Philosophy

Deconstruction and Jaques Derida

My son Abhishek was once obsessed that I age fast to acquire a crown of white hair. That I grow old quickly so that I have white hair to resemble Jaques Derida. That I take up smoking pipes , a collection , which languished in my home, an inheritance from my father. All this because at that time I was reading the books of Jaques Derida all showing him with his white hair and pipe.

My listening and changing the colour of my hair and sporting a pipe may be construed as ‘deconstruction’ ? Deconstruction questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth; asserts that words can only refer to other words; and attempts to demonstrate how statements about any text subvert their own meanings: “In deconstruction, the critic claims there is no meaning to be found in the actual text, but only in the various, often mutually irreconcilable, ‘virtual texts’ constructed by readers in their search for meaning”.
Deconstruction is an approach (whether in philosophy, literary analysis, or in other fields) which rigorously pursues the meaning of a text to the point of undoing the oppositions on which it is apparently founded, and to the point of showing that those foundations are irreducibly complex, unstable or impossible. The term was introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

Deconstruction generally attempts 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, and terms deconstructive reading “aporetic.” J. Hillis 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.”

Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher born in Algeria, who is known as the founder of deconstruction. His voluminous work had a profound impact upon literary theory and continental philosophy. Derrida’s best known work is Of Grammatology.

Derrida was born on 15 July 1930, in El Biar (near Algiers), then French Algeria, into a Sephardic Jewish (Jews originating in the Iberian Peninsula) before thefamily that became French in 1870 when Crémieux Decree granted full French citizenship to the indigenous Jews of French colonial Algeria. He was the third of five children. His parents, Aimé Derrida and Georgette Sultana Esther Safar named him Jackie, supposedly after a Hollywood actor, though he would later adopt a more “correct” version of his first name when he moved to Paris. His youth was spent in El-Biar, Algeria.

On the first day of the school year in 1942, Derrida was expelled from his lycée by French administrators implementing anti-Semitic quotas set by the Vichy government. He secretly skipped school for a year rather than attend the Jewish lycée formed by displaced teachers and students. At this time, as well as taking part in numerous football competitions (he dreamed of becoming a professional player), Derrida read works of philosophers and writers such as Rousseau, Camus, Nietzsche, and Gide. He began to think seriously about philosophy around 1948 and 1949. He became a boarding student at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, which he did not enjoy. Derrida failed his entrance examination twice before finally being admitted to the École Normale Supérieure at the end of the 1951–52 school year.

On his first day at the École Normale Supérieure, Derrida met Louis Althusser, with whom he became friends. After visiting the Husserl Archive in Leuven, Belgium, he completed his philosophy agrégation on Edmund Husserl. Derrida received a grant for studies at Harvard University, and in June 1957 married the psychoanalyst Marguerite Aucouturier in Boston. During the Algerian War of Independence, Derrida asked to teach soldiers’ children in lieu of military service, teaching French and English from 1957 to 1959.
Following the war Derrida began a long association with the Tel Quel group of literary and philosophical theorists. At the same time, from 1960 to 1964, Derrida taught philosophy at the Sorbonne, and from 1964 to 1984 at the École Normale Supérieure. His wife Marguerite gave birth to their first child, Pierre, in 1963. Beginning with his 1966 lecture at Johns Hopkins University, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”, his work assumed international prominence. A second son, Jean, was born in 1967. In the same year, Derrida published his first three books—Writing and Difference, Speech and Phenomena, and Of Grammatology—which would make his name.

He completed his Thèse d’État in 1980; the work was subsequently published in English translation as “The Time of a Thesis: Punctuations.” In 1983 Derrida collaborated with Ken McMullen on the film Ghost Dance. Derrida appears in the film as himself and also contributed to the script.
Derrida travelled widely and held a series of visiting and permanent positions. Derrida was director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. With François Châtelet and others he in 1983 co-founded the Collège international de philosophie (CIPH), an institution intended to provide a location for philosophical research which could not be carried out elsewhere in the academy. He was elected as its first president.

In 1986 Derrida became Professor of the Humanities at the University of California, Irvine. UCI and the Derrida family are currently involved in a legal dispute regarding exactly what materials constitute his archive, part of which was informally bequeathed to the university. He was a regular visiting professor at several other major American universities, including Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, New York University, Stony Brook University, and The New School for Social Research.

In 2002, Derrida appeared in a documentary about himself and his work, entitled Derrida.In 2003, Derrida was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which reduced his speaking and travelling engagements. He died in a hospital in Paris on the evening of 8 October 2004.

Derrida had a major influence on literary critics, particularly in American universities and especially on those of the “Yale school,” including Paul de Man, Geoffrey Hartman, and J. Hillis Miller. These deconstructionists, along with Derrida, dominated the field of literary criticism in the 1970s and early 1980s. Influential in other fields as well, the philosophy and methodology of deconstruction was subsequently expanded to apply to a variety of arts and social sciences including such disciplines as linguistics, anthropology, and political science. It has, of late, even impacted fashion designing , architecture and Marxism.

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