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Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)

Word comes this morning of the death of Jacques Derrida, and the summing-up-the-career obituaries are coming fast and furious. Says the BBC:

Fellow academics have charged that Derrida’s writings are “absurd”, but his mark on modern thinking is undisputed, correspondents say….

Jacques Derrida could claim to be one of the few philosophers of the late 20th Century who people other than students of the subject had actually heard of, says Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield.

That did not mean that they understood what Derrida was on about though – as deconstruction is a highly complex, not to say obscure, school of thought, he says.

And Reuters:

Derrida, who divided his time between France and the United States, argued that the traditional way we read texts makes a number of false assumptions and that they have multiple meanings which even their author may not have understood.

His thinking gave rise to the school of deconstruction, a method of analysis that has been applied to literature, linguistics, philosophy, law and architecture.

It is heralded as showing the multiple layers of meaning at work in language, but was described by critics as nihilistic.

And the AP:

Derrida focused his work on language, showing that it has multiple layers and thus multiple meanings or ways of interpretation. This challenges the notion that speech is a direct form of communication or even that the author of a text is the author of its meaning.

Deconstructionists like Derrida explore ways to liberate the written word from the structures of language confining it, opening up limitless interpretations of texts.

The deconstructionist approach was controversial.

Absurd, nihilistic, and controversial — but also sufficiently key to the ways we read today as to seem obvious, invisible. Perhaps there can be no greater testament to his importance to contemporary critical thought than the levels to which his work has been simultaneously internalized and reviled over the last several decades.


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