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Jacques Derrida

WithJoyce Appleby, Elizabeth Covington, David Hoyt, Michael Latham, Allison Sneider

Jacques Derrida is either heir-apparent or pretender to the French intellectual throne recently vacated by Michel Foucault, depending upon one’s sympathy, or lack thereof, to postmodernism. Like Foucault, Derrida has been hailed as one of the preeminent philosophers of the twentieth century. This fact is in and of itself ironic as Derrida oftentimes ridicules the traditional precepts of philosophy. Through a sophisticated method of textual analysis, he undermines logocentric attempts to establish the foundations of human consciousness. For Derrida, the creation of an epistemology of knowledge or a hermeneutic of meaning is a futile endeavor. These rather lofty ideals have been associated with philosophy for centuries, and to a certain extent, he merely carries on the critique of Western metaphysics undertaken by Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. Derrida’s originality lies in the extent to which he subverts and distorts the traditional goals and methods of critique. As Richard Rorty has noted, “[Derrida] has played all the authority figures, and all the descriptions of himself which these figures might be imagined as giving, off against each other, with the result that the very notion of’authority’ loses application in reference to his work."1