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Jacques Derrida

Derrida, Jacques (zhäkˈ dĕrˌrēdäˈ) [key], 1930–2004, French philosopher, b. El Biar, Algeria. A graduate of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, he taught there and at the Sorbonne, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, and a number of American universities. In his famously dense and complex writings he refuted the theory of structuralism and attempted to take apart, or "deconstruct," the edifice of Western metaphysics and reveal what he deemed its incompatible foundations. In Of Grammatology (1967, tr. 1976), for example, Derrida contended that Western metaphysics (e.g., the work of Saussure, whose theories he rejected) had judged writing to be inferior to speech, not comprehending that the features of writing that supposedly render it inferior to speech are actually essential features of both. He argued that language only refers to other language, thereby negating the idea of a single, valid "meaning" of a text as intended by the author. Rather, the author's intentions are subverted by the free play of language, giving rise to many meanings the author never intended.

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. Derrida's writings include Writing and Difference (1967, tr. 1978), Margins of Philosophy (1972, tr. 1982), Limited Inc. (1977), The Post Card (1980, tr. 1987), Aporias (tr. 1993), and The Gift of Death (tr. 1995).

See biography by B. Peeters (2012); study by C. Norris (1987); A. Z. Kofman, dir., Derrida (documentary, 2002).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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