Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) - Key Figures in Literary Theory

The Blackwell Guide to Literary Theory - Gregory Castle 2007

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
Key Figures in Literary Theory

Jacques Derrida was born in El Biar, Algeria, where his early education was interrupted when Algerian officials, acting on orders of the collaborationist Vichy government, expelled him from his lycee because he was Jewish. In 1949, he moved to France and by 1952 was enrolled in the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. While working toward his doctorate, he studied with Michel Foucault and Louis Althusser. He wrote a dissertation on the work of the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, published in 2003. For two years in the late 1950s, he taught the children of soldiers in lieu of military service in Algeria, where the French Army was fighting against native Algerian forces. In 1960, he began teaching at the Sorbonne and in 1964 moved to the Ecole Normale Superieure, where he remained until 1984. After 1966, the year he presented, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Humanities” at Johns Hopkins University, Derrida was a regular speaker in forums worldwide and a visiting professor at many US universities. By the end of the 1960s, he had published several major works in French, including Writing and Difference and Of Grammatology (both 1967). In the 1970s, his reputation grew rapidly and widely throughout the US academy as his books were translated into English. This early work is concerned primarily with problems in philosophy and linguistics, but Derrida's deconstructionist critique of the problems of origin, ESSENCE, and PRESENCE caught the attention of critics and scholars who had become frustrated with limitations of New Criticism and Structuralism.

Margins of Philosophy (1972), a collection of essays, and Disseminations (1972), a meditation on Plato and Stephan Mallarme, solidified Derrida's reputation. In the mid-1970s, Derrida found himself in a public debate with analytical philosophy, a debate that produced Limited Inc (1977). In the 1980s, he wrote several major works, including The Post Card (1980), numerous essays on James Joyce and Heidegger, and a memoir for his friend, Paul de Man. In the 1990s, he published Specters of Marx (1993) and explored problems in Psychoanalysis and ethics. Of particular interest at this time was a series of books on the economies of the “gift” and the ethics of giving: Given Time (1992), On the Name (1995), and The Gift of Death (1995). In the last decade of his life, Derrida remained focused on ethics and memory, writing his Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas in 1997 and The Work of Mourning in 2001.


Derrida, Jacques. A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds. Ed. Peggy Kamuf. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

---- . Dissemination. Trans. Barbara Johnson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

---- . Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

---- . Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

---- . Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. New York: Routledge, 1994.

---- . Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.