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Derrida, Jacques (1930–2004)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DE010-3
Version: v3,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved January 21, 2018, from

Article Summary

Jacques Derrida was born in El-Biar, Algeria in 1930, a Jewish citizen of France. He was nine years old when the Nazis marched into Paris. Algeria was never occupied during the war, but the French colonial government implemented numerous anti-Semitic policies. In 1942 Derrida was expelled from his lycée by a rector who took it upon himself to lower the maximum number of Jewish students who were allowed to attend the school. In 1952 he began studying philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. In 1954 he received his diplôme d’études supérieures. His dissertation, Le probléme de la genèse dans la philosophie de Husserl (The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy), was first published in book form in 1990, by which point his views about Husserl’s phenomenological project had radically changed. In the intervening years he had carried out a comprehensive critique—or, as he preferred to call it, deconstruction—of the entire tradition of Western metaphysics, which had culminated in Husserl’s phenomenological project. The target of deconstruction was ‘logocentrism,’ or the metaphysical doctrine that being could be expressed in inner speech and phonetic writing. This doctrine, fundamental to what Derrida called the metaphysics of presence, lay equally at the foundation of phenomenology. Logocentrism went hand in hand with a conception of self-presence that disavowed its reliance on the written support it paradoxically required in order to articulate its independence from it. Husserl had called attention to this paradox, but instead of recognizing in it the ruin of traditional metaphysics, he took transcendental phenomenology to provide the only means of saving it. In a series of works written in the 1960s, Derrida sought to explain why Husserl’s effort necessarily failed. In so doing he transformed the classical conception of writing into a novel conception of ‘archi-writing’ or ‘différance.’ In the 1970s he concretized this conception by writing texts that problematized their own structure in various ways. In the 1990s he returned to more conventional forms of writing in which he called attention to things that cannot be deconstructed, including justice, the ‘wholly other,’ and the modality of the ‘perhaps.’

Citing this article:
Cutrofello, Andrew. Derrida, Jacques (1930–2004), 2017, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DE010-3. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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