompatibility of these interpretations is irreducible; and thus that an interpretative reading cannot go beyond a certain point. Derrida refers to this point as an "aporia" in the text; thus, deconstructive reading is termed "aporetic." He insists that meaning is made possible by the relations of a word to other words within the network of structures that language is.
Derrida initially resisted granting to his approach the overarching name "deconstruction," on the grounds that it was a precise technical term that could not be used to characterize his work generally. Nevertheless, he eventually accepted that the term had come into common use to refer to his textual approach, and Derrida himself increasingly began to use the term in this more general way.
Basic philosophical concerns
Derrida’s concerns flow from a consideration of several issues:
1. A desire to contribute to the re-valuation of all western values, built on the 18th century Kantian critique of reason, and carried forward to the 19th century, in its more radical implications, by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.
2. An assertion that texts outlive their authors, and become part of a set of cultural habits equal to, if not surpassing, the importance of authorial intent.
To this end, Derrida follows a long line of modern philosophers, who look backwards to Plato and his influence on the western metaphysical tradition. Like Nietzsche, Derrida suspects Plato of dissimulation in the service of a political project, namely the education, through critical reflections, of a class of citizens more strategically positioned to influence the polis. However, like Nietzsche, Derrida is not satisfied merely with such a political interpretation of Plato, because of the particular dilemma modern humans find themselves stuck in. His Platonic reflections are inseparably part of his critique of modernity, hence the attempt to be something beyond the modern, because of this Nietzschian sense that the modern has lost its way and become mired in nihilism.
Deconstruction in relation to Nietzsche's philosophy
In order to understand Derrida’s motivation, one must refer to Nietzsche's philosophy.
Nietzsche's project began with Orpheus, the man underground. This foil to Platonic light was deliberately and self-consciously lauded in Daybreak, when Nietzsche announces, albeit retrospectively, “In this work you will discover a subterranean man at work,” and then goes on to map the project of unreason: “All things that live long are gradually so saturated with reason that their origin in unreason thereby becomes improbable. Does not almost every precise history of an origination impress our feelings as paradoxical and wantonly offensive? Does the good historian not, at bottom, constantly contradict?”
Nietzsche’s point in Daybreak is that standing at the end of modern history, modern thinkers know too much to be deceived by the illusion of reason any more. Reason, logic, philosophy and science are no longer solely sufficient as the royal roads to truth. And so Nietzsche decides to throw it in our faces, and uncover the truth of Plato, that he —unlike Orpheus— just happened to discover his true love in the light instead of in the dark. This being merely one historical event amongst many, Nietzsche proposes that we revisualize the history of the west as the history of a series of political moves, that is, a manifestation of the will to power, that at bottom have no greater or lesser claim to truth in any noumenal (absolute) sense. By calling our attention to the fact that he has assumed the role of Orpheus, the man underground, in dialectical opposition to Plato, Nietzsche hopes to sensitize us to the political and cultural context, and the political influences that impact authorship. For example, the political influences that led one author to choose philosophy over poetry (or at least portray himself as having made such a choice), and another to make a different choice.
The problem with Nietzsche, as Derrida sees it, is that he did not go far enough. That he missed the fact that this will to power is itself but a manifestation of the operation of writing. And so Derrida wishes to help us step beyond Nietzsche’s penultimate revaluation of all western values, to the ultimate, which is the final appreciation of “the role of writing in the production of knowledge.”
From différance to deconstruction
Derrida approaches all texts as constructed around elemental oppositions which all discourse has to articulate if it intends to make any sense whatsoever. This is so because identity is viewed in non-essentialist terms as a construct, and because constructs only produce meaning through the interplay of difference inside a "system of distinct signs". This approach to text, in a broad sense, emerges from semiology advanced by Ferdinand de Saussure.
Saussure is considered one of the fathers of structuralism when he explained that terms get their meaning in reciprocal determination with other terms inside language:
In language there are only differences. Even more important: a difference generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up; but in language there are only differences without positive terms. Whether we take the signified or the signifier, language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system. The idea or phonic substance that a sign contains is of less importance than the other signs that surround it. [...] A linguistic system is a series of differences of sound combined with a series of differences of ideas; but the pairing of a certain number of acoustical signs with as many cuts made from the mass thought engenders a system of values.
Saussure explicitly suggested that linguistics was only a branch of a more general semiology, of a science of signs in general, being human codes only one among others. Nevertheless, in the end, as Derrida pointed out, he made of linguistics "the regulatory model", and "for essential, and essentially metaphysical, reasons had to privilege speech, and everything that links the sign to phone". Derrida will prefer to follow the more "fruitful paths (formalization)" of a general semiotics without falling in what he considered "a hierarchizing teleology" privileging linguistics, and speak of 'mark' rather than of language, not as something restricted to mankind, but as prelinguistic, as the pure possibility of language, working every where there is a relation to something else.
Derrida then sees these differences, as elemental oppositions (0-1), working in all "languages", all "systems of distinct signs", all "codes", where terms do not have an"absolute" meaning, but can only get it from reciprocal determination with the other terms (1-0). This structural difference is the first component that Derrida will take into account when articulating the meaning of différance, a mark he felt the need to create and will become a fundamental tool in his life long work, deconstruction:
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 these opposition) production of the intervals without which the "full" terms would not signify, would not function.
But structural difference will not be considered without him already destabilizing from the start its static, synchronic, taxonomic, ahistoric motifs, remembering that all structure already refers to the generative movement in the play of differences: The other main component of différance is deferring, that takes into account the fact that meaning is not only a question of synchrony with all the other terms inside a structure, but also of diachrony, with everything that was said and will be said, in History, difference as structure and deffering as genesis:
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.
This confirms the subject as not present to itself and constituted on becoming space, in temporizing and also, as Saussure said, that "language [which consists only of differences] is not a function of the speaking subject."
Questioned this myth of the presence of meaning in itself ("objective") and/or for itself ("subjective") Derrida will start a long deconstruction of all texts where conceptual oppositions are put to work in the actual construction of meaning and values based on the subordination of the movement of "differance":
At the point at which the concept of differance, 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 differance in favor of the presence of a value or a meaning supposedly antecedent to differance, 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."
But, as Derrida also points out, these relations with other terms do not express only meaning but also values. The way elemental oppositions are put to work in all texts it is not only a theoretical operation but also a practical option. The first task of deconstruction, starting with philosophy and afterwards revealing it operating in literary texts, juridical texts, etc, would be to overturn these oppositions:
On the one hand, we must traverse a phase of overturning. To do justice to this necessity is to recognize that in a classical philosophical opposition we are not dealing with the peaceful coexistence of a vis-a-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy. One of the two terms governs the other (axiologically, logically, etc.), or has the upper hand.
To deconstruct the opposition, first of all, is to overturn the hierarchy at a given moment. To overlook this phase of overturning is to forget the conflictual and subordinating structure of opposition.
It is not that the final task of deconstruction is to surpass all oppositions, because they are structurally necessary to produce sense. They simply cannot be suspended once and for all. But this does not mean that they do not need to be analyzed and criticized in all its manifestations, showing the way these oppositions, both logical and axiological, are at work in all discourse for it to be able to produce meaning and values.
And it is not enough to deconstruction to expose the way oppositions work and how meaning and values are produced in speech of all kinds and stop there in a nihilistic or cynic position regarding all meaning, "thereby preventing any means of intervening in the field effectively". To be effective, deconstruction needs to create new concepts, not to synthesize the terms in opposition, but to mark their difference and eternal interplay:
That being said — and on the other hand — to remain in this phase is still to operate on the terrain of and from within the deconstructed system. By means of this double, and precisely stratified, dislodged and dislodging, writing, we must also mark the interval between inversion, which brings low what was high, and the irruptive emergence of a new concept that no longer be, and never could be, included in the previous regime. If this interval, this biface or biphase, can be inscribed only in a bifurcated writing then it can only be marked in what I would call a grouped textual field: in the last analysis it is impossible to point it out, for a unilinear text, or a punctual position, an operation signed by a single author, are all by definition incapable of practicing this interval.
This explains why Derrida always proposes new terms in his deconstruction, not as a free play but as a pure necessity of analysis, to better mark the intervals:
Henceforth, in order better to mark this interval it has been necessary to analyze, to set to work, within the text of the history of philosophy, as well as within the so-called literary text (for example, Mallarme), certain marks, shall we say (I mentioned certain ones just now, there are many others), that by analogy (I underline) I have called undecidables, that is, unities of simulacrum, "false" verbal properties (nominal or semantic) that can no longer be included within philosophical (binary) opposition: but which., however, inhabit philosophical oppositions, resisting and organizing it, without ever constituting a third term, without ever leaving room for a solution in the form of speculative dialectics
Some examples of these new terms created by Derrida clearly exemplify the deconstruction procedure:
(the pharmkon is neither remedy nor poison, neither good nor evil, neither the inside nor the outside, neither speech nor writing;
the supplement is neither a plus nor a minus, neither an outside nor the complement of an inside, neither accident nor essence, etc.;
the hymen is neither confusion nor distinction, neither identity nor difference, neither consummation nor virginity, neither the veil nor unveiled, neither inside nor the outside, etc.;
the gram is neither a signifier nor a signified, neither a sign nor a thing, neither presence nor an absence, neither a position nor a negation, etc.;
spacing is neither space nor time;
the incision is neither the incised integrity of a beginning, or of a simple cutting into, nor simple secondary.
Nevertheless, perhaps Derrida's most famous mark was, from the start, differance, created to deconstruct the opposition between speech and writing and open the way to the rest of his approach:
and this holds first of all for a new concept of writing, that simultaneously provokes the overturning of the hierarchy speech/writing, and the entire system attached to it, and releases the dissonance of a writing within speech, thereby disorganizing the entire inherited order and invading the entire field
Illustration of différance
For example, the word "house" derives its meaning more as a function of how it differs from "shed", "mansion", "hotel", "building", etc. (Form of Content, that Louis Hjelmslev distinguished from Form of Expression) than how the word "house" may be tied to a certain image of a traditional house (i.e. the relationship between signifier and signified) with each term being established in reciprocal determination with the other terms than by an ostensive description or definition: when can we talk about a "house" or a "mansion" or a "shed"? The same can be said about verbs, in all the languages in the world: when should we stop saying "walk" and start saying "run"? The same happens, of course, with adjectives: when must we stop saying "yellow" and start saying "orange", or exchange "past" for "present? Not only are the topological differences between the words relevant here, but the differentials between what is signified is also covered by différance. Deferral also comes into play, as the words that occur following "house" in any expression will revise the meaning of that word, sometimes dramatically so. This is true not only with syntagmatic succession in relation with paradigmatic simultaneity, but also, in a broader sense, between diachronic succession in History related with synchronic simultaneity inside a "system of distinct signs".
Thus, complete meaning is always "differential" and postponed in language; there is never a moment when meaning is complete and total. A simple example would consist of looking up a given word in a dictionary, then proceeding to look up the words found in that word's definition, etc., also comparing with older dictionaries from different periods in time, and such a process would never end.
This is also true with all ontological oppositions and their many declensions, not only in philosophy as in human sciences in general, cultural studies, theory of Law, etc.: the intelligible and the sensible, the spontaneous and the receptive, autonomy and heteronomy, the empirical and the transcendental, immanent and transcendent, as the interior and exterior, or the founded and the founder, normal and abnormal, phonetic and writing, analysis and synthesis, the literal sense and figurative meaning in language, reason and madness in psychoanalysis, the masculine and feminine in gender theory, man and animal in ecology, the beast and the sovereign in the political field, theory and practice as distinct dominions of thought itself. In all speeches in fact (and by right) we can make clear how they were dramatized, how the cleavages were made during the centuries, each author giving it different centers and establishing different hierarchies between the terms in the opposition
Derrida vs. Hegel – Distinguish deconstruction from speculative dialetics
In the deconstruction procedure, one of the main concerns of Derrida is not to collapse into Hegel's dialectic where these oppositions would be reduced to contradictions in a dialectic whose telos would, necessarily, be to resolve it into a synthesis.
The presence of Hegelianism was enormous in the intellectual life of France during the second half of the 20th century with the influence of Kojève and Hyppolite, but also with the impact of dialectics based on contradiction developed by Marxists, and including the existentialism from Sartre, etc. This explains Derrida's concern to always distinguish his procedure from Hegel's:
Neither/nor: that is simultaneously either or; the mark is also the marginal limit, the march, etc.
In fact, I attempt to bring the critical operation to bear against the unceasing reappropriation of this work of the simulacrum by a dialectics of the Hegelian type (which even idealizes and "semantizes" the value of work), for Hegelian idealism consists precisely of a releve of the binary oppositions of classical idealism, a resolution of contradiction into a third term that comes in order to aufheben, to deny while raising up, while idealizing, while sublimating into an anamnesic interiority (Errinnerung), while interning difference in a self-presence.
This difference from Hegel should be understood as essential from the start, and the Differance being one of the first terms that he tried more accurately to distinguish from all forms of Hegelian difference when proceeding with deconstruction:
Since it is still a question of elucidating the relationship to Hegel — a difficult labor, which for the most part remains before us, and which in a certain way is (interminable, at least if one wishes to execute it rigorously and minutely — I have attempted to distinguish differance (whose a marks, among other things, its productive and conflictual characteristics) from Hegelian difference, and have done so precisely at the point at which Hegel, in the greater Logic, determines difference as contradiction only in order to resolve it, to interiorize it, to lift it up (according to the syllogistic process of speculative dialectics) into the self-presence of an onto- theological or onto-teleological synthesis.
More than difference is the conflictuality of difference that must be distinguished from contradiction in Hegel to clearly distinguish deconstruction from speculative dialetics:
Differance (at a point of almost absolute proximity to Hegel, everything, what is most decisive, is played out, here, in what Husserl called "subtle nuances," or Marx "micrology") must sign the point at which one breaks with the system of the Aufhebung and with speculative dialectics. Since this conflictuality of differance — which can be called contradiction only if one demarcates it by means of a long work on Hegel's concept of contradiction — can never be totally resolved, it marks its effects in what I call the text in general, in a text which is not reduced to a book or a library, and which can never be governed by a referent in the classical sense, that is, by a thing or by a transcendental signified that would regulate its movement. You can well see that it is not because I wish to appease or reconciliate(sic) that I prefer to employ the mark "differance" rather than refer to the system of difference- and-contradiction.
'There is nothing outside the text'
There is one statement by Derrida which he regarded as the axial statement of his whole essay on Rousseau (part of the highly influential Of Grammatology, 1967), and which is perhaps his most quoted and famous statement ever. It is the assertion that "there is nothing outside the text" (il n'y a pas de hors-texte), which means that “there is no such a thing as out-of-the-text”, in other words, the context is an integral part of the text.
We can call "context" the entire "real-history-of-the-world," if you like, in which this value of objectivity and, even more broadly, that of truth (etc.) have taken on meaning and imposed themselves. That does not in the slightest discredit them. In the name of what, of which other "truth," moreover, would it?
One of the definitions of what is called deconstruction would be the effort to take this limitless context into account, to pay the sharpest and broadest attention possible to context, and thus to an incessant movement of recontextualization.
The phrase which for some has become a sort of slogan, in general so badly understood, of deconstruction ("there is nothing outside the text" [il n'y a pas de hors-texte]), means nothing else: there is nothing outside context. In this form, which says exactly the same thing, the formula would doubtless have been less shocking. I am not certain that it would have provided more to think about.
Critics of Derrida have countless times quoted it as a slogan to characterize and stigmatize deconstruction. Some commentators have said that it means that it is not possible to think outside of the philosophical system, or that there is no experience of reality outside of language. With regards to the broadness of the concept of "text", he added:
I take great interest in questions of language and rhetoric, and I think they deserve enormous consideration; but there is a point where the authority of final jurisdiction is neither rhetorical nor linguistic, nor even discursive. The notion of trace or of text is introduced to mark the limits of the linguistic turn. This is one more reason why I prefer to speak of 'mark' rather than of language. In the first place the mark is not anthropological; it is prelinguistic; it is the possibility of language, and it is every where there is a relation to another thing or relation to an other. For such relations, the mark has no need of language.
Deconstructing "normality" in analytical philosophy
A sequence of encounters with analytical philosophy is collected in Limited Inc (1988), having Austin and Searle as the main interlocutors. Derrida would argue there about the problem he found in the constant appeal to "normality" in the analytical tradition from which Austin and Searle were only paradigmatic examples. His deconstruction there of the structure called "normal" is in many ways paradigmatic of his approach:
In the description of the structure called "normal," "normative," "central," "ideal,"this possibility of transgression must be integrated as an essential possibility. The possibility of transgression cannot be treated as though it were a simple accident-marginal or parasitic. It cannot be, and hence ought not to be, and this passage from can to ought reflects the entire difficulty. In the analysis of so-called normal cases, one neither can nor ought, in all theoretical rigor, to exclude the possibility of transgression. Not even provisionally, or out of allegedly methodological considerations. It would be a poor method, since this possibility of transgression tells us immediately and indispensably about the structure of the act said to be normal as well as about the structure of law in general.
He continued arguing how problematic it was establishing the relation between "normal", "nonfiction or standard discourse" and "fiction", defined as its "parasite", “for part of the most originary essence of the latter is to allow fiction, the simulacrum, parasitism, to take place-and in so doing to "de-essentialize" itself as it were”: He would finally argue that the indispensable question would then become:
what is "nonfiction standard discourse," what must it be and what does this name evoke, once its fictionality or its fictionalization, its transgressive "parasitism," is always possible (and moreover by virtue of the very same words, the same phrases, the same grammar, etc.)?
This question is all the more indispensable since the rules, and even the statements of the rules governing the relations of "nonfiction standard discourse" and its fictional "parasites," are not things found in nature, but laws, symbolic inventions, or conventions, institutions that, in their very normality as well as in their normativity, entail something of the fictional.
the reason for the confusions is not accidental, nor Esperanto full of goodwill will be able to solve it. It is that the semiotic thought presents itself, from the beginning, as always divided by a dilemma and marked by a choice, more or less implicit, that guides the thinker: is it his task when studying languages to know when and how to refer to things properly (problem of truth) or to ask how and when they are used to produce beliefs? Or, downstream of any terminological choice, there is a deeper choice between transparent systems of signification about things or systems of signification as producers of reality. Pathetic confidentiality of this division, the two sides of the fence, when the division is manifested, rate the opponent as idealist (at least in more recent times).
The difficulty of definition and Derrida's "negative" descriptions
When asked "What is deconstruction?" Derrida replied, "I have no simple and formalisable response to this question. All my essays are attempts to have it out with this formidable question". Derrida believes that deconstruction is necessarily complicated and difficult to explain since it actively criticises the very language needed to explain it.
Derrida's defenders argue that in giving this reply, Derrida was simply being consistent: the word "deconstruction" is as slippery as any other word in the dictionary. Others criticize Derrida for being unable to define the discipline that he himself created, and for being evasive about it.
Derrida has been more forthcoming with negative (apophatic) than positive descriptions of deconstruction. When asked by Toshihiko Izutsu some preliminary considerations on how to translate "deconstruction" in Japanese, in order to at least prevent going contrary to its actual meaning, Derrida therefore began his response by saying that such question amounts to "what deconstruction is not, or rather ought not to be."
Derrida states that deconstruction is not an analysis, a critique, or a method in the traditional sense that philosophy understands these terms. In these negative descriptions of deconstruction Derrida is seeking to "multiply the cautionary indicators and put aside all the traditional philosophical concepts." This does not mean that deconstruction has absolutely nothing in common with an analysis, a critique, or a method because while Derrida distances deconstruction from these terms, he reaffirms "the necessity of returning to them, at least under erasure." Derrida's necessity of returning to a term under erasure means that even though these terms are problematic we must use them until they can be effectively reformulated or replaced. Derrida's thought developed in relation to Husserl's and this return to something under erasure has a similarity to Husserl's phenomenological reduction or epoché.[original research?] Derrida acknowledges that his preference for negative description “has been called...a type of negative theology.” The relevance of the tradition of negative theology to Derrida's preference for negative descriptions of deconstruction is the notion that a positive description of deconstruction would over-determine the idea of deconstruction and that this would be a mistake because it would close off the openness that Derrida wishes to preserve for deconstruction. This means that if Derrida were to positively define deconstruction as, for example, a critique then this would put the concept of critique for ever outside the possibility of deconstruction. Some new philosophy beyond deconstruction would then be required in order to surpass the notion of critique.
Not a method
Derrida states that “Deconstruction is not a method, and cannot be transformed into one.” This is because deconstruction is not a mechanical operation. Derrida warns against considering deconstruction as a mechanical operation when he states that “It is true that in certain circles (university or cultural, especially in the United States) the technical and methodological “metaphor” that seems necessarily attached to the very word “deconstruction” has been able to seduce or lead astray.” Commentator Richard Beardsworth explains that
Derrida is careful to avoid this term [method] because it carries connotations of a procedural form of judgement. A thinker with a method has already decided how to proceed, is unable to give him or herself up to the matter of thought in hand, is a functionary of the criteria which structure his or her conceptual gestures. For Derrida [...] this is irresponsibility itself. Thus, to talk of a method in relation to deconstruction, especially regarding its ethico-political implications, would appear to go directly against the current of Derrida's philosophical adventure.
Beardsworth here explains that it would be irresponsible to undertake a deconstruction with a complete set of rules that need only be applied as a method to the object of deconstruction because this understanding would reduce deconstruction to a thesis of the reader that the text is then made to fit. This would be an irresponsible act of reading because it ignores the empirical facticity of the text itself — that is it becomes a prejudicial procedure that only finds what it sets out to find. To be responsible a deconstruction must carefully negotiate the empirical facticity of the text and hence respond to it. Deconstruction is not a method and this means that it is not a neat set of rules that can be applied to any text in the same way. Deconstruction is therefore not neatly transcendental because it cannot be considered separate from the contingent empirical facticity of the particular texts that any deconstruction must carefully negotiate. Each deconstruction is necessarily different (otherwise it achieves no work) and this is why Derrida states that “Deconstruction takes place, it is an event.” On the other hand, deconstruction cannot be completely untranscendental because this would make it meaningless to, for example, speak of two different examples of deconstruction as both being examples of deconstruction. It is for this reason that Richard Rorty asks if Derrida should be considered a quasi-transcendental philosopher that operates in the tension between the demands of the empirical and the transcendental. Each example of deconstruction must be different, but it must also share something with other examples of deconstruction. Deconstruction is therefore not a method in the traditional sense but is what Derrida terms "an unclosed, unenclosable, not wholly formalizable ensemble of rules for reading, interpretation and writing."
Not a critique
Derrida states that deconstruction is not a critique in the Kantian sense. This is because Kant defines the term critique as the opposite of dogmatism. For Derrida it is not possible to escape the dogmatic baggage of the language we use in order to perform a pure critique in the Kantian sense. For Derrida language is dogmatic because it is inescapably metaphysical. Derrida argues that language is inescapably metaphysical because it is made up of signifiers that only refer to that which transcends them — the signified. This transcending of the empirical facticity of the signifier by an ideally conceived signified is metaphysical. It is metaphysical in the sense that it mimics the understanding in Aristotle's metaphysics of an ideally conceived being as that which transcends the existence of every individually existing thing. In a less formal version of the argument it might be noted that it is impossible to use language without asserting being, and hence metaphysics, constantly through the use of the various modifications of the verb "to be". In addition Derrida asks rhetorically "Is not the idea of knowledge and of the acquisition of knowledge in itself metaphysical?" By this Derrida means that all claims to know something necessarily involve an assertion of the metaphysical type that something is the case somewhere. For Derrida the concept of neutrality is suspect and dogmatism is therefore involved in everything to a certain degree. Deconstruction can challenge a particular dogmatism and hence desediment dogmatism in general, but it cannot escape all dogmatism all at once.
Not an analysis
Derrida states that deconstruction is not an analysis in the traditional sense. This is because the possibility of analysis is predicated on the possibility of breaking up the text being analysed into elemental component parts. Derrida argues that there are no self-sufficient units of meaning in a text. This is because individual words or sentences in a text can only be properly understood in terms of how they fit into the larger structure of the text and language itself. For more on Derrida's theory of meaning see the page on différance.
Derrida states that his use of the word deconstruction first took place in a context in which "structuralism was dominant" and its use is related to this context. Derrida states that deconstruction is an "antistructuralist gesture" because "Structures were to be undone, decomposed, desedimented." At the same time for Derrida deconstruction is also a "structuralist gesture" because it is concerned with the structure of texts. So for Derrida deconstruction involves “a certain attention to structures" and tries to “understand how an 'ensemble' was constituted." As both a structuralist and an antistructuralist gesture deconstruction is tied up with what Derrida calls the "structural problematic." The structural problematic for Derrida is the tension between genesis, that which is "in the essential mode of creation or movement," and structure, "systems, or complexes, or static configurations." An example of genesis would be the sensory ideas from which knowledge is then derived in the empirical epistemology. An example of structure would be a binary opposition such as good and evil where the meaning of each element is established, at least partly, through its relationship to the other element.
For Derrida, Genesis and Structure are both inescapable modes of description, there are some things that "must be described in terms of structure, and others which must be described in terms of genesis," but these two modes of description are difficult to reconcile and this is the tension of the structural problematic. In Derrida's own words the structural problematic is that "beneath the serene use of these concepts [genesis and structure] is to be found a debate that...makes new reductions and explications indefinitely necessary." The structural problematic is therefore what propels philosophy and hence deconstruction forward. Another significance of the structural problematic for Derrida is that while a critique of structuralism is a recurring theme of his philosophy this does not mean that philosophy can claim to be able to discard all structural aspects.
It is for this reason that Derrida distances his use of the term deconstruction from post-structuralism, a term that would suggest philosophy could simply go beyond structuralism. Derrida states that “the motif of deconstruction has been associated with "post-structuralism"" but that this term was "a word unknown in France until its “return” from the United States." Derrida's deconstruction of Husserl Derrida actually argues for the contamination of pure origins by the structures of language and temporality and Manfred Frank has even referred to Derrida's work as "Neostructuralism."
The popularity of the term deconstruction combined with the technical difficulty of Derrida's primary material on deconstruction and his reluctance to elaborate his understanding of the term has meant that many secondary sources have attempted to give a more straightforward explanation than Derrida himself ever attempted. Secondary definitions are therefore an interpretation of deconstruction by the person offering them rather than a direct summary of Derrida's actual position.
- Paul de Man was a member of the Yale School and a prominent practitioner of deconstruction as he understood it. His definition of deconstruction is that, "[i]t's possible, within text, to frame a question or undo assertions made in the text, by means of elements which are in the text, which frequently would be precisely structures that play off the rhetorical against grammatical elements."
- Richard Rorty was a prominent interpreter of Derrida's philosophy. His definition of deconstruction is that, "the term 'deconstruction' refers in the first instance to the way in which the 'accidental' features of a text can be seen as betraying, subverting, its purportedly 'essential' message." (The word accidental is used here in the sense of incidental.)
- John D. Caputo attempts to explain deconstruction in a nutshell by stating:
"Whenever deconstruction finds a nutshell—a secure axiom or a pithy maxim—the very idea is to crack it open and disturb this tranquility. Indeed, that is a good rule of thumb in deconstruction. That is what deconstruction is all about, its very meaning and mission, if it has any. One might even say that cracking nutshells is what deconstruction is. In a nutshell. ...Have we not run up against a paradox and an aporia [something contradictory]...the paralysis and impossibility of an aporia is just what impels deconstruction, what rouses it out of bed in the morning..." (Caputo 1997, p.32)
- Niall Lucy points to the impossibility of defining the term at all, stating:
"While in a sense it is impossibly difficult to define, the impossibility has less to do with the adoption of a position or the assertion of a choice on deconstruction’s part than with the impossibility of every ‘is’ as such. Deconstruction begins, as it were, from a refusal of the authority or determining power of every ‘is’, or simply from a refusal of authority in general. While such refusal may indeed count as a position, it is not the case that deconstruction holds this as a sort of ‘preference’".
- David B. Allison is an early translator of Derrida and states in the introduction to his translation of Speech and Phenomena:
[Deconstruction] signifies a project of critical thought whose task is to locate and 'take apart' those concepts which serve as the axioms or rules for a period of thought, those concepts which command the unfolding of an entire epoch of metaphysics. 'Deconstruction' is somewhat less negative than the Heideggerian or Nietzschean terms 'destruction' or 'reversal'; it suggests that certain foundational concepts of metaphysics will never be entirely eliminated...There is no simple 'overcoming' of metaphysics or the language of metaphysics.
- Paul Ricœur defines deconstruction as a way of uncovering the questions behind the answers of a text or tradition.
- Richard Ellmann defines 'deconstruction' as the systematic undoing of understanding.
A survey of the secondary literature reveals a wide range of heterogeneous arguments. Particularly problematic are the attempts to give neat introductions to deconstruction by people trained in literary criticism who sometimes have little or no expertise in the relevant areas of philosophy that Derrida is working in relation to. These secondary works (e.g. Deconstruction for Beginners and Deconstructions: A User's Guide) have attempted to explain deconstruction while being academically criticized as too far removed from the original texts and Derrida's actual position. In an effort to clarify the rather muddled reception of the term deconstruction Derrida specifies what deconstruction is not through a number of negative definitions.
Related works by Derrida
Antecedent example: the Phenomenology vs. Structuralism debate
Before coining the term Deconstruction, Derrida began speaking and writing publicly at a time when the French intellectual scene was experiencing an increasing rift between what could broadly be called "phenomenological" and "structural" approaches to understanding individual and collective life. For those with a more phenomenological bent the goal was to understand experience by comprehending and describing its genesis, the process of its emergence from an origin or event. For the structuralists, this was a problematic and misleading avenue of interrogation, and the "depth" and originality of experience could in fact only be an effect of structures which are not themselves experiential. It is in this context that in 1959 Derrida asks the question: 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?
In other words, every structural or "synchronic" phenomenon has a history, and the structure cannot be understood without understanding its genesis. At the same time, in order that there be movement, or potential, the origin cannot be some pure unity or simplicity, but must already be articulated—complex—such that from it a "diachronic" process can emerge. This originary complexity must not be understood as an original positing, but more like a default of origin, which Derrida refers to as iterability, inscription, or textuality. It is this thought of originary complexity, rather than original purity, which destabilises the thought of both genesis and structure, that sets Derrida's work in motion, and from which derive all of its terms, including deconstruction.
Crucial to Derrida's work is the concept of différance, a complex term which refers to the process of the production of difference and deferral. According to Derrida, all difference and all presence arise from the operation of différance. Différance is an infinitesimal difference that is not only a difference that is non-dualistic, but also it is a difference that is "undecidable" (see Indeterminacy).
To deconstruct philosophy is to think carefully within philosophy about philosophical concepts in terms of their structure and genesis. Deconstruction questions the appeal to presence by arguing that there is always an irreducible aspect of non-presence in operation. Derrida terms this aspect of non-presence différance. Différance is therefore the key theoretical basis of deconstruction. Deconstruction questions the basic operation of all philosophy through the appeal to presence and différance. Derrida argues that différance pervades all philosophy because "What defers presence [...] is the very basis on which presence is announced or desired in what represents it, its sign, its trace". Différance therefore pervades all philosophy because all philosophy is constructed as a system through language. Différance is essential to language because it produces "what metaphysics calls the sign (signified/signifier)".
In one sense, a sign must point to something beyond itself that is its meaning so the sign is never fully present in itself but a deferral to something else, to something different. In another sense the structural relationship between the signified and signifier, as two related but separate aspects of the sign, is produced through differentiation. Derrida states that différance "is the economical concept", meaning that it is the concept of all systems and structures, because "there is no economy without différance [...] the movement of différance, as that which produces different things, that which differentiates, is the common root of all the oppositional concepts that mark our language [...] différance is also the production [...] of these differences." Différance is therefore the condition of possibility for all complex systems and hence all philosophy.
Operating through différance, deconstruction is the description of how non-presence problematises the operation of the appeal to presence within a particular philosophical system. Différance is an a-priori condition of possibility that is always already in effect but a deconstruction must be a careful description of how this différance is actually in effect in a given text. Deconstruction therefore describes problems in the text rather than creating them (which would be trivial). Derrida considers the illustration of aporia in this way to be productive because it shows the failure of earlier philosophical systems and the necessity of continuing to philosophise through them with deconstruction.
Derrida first employs the term deconstruction in Of Grammatology in 1967 when discussing the implications of understanding language as writing rather than speech. Here Derrida introduces deconstruction to describe the manner that understanding language as “writing” (in general) renders infeasible a straightforward semantic theory. Derrida states that:
[w]riting thus enlarged and radicalized, no longer issues from a logos. Further, it inaugurates the destruction, not the demolition but the de-sedimentation, the de-construction, of all the significations that have their source in that of the logos.
In this quotation Derrida states that deconstruction is what happens to meaning when language is understood as writing. For Derrida, when language is understood as writing it is realised that meaning does not originate in the logos or thought of the language user. Instead individual language users are understood to be using an external system of signs, a system that exists separately to them because these signs are written down. The meaning of language does not originate in the thoughts of the individual language user because those thoughts are already taking place in a language that does not originate with them. Individual language users operate within a system of meaning that is given to them from outside. Meaning is therefore not fully under the control of the individual language user. The meaning of a text is not neatly determined by authorial intention and cannot be recreated without problem by a reader. Meaning necessarily involves some degree of interpretation, negotiation, or translation. This necessity for the active interpretation of meaning by readers when language is understood as writing is why deconstruction takes place.
To understand this more fully, consider the difference for Derrida between understanding language as speech and as writing. Derrida argues that people have historically understood speech as the primary mode of language and understood writing as an inferior derivative of speech. Derrida argues that speech is historically equated with logos, meaning thought, and associated with the presence of the speaker to the listener. It is as if the speaker thinks out loud and the listener hears what the speaker is thinking and if there is any confusion then the speaker's presence allows them to qualify the meaning of a previous statement. Derrida argues that by understanding speech as thought, language "effaces itself." Language itself is forgotten. The signified meaning of speech is so immediately understood that it is easy to forget that there are linguistic signifiers involved; but these signifiers are the spoken sounds (phonemes) and written marks (graphemes) that actually comprise language. Derrida therefore associates speech with a very straightforward and unproblematic theory of meaning and with the forgetting of the signifier and hence language itself.
Derrida contrasts the understanding of language as speech with an understanding of language as writing. Unlike a speaker, a writer is usually absent (even dead) and the reader cannot rely on the writer to clarify any problems that there might be with the meaning of the text. The consideration of language as writing leads inescapably to the insight that language is a system of signs. As a system of signs the signifiers are present but the signification can only be inferred. There is effectively an act of translation involved in extracting a significaton from the signifiers of language. This act of translation is so habitual to language users that they must step back from their experience of using language in order to fully realise its operation. The significance of understanding language as writing rather than speech is that signifiers are present in language but significations are absent. To decide what words mean is therefore an act of interpretation. The insight that language is a system of signs, most obvious in the consideration of language as writing, leads Derrida to state that "everything [...] gathered under the name of language is beginning to let itself be transferred to [...] the name of writing." This means that there is no room for the naive theory of meaning and forgetting of the signifier that previously existed when language was understood as speech.
Later in his career, in 1980, Derrida retrospectively confirmed the importance of his observation on the devaluation of writing, which proved valid not only for classics of philosophy and the "socio-historical totality" of our civilization, but also for the deconstruction of a variety of modern scientific texts in linguistics, in anthropology, in psychoanalysis. Everywhere in these texts, such detection devaluation of writing showed to be "insistent, repetitive, even obscurely compulsive," and " the sign of a whole set of long-standing constraints. These constraints were practised at the price of contradictions, of denials, of dogmatic decrees."
Here Derrida states that deconstruction exposes historical constraints within the whole history of philosophy that have been practised at the price of contradictions, denials, and dogmatic decrees. The unmasking of how contradictions, denials, and dogmatic decrees are at work in a given text is closely associated with deconstruction. The careful illustration of how such problems are inescapable in a given text can lead someone to describe that text as deconstructed.
Speech and Phenomena
Derrida's first book length deconstruction is his critical engagement with Husserl's phenomenology in Speech and Phenomena published in 1967. Derrida states that Speech and Phenomena is the "essay I value the most" and it is therefore a very important example of deconstruction.
Husserl's philosophy is grounded in conscious experience as the ultimate origin of validity for all philosophy and science. Derrida's deconstruction operates by illustrating how the originary status of consciousness is compromised by the operation of structures within conscious experience that prevent it from being "the original self-giving evidence, the present or presence of sense to a full and primordial intuition." Derrida argues that Husserl's "phenomenology seems to us tormented, if not contested from within, by its own descriptions of the movement of temporalization and language." Derrida argues that the involvement of language and temporalisation within the "living present" of conscious experience means that instead of consciousness being the pure unitary origin of validity that Husserl wishes it be, it is compromised by the operation of différance in the structures of language and temporalisation.
Derrida argues that language is a structured system of signs and that the meanings of individual signs are produced by the différance between that sign and other signs. This means that words are not self-sufficiently meaningful but only meaningful as part of a larger structure that makes meaning possible. Derrida therefore argues that the meaning of language is dependent on the larger structures of language and cannot originate in the unity of conscious experience. Derrida therefore argues that linguistic meaning does not originate in the intentional meaning of the speaking subject. This conclusion is very important for deconstruction and explains the importance of Speech and Phenomena for Derrida. Informed by this conclusion the deconstruction of a text will typically demonstrate the inability of the author to achieve their stated intentions within a text by demonstrating how the meaning of the language they use is, at least partially, beyond the ability of their intentions to control. Similarly, Derrida argues that Husserl's description of temporal consciousness — where he describes the retension of past conscious experience and protension of future conscious experience — introduces the structural différance of temporal deferral, temporal non-presence, into consciousness. This means that the past and future are not in the living present of conscious experience but they taint the presence of the living present with their conscious absence through retension and protension. Husserl's description of temporal consciousness therefore compromises the total self presence of conscious experience required by Husserl's philosophy once again.
Writing and Difference
Writing and Difference is a collection of essays published by Derrida in 1967. Each essay is a critical negotiation by Derrida of texts by philosophical or literary writers. These essays have come to be termed deconstructions even though some of them were written before Derrida's first use of the term in Of Grammatology. For example, the chapter "Cogito and the History of Madness," dating from 1963, has been referred to as a deconstruction of the work of Michel Foucault, yet the term "deconstruction" does not actually appear in the chapter.
Derrida's later work
While Derrida's deconstructions in the 1960s and 1970s were frequently concerned with the major philosophical systems, in his later work he is often concerned to demonstrate the aporias of specific terms and concepts, including forgiveness, hospitality, friendship, the gift, responsibility and cosmopolitanism.
Development after Derrida
Authors other than Derrida have also used the term "deconstructionism" with different definitions.
The Yale School
Between the late 1960s and the early 1980s many thinkers were influenced by deconstruction, including Paul de Man, Geoffrey Hartman, and J. Hillis Miller. This group came to be known as the Yale school and was especially influential in literary criticism. Several of these theorists were subsequently affiliated with the University of California Irvine.
Miller has described deconstruction this way: “Deconstruction is not a dismantling of the structure of a text, but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself. Its apparently solid ground is no rock, but thin air."
Critical legal studies movement
Arguing that law and politics cannot be separated, the founders of "Critical Legal Studies Movement" found necessary to criticize its absence at the level of theory. To demonstrate the indeterminacy of legal doctrine, these scholars often adopts a method, such as structuralism in linguistics or deconstruction in Continental philosophy, to make explicit the deep structure of categories and tensions at work in legal texts and talk. The aim was to deconstruct the tensions and procedures by which they are constructed, expressed, and deployed.
For example, Duncan Kennedy, in explicit reference to semiotics and deconstruction procedures, maintains that various legal doctrines are constructed around the binary pairs of opposed concepts, each of which with a claim upon intuitive and formal forms of reasoning that must be made explicit, not only in their meaning but also its relative value, and criticized. Self and other, private and public, subjective and objective, freedom and control are examples of such pairs demonstrating the influence of this opposing concepts on the development of legal doctrines through history.
Deconstructive readings of history and sources have changed the entire discipline of history. In "Deconstructing History", Alun Munslow examines history in what he argues is a postmodern age. He provides an introduction to the debates and issues of postmodernist history. He also surveys the latest research into the relationship between the past, history, and historical practice, as well as forwarding his own challenging theories.
The Inoperative Community
Jean-Luc Nancy argues in his 1982 book The Inoperative Community for an understanding of community and society that is undeconstructable because it is prior to conceptualisation. Nancy's work is an important development of deconstruction because it takes the challenge of deconstruction seriously and attempts to develop an understanding of political terms that is undeconstructable and therefore suitable for a philosophy after Derrida.
The Ethics of Deconstruction
Simon Critchley argues in his 1992 book (second edition: 1999; third edition: 2014) The Ethics of Deconstruction that Derrida's deconstruction is an intrinsically ethical practice. Critchley argues that deconstruction involves an openness to the other that makes it ethical in the Levinasian understanding of the term.
Derrida and the Political
Jacques Derrida has had a huge influence on contemporary political theory and political philosophy. Derrida's thinking has inspired Slavoj Zizek, Richard Rorty, Ernesto Laclau, Judith Butler and many more contemporary theorists developed a deconstructive approach to politics. Because deconstruction examines the internal logic of any given text or discourse it helped many authors to analyse the contradictions inherent in all schools of thought, and as such it has proved revolutionary in political analysis, particularly ideology critiques.
Richard Beardsworth, developing on Critchley's Ethics of Deconstruction, argues in his 1996 Derrida and the Political that deconstruction is an intrinsically political practice. He further argues that the future of deconstruction faces a choice (perhaps an undecidable choice) between a theological approach and a technological approach represented first of all by the work of Bernard Stiegler.
Derrida has been involved in a number of high profile disagreements with prominent philosophers including Michel Foucault, John Searle, Willard Van Orman Quine, Peter Kreeft, and Jürgen Habermas. Most of the criticism of deconstruction were first articulated by these philosophers and repeated elsewhere.
In this 673-page book (sc. History of Madness), Michel Foucault devotes three pages- and, moreover, in a kind of prologue to his second chapter — to a certain passage from the first of Descartes's Meditations. [... in] alleging — correctly or incorrectly, as will be determined — that the sense of Foucault's entire project can be pinpointed in these few allusive and somewhat enigmatic pages, and that the reading of Descartes and the Cartesian Cogito proposed to us engages in its problematic the totality of this History of Madness...
The audacity of Derrida's claim to problematise the whole of the History of Madness by working with such a small section of the text outraged Foucault. Foucault responds in the new preface to the 1972 edition of the History of Madness by complaining that after the initial publication of the text "fragments of it pass into circulation and are passed off as the real thing." This comment may form the basis of the allegation that deconstruction does not adhere to conventional academic standards by failing to deal substantially with the texts it appears to criticise. Foucault also states in the appendix to the 1972 edition titled "My Body, This Paper, This Fire" that Derrida's deconstruction is a:
[H]istorically well-determined little pedagogy, which manifests itself here in a very visible manner. A pedagogy which teaches the student that there is nothing outside the text, but that in it, in its interstices, in its blanks and silences, the reserve of the origin reigns; that it is never necessary to look beyond it, but that here, not in the words of course, but in words as crossings-outs [sic], in their lattice, what is said is "the meaning of being". A pedagogy that inversely gives to the voice of the masters that unlimited sovereignty that allows it indefinitely to re-say the text.
This rebuke by Foucault caused a rift between the two thinkers and they did not speak to each other for ten years. Foucault refers in this passage to certain claims that Derrida makes in Of Grammatology, though without quotation or citation to indicate that he is doing so. Foucault's mention of "crossings-outs" refers to the return to problematic terms under erasure (see the section on Derrida's negative descriptions of deconstruction). Foucault also alludes critically to the problematisation of presence in deconstruction as a reading of what is not there in the text. This aspect of Foucault's argument may have encouraged Derrida to strongly emphasise the importance of fidelity to the text being deconstructed. Foucault's reference to Derrida's assertion that "there is nothing outside the text" is the basis of much criticism of deconstruction as being nihilistic, relativistic, apolitical, or confined to the ivory tower of academia.[original research?] In fact, this infamous quote is subtly but essentially mistranslated (as Foucault well knew, and thus this acknowledgement does not necessarily confute his argument), and literally reads "there is no outside-text (il n'y a pas hors-texte)," or, as Derrida himself paraphrased it in Limited Inc., "there is nothing outside context." Thus, Derrida does not argue that only what is written in the text is relevant to it, but rather that no text can or should be interpreted without considering the various "external" factors (historical, biographical, material, ideological, etc.) that contributed to its production. At the same time, according to Derrida, these allegedly "external" phenomena (e.g. "humanism," "the age of enlightenment," "logic," and, perhaps most importantly, "human nature") need to be considered as historically contingent (i.e. as subject to contextualization and thus critical reading) rather than as immutable and inevitable facts of life.
Derrida wrote "Signature Event Context", a paper in which he critically engages with Austin's analytic philosophy of language. John Searle is a prominent supporter of Austin's philosophy and objected to "the low level of philosophical argumentation, the deliberate obscurantism of the prose, the wildly exaggerated claims, and the constant striving to give the appearance of profundity by making claims that seem paradoxical, but under analysis often turn out to be silly or trivial."
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 when one criticizes it, the author says, "Vous m'avez mal compris; vous êtes idiot' (hence "terroriste")
In 1988, Derrida wrote "Afterword: Toward An Ethic of Discussion", to be published with the previous essays in the collection Limited Inc. Commenting this critics in a footnote he questioned:
I just want to raise the question of what precisely a philosopher is doing when, in a newspaper with a large circulation, he finds himself compelled to cite private and unverifiable insults of another philosopher in order to authorize himself to insult in turn and to practice what in French is called ajugement d'autorite, that is, the method and preferred practice of all dogmatism. I do not know whether the fact of citing in French suffices to guarantee the authenticity of a citation when it concerns a private opinion. I do not exclude the possibility that Foucault may have said such things, alas! That is a different question, which would have to be treated separately. But as he is dead, I will not in my turn cite the judgment which, as I have been told by those who were close to him, Foucault is supposed to have made concerning the practice of Searle in this case and on the act that consisted in making this use of an alleged citation.”
In the main text he argued that Searle avoided reading him and did not try to understand him and even that, perhaps, he was not able to understand, and how certain practices of academic politeness or impoliteness could result in a form of brutality that he disapproved of and would like to disarm, in his fashion.
Much more important in terms of theoretical consequences, Derrida criticized Searle's work for pretending to talk about "intention" without being aware of traditional texts about the subject and without even understanding Husserl's work when talking about it. Because he ignored the tradition he rested blindly imprisoned in it, repeating its most problematic gestures, falling short of the most elementary critical questions.
Derrida would even argue that in a certain way he was more close to Austin, than Searle that, in fact, was more close to Continental philosophers that himself tried to criticize.
Walter A. Davis
The American philosopher Walter A. Davis, in Inwardness and Existence: Subjectivity in/and Hegel, Heidegger, Marx and Freud, argues that both deconstruction and structuralism are prematurely arrested moments of a dialectical movement that issues in Hegelian "unhappy consciousness."
In popular media
Popular criticism of deconstruction also intensified following the Sokal affair, which many people took as an indicator of the quality of deconstruction as a whole, despite the absence of Derrida from Sokal's follow-up book Impostures intellectuelles.
- Derrida first used the term "Deconstruction" in his work “Of Grammatology”, French version, p. 25 (Les Editions de Minuit, 1967, ISBN 978-2-7073-0012-6). On this page Derrida states that the occidental history of sign is essentially theological with reference to Logocentrism. Derrida starts a metaphysical approach of semiology. He states that the concept of sign and deconstruction work are always exposed to misunderstanding. He uses the term "méconnaissance" probably in reference to Jacques Lacan who rejected the belief that reality can be captured in language. In the same page Derrida states that he will try to demonstrate that there is no linguistic sign without writing.
- Derrida, Jacques (1973). "Introduction". Speech and Phenomena And Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs. translated with an Introduction by David B. Allison and Preface by Newton Garver (1st ed.). Evanston: Northwestern University Press. pp. 4–5. ISBN 0810103974. "We have thus a prescription for the most general form of our question: do not phenomenological necessity, the rigor and subtlety of Husserl's analysis, the exigencies to which it responds and which we must first recognize, nonetheless conceal a metaphysical presupposition? Do they not harbor a dogmatic or speculative commitment which, to be sure, would not keep the phenomenological critique from being realized, would not be a residue of unperceived naivety, but would constitute phenomenology from within, in its project of criticism and in the instructive value of its own premises? This would be done precisely in what soon comes to be recognized as the source and guarantee of all value, the "principle of principles": i.e., the original self-giving evidence, the present or presence of sense to a full and primordial intuition. In other words, we shall not be asking whether such and such metaphysical heritage has been able, here or there, to restrict the vigilance of the phenomenologist, but whether the phenomenological form of this vigilance is not already controlled by metaphysics itself."
- Derrida, Jacques (2005). "Chapter 10: Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences". Writing and Difference. translated, with an introduction and additional notes, by Alan Bass (Taylor & Francis e-Library ed.). London: Routledge. p. 353. ISBN 0203991788. "If this is so, the entire history of the concept of structure, before the rupture of which we are speaking, must be thought of as a series of substitutions of center for center, as a linked chain of determinations of the center. Successively, and in a regulated fashion, the center receives different forms or names. The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of these metaphors and metonymies. Its matrix-if you will pardon me for demonstrating so little and for being so elliptical in order to come more quickly to my principal theme-is the determination of Being as presence in all senses of this word. It could be shown that all the names related to fundamentals, to principles, or to the center have always designated an invariable presence—eidos, arche, telos, energeia, ousia (essence, existence, substance, subject) aletheia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth."
- Derrida, Jacques (1981). "Semiology and Grammatology: Interview with Julia Kristeva". Positions. translated and annotated by Alan Bass (1st ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 19. ISBN 0226143317. "Now, "everyday language" is not innocent or neutral. It is the language of Western metaphysics, and it carries with it not only a considerable number of presuppositions of all types, but also presuppositions inseparable from metaphysics, which, although little attended to, are knotted into a system...the equation of the signatum and the concept (p. 99 [by Saussure]), inherently leaves open the possibility of thinking a concept signified in and of itself, a concept simply present for thought, independent of a relationship to language, that is of a relationship to a system of signifiers. By leaving open this possibility-and it is inherent even in the opposition signifier/signified, that is in the sign-Saussure contradicts the critical acquisitions of which we were just speaking. He accedes to the classical exigency of what I have proposed to call a "transcendental signified," which in and of itself, in its essence, would refer to no signifier..."
- Evans, J. Claude (1991). Strategies of Deconstruction: Derrida and the Myth of the Voice (1st ed.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. xix–xx. ISBN 0816619255. "There is no primal experience we can simply turn to, no neutral language, no neutral critical tools. We thus have to dismantle an understanding of Being that determines our entire epoch, an understanding that has covered over the originary experience of Being to be retrieved. This understanding of Being Heidegger calls the "metaphysics of presence," a prejudice that operates on two levels. On the level of our own self-understanding, it leads us to understand ourselves in terms of the present and neglect our being-toward-the-future...And...to a second level: we identify Being itself with presence. What is real is what is present to us in the present. What is past is not any more; what is future is not yet. Being is experienced as what is available and thus manipulable in the present. Heidegger, however, claims that the very presence of something as something is conditioned by an absence (Being) that makes that presence itself possible. The task of deconstruction is the task of retrieving the experience of this absence that makes presence possible. Derrida takes up this Heideggerian project, but radicalizes it. Unlike Heidegger, Derrida does not appeal to a more primordial living experience or to Being, for to speak of such an experience is inevitably to appeal to a kind of presence..."
- Derrida, Jacques (2005). "Chapter 10: Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences". Writing and Difference. translated, with an introduction and additional notes, by Alan Bass (Taylor & Francis e-Library ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 353–354. ISBN 0203991788. "Henceforth, it became necessary to think both the law which somehow governed the desire for a center in the constitution of structure, and the process of signification which orders the displacements and substitutions for this law of central presence-but a central presence which has never been itself, has always already been exiled from itself into its own substitute. The substitute does not substitute itself for anything which has somehow existed before it. Henceforth, it was necessary to begin thinking that there was no center, that the center could not be thought in the form of a present-being, that the center had no natural site, that it was not a fixed locus but a function, a sort of nonlocus in which an infinite number of sign-substitutions came into play. This was the moment when language invaded the universal problematic, the moment when, in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse-provided we can agree on this word-that is to say, a system in which the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of differences. The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the play of signification infinitely."
- Glendinning, Simon (2004). "Chapter Two: Language". In Roffe, Jonathan. Understanding Derrida (1st ed.). New York: Continuum. p. 7. ISBN 0826473164. "What Derrida aims to show is that there never was nor could there be such an order of pure intelligibility, no logos or meaning that would be an ideal presence, pre-existing and occult..."
- Derrida, Jacques (1997). "Chapter 1 The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing". Of Grammatology. translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Corrected Edition ed.). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 12. ISBN 0801858305. "We already have a foreboding that phonocentrism merges with the historical determination of the meaning of being in general as presence, with all the subdeterminations which depend on this general form and which organize within it their system and their historical sequence (presence of the thing to the sight as eidos, presence as substance/essence/existence [ousia, temporal presence as point [stigme] of the now or of the moment [nun], the self-presence of the cogito, consciousness, subjectivity, the co-presence of the other and of the self, intersubjectivity as the intentional phenomenon of the ego, and so forth). Logocentrism would thus support the determination of the being of the entity as presence. To the extent that such a Logocentrism is not totally absent from Heidegger's thought, perhaps it still holds that thought within the epoch of onto-theology, within the philosophy of presence, that is to say within philosophy itself."
- Derrida, Jacques (1981). Positions. translated and annotated by Alan Bass (1st ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 9. ISBN 0226143317.
- Derrida, Jacques (1997). "Chapter 1 The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing". Of Grammatology. translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Corrected Edition ed.). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 7. ISBN 0801858305. "The secondarity that it seemed possible to ascribe to writing alone affects all signifieds in general, affects them always already, the moment they enter the game. There is not a single signified that escapes, even if recaptured, the play of signifying references that constitute language."
- Derrida, Jacques (1997). "Chapter 1 The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing". Of Grammatology. translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Corrected Edition ed.). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 48. ISBN 0801858305. "...the genetic root-system refers-from sign to sign. No ground of nonsignification-understood as insignificance or an intuition of a present truth-stretches out to give it foundation under the play and the coming into being of signs."
- Derrida, Jacques (1997). "Chapter 1 The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing". Of Grammatology. translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Corrected Edition ed.). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 50. ISBN 0801858305. "From the moment that there is meaning there are nothing but signs. We think only in signs. Which amounts to ruining the notion of the sign at the very moment when, as in Nietzsche, its exigency is recognized in the absoluteness of its right. One could call play the absence of the transcendental signified as limitlessness of play, that is to say as the destruction of ontotheology and the metaphysics of presence."
- Derrida, Jacques (1997). "Chapter 1 The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing". Of Grammatology. translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Corrected Edition ed.). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 62. ISBN 0801858305. "On the one hand, the phonic element, the term, the plenitude that is called sensible, would not appear as such without the difference or opposition which gives them form...Without a retention in the minimal unit of temporal experience, without a trace retaining the other as other in the same, no difference would do its work and no meaning would appear. It is not the question of a constituted difference here, but rather, before all determination of the content, of the pure movement which produces difference."
- Derrida, Jacques (2002). "Chapter 5 Force of Law: The "Mystical Foundation of Authority"". In Anidjar, Gil. Acts of Religion. introduction by Gil Anidjar. New York: Routledge. p. 264. ISBN 0415924006. "This deconstruction does not apply itself to such a text, however. It never applies itself to anything from the outside. It is in some way the operation or rather the very experience that this text, it seems to me, first does itself, by itself, on itself.")
- Derrida, Jacques (2005). "Chapter 7: Freud and the Scene of Writing". Writing and Difference. translated, with an introduction and additional notes, by Alan Bass (Taylor & Francis e-Library ed.). London: Routledge. p. 276. ISBN 0203991788. "The model of hieroglyphic writing assembles more strikingly—though we find it in every form of writing—the diversity of the modes and functions of signs in dreams. Every sign—verbal or otherwise—may be used at different levels, in configurations and functions which are never prescribed by its “essence,” but emerge from a play of differences."
- Derrida, Jacques (2005). "Chapter 10: Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences". Writing and Difference. translated, with an introduction and additional notes, by Alan Bass (Taylor & Francis e-Library ed.). London: Routledge. p. 354. ISBN 0203991788. "This was the moment when language invaded the universal problematic, the moment when, in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse—provided we can agree on this word—that is to say, a system in which the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of differences. The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the play of signification infinitely."
- Derrida, Jacques (1981). Positions. translated and annotated by Alan Bass (1st ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 26. ISBN 0226143317. "The play of differences supposes, in effect, syntheses and referrals which forbid at any moment, or in any sense, that a simple element be present in and of itself, referring only to itself. Whether in the order of spoken or written discourse, no element can function as a sign without referring to another element which itself is not simply present. This interweaving results in each "element"-phoneme or grapheme-being constituted on the basis of the trace within it of the other elements of the chain or system. This interweaving, this textile, is the text produced only in the transformation of another text. Nothing, neither among the elements nor within the system, is anywhere ever simply present or absent. There are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces."
- Derrida, Jacques (1981). Positions. translated and annotated by Alan Bass (1st ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 41. ISBN 0226143317. "...in a classical philosophical opposition we are not dealing with the peaceful coexistence of a vis-a-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy. One of the two terms governs the other (axiologically, logically, etc.), or has the upper hand."
- Derrida, Jacques (1981). Positions. translated and annotated by Alan Bass (1st ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 27. ISBN 0226143317. "Differance 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 difterance 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."
- Derrida, Jacques (1997). Of Grammatology. translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Corrected Edition ed.). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 62–63. ISBN 0801858305. "The (pure) trace is differance. It does not depend on any sensible plentitude, audible or visible, phonic or graphic. It is, on the contrary, the condition of such a plenitude. Although it does not exist, although it is never a being-present outside of all plenitude, its possibility is by rights anterior to all that one calls sign (signified/ signifier,content/expression, etc.), concept or opeartion, motor or sensory. This differance is therefore not more sensible than intelligible and it permits the articulation of signs among themselves within the same abstract order-a phonic or graphic text for example-or between two orders of expression. It permits the articulation of speech and writing-in the colloquial sense-as it founds the metaphysical opposition between the sensible and the inteligible, then between signifier and signified, expression and content, etc. If language were not already, in that sense, a writing, no derived "notation " would be possible; and the classical problem of relationships between speech and writing could not arise."
- Derrida, Jacques (1988). Limited Inc. edited by Gerald Graff (1st ed.). Evanston: Northwestern University Press. pp. 93–94. ISBN 0810107880. "Metaphysics in its most traditional form reigns over the Austinian heritage: over his legacy and over those who have taken charge of it as his heirs apparent. Two indications bear witness to this: 1. The hierarchical axiology, the ethicalontological distinctions which do not merely set up value-oppositions clustered around an ideal and unfindable limit, but moreover subordinate these values to each other (normal/abnormal, standard/parasite, fulfilled/void, serious/nonserious, literal/nonliteral, briefly: positive/negative and ideal/non-ideal); and in this,...there is metaphysical pathos (infelicity, nonserious, etc....). 2. The enterprise of returning "strategically," ideally, to an origin or to a "priority" held to be simple, intact, normal, pure, standard, self-identical, in order then to think in terms of derivation, complication, deterioration, accident, etc. All metaphysicians, from Plato to Rousseau, Descartes to Husserl, have proceeded in this way, conceiving good to be before evil, the positive before the negative, the pure before the impure, the simple before the complex, the essential before the accidental, the imitated before the imitation, etc. And this is not just one metaphysical gesture among others, it is the metaphysical exigency, that which has been the most constant, most profound and most potent. In Sec (as in its entire context) this force is not ignored but rather put into question, traced back to that which deploys it while at the same time limiting it. Although this "exigency" ["requête"] is here essentially "idealistic" I do not criticize it as such, but rather ask myself what this idealism is, what its force and its necessity are, and where its intrinsic limit is to be found. Nor is this idealism the exclusive property of those systems commonly designated as "idealistic." It can be found at times in philosophies that proclaim themselves to be anti-idealistic, in "materialisms." Or in discourses that declare themselves alien to philosophy. All discourse involves this effect of idealism in a certain manner."
- Brint, Michael; Weaver, William G.; Garmon, Meredith (1995). "What Difference Does Anti-Foundationalism Make to Political Theory?". New Literary History (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 26 (2): 225–237.
- M. Gottdiener, M. (November 1993). "Ideology, Foundationalism, and Sociological Theory". The Sociological Quarterly (Wiley) 34 (4): 653–671.
- Derrida, Jacques (1981). Positions. translated and annotated by Alan Bass (1st ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. pp. 9–10. ISBN 0226143317.
- Braver, Lee (2007). A Thing of this World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism (1st ed.). Evanston: Northwestern University Press. p. 433. ISBN 0810123797.
- Braver, Lee (2007). A Thing of this World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism (1st ed.). Evanston: Northwestern University Press. pp. 431–434. ISBN 0810123797.
- Martin Heidegger (1927) Being and Time, Introduction, part II.5, § 21-23
- Rodolphe Gasché, "Infrastructures and Systematicity," in John Sallis (ed.), Deconstruction and Philosophy (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 3–4:
One of the more persistent misunderstandings that has thus far forestalled a productive debate with Derrida's philosophical thought is the assumption, shared by many philosophers as well as literary critics, that within that thought just anything is possible. Derrida's philosophy is more often than not construed as a license for arbitrary free play in flagrant disregard of all established rules of argumentation, traditional requirements of thought, and ethical standards binding upon the interpretative community. Undoubtedly, some of the works of Derrida may not have been entirely innocent in this respect, and may have contributed, however obliquely, to fostering to some extent that very misconception. But deconstruction which for many has come to designate the content and style of Derrida's thinking, reveals to even a superficial examination, a well-ordered procedure, a step-by-step type of argumentation based on an acute awareness of level-distinctions, a marked thoroughness and regularity. [...] Deconstruction must be understood, we contend, as the attempt to "account," in a certain manner, for a heterogeneous variety or manifold of nonlogical contradictions and discursive equalities of all sorts that continues to haunt and fissure even the successful development of philosophical arguments and their systematic exposition.
- Marian Hobson, Jacques Derrida: Opening Lines, Routledge, 2012, p. 51.
- Mark Currie, The Invention of Deconstruction, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, p. 80.
- Ramberg, Bjørn and Kristin Gjesdal, "Hermeneutics", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003, 2005.
- Post-Modern Platos by Catherine H. Zuckert, Chigago: University of Chicago Press, 1996, chapter 7.
- Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality. Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by R.J. Hollisdale. Cambridge University Press, 1997.
- Royle, Nicholas (2004) Jacques Derrida, Routledge, 2003, pp. 62–63
- Derrida and Ferraris (1997), p. 76:
I take great interest in questions of language and rhetoric, and I think they deserve enormous consideration; but there is a point where the authority of final jurisdiction is neither rhetorical nor linguistic, nor even discursive. The notion of trace or of text is introduced to mark the limits of the linguistic turn. This is one more reason why I prefer to speak of 'mark' rather than of language. In the first place the mark is not anthropological; it is prelinguistic; it is the possibility of language, and it is every where there is a relation to another thing or relation to an other. For such relations, the mark has no need of language.
- Saussure, Ferdinand de (1916 [trans. 1959]). Course in General Linguistics. New York: New York Philosophical Library. pp. 121–22.
- Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Interview with Julia Kristeva" in “Positions” (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), 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" [po 21]. "In its essence it [the linguistic signifier] is not at all phonic" [po 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: "Thus it can be said that entirely arbitrary signs realize better than any others the ideal of the semiological process; this is why language, the most complex and most widespread of the systems of expression, is also the most characteristic one of them all; in this sense linguistics can become the general pattern for all semiology, even though language is only a particular system" (p. 101). 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.
- Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Interview with Julia Kristeva" in “Positions” (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 27:
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. 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.
- Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Interview with Julia Kristeva" in “Positions” (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 28–30:
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.
- Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Interview with Julia Kristeva" in “Positions” (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 28–30
- Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Interview with Julia Kristeva" in “Positions” (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 28–30:
It confirms that the subject, and first of all the conscious and speaking subject, depends upon the system of differences and the movement of differance, that the subject is not present, nor above all present to itself before differance, that the subject is constituted only in being divided from itself, in becoming space, in temporizing, in deferral; and it confirms that, as Saussure said, "language [which consists only of differences] is not a function of the speaking subject."
- Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Interview with Jean-Louis Houdebine and Guy Scarpetta," in “Positions” (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 42–44
- Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Interview with Jean-Louis Houdebine and Guy Scarpetta," in “Positions” (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 42:
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.
- Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Interview with Jean-Louis Houdebine and Guy Scarpetta," in “Positions” (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 42:
Therefore one might not proceed too quickly to a neutralization that in practice would leave the previous field untouched, leaving one no hold on the previous opposition, thereby preventing any means of intervening in the field effectively. We know what always have been the practical (particularly political) effects of Immediately jumping beyond oppositions, and of protests in the simple form of neither this nor that.
- Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Interview with Jean-Louis Houdebine and Guy Scarpetta," in “Positions” (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 43
Since this conflictuality of différance -which can be called contradiction only if one demarcates it by means of a long work on Hegel's concept of contradiction-can never be totally resoived, it marks its effects in what I call the text in general, in a text which is not reduced to a book or a library, and which can never be governed by a referent in the classical sense, that is, by a thing or by a transcendental signified that would regulate its movement. You can well see that it is not because I wish to appease or reconciliate that I prefer to employ the mark "dif[erance" rather than refer to the system of difference-and-contradiction.
- Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Interview with Jean-Louis Houdebine and Guy Scarpetta," in “Positions” (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 43:
If there were a definition of differance, it would be precisely the limit, the interruption, the destruction of the Hegelian releve wherever it operates. What is at stake here is enormous. I emphasize the Hegelian Aufhebung, such as it is interpreted by a certain Hegelian discourse, for it goes without saying that the double meaning of Aufhebung could be written otherwise. Whence its proximity to all the operations conducted against Hegel's dialectical speculation.
- Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Interview with Jean-Louis Houdebine and Guy Scarpetta," in “Positions” (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 43.
- Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Interview with Jean-Louis Houdebine and Guy Scarpetta," in “Positions” (The University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 44.
- Derrida (1967) Of Grammatology, Part II "Introduction to the "Age of Rousseau," section 2 "...That Dangerous Supplement...", title: "The Exorbitant. Question of Method:, pp. 158–59, 163:
- Derrida (1988), Afterword, p. 136.
- Coward, Harold G. (1990) Derrida and Indian philosophy, pp. 83, 137.
- Pidgen, Charles R. (1990) On a defence of derrida, in The Critical review (1990) Issues 30–32, pp. 40–41.
- Sullivan, Patricia (2004) Jacques Derrida Dies; Deconstructionist Philosopher, in Washington Post, October 10, 2004, p. C11, accessed August 2, 2007.
- Reilly, Brian J. (2005) Jacques Derrida, in Kritzman (2005), p. 500.
- Jacques Derrida, Afterwords" in Limited, Inc. (Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 133:
One theoretical consequence or implication that I wanted first of all to recall to Searle, and its effects on his entire discourse are, I believe, non delimitable. In the description of the structure called "normal," "normative," "central," "ideal", this possibility of transgression must be integrated as an essential possibility.
The possibility of transgression cannot be treated as though it were a simple accident-marginal or parasitic. It cannot be, and hence ought not to be, and this passage from can to ought reflects the entire difficulty. In the analysis of so-called normal cases, one neither can nor ought, in all theoretical rigor, to exclude the possibility of transgression. Not even provisionally, or out of allegedly methodological considerations. It would be a poor method, since this possibility of transgression tells us immediately and indispensably about the structure of the act said to be normal as well as about the structure of law in general.
- Jacques Derrida, Afterwords" in Limited, Inc. (Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 133:
I will not repeat my objection to the order of "logical dependency" invoked by Searle concerning the relation between "nonfiction or standard discourse" and "fiction," defined as its "parasite." But I recall this example here apropos of your question. One cannot subordinate or leave in abeyance the analysis of fiction in order to proceed firstly and " logically" to that of "nonfiction or standard discourse. " For part of the most originary essence of the latter is to allow fiction, the simulacrum, parasitism, to take place-and in so doing to "de-essentialize" itself as it were.
- Jacques Derrida, Afterwords" in Limited, Inc. (Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 133.
- Umberto Eco, "Signos" in Enciclopédia Einaudi, Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda, p. 108.
- Derrida, 1985, p. 4
- Derrida , p. 1
- Derrida , p. 3
- Beardsworth, R. 1996. Derrida and the Political. London and New York: Routledge, p. 4.
- Derrida , p. 4
- Derrida , p. 40
- Derrida, J., 1973. Speech and Phenomena. Trans. D.B. Allison. Evanston: Northwestern UP, p. 5.
- Derrida , p. 2
- Derrida, J., 1978. "'Genesis and Structure' and Phenomenology" from Writing and Difference trans. Alan Bass. London & New York: Routledge, p. 194.
- Derrida, J., 1978. "'Genesis and Structure' and Phenomenology" from Writing and Difference trans. Alan Bass. London & New York: Routledge, p. 194.
- Derrida, J., 1978. "'Genesis and Structure' and Phenomenology" from Writing and Difference trans. Alan Bass. London & New York: Routledge, p. 196.
- Frank, M., 1989. What is Neostructuralism? Trans. S. Wilke & R. Gray. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- De Man, in Moynihan 1986, p. 156.
- Rorty 1995[page needed]
- Niall Lucy, A Derrida Dictionary (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).
- Introduction by Allison, in Derrida, 1973, p. xxxii, n. 1.
- Klein 1995[page needed]
- Powell, James and Lee, Joe, Deconstruction for Beginners (Writers & Readers Publishing, 2005)
- Royle, Nicholas, Deconstructions: A User's Guide (Palgrave Macmillan, 2000)
- Jacques Derrida, "'Genesis' and 'Structure' and Phenomenology," in Writing and Difference (London: Routledge, 1978), paper originally delivered in 1959 at Cerisy-la-Salle, and originally published in Gandillac, Goldmann & Piaget (eds.), Genèse et structure (The Hague: Morton, 1964), p. 167:
All these formulations have been possible thanks to the initial distinction between different irreducible types of genesis and structure: worldly genesis and transcendental genesis, empirical structure, eidetic structure, and transcendental structure. To ask oneself the following historico-semantic question: "What does the notion of genesis in general, on whose basis the Husserlian diffraction could come forth and be understood, mean, and what has it always meant? What does the notion of structure in general, on whose basis Husserl operates and operates distinctions between empirical, eidetic, and transcendental dimensions mean, and what has it always meant throughout its displacements? And what is the historico-semantic relationship between genesis and structure in general?" is not only simply to ask a prior linguistic question. It is to ask the question about the unity of the historical ground on whose basis a transcendental reduction is possible and is motivated by itself. It is to ask the question about the unity of the world from which transcendental freedom releases itself, in order to make the origin of this unity appear.
- If in 1959 Derrida was addressing this question of genesis and structure to Husserl, that is, to phenomenology, then in "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" (also in Writing and Difference), he addresses these same questions to Lévi-Strauss and the structuralists. This is clear from the very first line of the paper (p. 278):
Perhaps something has occurred in the history of the concept of structure that could be called an "event," if this loaded word did not entail a meaning which it is precisely the function of structural—or structuralist—thought to reduce or to suspect.
Between the two papers is staked Derrida's philosophical ground, if not indeed his step beyond or outside philosophy.[original research?]
- Cf. Derrida, Positions (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 95–6:
If the alterity of the other is posed, that is, only posed, does it not amount to the same, for example in the form of the "constituted object" or of the "informed product" invested with meaning, etc.? From this point of view, I would even say that the alterity of the other inscribes in this relationship that which in no case can be "posed." Inscription, as I would define it in this respect, is not a simple position: it is rather that by means of which every position is of itself confounded (différance): inscription, mark, text and not only thesis or theme-inscription of the thesis.
On the phrase "default of origin" as applied to Derrida's work, cf. Bernard Stiegler, "Derrida and Technology: Fidelity at the Limits of Deconstruction and the Prosthesis of Faith," in Tom Cohen (ed.) Jacques Derrida and the Humanities (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001). Stiegler understands Derrida's thinking of textuality and inscription in terms of a thinking of originary technicity, and in this context speaks of "the originary default of origin that arche-writing constitutes" (p. 239). See also Stiegler, Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).
- On this destabilisation of both "genesis" and "structure," cf. Rodolphe Gasché, The Tain of the Mirror (Cambridge, Massachusetts, & London: Harvard University Press, 1986), p. 146:
It is an opening that is structural, or the structurality of an opening. Yet each of these concepts excludes the other. It is thus as little a structure as it is an opening; it is as little static as it is genetic, as little structural as it is historical. It can be understood neither from a genetic nor from a structuralist and taxonomic point of view, nor from a combination of both points of view.
And note that this complexity of the origin is thus not only spatial but temporal, which is why différance is a matter not only of difference but of delay or deferral. One way in which this question is raised in relation to Husserl is thus the question of the possibility of a phenomenology of history, which Derrida raises in Edmund Husserl's Origin of Geometry: An Introduction (1962).
- Derrida, J., 2002. Positions. Translated by A. Bass. 2nd ed. introduction by C. Norris. London & New York: Continuum, pp. 5–6.
- Leonard Lawlor, "Jacques Derrida", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003, 2005.
- Derrida, J., 2002. Positions. Translated by A. Bass. 2nd ed. introduction by C. Norris. London & New York: Continuum, p. 7.
- Derrida, J., 2002. Positions. Translated by A. Bass. 2nd ed. introduction by C. Norris. London & New York: Continuum, p. 6.
- Derrida , Of Grammatology, pp. 10-11
- Derrida , Of Grammatology, pp. 7–11, quote: On the historical understanding of language as speech Derrida writes that "These disguises are not historical contingencies that one might admire or regret. Their movement was absolutely necessary" and that "Within this logos [i.e. the western tradition of philosophical thought], the original and essential link to the phonè has never been broken. It would be easy to demonstrate this and I shall attempt such a demonstration later."
- Derrida , Of Grammatology, p. 7; Derrida argues that writing has been considered "a particular, derivative, auxiliary form of language in general"
- Derrida , Of Grammatology, p. 7; Derrida considers the understanding of language as speech "The system of 'hearing (understanding)-oneself-speak' through the phonic substance"
- Derrida , Of Grammatology: "the co-presence of the other and of the self", p. 12.
- Derrida , Of Grammatology, p. 11
- Derrida , Of Grammatology, p. 6
- Derrida, J., 1981. Positions. Trans. A. Bass. Chicago: Chicago UP, p. 13.
- Derrida, J. 1973. Speech and Phenomena. Trans. D.B. Allison. Evanston: Northwestern UP, p. 5.
- Derrida, J. 1973. Speech and Phenomena. Trans. D.B. Allison. Evanston: Northwestern UP, p. 6.
- Gayatri Spivak in her introduction to her translation of Derrida's Of Grammatology refers to "Cogito and the History of Madness" as a deconstruction.
- "Glossary Definition: Deconstructionism." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. 5 Dec. 2010 (online).
- J. Hillis Miller, "Stevens’ Rock and Criticism as Cure," Georgia Review 30 (1976), p. 34.
- "Critical Legal Studies Movement" in "The Bridge"
- "Deconstructing History", published 1997, 2nd. Edn. Routledge, 2006)
- The Politics of Deconstruction: Jacques Derrida and the Other of Philosophy [Paperback] Martin McQuillan (Editor)
- Derrida, J., 1978. Cogito and the History of Madness. In Writing and Difference. Translated by A. Bass. London and New York: Routledge, p. 37.
- Foucault, M., 2006. History of Madness. Trans. J. Murphy and J. Khalfa, edited by J. Khalfa. London and New York: Routledge, p. xxxvii.
- Foucault, M., 2006. History of Madness. Trans. J. Murphy and J. Khalfa, edited by J. Khalfa. London and New York: Routledge, p. 573.
- "An Exchange on Deconstructionism", The New York Review of Books, Vol. 1 #34, February 2, 1984.
...anyone who reads deconstructive texts with an open mind is likely to be struck by the same phenomena that initially surprised me: the low level of philosophical argumentation, the deliberate obscurantism of the prose, the wildly exaggerated claims, and the constant striving to give the appearance of profundity by making claims that seem paradoxical, but under analysis often turn out to be silly or trivial.
- "The Word Turned Upside Down" by John Searle
- Derrida, Jacques. Limited, Inc. Northwestern University Press, 1988, p. 158.
- Jacques Derrida, "Afterwords" in 'Limited, Inc.' (Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 158,
beneath an often quite manifest exterior, Searle had read me, or rather avoided reading me and trying to understand. And why, perhaps, he was not able to read me, why this inability was exemplary and symptomatic. And for him lasting, doubtless irreversible, as I have since learned through the press. In a more general way, I wanted to show how certain practices of academic politeness or impoliteness could result in a form of brutality that I disapprove of and would like to disarm, in my fashion. To put it even more generally, and perhaps more essentially, I would have wished to make legible the (philosophical, ethical, political) axiomatics hidden beneath the code of academic discussion.
- Jacques Derrida, "Afterwords" in 'Limited, Inc.' (Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 130,
My frequenting of philosophies and phenomenologies of intentionality, beginning with that of Husserl, has only caused my uncertainty to increase, as well as my distrust of this word or of this figure, I hardly dare to say "concept." And since that time, Searle's book on intentionality (1983) has not helped me, not in the slightest, to dispel these concerns.
I did not read it without interest, far from it. I am even ready to admire how the author of a book bearing this title, Intentionality, could choose, as he declares at the very outset, in the Introduction, to "pass over in silence" "whole philosophical movements" which "have been built around theories of intentionality," avowing, as one of his reasons, " ignorance of most of the traditional writings on Intentionality" (p. ix). Something that is indeed evident in reading the seven lines devoted to Husserl in this book of three hundred pages.
- Jacques Derrida, "Afterwords" in Limited, Inc. (Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 131
I now have to add this: it is often because "Searle" ignores this tradition or pretends to take no account of it that he rests blindly imprisoned in it, repeating its most problematic gestures, falling short of the most elementary critical questions, not to mention the deconstructive ones. It is because in appearance at least "I" am more of a historian that I am a less passive, more attentive and more "deconstructive" heir of that so-called tradition. And hence, perhaps again paradoxically, more foreign to that tradition. I put quotation marks around "Searle" and I to mark that beyond these indexes, I am aiming at tendencies, types, styles, or situations rather than at persons.
- Jacques Derrida, "Afterwords" in 'Limited, Inc.' (Northwestern University Press, 1988) (Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 131,
Searle had written, "It would be a mistake, I think, to regard Derrida's discussion of Austin as a confrontation between two prominent philosophical traditions."
I agree with the letter if not with the intention of this declaration, having made it clear that I sometimes felt, paradoxically, closer to Austin than to a certain Continental tradition from which Searle, on the contrary, has inherited numerous gestures and a logic I try to deconstruct.
- Jürgen Habermas (1987), The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (trans. Frederick Lawrence), MIT Press, ISBN 0-7456-0830-2, pp. 185–210.
- Davis, Walter A. Inwardness and Existence: Subjectivity in/and Hegel, Heidegger, Marx and Freud. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.[page needed]
- Sokal, Alan D. (May 1996). "A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies". Lingua Franca. Retrieved April 3, 2007.
References (works cited)
- Derrida, Jacques  (1978). Of Grammatology, trans. by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-5830-7
- Derrida, Jacques. Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs. Trans. David B. Allison. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1973. ISBN 978-0-8101-0590-4.
- Derrida, Jacques. Positions. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1981. ISBN 978-0-226-14331-6
- Derrida , The time of a thesis: punctuations, first published in:
- Derrida , Limited Inc
- Derrida , Eyes of the University: Right to Philosophy 2, pp. 113–128
- Derrida, Jacques , Letter to A Japanese Friend, in Wood, David and Bernasconi, Robert (eds., 1988) Derrida and Différance, Warwick: Parousia, 1985
- Klein, Anne Carolyn (1995), Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminists, and the Art of the Self. Boston: Beacon, 1995. ISBN 978-0-8070-7306-3.
- Montefiore, Alan (ed., 1983), Philosophy in France Today Cambridge: Cambridge UP, pp. 34–50
- Moynihan, Robert (1986), Recent Imagining: Interviews with Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, Paul De Man, J. Hillis Miller. Shoe String, 1986. ISBN 978-0-208-02120-5.
- Rorty, Richard, "From Formalism to Poststructuralism". The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, vol. 8. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.
- Breckman, Warren, “Times of Theory: On Writing the History of French Theory,” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 71, no. 3 (July 2010), 339–361 (online).
- Critchley, Simon. The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, Third Edition, 2014. ISBN 978-0-7486-8932-3.
- Culler, Jonathan. On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism, Cornell University Press, 1982. ISBN 978-0-8014-1322-3.
- Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0-8166-1251-2
- Ellis, John M.. Against Deconstruction, Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989. ISBN 978-0-691-06754-4.
- Johnson, Barbara. The Critical Difference: Essays in the Contemporary Rhetoric of Reading. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981. ISBN 978-0-801-82458-6
- Reynolds, Simon, Rip It Up and Start Again, New York: Penguin, 2006, pp. 316. ISBN 978-0-143-03672-2. (Source for the information about Green Gartside, Scritti Politti, and deconstructionism.)
- Stocker, Barry, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Derrida on Deconstruction, Routledge, 2006. ISBN 978-1-134-34381-2
- Wortham, Simon Morgan, The Derrida Dictionary, Continuum, 2010. ISBN 978-1-847-06526-1
- The dictionary definition of deconstruction at Wiktionary
- Video of Jacques Derrida attempting to define "Deconstruction"
- "Deconstruction" in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- "Deconstruction" in Stanford Presidential Lectures in the Humanities and Arts
- "Deconstruction" in Encyclopedia Britannica"
- "Deconstructing History" by Alun Munslow
- "Deconstruction" in "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy"
- "Deconstructionist Theory" by Richard Rorty
- "German Law Journal special number about Derrida and Deconstruction"
- "Critical Legal Studies Movement" and the use of Deconstruction"
- "Deconstruction: Some Assumptions" by John Lye
- A Bibliography of Literary Theory, Criticism, and Philology by José Ángel García Landa (Deconstruction found under: Authors & Schools - Critics & Schools - Poststructuralism - On Deconstruction)
- Ten ways of thinking about deconstruction by Willy Maley
- Archive of the international conference "Deconstructing Mimesis - Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe" about the work of Lacoue-Labarthe and his mimetic version of deconstruction, held at the Sorbonne in January 2006
- How To Deconstruct Almost Anything - My Postmodern Adventure by Chip Morningstar; a cynical introduction to 'deconstruction' from the perspective of a software engineer.
- Jacques Derrida: The Perchance of a Coming of the Otherwoman. The Deconstruction of Phallogocentrism from Duel to Duo by Carole Dely, English translation by Wilson Baldridge, at Sens Public
- Ellen Lupton on deconstruction in Graphic Design
- Deconstruction of fashion; La moda en la posmodernidad by Adolfo Vasquez Rocca
- An alternative look at deconstruction, from a perspective of its use in popular culture