Society - Philosophy
By: - at May 18, 2013

Jacques Derrida: Biography and Ideologies

Painting of Derrida by Pablo Secca:
Painting of Derrida by Pablo Secca:
By Pablosecca, via Wikimedia Commons

Early Life
Jacques Derrida was born on July 15, 1939 in Algeria. He attended a French Algerian school until the age of twelve when he was expelled due to the nation’s newly legalized anti-Semitic laws that regulated the number of Jewish children permitted to attend each educational institution. Whilst Derrida was experiencing a minor effect of Nazism, Paul de Man, a professor who later became Derrida’s closest and most influential friend and supporter began writing many literary articles. They were mostly based on his anti-Semitic view which he wrote for an influential newspaper. Influenced by this realization, which was exposed several years after De Man’s death, Derrida began to debate the notion of friendship. He explored the concept's flaws and inconsistencies and began to espouse the ideal that true friendship is essential yet unattainable, altruistic and loving yet competitive and a form of amalgamation but also a form of estrangement. Derrida embodied many of these contradictions in his statement, “‘Oh my friends, there is no friend’”. (Late Derrida, Ian Balfour; p307) These inconsistencies indicated the flaws in the infrastructure of modern society as well as culture and exposed the erroneous views of each individual towards truth, God, friendship and politics.

Derrida and Philosophy
Subsequent to his expulsion, Derrida’s family lost their citizenship and he began to view himself as an outsider in French Algeria. Derrida’s interest in philosophy was kindled after attending a lecture about French philosopher and author, Albert Camus and his Absurdist ideals. These Absurdist principles in which, all endeavors to discover purpose in life are futile as the world is full of contradictions and chaos, had a vital influence on the post-modernist ideologies that Derrida developed later on in his life. He began to read the works of renowned authors and philosophers Andre Gide, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Andre Leroi-Gourhan, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Jean-Paul Sartre and began to search within their works for a philosophy relevant to him.

Derrida was admitted into France’s most illustrious college the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. Whist studying there he became acquainted with Marguerite Aucouturier whom he married in 1957. After earning his philosophy degree in 1956, Derrida returned to Algeria to teach in the French army.

Front Entrance to the Ecole Normale Superiuere
Front Entrance to the Ecole Normale Superiuere
By LPLT via Wikimedia Commons

In 1965, he acquired a teaching position at the Ecole Normale Superieure and began contributing to the established leftist magazine Tel Quel.

Published Works
Writing and Difference book by Jacques DerridaDerrida published his first three works regarding his philosophy in 1967. These trio of books Writing and Difference, Speech and Phenomena and Of Grammatology, were widely read throughout the European nations as well as the United States. Derrida’s philosophy of Deconstruction burgeoned on the college campuses as young academics began to seek an ideology that created rapport with each individual. Scholars employed Derrida’s principles in order to deconstruct the classics of philosophy and literature, producing revolutionary and unorthodox elucidations of the texts. Architects also began to apply Derrida’s philosophy to their projects and neglected the praxis of symmetry whilst designing.

Derrida and Deconstruction
Deconstruction focused on images, metaphors and analogies utilized by an author in order to denote ideals within a text. The purpose of Derrida’s theory was to explore the contradictions within a text and to reveal an author’s inconsistencies, through the employment of idiolect, language and metaphors. Derrida’s ideology aimed to support dichotomy between individuals by exploring the links between uniting ideologies and doctrine. Derrida’s view was that, “...deconstruction is not a method or some tool that you apply to something from the outside. Deconstruction is something which happens and which happens inside”. (Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida, John D. Caputo) According to Derrida’s philosophy, responders to literary works must attempt to locate heterogeneity within the text and to analyze the flaws and the achievements of the author’s work in order to fully comprehend the text’s significance. He attempted to subvert and draw out the fallacies within many areas, particularly in literature, politics and friendship. Deconstruction allows responders to discover the multiple truths that co-exist within texts as espoused within his post-modernist ideology. This was also revealed in his debating of God’s absolute supremacy and His genuine reality.

Derrida’s theory of deconstruction was also applicable to politics and law:

“International still rooted in its mission, in its action, in its languages, in a Western concept of the state and of sovereignty, and this is a limit.” (Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida, John D. Caputo)

black and white photo of derrida
By Grunge6910, via Wikimedia Commons

Derrida focused on the removal of all social and political limits to a degree as he admitted that a society devoid of limits was, idealistic yet unattainable. He aimed to deconstruct the basis of international law, in order to perfect the philosophical infrastructure of international organizations. International organizations are determined by several states that allow the organizations the means to intervene with economic and military power, limiting the dominance of each organization. A minority of international organizations, in possession sufficient wealth and power, have a prominent influence over the remainder of the organizations. Derrida suggested an alternative and utopian concept of democracy that espoused unorthodox notions of state, hospitality and citizenship in an ideology that he titled a ‘New International’. He employed Karl Marx’s philosophy of Communism and governance by the proletariat and reconstructed his theory to accommodate modern society and law. His heterodox ‘New International’ organization reflected the Socialist influence of the domination of the masses or the proletariat.

Although he was a post-modernist philosopher, Derrida was heavily influenced by Romantic ideologies and he expressed them throughout his works. His view that although unity is necessary, individualism caused its unattainably. He espouses the Romantically influenced Existential notion that unity creates limits but that the limits can be contravened through autonomous living and independence. He reflected that, although some forms of unity must occur, an idyllic balance between limits and individualism must occur in order to preserve a well functioning society. Derrida perceived God as a limit to his individualistic and humanistic ideals and thus proceeded to debate His supremacy and hegemony.

famous phillosophers
By Matt Neale [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Derrida’s philosophy of deconstruction emerged due to the influences of several other theoreticians and intellectuals. Edmund Husserl was the major focus in Derrida’s early texts Writing and Difference, Genesis and Structure’ and Phenomenology and Speech and Phenomena. Martin Heidegger and Andre Leroi-Gourhan also had a crucial influence over Derrida’s works. Heidegger’s philosophy shaped many of Derrida’s views on politics whilst Leroi-Gourhan significantly impacted Derrida’s conception of his theory of deconstruction and its functions.

Later Life
From the 1970’s, Jacques Derrida began to lecture at many American universities including Yale University and the University of California at Irvine. In 1992, Derrida was awarded an honorary degree by Cambridge University after much cogitation by the board members. Derrida maintained his position as Director of Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales until his death in 2004.





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