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Jacques Derrida (1930 – 2004)


French literary critic and philosopher who introduced the practice of "deconstruction".
Jacques Derrida
No one gets angry at a mathematician or a physicist whom he or she doesn't understand at all, or at someone who speaks a foreign language, but rather at someone who tampers with your own language, with this 'relation,' precisely, which is yours.
Derrida quotes
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.
Derrida
Deconstruction, in particular, is a fairly formulaic process that hardly merits the commotion that it has generated. However, like hack writers or television producers, academics will use a formula if it does the job and they are not held to any higher standard (though perhaps Derrida can legitimately claim some credit for originality in inventing the formula in the first place).




Derrida Jacques quotes
Derrida’s work emerged from the tradition of Husserl and Heidegger, and although it has proved catching in some circles, it is not easily assimilated by people used to normal expressions of thought.
Derrida Jacques
On the face of it, this claim [i.e., Derrida's thesis that speech is privileged over writing] is bizarre. The distinction between speech and writing is simply not very important to Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, etc. And of these listed, the only one about whom Derrida offers any evidence for the privileging of the spoken is Plato, who, in Phaedrus, made a few remarks about the impossibility of subjecting written texts to interrogation. Plato points out, correctly, that you can ask questions of a speaking person in a way that you cannot of a written text. ¶ On Derrida's account, however, it is essential not only to Husserl, but to philosophy, and indeed to "the history of the world during an entire epoch," including the present, that speech should be mistakenly privileged over writing. If Derrida's claim were to be taken at its face value, I believe that a contrary argument could be given equal or even greater plausibility. From the medieval development of Aristotle's logic through Leibniz's Characteristica Universalis through Frege and Russell and up to the present development of symbolic logic, it could be argued that exactly the reverse is the case; that by emphasizing logic and rationality, philosophers have tended to emphasize written language as the more perspicuous vehicle of logical relations. Indeed, as far as the present era in philosophy is concerned, it wasn't until the 1950s that serious claims were made on behalf of the ordinary spoken vernacular languages, against the written ideal symbolic languages of mathematical logic. When Derrida makes sweeping claims about "the history of the world during an entire epoch," the effect is not so much apocalyptic as simply misinformed.
Jacques Derrida quotes
Jacques Derrida, the father of the pseudo-philosophy of "Deconstructionism", has been deconstructed into the next world.  He had been conducting a terminal "narrative" with cancer.  Well, at least that is the subjective unproven conclusion we have, since, after all, how do we really know that death and cancer exist? [...] Derrida was one of the fathers of this school of Deconstructionism. He was best known for his attack on "logocentrism," that is, on the cruel oppression by rational thinking. (What a great guru for the humanities departments at your university!) He even dismissed Stalin as a logocentrist, which explains I guess why those Gulags and Red Terror ruined what otherwise would be the great blessings of Marxism. In short, we should all seek salvation through resistance to logic. What a great excuse not to do your homework!
Jacques Derrida
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.
Derrida Jacques quotes
Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: 'here are our monsters', without immediately turning the monsters into pets.
Derrida
As soon as we cease to believe in such an engineer and in a discourse which breaks with the received historical discourse, and as soon as we admit that every finite discourse is bound by a certain bricolage and that the engineer and the scientist are also species of bricoleurs, then the very idea of bricolage is menaced and the difference in which it took on its meaning breaks down.
Derrida Jacques
I am one of those marranes who no longer say they are Jews even in the secret of their own hearts.
Jacques Derrida
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.




Jacques Derrida quotes
Deconstruction never had meaning or interest, at least in my eyes, than as a radicalization, that is to say, also within the tradition of a certain Marxism, in a certain spirit of Marxism.
Jacques Derrida
Circumcision, that’s all I’ve ever talked about.
Derrida quotes
Derrida has a distressing penchant for saying things that are obviously false.
Derrida Jacques
[W]e can now give a general assessment of the deconstruction of the distinction between speech and writing. ¶1. Derrida's eccentric reading of the history of Western philosophy, a reading according to which philosophers are supposed to be roundly condemning writing, while privileging spoken language, is not grounded on an actual reading of the texts of the leading figures in the philosophical tradition. Derrida only discusses three major figures in any detail: Plato, Rousseau, and Husserl. Rather it seems motivated by his conviction that everything in logocentrism hinges on this issue. If he can treat the features of a suitably redefined notion of writing as definitive of the issues that philosophy has been concerned with —- as definitive of truth, reality, etc.-— then he thinks he can deconstruct these notions. ¶ 2. The proof that speech is really writing, that writing is prior to speech, is based on a redefinition. By such methods one can prove anything. One can prove that the rich are really poor, the true is really false, etc. The only interest that such an effort might have is in the reasons given for the redefinition. ¶ 3. Derrida's redefinition of writing to "reform" the "vulgar concept" is not based on any actual empirical study of the similarities and differences of the two forms. Nothing of the sort. He makes nothing of the fact that speech is spoken and writing is written, for example, or of the fact that, in consequence, written texts tend to persist throughout time in a way that is not characteristic of spoken utterances. Rather, the redefinition is based on a misrepresentation of the way the system of differences functions, and the misrepresentation is not innocent. It is designed to enable the apparatus of writing, so characterized, to be applied quite generally—to experience, to reality, etc. ¶ Michel Foucault once characterized Derrida's prose style to me as "obscurantisme terroriste." The text is written so obscurely that you can't figure out exactly what the thesis is (hence "obscurantisme") and then when one criticizes it, the author says, "Vous m'avez mal compris; vous ?tes idiot" [roughly, "You misunderstood me; you are an idiot"] (hence "terroriste").
Derrida Jacques quotes
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. He even speaks of "thought-sound". I have attempted elsewhere to show what is traditional in such a gesture, and to what necessities it submits. In any event, it winds up contradicting the most interesting critical motive of the Course, making of linguistics the regulatory model, the "pattern" for a general semiology of which it was to be, by all rights and theoretically, only a part. The theme of the arbitrary, thus, is turned away from its most fruitful paths (formalization) toward a hierarchizing teleology:... One finds exactly the same gesture and the same concepts in Hegel. The contradiction between these two moments of the Course is also marked by Saussure's recognizing elsewhere that "it is not spoken language that is natural to man, but the faculty of constituting a language, that is, a system of distinct signs ... ," that is, the possibility of the code and of articulation, independent of any substance, for example, phonic substance.
Jacques Derrida
Contrary to the claims of Derrida’s more careless critics, the passion of deconstruction is deeply political, for deconstruction is a relentless, if sometimes indirect, discourse on democracy, on a democracy to come. Derrida’s democracy is a radically pluralistic polity that resists the terror of an organic, ethnic, spiritual unity, of the natural, native bonds of the nation (natus, natio), which grind to dust everything that is not a kin of the ruling kind and genus (Geschlecht). He dreams of a nation without nationalist or nativist closure, of a community without identity, of a non-identical community that cannot say I or we, for, after all, the very idea of a community is to fortify (munis, muneris) ourselves in common against the other. His work is driven by a sense of the consummate danger of an identitarian community, of the spirit of the “we” of “Christian Europe,” or of a “Christian politics,” lethal compounds that spell death of Arabs and Jews, for Africans and Asians, for anything other. The heaving and sighing of this Christian European spirit is a lethal air for Jews and Arabs, for all les juifs [Jews as archetypal outcasts], even if they go back to father Abraham, a way of gassing them according to both the letter and the spirit.
Jacques Derrida quotes
Many French philosophers see in M. Derrida only cause for silent embarrassment, his antics having contributed significantly to the widespread impression that contemporary French philosophy is little more than an object of ridicule. ¶ M. Derrida's voluminous writings in our view stretch the normal forms of academic scholarship beyond recognition. Above all -- as every reader can very easily establish for himself (and for this purpose any page will do) -- his works employ a written style that defies comprehension.
Jacques Derrida
1) Différance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other. This spacing is the simultaneously active and passive (the a of différance indicates this indecision as concerns activity and passivity, that which cannot be governed by or distributed between the terms of this opposition) production of the intervals without which the "full" terms would not signify, would not function.
Derrida Jacques
At the end of Being and Nothingness...[,] Being in-itself and Being for-itself were of Being; and this totality of beings, in which they were effected, itself was linked up to itself, relating and appearing to itself, by means of the essential project of human-reality. What was named in this way, in an allegedly neutral and undetermined way, was nothing other than the metaphysical unity of man and God, the relation of man to God, the project of becoming God as the project constituting human-reality. Atheism changes nothing in this fundamental structure.


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